We originally developed the “Shame Portrait” with Jaime Alvarez during our CrossPollination residency with SwimPony. Jaime started talking about personal shame on the first day, and Chelsea and I are dedicated practitioners of “seeing and using what is there” in the room. So we jumped right into the shame pool. If Jaime was going to talk about it, we were gonna make art about it, dammit. Art dammit.
Then we taught for a month at Uarts. If you have ever majored in modern dance at a university level, or at a conservatory, you know there is a huge push to achieve technical mastery- which is an external ideal. If you have ever been a woman, you might know about wanting to achieve an idealized external image. I don’t give a shit about either. In fact, I don’t like to see performers strive to achieve any kind of external ideal. So in the Uarts context, the shame performance was performative. And it came to mean bringing your full self to the performance. Refusing to strive for an ideal self onstage. Insisting that your full complicated and messy self is good and right for performance. That there is nothing to hide or mold. Or that the molding should be a molding of your choice, and not according to anyone else’s standards. And definitely not according to a narrow societal construct.
Next we went to the Yard for a residency and further explored our own performative shame portraits. But we landed on the combination of shame and pleasure. We called it the “Shame/Pleasure Cake.” The crossroads of shame and pleasure is very important as we move forward with this concept. We are not interested in the kind of shame that is traumatic and action based. “I did this awful thing and I regret it.” Not that. Rather, an aspect of my own identity that I love but I have developed a complicated relationship to because it hasn’t always been well received. I am aggressive. I enjoy that. Other people don’t necessarily. Society may not be ready for the aggressive woman really. So how can I embrace this aspect of my identity onstage instead of denying it? And what happens after? Looking back on that performance I feel a little more relaxed about this part of myself. A little less of the fight around it. And that is a lovely feeling. The goal here being personal liberation, and communal liberation. I know there are some other aggressive women out there. It’s for them too. And for the timid men too- for all the shame portraits. That we could all include ourselves in performance more and feel a little more relaxed around our tender identities.
The last stage of this was another photo shoot. We shot 7 shame portraits in 2 days. It was INTENSE! The latest discovery was about a “shame spectrum.” We discovered that for most people, making two portraits on opposite ends of the same personality quality was extremely relevant. So my shame is about “aggressiveness” and making one image that was celebrated domination, and a second that depicted submissiveness felt like a full journey. It turns out it is fruitful and shameful for me to inhabit both of those states.