The Nipple

It’s not every day that you get a bunch of strangers to touch lots of different nipples, well ok, copies of nipples.  Keep reading for some experiences from the breast themed art exhibition I participated in.

The Nipple, a touchable DNA helix of all gendered Nipples.

The Nipple, a touchable DNA helix of all gendered Nipples.

Massive amounts of visitors flocked this art exhibition that was only open for one night. There was a wide variety of beautiful pieces, from photos, to oil paintings, sculptures, and live performers but I think my work was one of the only touchable pieces people could actually interact with.

Great focus on consent

Great focus on consent

Large signs everywhere focusing on consent and not touching or photographing art or models without asking first definitely helped make the space very safe but I had to improvise a little “touch me!” note to facilitate people touching the piece. Even then many people seemed very skeptical and even somewhat intimidated to touch the nipples but once they did most their faces turned into delightful smiles and some even produced little squeals of surprise.  Made out of body safe silicon using casts of real peoples’ nipples produced a pretty realistic sensation.  A lot of people asked if the nipples were male or female and it was great to be able to tell them that they were nipples from people from all across the gender spectrum and point them to my contributor list which included preferred pronouns and to the little black book which held photos, names and pronouns of the contributors.

Thank you message from Lambda legal. click image to donate too!

Thank you message from Lambda legal. click image to donate too!

I also managed to raise a few bucks for Lambda legal, an NGO fighting for legal rights of transgenders by selling individual nipples and even gluing them onto various body parts. The most meaningful moment for me in those interactions was encountering a woman who went through a double vasectomy and didn’t have any Nipples. She chose two purple nipples that glow in uv light and it felt like she was injecting some joy and playfulness into painful memories. I wasn’t the only one using art to try to raise awareness to important issues; there was an exhibition that was raising money for cancer research by selling unique pillows.

 

a pasty shaped like a nipple

A pasty shaped like my nipple

The instructions for the event included a reminder that “all breast-wielding mammals” were to cover their nipples according to some law regarding places that sell alcoholic beverages. This is exactly the type of ridiculous laws that motivated me to create this art piece. I followed this law by sticking a yellow glowing pasty of my own nipple onto my real nipple. My attempts to glue Shlomo’s tiny nipple onto mine and create a totally flat chest didn’t work out as well and the left side of my body looked as if I had fallen into an acid vat. It was quite chilly anyway so I wore a jacket letting my glowing right nipple make an occasional appearances.

what do you think of the price?

what do you think of the price?

Interacting with some of the other artists around me was really fun and there was a very good vibe both from the artists and the crowd. I got a lot of compliments about the originality of the piece and a lot of technical questions about how it was made. The prices for most of the original art work seems very high to me but I really don’t know anything about the art world. Shlomo suggested the unique price tag I asked for and it definitely got a bunch of giggles. Finally the ride home, using a ride share app, was extremely entertaining as I explained the art work to the driver and exposed him to gender issues he hadn’t thought of before in a fun interactive way and even left him a nipple he stuck on to his dash board. I hope some of the viewers in the show had the same experience and I hope this type of exhibition can help change some of the conservative memes about breasts and gender.

 

 

Fusion

I just got back from my first big ‘non burning-man’ festival and have some thoughts and stories to share. From the first moment I kept trying not to compare this festival to ‘Burning man’ and just see it as a thing of itself. But brains, they love comparing.

Workshop area, slack line, and capoeira in the background

Workshop area, slack line and capoeira in the background

The Set Up
The entry line into the festival was split into 2, those with cars and those on foot. I came on the festival bus so was lucky to enter after less than an hour of waiting. A friend in a car waiting 6 hours. Despite being told Id’s would be checked to confirm the ticket ownership that didn’t happen.
Despite lots of “no border” signs and “refugees welcome” banners, the festival had three layers of gates and guards. There was one border for entering from the outside world into the camping area, then another for entering from the camping area to the main festival area and then another for entering the area for families that had many circus tents and performances. Every time you left the main area you got this green token you had to give back when you entered. Obviously at some point I lost it and had to go to the entrance with an ID to get another one.
The camping area is ‘first come first conquer’, no real order and just groups of people taking up as much space for their friends that will arrive later. It was overly crowded by the second day and snoring strangers could be heard all around me.
A strange moment was passing through one of these check points which had only black security guards. This under privileged minority getting some amount of power over the privileged seemed to result in them taking their job much more seriously than the rest of the guards I encountered. It was a very strange scene, while they were making sure to be ‘in charge’ they were still there ones working, supposedly for our enjoyment.

The workshops 

My pyramid graffiti

My pyramid graffiti

This was probably the favorite part of the festival for me. The workshops were consolidated in two area’s so even without a schedule I could just pass by and was guaranteed something interesting was happening.
Dance, martial arts, sewing BDSM clothing, making jewelry, discussing utopias, graffiti were some of the things I attended. Some of the workshops did require extra money for the materials.
There were also many very high level circus, theater and dance performances.

The Art
I was impressed by the amount and quality of the art works. No it wasn’t burning man but it was damn good. Many of the art works had an interactive element which made them even more awesome. There were also random Telephone lines around the place which you could call and hopeful someone would answer. I tried communicating with some strangers this way but honestly I was never very good with phones.

The Germans

One of the strange things I wore... ended up taking it all off and dancing topless within 5 min.

One of the strange things I wore… ended up taking it all off and dancing topless within 5 min.

I was surprised at how German the festival was. Yes, it is in Germany but I was expecting a more international feeling. All the signs were in German and the vast majority of people were German and the largest drug consumption was by far alcohol. I was also disappointed at the almost total lack of nudity. I was the only one walking around topless and encountered only one nude guy. We talked briefly sharing our surprised at all these clothed people at a festival that is described as “clothing optional” especially since most of the time the weather was warm and sunny. The same goes for cool costumes. You could see them here and there but there idea of contributing to the festival with personal costumes hasn’t gotten hold. I was also surprised at the relative lack of queer/trans visibility.

The Food and Garbage Economy
Within the first day piles and piles of garbage were mounting everywhere. In order to combat this the festival provides everyone with a garbage bag and if you return a full bag with a part of your ticket you receive 10 euro’s. Many people were collecting bottles probably to recycle outside of the festival. I was walking around with my burner cup asking the food stales to use it. The food itself was vegetarian only and very cheap for around 3.5-5 euro’s you could get a great meal. I noticed that the fact that money was still involved in interactions with the food servers made us less friendly towards each other. Unlike burning man, this person was not volunteering their time for the community and thus attempting to connect to it, they were doing it so they could take the money they earned and go have fun somewhere else.

The music
The main area of the festival wasn’t so big and massive sound systems were bleeding into each other causing a massive amount of chaotic mess in most areas. I was impressed with myself when my ears actually recognized some funktion one speakers at one of the main electronic music stages. As I got closer my eyes recognized them too. As for music there was a very large variety, which were the idea of “fusion” is supposed to stem for. There were even robots playing music and classical piano concerts. One again I realized how little of my brain actually finds music (without dancing) recharging. Trying to just listen to music a little voice in my head went “This information is not relevant for survival”.

In Conclusion
I did have a great time, mostly because I learnt a lot and made a new friend in one of the workshops but for the future I’ll probably save my money for Burning Man.

Coalitions

Lack of sleep and too much small talk influenced me to exit a Saturday brunch party and sit on the sidewalk in San-Francisco, hiding away from the rain that has been drenching the city for a few days.  Barley a minute passed before a homeless woman who looked around my age stood before me. She was holding a piece of cardboard in one hand and a fast-food soda drink in the other.  

“Can I sit?” She asked

“Sure,” I said, making space for her to lay down her cardboard and sit down.

She looked at me intensely for a moment.

“You’re cute that’s why you’re defensive,” she said.

I looked back at her and smiled. “They always want things from the cute ones don’t they?”

She nodded.

“They only want money from me. I inherited 8 million dollars and they took it all from me…” She began falling into her barley cohesive psychotic loop.

I wished her well, excused myself and went back into the building

A Bayesian account of ‘hysteria’ http://brain.oxfordjournals.org/content/brain/135/11/3495.full.pdf

A Bayesian account of ‘hysteria’
http://brain.oxfordjournals.org/content/brain/135/11/3495.full.pdf


Human’s are strange creatures, our brains do their best to model incoming sensory information and predict the future. Repeated patterns bind together and turn into priors, into expectations, into ‘meme’s trying to spread their recorded pattern and influence perception with their prediction. Sometimes these memes become too strong and force themselves onto any incoming signal. This can lead to depression, OCD, ‘hysteria’ and even psychosis.  This past year I have been researching this subject with a very practical goal in mind. ‘How can we get opposing memes to get along with each other? How can we create a coalition in the brain that can overcome past traumatic events that lead to over active priors?”  This very intense first weekend in SF has triggered many of these memes and some of them want to be released from this brain and out into the world.

Superheroes

On Friday I went to a unique superhero themed house party.  It began with short science lectures. Then there talks about consent and responsible usage of substances as well as the organizers offering support and suggesting a ‘safe word’ to any who might need it. This was an amazing attempt to create a safe environment. The party was spread across a three story house with many surprises throughout: a sauna,  a hidden tiny room under the stairs with images of eyes stuck on to the walls, some LED art, cuddle spaces and a VR experience, were some of the things I encountered.

Most people were conversing, cuddling, slowly migrating from one room to another to see what recharges they could find.

A messy combination of gene environment interaction shaped the brain that I belong to into something that doesn’t enjoy many of the default things most humans seem to enjoy.  Socializing is boring and tedious, cuddling is too passive. This brain needs massive amounts of novelty and activity to keep these memes busy processing information, otherwise they begin to over process the same signal and the ‘meme’s begin to fight amongst themselves. “We know this,” they will scream with burning sensations beginning to take over.

 

What will recharge you?

That’s the first question I learnt to ask. Allow your brain to create a ‘positive’ prediction of something that enough memes can participate in.

For my brain one of the defaults is movement. A massive part of your brain is devoted to predict and create movement. As long as there is enough space to allow these memes to do what they do, move the body, feel the body, expand their learnt patterns, there is enough of a ‘positive’ coalition.


At this party for instance, almost no one was dancing so the whole dance floor was free for me to start rolling/ crawling/ dancing.

Then a strange thing happened, one person sat down and began watching me, and then another and another.

Another strange quirk of fate probably due to growing up in a religious environment that was perceived as a danger, mostly allows my brain to shut down the weak incoming social signals. There are very few ‘memes’ that model what others think of me and even fewer that care.

“Do I need something from them?”

“Can they hurt me in anyway?”

“Do they want to take away my autonomy and agency, enslave me to their needs and inforce their memes into me?”

My brain does not look for social approval, love, or attention from outside sources, only for physical safety and freedom. ‘Will they let me do what I want to do?’

sketch

Some sketches drawn at the party when I got bored.

If this safety is judged not to exist my brain will enter ‘self- preservation mode’. Many memes have been specialized for just this occasion, Retreat if possible. If not, ‘maintain’ high borders, expect nothing good from anyone, show no vulnerability, activate language center to provide loads of information to overstimulate opponents, maintain physical distance if needed. If this does not result in actual physical altercation which many of these memes actually enjoy. If there is just this constant stress of an unsafe environment this will quickly wake up what I have come to call ‘the opposition’,  memes that early on in life came up with what might have been a brilliant survival tactic back then to help the brain lower anxiety. “Destruction“ as a means to maintain some level of structural integrity.  “We want to destroy everything and die” they will scream.

Interestingly I’ve noticed that when deciding if this is a safe space or not my brain seems to model not only my safety but the safety of others. I don’t think this comes from altruistic reasons just practical ones. “If others don’t feel safe, they might know something that I don’t”.

If on the other hand the environment is judged as safe then the meme “Can we play together?” will appear. And this is what happened at the party. I began playing and improvising with the small crowd until another person joined the dance. He was not a professional dancer but we explored possibilities together and at least for part of the dance entered a shared state, a mutual growth function were we both wanted the same thing. Then my brain began picking up signals, was he trying to impress me? Was he trying to lead the dance to a more sexual place? This might have been my over sensitive priors but what came out was a little improvised “Macho” dancing, my body movement becoming extremely dominate and ‘male’ like. The crowd burst out laughing and clapping and that ended the dance.

I’ve wrote a more about safe space, expectation and improvisation in the post about burning man called  “adventure mode”.  The basic idea is to create an environment of plenty and that has to start with ‘radicle self-reliance’. It is this coalition’s opinion that only when you (mostly) do not need others for your happiness, only when there is a coalition that is able to look inwards and self-recharge can there begin to be a group coalition that looks out for each other without creating co-dependent situations.

The last few months I've been creating a gratitude wall. a little art piece or something I collected that reflect something I'm grateful for

The last few months I’ve been creating a gratitude wall. a little art piece or something I collected that reflect something I’m grateful for

The last few days I’ve been asking people here what recharges them? I was surprised that most answers were about outside goals: a lot of ‘making the world a better place’ in different forms. From my perspective that has to do with spreading your memes ‘outwards’ instead of developing them inwards and this is likely to lead to even bigger conflict and neediness from the outside world to accept your contribution.

So how about being egotistical for a second (or a lifetime), filling your cup before you fill others?

Here is a partial list of the recharges I have come up with throughout my lifetime that require no other human and are legal J (in no specific order):

Dancing, sketching, making strange art, looking at the mirror, hot showers, learning new things about the brain I belong to, Climbing, punching my punching bag, creating and participating in my own behavioral experiment (even if they don’t teach me anything), reading, writing, reading what I write. masturbating, eating novel (tasty) food, watching bad superhero tv shows and imagining my own scripts that would make them way better, staring and noisy patterns and allowing my brain to impose shapes and figures on them, eating chocolate, being topless, creating my gratitude wall, searching for more self-recharges 😉

“It wasn’t a “battle” it was just life”, A dying atheist wrote in her last message to her loved ones. The brain I belong to has managed to build a coalition strong enough to try to imprint this meme. Life might have many battles in it, both internal and external, much of my life has been spent fighting them. Now, it would seem, it’s time to start building coalitions. Both within my own brain and among others I wish to share my life with.

 

Decompress

The Dutch decompression was a great reminder of the recharges burning man offers, adventures, improvisation, beyond random encounters and gifts, learning new skills, deepening connections and insights into my brain and society. Read on.

By now I’ve learnt enough about burning man to have some ideas how to maximise opportunities in this community by coming prepared. I had the beautiful LED boa Shlomo made me, some parts of my Halloween costume, some left-over mood badges and some chocolate, all of which came into play at some point in the long night.

Play Time

Choose: my makeshift costume and impro game.

Choose: my makeshift costume and impro game.

Waiting on line I began using my mood badges to entertain people (mostly myself). After entering, I was inspired by some of the art, and upgraded myself into an interactive installation/impro game. I wrote CHOOSE on my stomach and attached 2 different mood badges to my scarf. “Flirt with me” and “Teach me stuff”. I then either positioned myself as a sculpture in various corners or danced around, luring people into my game. The sad part was that every male that chose “flirt with me” (not all of them did) proceeded to try to ‘take control’, touch me and be overly aggressive. Without meaning for it I found myself giving some feminist education. The only good “flirt” was from a beautiful older woman, who proceeded to dance with me. She patiently played with the distance between us and made lots of sexy eye contact, and simply enjoyed the dancing. I contemplated whether I was being a “tease”?  I realised many men are so starved for affection/sex/intimacy/touch, that they aren’t able to enjoy what there is to enjoy without being frustrated and wanting the whole package. I too got to practice this skill myself as I was there with a woman I’ve had a crush on for a while. I had every intention of making sure she doesn’t feel uncomfortable so while dancing and ‘flirting’ I just asked her about her borders. She admitted that she really likes flirting, dancing and even cuddling with me but didn’t want anything to get sexual. Agreeing upon borders made everything more simple and I could just let go of ‘wanting more’ and enjoy whatever she enjoyed too. This brought me to my realisation that “the person who wants more out of a relationship, sexual or other, should let the person who wants less to take the lead.”

Circles

Patrick playing with fire (from his FB page)

First I met a fire poi master Patrick van Baarle, whom I met once before at a house party, which made me feel like I know local Dutch people. At the end of the night I got an amazing lesson from him which made me believe I might be able to acquire this skill with a little (a lot) of practice. I had to stop after hitting my knee and limping around.

Then I met Mephy. Mephy was the first intro I had to burning man culture, she was my ride to the New Zealand burn. I hovered around her cool LED dome until she appeared. It was amazing to realize how much we have both changed and grown since then.

I also saw this guy I recognized, from the European leadership burn party. Back then he and this women I saw him with reminded of what Shlomo and I might be 10 years from now and I had managed to conjure a whole imagined story about them. This time I actually had the guts to speak with him. Turns out even back then she was his Ex, someone who things didn’t work out with. He now had a new girlfriend and they didn’t seem to be poly. I was slightly disappointed but consoled myself with the thought that my reality is better that anything I could imagine.

Then towards the end of the party this woman passed me by. I did a double take to look at her again because I couldn’t believe what my brain was telling me. She was there with a guy I recognised too, he was wearing glasses and they were both dressed but I was pretty sure they were the couple I played with at burning man in the orgy dome. So I went up to them and said, “This might sound crazy but I think I had sex with you guys in the orgy dome?” The woman looked at me and said, “That’s an interesting conversational starter instead of talking about the weather.” She paused for a second before continuing “But yes, we had sex!” all three of us burst out laughing and group hugged. It was great to feel slutty again even though I had only platonic interactions at the party!

The best MOOP ever

A rubber hand!

A rubber hand!

I was sitting on the couch when I found a rubber hand which made me jump up in excitement. This might come as a surprise unless you’ve heard me go on about the rubber hand experiment. This is one of the basic experiments in neuro science that shows how easy it is to trick your brain into wrong predictions based on correlating information. You put a rubber hand on the table and your hand is under the table. The rubber hand is stimulated in the same places and frequency as your hand and after a few moments your brain will model the rubber hand as ‘your hand’. I have been itching to conduct this experiment on myself and others and finally I had a chance! It was a very cool sensation as if your hand has been teleported to a few centimetres from where it actually is.

The sad ending

At the bus, me and my friends were discussing whether this party was a safe environment for women when another woman joined the conversation and told us of unwanted touches she had to deal with on the dance floor. The party was a disappointment in that respect, yes I could go topless without anyone calling the police, but this male hunger was in the air – something I personally never felt at the burn itself and think arises from non-burners coming to this party too. I keep thinking what the burning man community should do to provide a safer environment for women in these type of parties? Suggestions?

Pre Burn

Burning man might be a week long social experiment/festival for some, but for other’s it’s a year-long hobby that increasingly takes over their life as the burn gets closer. Hanging out in San Francisco I got to meet some of the people who invest their time and money to create the magic that is Black Rock city.  Read on

Where dreams are built

Where dreams are built

The first time I walked into Nimby (not in my back yard), a massive warehouse in Oakland, the cynical bastard in me went to sleep for a few hours. It was at the back stage where dreams were being set up, like some scenes in Niel Gaiman’s Sandman. All around me people were working on projects that they chose to work on, investing their time and money on something that had no practical use. “We just like building stuff,” most people would tell me when I asked why they were doing this.

Even Dr. Brainlove can't escape bureaucracy of licencing and a license plate.

Even Dr. Brainlove can’t escape bureaucracy of licencing and a license plate.

I joined a group called Phage which exists for around 10 years trying to ‘infect the playa with science’, their art car called Dr. Brainlove models brain activity by using 400 meters of LED’s on a massive steel framework that can be climbed on.

After running around taking pictures and poking my nose around I asked to help and was put to work painting. I was delighted by the large percentage of women that were involved, many of them leading the project.

Build parties

Build parties

Nimby might be where all the heavy duty work took place, but cutting of the LEDs, soldering and the programing mostly happened at the crazy house of two amazing technical artists (check out their web site called sustainable magic and their workshops and events). I have always used the technique of calling something a party + ordering pizza and beers to get people to build my garden, paint my walls, help me move to a new apartment. These people have taken it one step further with their ‘build parties’.  I practiced being a Chinese factory worker for a few hours of cutting LEDs. My main contribution was probably finding a way to reduce the labor for that specific task by sliding the LEDs then cutting them just once instead of cutting them on both sides.

Chinese factory worker, just with music, friends and as many breaks as I want.

Chinese factory worker, just with music, friends and as many breaks as I want.

I also joined the sustainable magic crew in a last minute attempt to save the day by using their laser cutter to create thousands of plastic pieces that will hold in place the material used to defuse the LEDs light. The warehouse they work in was another small version of Nimby with amazing art created for burning man in previous years.

Another project I helped out with a little, mostly by giving massages, although I got to grind some of the rust away with this massive machine without killing myself, was the Tree of missed connections. A bunch of friends working in their back yard creating a LED-lit climbable tree, yes people like to climb on thing at burning man!

The Tree of missed connections

The Tree of missed connections

Both these projects were funded using crowd funding and let’s admit it, would probably not have come into being if the day jobs of a lot of the participants and their friends wasn’t the booming high tech industry in the area. This doesn’t lessen their accomplishment by one bit but shows that the freedom to create comes at a price that most people probably can’t afford.

Some amazing art from last year!

Some amazing art from last year!

These people and thousands of others creating the art for burning man will be working right up to the burn (and after). They will reach the playa even more exhausted than most but at least for some the added value of creating something together as a group is enough to keep them going and send them raving into the night… well, some chemical assistance might help as well.

See you on playa!

It Is What It Is

This amorphic title is probably the smartest thing I can say about my experiences in the massive (70,000 people) social experiment called Burning Man. But since stupidity has never stopped me before, I guess it won’t stop me know… read on for some personal accounts of this mayhem.

The Way

First of the RV breakdowns. A total of two flats, two tires came off, the propane pipe teared, step broke, roof leaked and the headlight burned out !!

First of the RV breakdowns. A total of two flats, two tires came off, the propane pipe teared, step broke, roof leaked and the headlight burned out !!

The adventure began when I joined Cinco, an old friend, who was kind enough and connected enough to find me a last minute ticket. I joined the two Lords, who were to become my guides and close friends in the days to come. We traveled in an RV manufactured on the year of my birth, which made me feel really old, especially as it started to disintegrate. The first explosion of a tire happened close to civilization, at the outskirts of Reno. We waited 6 hours until a truck big enough to lift the RV and put on the spare tire arrived. When the second spare tire exploded we were in the middle of nowhere and ended up spending the night camping on the side of the road with the beautiful starlit sky above us.

The city started out empty

The city started out empty

The rest of the way to the town of Gerlach we drove at 5 miles per hour with one wheel missing. We got a taxi from Reno to deliver two new tires to the local car shop and we were finally on our way to the famed Black Rock City, or so we thought… Passing the line at the entrance only took us an hour and a half, almost a miracle as people sometimes wait 12 hours. But the adventure wasn’t over. We got pulled over by the Police because one of the RV’s headlights had died. Dogs were running around the RV and sniffing it searching for drugs. We were saved, (once again) by Liz, a bubbling green braided master of flirtation who had been traveling behind us since the first flat tire. She had spent the day in Gerlach talking to the cops and knew the guy who had stopped us. She told him about the horrible two days we had and we were let off without even getting a fine for the busted head light, just a citation, the policeman said ‘you can smoke because it means nothing’.

 

Work Hard Play Hard

Building our camp!

Building our camp!

Cinco, who organizes the couchburners camp (based on couch surfing ideas), had gotten us early entrée tickets and from the night we arrived we began working. We marked the camp territory, built shade structures, organized hangout spaces, a kitchen and a makeshift shower; in essence we made a home for us and the people that would shortly join.

Seeing the city slowly build up and getting to experience it while it was still quite empty was a real privilege. Once the official gates opened an influx of people arrived and the mayhem began.

The Rules

Radical self reliance. Prepared for everything :)

Radical self reliance. Prepared for everything :)

Despite what one might expect, there are many rules to burning man and much bureaucracy; there is even a DMV office to register art cars and a media office you have to get permission from if you want to use photos for commercial use. The first few days, my rebellious self felt annoyed by these rules but throughout the burn I had come to look at the rules differently. First I thought they were a great way to create some common ground for a community, then I felt that the rules were an anchor designed to help me create some structure in the mayhem. Finally one of the Lords corrected my way of thinking, making me look at things from the view point of the burning man meme itself. The burn is an idea that has been evolving for 30 years and these rules were the evolution needed for the burn’s survival, any symbiosis with the human population, was because the burn needed humans. If too many people died or got injured the burn would be canceled. The same went with the no Mooping (matter out of place) rule. One had to pick up all the garbage because it was federal land and that was the rule they put forth. It wasn’t there to help me not lose my stuff (although it did as I devised a philosophy of MacGyvering everything to my body with carabineers and duct tape!) It also did not mean burning man was a community based on ‘green’ ideas as the carbon footprint of burning everything was massive.

The Radical self-reliance rule was much the same. A festival insisting on keeping its own freedom from any cooperation or endorsement, especially in the harsh environment of the Nevada desert, had to depend on participants’ self-reliance. The fact this rule created abundance which allowed for a gift economy and from my subjective point of view made me feel that the playa ‘provided’ me with help whenever I needed, or that by giving to the system I felt immediate benefit because I was part of the system, did not mean I was actually of any importance. It was a byproduct of the meme’s survival.

For me, self-reliance also meant that as usual, I came expecting the worse. Perhaps that was the reason the harsh conditions (a hail storm on one day and a sand storm on another) almost did not interfere with my experience. It might even be the opposite; they became part of the adventure.

The city filled up! Room for everyone and anyone... with a ticket :)

The city filled up! Room for everyone and anyone… with a ticket :)

Inclusion is another one of the burn rules, you do need to have money for your ticket and food and water but except for that the burn accepts everyone and anyone – this rule gives the burn an extremely robust survival trait. The byproduct of this is that there is something for everyone. From hippy new age ceremonies, to alternative energy lectures to 24 hour raves,  a roller disco, opera, endless art, things to climb, games to play and more and more and more! Even an orgy dome I tried to enter, but the line was too long. Personally I found the burn was a great place to taste new things like trying to play with Aerial silk for the first time, but it was not a place to deepen skills to a higher level. Martial arts and contact improve classes were present in the burn but at a surprisingly amateurish level.

 

The Candy

A picture that is worth one word!

A picture that is worth one word!

There are many different candies present at the burn, some legal everywhere, some legal in certain states and some that should be legal. Experiencing the city in different states of consciousness made me think of the burn as an amusement park specifically designed for taking psychedelics. It’s probably the safest place in the world to experiment with your brain, not only because the community tolerates it but the city’s design itself, with the man and temple at its center, surrounded by the circular streets provide order and structure and safety.  Crossing every main intersection in a straight line is almost impossible as something random will pull you towards it. So you wander around bouncing like a particle in strange magnetic fields using your momentum to explore and move randomly but still being pulled back to safety and close to assistance.

The truth is the only times I got injured or felt things were dangerous and didn’t make sense were when I was totally sober. I injured myself while climbing, crashed my bike and got totally lost, my attention kept being distracted by whatever craziness was going around me leaving me vulnerable.

An infinity mirror from our neighbors, the Thumper music camp, who played amazing music day and night (pic from their Facebook https://www.facebook.com/thumpercamp)

An infinity mirror from our neighbors, the Thumper music camp, who played amazing music day and night (pic from their Facebook https://www.facebook.com/thumpercamp)

Tasting different candies with different people was an amazing experience and experiment I have yet to fully digest. It allowed me to experience the circles within circles of social holons, there was me, there were us, there were others, closer and further, disco balls reflecting each other bouncing our signals, creating an infinity mirror. The multiplexing of the input channels I perceived changed based on the distance to others, how well I knew them, and the candy.

The famous pulpo mecanico art car. It shoots fire at night.

The famous pulpo mecanico art car. It shoots fire at night.

On my first night out with the two Lords I felt (or imagined) what I can only describe as the ‘collective’ consciousness of the playa. I was pulled towards these massive music breathing mechanical beasts lined up, shining, moving twirling in a line. I was the first to realize it was the art cars, waiting for the DMV to give them a license.  We danced in front of them and I noticed how each art car sucked in different people based on their musical preference. We finally moved past them and entered a ‘hotel’. It might be moving but not because it has wheels. The Lords laughed as I was sure the hotel was moving. We walked on a two story high plank (safety third!) into what I perceived as endless looping corridors (next day I realized it was just two rooms with a window connected between them). Most of the time I didn’t know if I was in a dreaming or not, it was a reverse function of a lucid dream, a dream reality, a rabbit hole. I collected Chewy bar wrappers I ate as a ‘reality check’ to test the time passage and consistency of this world.

That night I learnt the importance of being well lit at night. Providing light to the playa at night is a gift for everyone. Besides, having a special light signature means people will find you and you won’t have to search for them. Luckily, the two Lords were priests in this light religion creating their own led lit clothing and ‘pimping’ my outfit for the next nights out.

The city at night, so many lights!

The city at night, so many lights!

There was so much information, so much noise; the easiest way to stand out, to be something your brain could focus on was to increase the volume. More light, louder sound! This is probably what leads to the burn philosophy of ‘if you can do something you might as well over do it!’ An interesting ‘Dan Arieli’ phenomenon I became aware of was how comparison is an important factor of my brain function. Music or no music my brain was always attracted to music, even if when I got to the sound system I didn’t actually like it! The expectation, the need for it was almost more enjoyable. It’s an important bias to remember, something or nothing (relationship, work or whatever), your brain will always tilt towards the something, even if it’s not what ‘you’ really want.

I also realized how awful this ‘body bureaucracy’ is. Drink, pee, drink, pee, eat! my body kept signaling and pulling me away from all the wonders around me. Peeing is one of the hardest things on the Playa, you can only pee in designated bathrooms that are hard to find and each visit to them is terribly magnificent. It also offers a ‘time out’ from the others, just you and the melting, breathing toilet walls.

That night l got the playa name ‘Ninja’. Cinco gave it to me while we were talking quantum physics on the couch on top of the school bus. I love the name, and it’s a great excuse for me not to hug people which is one part of the burning man religion I choose to be very selective with. ‘Sorry I’m Ninja, I don’t hug people I kick them’. As for the rest of the ‘religion’, I was only too happy to convert. The burning man is something to believe in, something bigger than me. It has no god, it does not presume to make sense but if every one believes in it, the power of belief makes it real. When I realized that, I joined in doing things I wouldn’t usually do like drinking some alcohol and enjoying the collectivization of it.

Another night there were four of us roaming the playa as if in a computer game charging up from heat or music, laughter or comfy cushions, creating our own unique space, attuned to each other’s needs and feelings in a way I could not have ever imagined. “Someone needs to pee but it’s not me,” I remember saying and someone would admit it was them. I got sucked into Monica’s white laughter managing to escape only because I remembered Lord’s instructions, “That empathy, you have to learn how to put up borders, how to realize if something is coming from you or if is the being imposed by something outside of you. It’s all about suggestibility; your brain can be convinced of anything. Try to realize how other people or groups affect you and change the environment and the dynamics of the moment. That’s why tripping with someone is the truest mirror.”

My failed reaction time experiment. The first hour or two after taking candy there is a slight improvement but later, when the ruler looked like it was leaking and moving results get worse with time.

My failed reaction time experiment. The first hour or two after taking candy there is a slight improvement but later, when the ruler looked like it was leaking and moving results get worse with time.

There were moments I literally could not identify my own hand and for the first time nail polish did not seem totally idiotic, it could be used as a personal identifier for body parts. I played with this suggestibility convincing myself and others that I was never cold and could be used as the group’s radiator. A later experiment proved that this suggestibility has its limits. I was unable to convince my brain my reaction time experiment was important. I was however able to ride a bicycle 10 times better in these altered states, even through a dust storm which blinded me. My current hypothesis is that my brain recognized bicycling as a survival need while catching a ruler on cue was not deemed important enough to allocate resources to. The limbic system has much more power over the organism in these altered states – it doesn’t help to ‘tell’ your brain what to do, you have to ‘feel’ it.

I found myself unable to enter someplace (the embrace massive statue which felt so ‘heavy’ and depressing) while physically being stuck to others (an art structure called the bee hive). In my two visits to the temple I was totally brought back to real reality. The temple is a place where people mourn, cry and release whatever is in them that needs letting go of. They write on the walls and leave notes and pictures and at the end of the week the temple is burnt down in silence. I understood the need for such a place but felt it was not for me, the most I could do was offer my support to those who needed it.

Another life changing experience was feeling a funktion one audio system, the crisp clean waves of sound engulfing me creating coherence even if I didn’t like the music itself, an audiophile was born!

I do not know if these candies are ‘only’ a magnifying glass of all the tinny cues and inputs that usually do not reach the higher cortex functions or if it really is an ‘extra’ sense, I have yet to be convinced that there is a practical difference.

The temple

The temple

Anyway, this crazy night ended with watching the sunrise outside the temple. It was nothing like any sunrise I had seen, the colors were changing in super slow motion, the mountains were emerging, vibrating into reality, bringing a new day. I had this intense epiphany, realizing the world was like the playa, it my playground, to explore, to experiment, to enjoy. A few nights later trying to survive a dust storm as the man burnt (What’s the big deal? It was just like sex for the first time, too many expectations!) I felt the exact opposite ‘I was the world’s playground’; being pulled and pushed by so many forces that were totally out of my control.

The sensor Hamsa! Part of Pulse And Bloom by Saba Ghole

That’s when Lord noticed what I thought was the most amazing art piece on the Playa (Photos HERE). We were sitting on comfy cushions below fake led lighten palm trees. There were two ‘hamsa’ shapes marking hand prints on each side of the tree. “There is a sensor here,” he said as I looked at him, thinking he had finally flipped. “It measures your heart beat”. As he touched the sensor the led colors changed and began pulsing at the rhythm of his heartbeat. When I touched the other sensor my heart beat was added in a different color. A biofeedback loop was created slowly causing us to merge our heart beats, ultimately syncing them into mesmerizing pulses of light. I melted, loving this world, where someone will create such beauty, such genius, even though so few will actually notice it. It is what it is, I thought for the millionth time that week, letting it all pass through me.

The Secret Sense

Was Asimov tripping?

Was Asimov tripping?

“Intricate patterns of brilliant tints formed and faded, beating in silent bursts of color upon the young man’s eyeballs… Somehow, he knew that what he saw, heard, and smelt were mere delusions— mirages of a brain that frantically attempted to interpret an entirely new conception in it… The effect of the hormone became stronger, and suddenly — in one burst — Fields realized what it was he sensed. He didn’t see it — nor hear it — nor smell it — nor taste it — nor feel it. He knew what it was but he couldn’t think of the word for it. Slowly, he realized that there wasn’t any word for it. Even more slowly, he realized that there wasn’t even any concept for it. Yet he knew what it was. There beat upon his brain something that consisted of pure waves of enjoyment — something that lifted him out of himself and pitched him headlong into a universe unknown to him earlier. He was falling through an endless eternity of — something.” Asimov, ‘The Secret Sense’.

These words were my words, these sensations were my experiences as a miniscule amount of a miraculous chemical bubbled threw my veins passing the blood brain barrier.  Read on…

 

Inside

outside

I was in a safe space prepared by friends. I was opening and closing my eyes, alternating between my inner visions and viewing the outer world. Closing my eyes, I saw cheap ‘Las Vegas’ light displays, complicated kaleidoscopic images, people dancing, a black and white image of a woman, animated lizards, huge white ping pong balls bouncing, old colourful pixelated computer game. The images came and went like the wind faster than I could ever describe. The outer world mostly looked normal except for when geometry went all crazy and the room turned into an Escher painting or for the green glow that surrounded my fingers and shone around the words I wrote.

I realised that these visions were just a side effect of my brain adapting to something new. But what was it?

Words were hard to come by especially while writing. It was easier to speak than write. I could speak about anything except what the hell I was sensing. A theory in neuroscience equates consciousness with the ability to report. For me, this experience threw that theory out of the window. I was so completely conscious, perhaps more than I have ever been, yet it was so obvious to me that words were too small, too limited to describe what I was going through.

Normal? 

During this ‘acclimation’ period it all felt normal. Even though I knew I was not ‘normal’. Besides the visions, my nervous system was sending mixed signals, I was hot and cold at the same time and my heart rate was elevated.  Yet despite this the ‘normal circuit’ in my brain was turned on. Time still felt ‘normal’, the speed of my thoughts still felt ‘normal (unlike weed, which plays with these perceptions by affecting receptors in the short term memory part of the brain).  “Your hands are shaking,” my friend said. “No they aren’t,” I argued looking at my hands. I held a glass of water, putting it on the floor for support and sure enough ripples and waves began flowing through the water. How could my brain trick me thus? Was there any sensation I could trust? Perhaps this was what schizophrenic people felt? Normal, absolutely normal.

Lose yourself

Open that door!

Open that door!

“You are looking for a model that will never be complete. The world is just too worldy. The subject is so biased and small,” I wrote as the distance between the outside world and the inner perceptions of that world began growing.  I felt the distance between Sense – Perception – Action. One was so limited by the specific senses through which one came in touch with the world. There was so much out there that we would never know or feel or experience, and what did come through and was recognised as our ‘perception’, was so warped by our survival instincts, by our past experiences, by our emotions.  “To make biological survival possible, Mind at Large has to be funneled through the reducing valve of the brain and nervous system.”  As Huxely put it in The Doors of perception, where he described his experience with the Mescalin drug.

Slowly but surely these warps in perception began clearing up. We listened to music and watched Samsara, the images and sounds were extremely clear but the judgement connected to them was gone. Whether something was beautiful or scary it was just an image, just pixels, just photons transferring their energy to my retina. Beauty, pleasure, fears they were all interpretations; they were not the sensation itself.

This was the complete opposite of any other drug I have tried. This was the Buddhists Nirvana. Everything existed as it was without the ‘I’.  Words were so weak because they were part of the subject, and the subject was so unimportant.  Tears were flowing from my eyes but they weren’t my tears. I’ve always considered my tears a truth indicator and here was a truth I could not deny. “To actually feel that I don’t exist!” I wrote. The ‘professional’ term for this phenomenon is “death of the ego”, yet in this death I felt more alive than ever before.

Please shoot me if I become a hippie!

We watched videos of LSD experiments from the 50 and I knew these people were sensing the same thing that I was and they were just as incapable in describing it.

What would I call this extra sense If I had to limit it to a word? The Paradox sense! I knew it at once, I was sensing the uncertainty principle, I was sensing Gödel’s paradoxes, I was sensing the very limitations of an organism looking on itself.  And it didn’t feel bad.

“If I write this I just might puke,” I wrote, “But love, is not an emotion it is the I. it is the only thing that can converge me. The only thing I can still identify with.” I seriously contemplated how one could research the connection between consciousness and love. And I laughed. Oh, how much I laughed.

Most my life I’ve been obsessed with paradoxes, I wrote a whole sci-fi book about them. The philosopher Ken Wilber explains the world in terms he calls Holon, things that are simultaneously a whole and a part. Usually the sensation of these different aspects of the Holon I call ‘me’ or the Holons of the ‘universe’ evoke the sensation of pain, of contradiction. In this state I was fully aware of these contradictions and of the limits of my own being, but there was no pain. Things were as they were and that was a huge relief, a type of bliss. There was no pain and no fear, not even of death. And if pain or fear existed they were not mine!

Masaccio

Paradise Lost

As the perceiving “I” was taken out of the picture I realised there was no telling what actions this organism might decide to do. “Would this organism take care of itself?” I asked myself. “I’m not sure. Maybe,” was the answer?
It was extremely hard to care about this ‘body’ to feed it, to get it to drink. Yet when a pain was too strong I stopped it, when I walked down a dark stair case I held on to the rail and walked slowly as not to fall and I still wouldn’t agree to eat oranges even if I didn’t feel I hated them.
“You would never survive out there like this,” my friend insisted. “Out there I wouldn’t’ but in a safe environment I think I could. I would be functioning at around 60%. But why not live like this with truth before emotions?”
“Where could you find this type of environment?”
“The Garden of Eden,” I blurted. I could go around picking fruit and staring into the air. I could do this. I would never be bored.  Was eating from the forbidden tree of knowledge an ingenious metaphor of humanity developing an ego?  And if so why couldn’t we go back there?

After some experimenting I came to believe humans could not only live like this, they could procreate too. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that ‘my’ organism could feel horny. Sex itself was utterly clear without any annoying voices in my head, without ‘trying’ to achieve an orgasm.  And when the orgasm did come it cut sharply through all my senses verging on pain.

Final words
“This is when you realise so many of the artists you love were trying to express this feeling,” my friend said at some point. “Yes, Art tries, music tries, love tries, nothing can,” I agreed.
My friend, an advocate of Wittgenstein, claimed that this was proof of Wittgenstein’s ideas, that language puts a limit on the expression of thoughts. For me this was proof of the exact opposite, thoughts, sensations, consciousness are so much beyond language. “But how will you express these thoughts and pass on this knowledge to other people if it’s beyond language?” My friend insisted. “Easy, I’ll just give them some of these magic molecules and let them experience it first-hand.”

Love, Yes?

Love the merchandise

Love the merchandise

When my dancer/actor friend from Manila told me to come watch his fringe theater performance called “Love Is Not Yet A Musical”, I’ll admit I was expecting one of those ‘we are so cool and sophisticated that you aren’t going to understand anything we do’ performances. I did not expect to survive one of the most thought provocative, experiential, heart breaking, gut wrenching nights of my life which literally ended in tears for me. I’m pretty sure some of what we went through would not have passed the Helsinki declaration which regulates experiments on human beings.

Sarah Slezer, the 21 year old company manager, had explained to me that they didn’t like the way mainstream theater is done and the idea behind the performance was to create something different, something that will move people and get them to participate. Despite this, no warning bells went off and I was not prepared for what followed.

Rehearsals of one of the scenes

Rehearsals of one of the scenes

 

 

 

The creation process itself was experimental too. The group used crowd sourcing to gather more than 500 ideas, letters, monologs from which they selected and combined to create a whole piece. The whole event was exceptionally managed with a crew of around 30 actors and productions manager for the 60+ members of the audience that showed up. Half the performance was in Tagalog so I can’t vouch for that but some of the English monologs were the strongest I’ve ever encountered.

 

Spoiler alert!!! I can’t possibly get you to understand what I went through without some specific examples. Personally after much consideration I do recommend you go and experience the show first-hand if you can (showing, every weekend until the end of march in Manila) And if you do you probably shouldn’t read on…

But for all those of you who are in different countries, you know the drill…

It started out by getting the coolest finger led in one of three colors which the organizer used to separate us into 3 groups.

"Can I offer you a drink?" This actor sacrificed his eyes for his art...

“Can I offer you a drink?” This actor sacrificed his eyes for his art…

We were first led into a maze where actors pulled individuals into hidden cloves performing just for them or asking them to complete tasks. I was giving 30 seconds to express my most important message through writing, heard an intensely sexualized monolog. Truth is I missed out on a lot that was going on because I was mesmerized by an actor who poured a shot of tequila for people asking them “What would you tell the last person you broke up with if you had the chance?” and “Are you still angry with them?”

If their answer to the last question was yes the person was to shout the sentence at the actor and throw the tequila shot into their face, if they weren’t angry anymore the actor would raise his glass and they would drink together.

“You never made me come!” Shouted one woman and threw the alcohol into the guy’s face.

“You should have fought for me,” Said another and raised her glass.

And so it went on.

I thought this would be the entire performance but it was barely an introduction and we were hurriedly herded together with our group and led out into another room.

For the next hour and a half we were led through 4 different rooms. Our guides used body language and very strict words to get us to follow and stay in line. Each room had a different theme. Hot, Cold, Past, Future. Later I discovered they were connected to the ‘gods’ which was the theme of the play.

Throughout the performances, manipulative brain washing techniques were used to get the crowd to participate and follow along. Fake actors were embedded into the group, time and again creating a peer pressure environment and making you not sure what was part of the performance and what was “real”. Loud music, flashing lights, darkness, smell were all used to put the audience into emotionally vulnerable states and cooperate.

Hot
Seduction, sexuality and the craziness of love were the themes of the monologs. The audience got to dance and share ‘the craziest thing we did for love’. Quitting school, becoming a third wheel and choosing a same sex relationship were some of the very intimate things people shared.

 Cold

Cold indeed

Cold indeed

Doctors with scary masks were giving us instructions in very commanding voices and demanded: “Introduce yourself, Feed me candy, Give me a kiss on the cheek…” and the crowd, as crowds do, obeyed. This led up to the demand “Ask me out on a date?” to which an older women replied feebly “Um, do you want to go out with me?” The actor shouted an insulting NO!

And broke into one of the best monologues I’ve ever heard that completely embodies the reason I will never date anyone!

 

Next there was a performance in Tagalog revolving around separation and death and we were told to lie down on our backs. A projection appeared above our head. People were looking down at us, throwing dirt and flowers. We were being buried! We were instructed to whisper things we were afraid of. Personally this whole experience made me feel very vulnerable and scared.

Future
Up on the roof  we joined a “fitness” class. “Reach for the stars reach for the moon” the instructor was shouting to happy music. The contradiction to the previous room was very intense. “What is your goal? Your dream for the future? For tomorrow?” The instructor asked. “To go abroad, To finish grad school,” were some answers. The fitness instructor was overly enthusiastic and comic performing sit ups “to finish high school,” and encouraging us to reach for our dreams.

A member of the crowd intervened to share his dream. He was talking about how much he prepared for this day where he would be the star. The instructor seemed to cooperate and dressed the guy in a suite. An intense scene in Tagalog developed, with this guy waiting for his wedding day and being dumped at the alter. At one point the guy jumped onto the edge of the roof and threatened to commit suicide. And the fitness instructor shouted out “No, help me convince him not to jump,” As we had experienced this type of manipulation in the other rooms it was quite evident that this ‘guy’ was part of the crew (He was actually, the friend that brought me to the performance). Despite that it was an extremely intense moment and people were shouting, “Don’t jump, come down!” then another guy jumped up on the roof edge too. At this point I wasn’t sure if that second guy was part of the act or not. The borders between reality and performance had broken down.

The scene somehow quickly changed to us creating paper airplanes and being asked to have a conversation with our future love 10 year from now. But I was still stuck in the previous scene wondering what would have happened if we would have experienced this room first? Could someone have thought this was ‘real’? And even if not, what are the psychological ramifications when asked to participate in this kind of scene? Not to view it from a safe passive distance of an audience, but to be standing there with the instructions to take action!

 

“The Past”
“Then I realize that that smell on your shirt would soon fade away. Slowly, it will smell like all the clothes in my closet. It will no longer smell of you, but smell of me. As I inhale once more …. One last time, I smell your shirt, the scent seems to be gone.” The Nose Knows (Isabelle Martinez)
This heart breaking monologue which was preformed while we were asked to pack boxes with books and clothes brought me to tears, and I wan’t the only one.

This continued with asking us to close our eyes and imagine a previous lover, to caress their hair, touch their nose, their lips… while the actor spoke about memorizing these features because she knew it was the last time she would see this face. Thinking of this now almost 24 hours later still brings tears to my eyes… Then we were asked to draw a good memory that we had with our past lover and share it and finally a monolog from an old women in Tagalog who was crying and showing pictures from an album…

War
As we were brought to the first maze room and were met with a guy playing the piano I thought it was finally over. But the final act hadn’t yet begun. We were told we would be going to war and given 5 minutes to freshen up and use the toilets.

Crushed in a human train? No thank you!

Crushed in a human train? No thank you!

Back on the roof we were told to choose a different color than what we had gotten. I missed the point that we were supposed to choose based on which room we were most connected to and chose entirely based on color. Blue, like a star wars light saber! We were separated into groups when all chaos broke loose. Smoke screens, water, flashing lights and constant screaming from all around. “Stay with me!” Shouted the actor in front of me holding an umbrella as she ran across the roof through the chaos. I was the only one that actually followed her as the rest ended up with other actors or got lost in the chaos.  Two other people found us and we were instructed to say things we hate. All the while we were surrounded by screams and shouts from the other groups which were doing other stange activities. This continued to a “cleansing ritual” were we were to sprinkle water on ourselves and “release” things we didn’t want to take with us. We were then told to go experience the other groups’ “rituals”,  where they were saying sorry for things they had done while hitting a drum or making promises for the future. By this point I was too shell shocked to do anything.

But it still wasn’t over and a “battle” between the groups had begun. I’m probably getting all of this confused but I think a dance performance between a man and a women was interrupted and we, the past and the cold group were told to convince the woman to leave her partner and stay with us. The other group was told to convince her to stay. Then I think we were told to do the opposite. But who the hell knows…

There was a last crazy “game” where the actors pantomimed a train and told people they could get on or off whenever they wanted. Almost everyone got on and they were surrounded and literally crushed by the actors who got them to run around the roof. Luckily being from Jewish decent I knew better than to be conned to get on a crowded train.

Anyway, somehow the scene changed to a marriage scene and then there was this fire show and a story about this love god getting beat up by children, then this live sweet song came on and every one was giving hugs to each other. It was obvious they wanted to put us through some “healing process” but I had had enough of being pushed around and told what to do so I just sat down and tried to get everyone to leave the white girl crying in the corner alone.

Beyond Temptation

First watch this video. Then, after you’ve finished drooling, read on and I’ll tell you all about Macho dancing plus an in-depth interview with Eisa Jocson the contemporary choreographer, dancer and visual artist, from the Philippines you’ve just been seduced by.

MACHO DANCER from Eisa Jocson on Vimeo.

Macho Dancing is basically male strip dancing. In the Philippines this is quite popular amongst both male and female spectators and a unique movement vocabulary has been developed by the dancers.  Eisa has researched this dance form, broken it down and managed to embody it into her ballerina, pole dancer and very female body.

I participated in two Macho Dance classes finding it utterly fascinating how small movements and body language can enable one to project an image beyond their born gender. I was quite surprised when more than anything the class resembled Chi Gong classes I was practicing in china.

The principles are simple:

  • Connect your breath with your movement.
  • Interconnect your entire body putting your whole weight behind every movement and move as if you are immersed in sticky dough.
  • If you don’t have the muscles fake the body position muscular people have. Shoulders held back and up, arms always floating away from the body.
  • Exaggerate your movement by using opposition, If you want to go down first go up, if you want to go right first go left and also separation of your spine.
  • And the most important thing – move as if you are the most handsome guy in the world, completely in love with yourself.

Go on try for yourself! It’s fun!

 

Interview With Eisa Jocson

Both As a Pole and Macho dancer your work has strong elements of seduction. Why do you choose to focus on that and how does it make you feel?

I think it’s a very elementary instinct we all have it. It’s quite raw and open. Desire is desire it doesn’t hide that it is anything else than that. I’m drawn to things that have this taboo because I don’t believe in it and on top of that there is a lot of skill involved, it’s not just desire that happens it’s constructive desire. It’s very precise, it’s craftsmanship.

It’s so normal to me that I forget that it is a taboo. I forget that I am the subject of desire, I approach it quite straight on. What makes me sad is that desire is being pushed to the margins on one side while actually being used by the consumerist main stream and hidden in an allusion in advertisements.

Eisa Jocson

Eisa Jocson

What is the strangest reaction you’ve had to one of your works?

It was an endearing strange one, a gay man wanting to marry me as a macho dancer and woman wanting to be me as a macho dancer.  I really like hearing feedback because if you listen they are basically divulging themselves in the process. I feel those that are giving the feedback are in a vulnerable position.

Would you consider yourself or your work Feminist?

I haven’t brushed up on my feminist view. It could be and it could also not be. It depends on the books I am currently reading. It’s shifting and that’s good because it means the work is evolving.

Where did the idea come from to do Macho dancing and how did you train for it and does it affect you?

I was introduced to it by a relative and went to a club and thought it was fascinating and shared it with an artist friend from Singapore. In other places the shows are very different they are more narrative and less focused on the craft of the body.

At the beginning I went to see the shows and slowly slowly I asked them to teach me. It was a difficult process just to be in that space and ask them to teach something they don’t really teach. In the beginning they were a bit doubtful they thought I was baiting them into a bachelorette party, the Macho’s would come with assistants in case something happened and I myself would have a friend to learn with me just in case. This interaction isn’t normal, there isn’t a teacher student relationship in the Macho community. Macho dancing has affected my way of being. People close to me can tell, you become more masculine in the normative sense. It shifts your world view. Today after the Macho class I went to the bank as it was closing, usually I’d sweet talk my way into it but somehow the Macho class affected me and I didn’t find it within me to smile and be gentle.

 

In Class

In Class

Did any of your Macho teacher see one of your performances?

Not yet. It’s a fantasy of mine to actually preform in a Macho club. But it’s quite fragile for the people of the industry. How can they wrap their mind around a woman preforming a Macho dance as an artistic practice? Even in the performing dance world it’s a strange thing. I don’t want to come in and impose myself.

What does the Queer community think about your work?

Queer people have been quite enthusiastic I didn’t expect that most of the support would come from them. A transsexual that saw my performance in Zurich was asking me if we do this regularly in the Philippines? If we have a drag king scene? I didn’t even know what that was and I told him that it doesn’t really exit. There were some opposing views from (gay) men who haven’t seen my work and don’t think it can work. After they do see it I think they become confused. It’s quite magical and charming for me when they do find it’s seductive.

In class you said that Macho is all about taking over as much space while Pole dancing is about the illusion of being light and not taking up space what do you think of this from a Gender perspective?

Here (in the Philippines) the stereotype of the Genders are quite strong. The dances are pointing to the hyper of both. I hope one day they can be combined but I’m not sure how it’s going to happen.

Do you feel a different objectification as a pole dancer or macho dancer?

When I’m pole dancing, since I’m a woman doing pole dancing the taboo is much closer to the gender stereotype. They always assume that the act is sexual or objectified because I’m a women in skimpy cloths . In Macho it works better because I’m an outsider, a woman, so it’s fascinating. There is a confusion that you have to manage, how to put you in a box and categorize this object.

Are you trying to fight this objectification?

It’s part of the discourse, it’s a language that is made for objectification so it’s inherently there. But what’s interesting is when you manage to make it disappear while still staying within the form. To still look at the pole dancer, at the same body, but gain this shift in perspective.  You can look at my performances and objectify it in a consuming way but if your intention is not to consume you won’t look at the person as an object.

I wouldn’t say my work is a rebellion. I don’t see anything wrong with what I’m doing, although I’m very careful in the Philippines. I haven’t actually performed the entire piece here, just more subtle pieces focusing on the money transaction. I didn’t take off my top which I do in the Macho Dancer piece. I think if I did that here it would be labeled as a provocation and all the other things might disintegrate. It’s easy to sensationalize my work, A woman doing Macho and the media can just invent some fantastic story about my intentions.

What are your actual intentions with your work?

Just to question constructs that are seemingly fixed or already put in place by society, family history or how you’re brought up. Even just to question your movement habits. Like the habit to cross your legs and take up so little space. Questioning this opens up a different world

 

Eisa will be preforming in Switzerland on the 11-12 of February

On the 17th she’ll be back in manila for an interactive exhibition about macho dancing./p>

Performance Issues

“It will change your life” said Vangelis, the organizer of the “No Borders” dancing project. This sentence along with his martial arts knowledge lured me, a non-dancer, to join. After 3 weeks I can say it has. After only 3 days of intense 7 hours training a day, parts of myself I never knew existed started to move and I began to realize how martial arts training can and should change. To make things even better I discovered a bunch of super talented individuals from around the world, most of whom I actually liked and can now crash on their couches 🙂

Terrified by Joshua and Tomoko's performance!

Terrified by Joshua and Tomoko’s performance!

The last week the group was focused on their final performances which I had no interest to participate in. You see, I realized that dancers try to express themselves through movement (yeah very deep I know) and that I have no desire towards this type of self-expression. I tried, I really did but it’s just not there. For me, there is something too self-absorbed or even self-imposing on “forcing” people to see me move. I don’t feel watching me “dance” can give any value to anyone. I mean, I wouldn’t want to see myself dance so why should others?

Priceless looks from locals. Rahul's street preformance.

Priceless looks from locals. Rahul’s street preformance.

I will admit that watching some of the “real” dancers and performances was valuable to me and even surprisingly enjoyable with moments of brilliance. Iina and Ianthe asked the crowd to participate and edit their work by opening and closing their eyes. Tomoko and Chuck danced with each other through a window separating them. Rahul interacted with shocked and delighted Chinese locals in one of the best street performances I’ve seen. Joshua and Tomoko scared the shit out of me trying to escape from plastic wrap. There were also some great short movies all of which will hopefully go online so you can see for yourself.

Are these moments of brilliance worth the “waste” of time and boredom I felt throughout the rest of the performances, feeling like I was watching people’s sub consciousness flow out in perhaps a therapy of sorts? Can you not have one without the other? I’m not sure I have the answers. And even if I did it would be entirely subjective coming from my ‘barking puppy on speed’, limited attention span.

The Frame!

The Frame!

I didn’t dance but I did contribute two interactive art installations. PostArt (the envelopes some of you created) and “The Frame”, a python program which allows people to put different avatars on their face and exchange their face with others in real time. There wasn’t much of a crowd but the 20 or so locals that came seemed to enjoy it.

Safety not even last!

Safety not even last!

The next day I helped with set up of the final group performance. It’s been a long time since I organized an event and I forgot how much fun it is to climb on ladders and set things up. Especially Chinese flaky ladders.

I’m not entirely sure I have anything smart to say as my final words of self-indulging self-expression. Maybe I’ll end with a question (I’ll be happy for you to answer): “What makes us invest so much time and efforts into putting our ideas and thoughts out there even if no one really wants to listen?”

I think I have a beginning of an answer but you’ll have to read my sci fi book: 0 Point Energy 😉