ANDREW SUTHERLAND Unveiling: Gay Sex for End Times

Opening at the Blue Room this week Unveiling: Gay Sex for End Times promises a show that searches for ecstasy and utopia through self destruction. DAVID O’CONNELL spoke to one of the performers and co-creator of Unveiling, Andrew Sutherland, about the end times and the Wizard of Oz.

What is Unveiling: Gay Sex for End Times about?

In a broad sense, Unveiling is a Queer interpretation of The Book of Revelations of the Bible. But what it’s about – I think our initial pitch about self-destruction and Armageddon is something of a red herring. That does come into the work, yes, but only as part of a wider frame of yearning, of seeking, of tearing down the kingdoms built around us and built within us, searching for regenerative forms of self-love, of loving, forgiving power, of reclaiming faith and self. Killing every king, and setting up our own Queendoms.

How did the inspiration for the work come about?

Joe (Lui, director) asked me about this the other day. We started talking about it and doing preliminary research and text work on it in March this year, and started devising in the rehearsal room around July. He couldn’t really remember how we’d actually come together to start making this, as we’d never collaborated before. Essentially, we were talking over Facebook in late February and as I am wont to do, I was complaining about how I had not a lot coming up and no one ever wanted to work with me, and he pitched a post-dramatic take on the Book of Revelations to me. See – pity is super inspiring!

What themes were of specific interest here?

We started from a place of looking at the urge to tear down (and maybe rebuild) a world through acts of self-destruction. A search for the self. As I said, I think that search widened beyond wanting to obliterate oneself. It became about really investigating the potentialities of Queerness, of resistance, of self-love, of the systems and structures that tie us down, of the hope for a radically forgiving and loving God. And as we were joined by fellow devisers and performers Jacinta Larcombe and Michelle Aitken that search widened again and took aim at cultural constructs, at resistance towards the anchors built into elements of societal and interpersonal relations that try to pull us away from ourselves.

The US Navy, BDSM, boot-scooting, The Book Of Revelation, and The Wizard of Oz – that’s a wide range of influences. Why did you cast such a broad cultural net? Are they related?

I guess some of these influences came in an organic way – what do we want to play with in the rehearsal room, what do we want to see. But some of those – The Wizard of Oz, which is truly a gay, or Queer, touchstone, of Judy Garland who was further Queered into a true icon of resistance and struggle through her life. And I think a very well-known image of gay male culture, particularly American gay male culture, is of Judy Garland, and perhaps it’s a dated reference but it’s a pure one, it’s one that still holds. And the US navy – there was, at least according to the shallowest research, apparently some kind of actual mission in the 1980s where the US navy believed that ‘Dorothy’ was a real person turning men gay, and there was a mission to discover who this person was. That’s hilarious. And where the play morphs into this ridiculous US navy work, then morphs further into the tropes of American cinema, of American celebrity, it’s just one of the kingdoms we have built into ourselves – there’s so much there to unpick and to pull apart. The work has become this morphing, imagistic exploration of Queerness and resistance and the range of constructions go from the archaic to the contemporary, the ridiculous, sublime, pop-cultural, poetic. And I think it comes from our framing, almost our mission statement,of the process of Queerness, of Queering being much wider and a process of life and of art-making beyond the one interpretation of Queerness as being about sexuality politics, we held the works of Jose Esteban Munoz pretty close to our hearts – his incredible work Cruising Utopia, for instance.

In terms of stylistic, theatre-making influences we really started out looking at a lot of Romeo Castellucci’s incredible history of post-dramatic theatre, as one influence, and then as we developed we felt ourselves reaching further away from maybe the durational austerity and darkness of those images, and really started looking at, for instance, the works of Natalie Hennedige of Singapore’s Cake Theatrical Productions as a huge inspiration on what we could do, on what was fun and glorious and right to do.

Why do you think humanity, throughout its history, has viewed itself in “the end times”?

Because historically, in some sense, even if it s a minute sense, we always have been. Because of our mortality, because of our egos and our self-involvement, it’s both tempting and not untrue to render ourselves so. I am a chronic self-mythologiser. I am all about the microscopic apocalypses, the irreversible changes in the heart, in the soul. What the concept of apocalypse, or “end times”, does for me is to highlight those moments where you could choose to ‘die’, let your soul stagnate, or you could choose to breathe through every second of the suffering, to choose to be vitally alive to yourself in every moment. All apocalypses have growth afterwards. Some things deserve to be torn down, and then rebuilt – or not. Look, for instance – one specific example – what the Harvey Weinstein have begun to do in Hollywood. That is an Old World that has long deserved to be thrown down. And survivors – warriors – have waited long enough, and now they are going to do just that. That’s the sense of “end times” we should all lean into.

Considering the combination of religion, high camp and BDSM, have you received any negative reaction from more conservative elements in the community? (Do you expect any?)

I don’t know. Maybe? I doubt that particular element would even really be particularly aware of the work. A lot of my art-making life has taken place in Singapore, where if the conservative minority of the community perceives art that may challenge or ‘shock’ them, they’re pretty good at applying the necessary pressure to get it shut down in some way. That doesn’t normally seem the way it goes in Australia. At least when that happens in Singapore, despite the reactionary brutality of it, at least it generates a national discourse. We don’t even bother with the discourse. A sort of blanket dismissal is probably more likely, and more frightening, than aggressive negativity.

I actually think I get more troubled by people (from the arts, and not) who have reacted to this work (in advance, mind you, it hasn’t been set yet) through the framework of nudity and “bravery”. Like, “oh, you’re so brave”. I find that very dismissive, or reductive. Like that’s all it’s about. Or as though nudity onstage or in art is “brave”. It’s also very Othering. Don’t make the human body something to be hidden – don’t reframe the presence of a human body as something that requires some kind of ‘edge’, or bravery. I’ll tell you what’s brave – logging onto Facebook every morning during a national plebiscite is brave. Taking your kit off isn’t any ‘braver’ than that.

Comments are closed.