by Red Cell
Red Cell (RC) – So, I hate to begin with something as mundane as “Tell us what you do” but, after seeing the many various arts you have dipped in to, I think it is appropriate to ask you exactly that. Can you tell us a little about the variety of arts you practice?
Jacqui Kuraj (JK) – For the past few years I have been immersed in sound design and composition. Currently I am designing the sound for a choral work for a theater company’s production of “Oedipus” in Rio de Janeiro. It can be also he listened to as a multichannel installation without the presence of the actors. It is designed for small amphitheater. The libretto is in Portuguese for seventeen male and female voices. The structure of the composition is in the style of a Greek chorus and focuses on the seminal meeting between the Seer and Oedipus, under an ancient tree, in which she tells him his future. The Seer’s monologue is sung in Fado style of lament and permeates from the center and moves through the guttural accusations hurled by the men whom are surrounded by the woman’s bewailing gossip and whispering responses.
(RC) – The MOV-iN Gallery (Santa Fe, NM) will be showing a performance piece (In the Year of Blame) you did in the early 80s, but reassembled into a short video work in the late 90s, as a multiple walled/channeled installation. Has this work appeared as an installation work previously?
(JK) – Many curators have exhibited “In the Year of Blame” as a focal point for feminist works: For example: Bienal de Mexico at Museo el Chopo and the University Museum of Contemporary Art , Mexico City 1999, and “Escandal and Silencio” University Ibero, Puebla, México 2001, but none of them took it to the level of a multi channel video and sound installation.
(RC) – There is a debate among video art enthusiasts about the difference between a filmed work of performance art and video art. (IE: Vito Acconci’s work would be Video Art because it depends on the video as more than straight document.) Do you consider Blame to be a performance art piece that was filmed or a video art piece?
(JK) – I consider it a performance art video in the genre of conceptual Butoh theater.
(RC) – Also, do you think of yourself as a performance artist?
(JK) – I think of myself as a designer of words, images and sounds, wherein performance is one of the mediums in which I work.
(JK) – The music in Blame is actually very much like the music associated with me from that period: For example take Buchla Perdita in which I am playing drums and keyboard synth with free jazz musicians (guitar and sax) and a musician playing a suitcase Buchla. Blame was developed in collaboration between myself as performance artist, and the late and great jazz musician and Musique Concrète composer George Bishop.
(RC) – In “Blame,” you wound and bind your feet. Can you talk to us a bit about your choice to use footbinding and as an exploration of woman’s issues in today’s world?
(JK) – Foot binding shows the value and beauty of women identified with disability, dependency, and passivity. These are clear examples of misogynist cultural practices. They are continuous with contemporary female beauty practices, the result of the glorification of culturally mandatory and continual body modification that requires tolerance, even the romanticizing, of self-inflicted pain. More generally, women become masochistic as the result of conforming to social rules of femininity that degrade them as persons.
(RC) – And now a completely abstract question: Is this a work about power and control or ascension past those things? Can you explain in the context of modern Asian society?
(JK) – Primarily it is about power and control; The socio-political implications of ritualized homosadistic behavior as transferred for generations from mother to daughter and from father to son. I can explain this in a contemporary context by identifying with the meanings played out by the community through the medium of the human body by citing the current stoning to death of women in Iran.
(RC) – I was struck with many things in Blame, but two things stick out for me. One was the use of the cymbals, almost a surrogate wings that you are tied to. The other was the unbinding of your feet and then gagging yourself with the bloodied bandages. Can you speak about the parts of the video?
(JK) – I use the cymbals as percussive instruments and tether them to my hands with bloody bandages so that I can move vigorously with them as I play. I like your analogy of the cymbals as wings that I am tied to. I have always been slightly obsessed with the story of Icarus and Daedalus; the gagging of my mouth with bandages bears reference to sadistic sexual rituals of bondage and rape.
(RC) – Blame is obviously a much longer piece than the short 5-minute video shows. Tell us about the experience of performing the entire work.
(JK) – I was in a trance while performing the entire work.
(RC) – You call this work a sacrificial landscape. Please explain.
(JK) – Saints bleed. The body and it’s ritualized mutilation is a critical landscape wherein martyrs roam the terrain.
A female Christ figure with her stigmata wounds bleeding.
Ophelia as concubine.
Flayed Aztec goddesses sacrificed to the deities to ensure the rebirth of man.
And the dialectic between the earth and the sun, blood and plant growth.
Concubines of China enslaved by mother acting as the keeper of an empirical patriarchy supervised the torture of their daughters’ feet to gain primacy.
Like Artaud entranced by Tarahumaras.
(RC) – Lastly, the title. Can you elaborate on what it means?
(JK) – The title “In the Year of Blame” touches on the practice of foot binding in China which endured for over a millennium.
(RC) – Is there anything else you would like to add to the conversation for our readers?
(JK) – In whatever medium I choose to work with, the conceptual focus always has to do with the elements of ritual and sacrifice: In my photography series of the meat market in downtown Mexico City, there is a quiet sense of violence in the images of skinned and quartered carcasses, with open mouths silenced forever, entrapped and exploited, in a daily ritual of sacrificial offerings to ensure the survival of man. (see photos below)
From the Description of In the Year of Blame – The Body as Sacrificial Landscape –
Jacqui Kuraj – dance performance, percussion, vocals
George Bishop – contrabass saxophone, alto saxophone, soprano saxophone.
Footbinding has long been perceived as a barbaric practice and a gruesome expression of female oppression. The explanation of the choice of the foot as a fetish is an approach to the woman’s genitals from below. In social psychology, the Chinese custom of mutilating the female foot and then revering it like fetish after it has been mutilated is the Chinese males way of thanking the woman for having submitted to being castrated.
“The fetish is a substitute for the penis: the woman’s (the mother’s) penis that the little boy once believed in and does not want to give up. The fetish achieves a token of triumph over the threat of castration and serves as a protection against it. It also saves the fetishist from becoming a homosexual, by endowing women with the characteristic which makes them tolerable as sexual objects. Because the fetish is easily accessible, the fetishist can readily obtain the sexual satisfaction attached to it. The choice of the fetish object seems determined by the last impression before the uncanny and traumatic one – In very subtle instances both the disavowal and the affirmation of the castration have found their way into the construction of the fetish itself.” – Freud on Fetishism (1927)
Affection and hostility in the treatment of the fetish runs parallel with the disavowal and the acknowledgment of castration.
This cruel institution crippled countless Chinese women over the course of 1,000 years. Footbinding began in the late Tang dynasty, sometime around 950 A.D. The practice spread from the Imperial court to the upper class, and then throughout the society. Banned by the Republican government in 1911, footbinding persisted in remote areas of China until the late 1940s.
Men, who often emphasized the erotic appeal of footbinding, wrote most of the Chinese literature.
Your Jade-like body can barely support your white jade jewels:
your feet – gold lotus beautiful below the saffron blossom robe.
– Poem by Li Kaixian (1502-1568)
The bound foot is known as the Lotus foot, because the shape resembles that of a Lotus bud. The soles of bound foot shoes are the shape of a lotus bud and sometimes have a lotus bud embroidered on them. Three inches was said to be the ideal length for a woman’s foot. There were competitions for the smallest and the best formed feet and the prettiest shoes. Foot contests were taken quite seriously and the winner acquired a reputation as a famous beauty.
Traditionally footbinding generally began between the ages of five and seven. Because wealthy families could afford to bind their girls feet very tightly and at an early age, tiny feet became a symbol of gentility. Gentry wives, courtesans and concubines seem to have been particularly likely to have had their feet bound very small. First hand personal accounts of footbinding testify that the procedure was extremely painful. The girl child’s feet were bound tightly with bandages, which forced the four small toes inward and under the sole. The large toe was left free. Then the heel and the toe were drawn forcefully together, breaking the arch. In some areas the footbinding procedure took place in two separate stages, with the second stage occurring several years after the four small toes were bound. Footbinding apparently played a part in the neo-Confucian revival. Earlier in the Tang dynasty, relatively liberal attitudes towards women were prevalent, and aristocratic women had a number of social and economic rights. By the Song dynasty however, contemporaneous with the rise of footbinding, women were increasingly confined at home. The social and legal restrictions women faced were paralleled by the physical restrictions of footbinding.
As a Chinese ditty said:
“Bound Feet, bound feet,
past the gate cant retreat.”
Chinese women with bound feet walked with difficulty, often with the faltering steps and the use of a cane. Footbinding drastically restricted woman’s mobility. Athletic games and dancing were impossible once footbinding became the general practice. The eventual disappearance of footbinding began with the rise of modern nationalism in the early twentieth century. Progressive Chinese men and educated women increasingly criticized it as a backward custom that retarded China’s modernization.