Coastal Undercurrents: Debbie Taylor-Osborne
Coastal Undercurrents is a writing initiative supporting six local writers to produce written responses to live work experienced during the Home Live Art programme of performance at Coastal Currents 2018 in Hastings.
Debbie Taylor-Osborne responds to the work of Rocio Boliver
This was my first ever salon performance and despite having absolutely no clue what I was getting into had very much been looking forward to it. I’d deliberately decided to do minimal research on the performers beforehand because I wanted to avoid any preconceptions this may have given me.
The venue itself had previously housed a bank and one of the other audience members mentioned that the vault was still in situ. The ground floor itself is a decent sized space, with an eclectic mix of pictures adorning the walls – some original and some copies, ranging from tasteful to kitsch and containing a variety of subject matter. There was seating along the wall directly opposite the front door and in the far corner was a makeshift bar that I immediately made a beeline for.
There were several performances throughout the evening, of which Rocio was the last. Each was in a different room and most rooms were on separate floors. Rocio was situated in a bedroom upstairs. At this point, I had absolutely no clue that Rocio’s performance was in any way connected to a short film I had seen earlier that evening – more on that later.
We the viewers, were invited to enter a dimly lit room and to make ourselves comfortable. I was lucky enough to find a chair (for which my knees were very grateful) but most of the other audience members sat cross-legged on the carpeted floor. We then waited for the performance to begin.
Rocio emerged from the en suite bathroom, towel wrapped around her head and wearing a fluffy white bathrobe. She was a slender, dignified, middle-aged woman and all of our eyes followed her in unison as she casually walked towards the bed, ignoring the room full of people, waiting silently for the show to begin.
Next to the bed was a small table containing a laptop, and on the bed cover lay a tray of implements. Rocio removed the towel from her head revealing short grey hair, disrobed and sat naked facing the audience.
The performer’s attention then turned towards the onlookers as she switched the laptop on and a video appeared. This was my lightbulb moment, and one in which the chicken breast with the Christmas bow attached started to make sense. It was more than just a video – it was foreplay!
Rocio reclined slightly against the pillow and selected an item from the tray – it was a catheter. She then produced a piece of flat, round cork, parted her legs and placed it against the inside of one of her labia and then proceeded to slowly and painfully push the catheter through the outer side. Some people in the audience gasped, some were silent and a couple even got up and left. I was both engrossed and disturbed in equal measure.
Once the catheter had pierced the skin, a thin piece of nylon twine was passed through it. Rocio then repeated this on the other labia, until the twine had passed through both, enabling Rocio to tie the labia together. A small loop was left as this would be needed for the finishing touch – a sparkly ribbon, which was attached to the loop and then tied into a bow. This, I thought, had to be the ultimate vajazzle.
Just when we thought the performance was complete, Rocio produced something akin to a red butt plug to use as a finishing touch. After several attempts to get it to remain in place she was successful and the performance was complete.
There were a few moments during her act where several of us would wince or look away. One of those moments was when the catheter became slightly stuck and Rocio had to give it a bit of a wiggle and increase the pressure, but her smile of triumph when she’d succeeded soon put my mind at rest.
It would be easy to dismiss this piece as perverted or fetishistic, or even voyeurism, but I didn’t find it in any way sexual or intimidating. In fact, it put me in mind of several rituals from other cultures where pain is used as a spiritual tool and where followers use a sharp implement to pierce parts of their bodies. It was a release – a way to commune with God. Either that, or it was a big ‘fuck you!’ to convention.
There was also a dark humour in this. The video, the bow, the casual smiles from Rocio. Plus the fact that I will never look at a chicken breast in quite the same way again. Now where did I put that ribbon…..?
Debbie Taylor-Osborne is from the North East of England. After several unsatisfying jobs, she decided at 53 years old, to do a Fine Arts degree at the local college. She is currently in her second year and has managed to stay relatively sane (helped by copious amounts of pink gin). She has been based in St. Leonards since 2014.
Rocio Boliver performed this work at the first Hastings Performance Salon on Friday 28 September 2018.
Coastal Undercurrents is the first initiative of Home Live Writing, an ongoing project for writers based in the south east who wish to learn more about writing critical responses to live performance.
All images photographed By Georgina Cook