“Because the queer art of failure is so hot right now” was the tagline to Manish Vaidya’s EPIC FAIL birthday party, which I epically failed to attend. Chicken Run is cute and all, but what’s the T about Jack Halberstam’s book? All of a sudden everyone’s fetishizing failure. (Wow, you did a bunch of random things that made no sense, were traumatic to watch, and you looked like you didn’t know what you were doing half the time! OMG that’s brilliant.)
Failure is the new aesthetic, the new scent, the new thing to be seen wearing in public. (Do you love my non-non-engagement right now in this conscious moment of being in the world? It’s called Failure.) It allows people to think, “Hey, even if I fail, I’ll be doing something academics can theorize about. And that’s awesome, cuz academics are hot! The ways in which they say “the ways in which” and are emotionally unavailable? Yeah.”
I am not interested in seeing people fail. I am not interested in paying to see people fail. Unfortunately, I have paid at the door or been asked to “please donate” to shows or “in-progress showings” of “experimental performance art” at bay area venues with mediocre to small crowds of people who are either awkward, in my friend circle, or busy cruising. Every night we watch a different performer get up in front of us (on a stage, in a living room, in a backyard), after months of studio time, or not; after weeks of rehearsal, or not; after loads of emotional and physical preparation and journaling and critical theory, but probably not–and every night they fail.
I am sick of being traumatized by other people’s failure. I WANT TO SEE US DOING MORE. More critically engaged. More responsible. More imaginative. More complex. More more.
Ok, so the whole thesis of Jack’s book, as I understand it, is: “Hey, why buy in to or be graded by the rubric of hetero reproduction and success? Can our failures be substantial? Can we imagine something else?” Well, duh, of course we have and will, whether or not someone writes a dissertation about it. Especially when no one is writing a dissertation about it. And even though Jose Esteban Muñoz writes about this in Cruising Utopia, I do sincerely believe that radical queers imagine and actively create existences outside of an either/or, success/failure algorithm, and that we build and dream landscapes beyond success or failure, something more than just the sound of a constant, invisibilized struggle. Something more.
After moving to the bay in 2008, writer and performance artist Marissa Perel visited me. In my tiny room in the Outer Mission, we witnessed each other in a series of authentic movement exercises — we imagined a part of our body disintegrating. We were thinking about David Wojnarowicz, building pelvic ships out of plaster and paper, the Pacific Ocean, and opening up the heart. We went to Ocean Beach and saw a dead bird, its chest upturned and decaying into the sand.
The problem with The Queer Art of Failure, as Ralowe Ampu points out, is that it’s missing something. Like what it means to actually fail. As in heart failure.
And what of the dead and the dying?
I am thinking of Chinese artist Han Bing and their series of performances called Mating Season. Margaret Rhee gifted me with postcards of Han Bing gently cradling a stack of plastic flip-flops, hugging a large piece of concrete, and straddling the fork of a backhoe. In Forever: Mating Seasons, No. 11 (a video clip of which you can see on YouTube), Han Bing, in nylon stockings and a long ponytail, wades through a giant pile of styrofoam, plastic bags and plastic bottles. Styrofoam snow blows through their hair. Aquafina eat your heart out. This lyrical genderqueer body caresses this excess of plastic with romantic gestures, as if they were attempting to merge with the synthetic. Han Bing expresses in these performances the fact that we are already embracing globalization and sharing deep intimacies with so many forms of global collapse.
When I think about collectivity and global collapse, I think about social networks. I think about the consolidation of all social networks into one mega conglomerate: SurveillanceBook. Actually, I just posted Han Bing’s video to SurveillanceBook! Like this? On SurveillanceBook everyone is plugged in, all the time, to everything, every sound, every emotion, every form of language, all at once. On SurveillanceBook, you know everyone and everyone is stalking you.
It’s exactly this kind of consolidation that inspires off-the-grid retreat, offline solitude and unplugged contemplation. As we approach daylight savings, as we fall back an hour to save the light, I think about how I will survive winter this year. I think about burrowing and blankets, mashed potatoes and butter, Lord of the Rings extended edition DVD marathons, and my on-going desire for grounding, stability and sustenance.
Modern dance training teaches you how to fall. Sometimes it teaches you how to tall too beautifully. I am done seeing modern dancers in unitards and long skirts fall in rehearsed ways with vacant yet intent expressions. Sometimes I notice I fall to the ground in the same way. But every time I’m on the ground, I try to make it my practice to find a different way to get back up.
That performer I keep seeing on stage, failing. I’d like to see you fall. For real.
[box] JAI ARUN RAVINE – Jai Arun Ravine is a text-based artist working in video, movement and performance. They are the author of AND THEN ENTWINE (Tinfish Press, 2011) and a staff writer for Lantern Review. http://jaiarunravine.wordpress.com/
Where might you see Jai’s work next? My short film FAN CHRISTY (COVER) [KARAOKE MV] is currently exhibiting at the Oceanside Museum of Art and will also appear in the upcoming MIX festival. *DVAN (Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network) Holiday Event, December 28
*LSU’s 2013 Delta Mouth Literary Festival in Baton Rouge, March 14-16
Next Projects: THE ROMANCE OF SIAM: A POCKET GUIDE is a forthcoming book project and experimental travel guide to navigating the overwhelming desire white people have to lose themselves in Thailand. THE GENERAL RIDICULOUSNESS OF TRYING TO DEFINE ASIAN AMERICAN ANYTHING is a fake video ad campaign for ChaoKoh coconut milk.