Overnight Relief (2019) performance in response to Matthew Verdon’s ‘Vestigial Traits and Evolutionary Spandrels’, Kelder Projects, London.
Using my historic laxative abuse as a spine, the performance interwove hydroponic growth systems, soil contamination, herbal plant remedies and embodied metaphors of water and desiccation. I performed wearing the outfit Pseudomelanosis coli, facing away from the audience. When reading citations, or reading my own writing, I faced alternate directions to create a dialogue within one performer.
The invitation to write this response allowed me to crystallise a lot of thoughts I had been having around transfiguration, and human-plant relations, and the performance itself was an invaluable moment to present research and ideas before they were fully digested. However, I do not want to put the full text online, as to do so carries the implication of a performance text which has rounded itself up and resolved itself. As such, there is only an extract below.
These ideas evolved and grew, a bit like The Blob, into the performance I created for the Florilege project (You are what you eat). It will continue to evolve into something else, too, but more on that another time.
Extract below contains reference to eating disorders and laxative abuse
Food is a convenient metaphor for existence
Cheese of the soul
These partial borders must be erected not only between skin and self, but between gut lumen and its contents.
Our wet matters are in a constant process of intake, transformation and exchange – drinking, peeing, sweating, sponging, weeping. Discrete individualism is a rather dry, if convenient, myth.
When I came off laxatives, the first time I had a solid bowel movement was truly horrific to me, for I passed from a transparent to an opaque system of functioning, and output could not be directly correlated with input. My system of digestion is vast, metres long, twisted, bending and convoluted ropes of puffy intestine stuffed with food. Ingested matter will become a bolus formed of saliva and food, then pass into the stomach and be churned into chyme which passes into the small intestine where nutrients will be absorbed and the remaining blend of chyme and chyle will move to the colon, where water will be sapped until it becomes excrement which is held in the rectum until it passes out of the anus, as a solid stool. Abusing laxatives for over five years, this process of digestion and absorption, of transformation and incorporation, had been partial at best. Food would rush through my system at such a pace that it was easily recognisable as its original foodstuff once it left my body again, all suspended in a slimy liquid, waters drawn from my tissues. Spinach leaves, chunks of chewed up egg white, the grainy pulp of porridge: all rushed through and out, landing in the toilet bowl like so much vomit, barely acknowledging their sojourn in the ileum, the duodenum, the colon. It felt clean, matter passing through me cleanly. It had been a relief to eat and then a matter of mere hours later, feel the familiar painful clench of colonic spasming, followed by a mucosal drool as bowel contents were voided. Food passed through indiscriminately and barely digested, and so, able to easily trace each bowel movement to a specific meal, I knew that once emptied I was back to being myself, free of the interference and burden of chyme, the nonself of pulpy matter that was of me and not of me. Input, discomfort, output. I ate one meal a day, and so, after I had some time later forced all of this matter out of my gut, sitting in the bathroom in a satisfying agony, I knew that I was back to being just myself, an impenetrable stone. Back on the scales, my weight, my own weight, the edges of myself intact.
Coming off laxatives was horrific, as everything slowed and stagnated in my gut. I could feel it sitting there, a hardening rock of shit in my colon, a compound mass of any number of meals. The first time I had a solid bowel movement, unrecognisable in its alimentary origins, I was horrified. Now, dependent on the ease or difficulty of their digestion, different foods will reside in my gut for different time periods, and a bowel movement may be a composite of any number of meals over a 72 hour period. My guts, their functioning, the mysterious bloating and gripings and pains and passages, are all unknowable to me, untraceable and unquantifiable.