Edith in den Fashion-Städten is a series of travel notes and reviews on exhibitions and events, written by a confused traveler trying to make sense of these hazy everyday encounters and the politics of the body accompanying them.
The final installment in the series is all about a Young Boy Dancing Group performance that took place as part of Schinkel Pavillion’s program Disappearing Berlin. Next to the riverbank amid piles of sand, Lázár depicts traces of the 2000s fashion rave scene and senses a scenography of a dystopian world, while the performance reveals a potentiality of »queering« the body, a way of thinking sideways by unraveling pleasure and desires. Listen to a special playlist on Soundcloud accompanying the text
• I was finding my way through the heavy air of a Berlin evening without knowing where exactly I was supposed to arrive. I’ve become so accustomed to spotting places by visual fragments of Google maps that now, left with only an unclear address and no familiar images, I doubted my internal compass. While a narrow street turned out to be half-closed and fenced up, it struck me that I was presumably looking for something of a construction site. Schinkel Pavilion’s project was called Disappearing Berlin, after all. And there I was, near some blue containers, piles of sand near the riverbank, industrial rubble and heavy-duty vehicles, where some youngsters were selling water and beer.
• what I kept writing to my friend
»I’m not sure if I have the patience for it – the program says it last over three hours. The whole art scene seems to be present, along with the posh and the cool kids. / I don’t know if I’d be able to recognize the performers from the audience since everybody is so over the top, dressed to impress, from drag queens to club kids, to I don’t know how many stylized Trinitys and Neos I’ve already counted. / There’s this otherwise cute Latino couple, both of them taken out of some 2000s fashion rave. They are wearing high platforms and heels. It’s so excruciatingly painful to watch them walk around on this gravel. They do look amazing and somehow unbothered. They have so much sassiness that I’m jealous. / I can’t find our queer Romanian group to adopt me for the evening, and my social anxiety kicks in. I am not wearing anything remotely decent. I feel so generic. / I think it’s starting. / It is promisingly atmospheric. / What in the name of performances do I know? *might like it (?) / I’m nicely confused. I’ll call you up tomorrow.«
• moving with a collective body; I was absorbed by it all.
After colorful dust bombs exploded on the sky and enveloped the air in diffuse shades of fuchsia, the performers from _ybdg (Young Boy Dancing Group) started to infiltrate the waiting crowd. Here and there something was happening, dancers moving slowly in sexual positions and intimate formations. Speakers placed high on construction operating machines filled the space with atmospheric music, among which Dan Bodan’s melancholic notes lingered on.  These nostalgic sounds followed performers around while they were burning wooden pallets, gazed somewhere into the abyss, walked in a series of interventions gathering the audience in different points of action. Something or someone was always »happening« somewhere else as well. The entire site seemed habitable, dynamic, and inhabited by beings of a dystopian world in a scenography lighted by white neons and industrial spotlights. A particular »madness« raised from this incoherence – of »what is happening?« or »where do they go?« – accompanied by an overwhelming feeling of presence. The crowd moved with the performers, crossing the threshold to witness and be complicit to another world.
A post-apocalyptic scent was floating in the air with the dancers wrapped in clothes as a mix of undergarments and overlaying of rags; found items already destroyed, but holding on. While I was making my way through piles of sand, these particular dress-ups reminded me of a deserted world, a shattered land as the one inhabited by scavengers from the Mad Max series. Fashion has always been one of the main tools for world-building, for imagining other scenarios, in other words: an aesthetic conveyer. Yet, despite their tribal styling, these clothes behaved less as an armor aiming to envelop the body and protect it. Hanging loose, kept together by undergarments, clothes were instead exposing something so frail, so vulnerable, as a body of affect and violence visible through dance acts. Mismatched shoes, taped so they don’t fall, with toes sticking out, destabilized the body’s movements, making it uncanny.
»Dancing is, by default, a practice charged with ritualistic history; think of the Greek bacchanalias meant to do precisely that: distort the »order« ruling everyday life, through ecstatic and frenzied movements, violent and sensual pleasure.«
The collective is known for dance performances provoking the body through choreographies reminiscent of rituals and the queer club scene. The name references another emerging collective, »the young girl reading group« (YGRG), founded by Dorota Gavęda and Eglė Kulbokaitė in 2013. The latter emphasizes how language travels across the body, attempting to deinscribe neoliberalist strategies prizing youthfulness while condemning it nevertheless.  Both collectives perceive the body as a vessel: one rearranging it through performative text and out-loud readings, the other building it up through highly intimate choreographies.  What we should consider is that »girl« and »boy« are always bodies in becoming, of sexuality but not fully inscribed, thus they can function as a canvas to bend the body and make it publicly intimate. These sought out disturbances make an arch to »queering.« As José Esteban Muñoz notes: »We can understand queerness itself as filled with the intention to be lost. Queerness is illegible and therefore lost in relation to the straight minds mapping of spaces (…); one’s queerness will always under one lost to a world of heterosexual imperatives, codes and laws.« Thus, it offers an elasticity, a way of »thinking sideways« that, relying on bodies, pleasure, and desires, it turns them around in an unexpected way.  Both text and dancing can challenge how we think the normal, showing it as what it is: a social fiction – something that could as well be arranged differently. Dancing is, by default, a practice charged with ritualistic history; think of the Greek bacchanalias meant to do precisely that: distort the »order« ruling everyday life, through ecstatic and frenzied movements, violent and sensual pleasure.
Making a short pass through a routine that gathered them media coverage and hype for dancing and mapping the space with green lasers beaming out of their asses, dancers continued to open their bodies. This time, lit candles penetrated mouths, vaginas, and anuses, dripping on the skin, on fingers and feet. Verbalizing the visual seems hollow when what prevailed was the visceral and the anticipation of pain. The performers’ bodies continued as places of vulnerability and intimacy, of getting together, of touching, of climbing and sustaining the weight of bodies one upon each other, about to snap. As in some physics experiments, they transferred energy from one to another. This feeling ultimately found solace in an ecstatic drive like the one that used to get a hold of rave parties. It was an almost hysterical moment, bringing together something of a communal body made of dancers clinging to each other and resisting at the same time, a web set in motion. Caught by hands and feet, pushing and gripping, hair stuck in clothing knots, gravity pulling bodies’ weight, tension spread on the skin’s surface, on the traces the ripped off clothes have left behind. Then the dancers got lost in highly repetitive movements until the body, exhausted, had to let go. Later some disappeared into the river’s waters.
»A body in the act of becoming. It is never finished, never completed; it is continuously built, created, and builds and creates another body […] thus the artistic logic of the grotesque image ignores the closed, smooth, and impenetrable surface of the body and retains its excrescences and orifices only, that which leads beyond the body’s limited spaces into the body’s depth.«Mikhail Bakhtin: Fashioning the Grotesque Body in Thinking Through Fashion
The body is your breathable medium. It is nevertheless the battleground for gender, sexual, and racialized politics, among others. In this sense, how we could make it »lost« might hold the potential for other ways of thinking. In _ybdg’s made-up scenario, it’s not only dance but fashion as well that, intertwined, works to similarly destabilize representations. It is an »aesthetic action« in the words of Michael R. Muller, since taking form, shaping, and styling are creating order as much as they can upsurge disorder.  Fashion and dance open spaces of liminality: they create »unusual situations that cannot be accommodated within familiar horizons of interpretation,« which in turn generate »dissonances,« enabling and provoking perceptions otherwise unperceivable.  They signal other codes of behavior.
• a carnival? a note
In a world obsessed with a disciplined »controlled self,« shaped by clothes, by »vitamins« industry, mantras of well-being and mindfulness adjusting us to whatever social input a body rejects, the act of letting go is more and more equally controlled – set on a timer. Literature theorist Mikhail Bakhtin describes the body turning up in carnivals as a reversal that unsettles the body’s borders. It creates ruptures. This body is the grotesque body: »a body in the act of becoming. It is never finished, never completed; it is continuously built, created, and builds and creates another body […] thus the artistic logic of the grotesque image ignores the closed, smooth, and impenetrable surface of the body and retains its excrescences and orifices only, that which leads beyond the body’s limited spaces into the body’s depth.«  This might sound like a very close description of what bodies performed. Yet, beyond the hype and the spectacular, what would it mean to look at the _ybdg’s collective techno-body, melancholic body, the ecstatic body as a possible model of disruption? Even if it’s one that might as well disappear into nowhere. The body could take shape beyond the individual and instead be a conglomerate made of dancers, audience, objects, and space itself. The stake, however, is to maintain a dissonance after the frenzy, a sense of »being lost,« commonly.
• scraps on my phone
the weird as aesthetic value, performing public hopelessness, queering nostalgia, touch, weight, vulnerability, a temporary collective body, a habit – a dance, a soft apocalypse.
• on things that face erasure: The Schinkel Pavilion’s ongoing project, Disappearing Berlin, is one of those elusive series of events that you have to follow and understand within the spaces and along with their local histories.  For a foreigner like me, just wandering around, what stood out was the everyday. I was short of apprehending the real nostalgia accompanying such sites doomed to fall into forgetfulness. Not that I cannot understand the weight of it, since I’m part of a curatorial collective that has for some years reactivated unused spaces in my home city, Cluj-Napoca. The monetization of urban areas, the disappearance of the cultural or familiar layers of the city in favor of some generic glass ceilings, remains the same. They persist and multiply. Yet, the project actualized a question I’ve been wrapping my mind around a lot lately: how can the local be made relatable both within and across communities as more than artistic or image capital?
Like with other future ruins: when it starts, you follow.
While sites can rise and fall, it was like the end of the world – and I’m not sure when – but at least we were dancing.
All images were taken by Edith Lázár
- Available on a special playlist on Soundcloud accompanying the text.
- Young Girl Reading Group, named after Tiqunn’s Preliminary Materials for a Theory of a Young-Girl, 1996, creates intimate atmospheres for the acts of reading, at the confluence of feminist theory and empowering ideas on technology. Seen as a strategy to dismantle knowledge and a prefabricated notion of identity, thus proposing queering, it opens spaces in which to reconsider desire, pleasure, and the economy of attention. https://www.pw-magazine.com/2019/permeable-screens-the-young-girl-reading-group/
- Young Boy Dancing Group, _ybdg, is a continuously changing and morphing collective based on trust, energy, and a certain sense of internal confrontation.
- José Esteban Muñoz: Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity, New York, 2009, pp.72–73. / Also: E.L. McCallum and Tyler Bradway, »Thinking Sideways, or an Untoward Genealogy of Queer Reading« in After Queer Studies, Cambridge 2019, p.3.
- Michael R. Müller: »The Waywardness of Fashion: Society in the Subjunctive,« in Aesthetic Politics in Fashion, Elke Gaugele, ed. Berlin 2014, p. 148.
- Ibid. pp.152–155.
- Mikhail Bakhtin, cited by Francesca Granata, Mikhail Bakhtin: Fashioning the Grotesque Body in Thinking Through Fashion. A Guide to Key Theorists, Agnès Rocamora and Anneke Smelik eds., I.B. Tauris 2016; p. 97, and in-depth talks pp.106–108.
- More about Schinkel Pavilion’s ongoing project here: https://disappearingberlin.de/info/