Cock and Bull

Rosanna Cade, Laura Bradshaw and Nic Green

written by Diana Damian Martin

 

There is some evil shit in this world that needs fucking up

Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts

I notice the exhaustion first – the dripping sweat, the fading gold dusting off arms and mouths, the momentum of the movement, the energy that swings like a pendulum between three bodies in the midst of a fight. Particularly when that fight is not between bodies that are present, but those invoked, those that are invited in through this choreography of politics and the political.

Then the language, as it slips past their tongues, uttered and spliced and splattered into the room, words dripping from our clothes, leaking from our eyes, squashed between clenched hands.

Finally, the structure makes itself palpable in the arrangement of the chairs, our facing each other, an aisle down the middle, like some staged confrontation or gathering. It’s unclear, how we can all be together in this space.

Cock and Bull is a sort of staying with the trouble, to borrow from Donna Haraway. It is staying with the kind of trouble that is iterated through power (and gender, class and race). It is staying with the trouble of politics, who it speaks to, and what it speaks about, and importantly, from where it emerges. It is a performance piece about the theatre of politics that returns to the body – and to ways of regaining agency as much as making visible.

Staying with the trouble takes shape here as a committed re-telling of our relationship to political representation. Whilst it’s focused on the fallacies of political oration, Cock and Bull does something more nuanced than revealing how politics lies or, rather, how politics exorcizes itself from meaning, reliant on our own expectations rather than its responsibilities. It brings politics to the real experience of bodies, and in doing so, makes visible, palpable even, the vast differences of representation; who speaks for whom, and on what terms.

Cock and Bull first came about at the time of the 2015 General Election. Nic Green, Rosanna Cade and Laura Bradshaw sifted through the entirety of the Conservative Party conference of 2014, thinking about political speech and its overtly problematic representation. In Nic Green’s words, ‘mostly white, male, middle-aged, privileged voices stuck in the blatant repetitions of catchphrase, motto and tag line.’

The phrases ‘hard working people’ and ‘people who work hard’ are at the core of the piece’s mechanisms of repetition, that form both a vocal soundscape and a physical exorcism of sorts. The homogeneity is at first striking, for it feels both mundane and tragic- the repetition neither imbues the words with any meaning, nor does it strip them, because there’s simply nothing to look behind.

Of course, ‘hard’ here translates across multiple landscapes: political rhetoric, austerity, labour, the consequentiality of language that’s rarely exposed. ‘People’ is stretched too, almost to the point of definition, revealing not only what it stands for, but what it can do. It’s the confrontation with these inherent paradoxes of language in bodies in power, and those that seek to reclaim it, that Cock and Bull expresses.

Cock and Bull is piercing not just because it talks about how politics fails us, but because it confronts how politics thinks. These are three bodies that aren’t mimicking the bodies of others, they are fully committed to bringing them into the space, and with confronting their pretences, their shallow gesturing, their empty language.

Green, Cade and Bradshaw are incredibly engaging performers, and the transparency of their labour is a process in and of itself: one that reveals the construction of political identities and the fallacy of deploying a democratic rhetoric in a system that is anything but. It’s why it feels so strange to encounter this work on the brink of a new, snap General Election; like a piece of history that’s violently kicking you in the face, whilst tagging at your shirt, whilst unfolding in front of you.

Yet Cock and Bull is not just about politics and governance, it is about politics and gender – and it draws on the fallacy of a binary gender paradigm by performing political masculinity with full commitment. This is patriarchy, in its fullest sense- its rhetoric, gestures, choreographies of power, the humour of its self-importance and the vacuous lack of character or strength of identity beyond its institutional power.

The Frank Zappa song about an SM relationship that now features David Cameron makes this palpable, as does the interplay between language and the body that utters it. This is about bodies that are made disposable, identities that disappear, and the denial of political agency. That’s why in Cock and Bull, bodies are slowly revealed, and chairs fucked with committed precision.

Photo: Jemima Yong

Green, Cade and Bradshaw create some kind of underspace that lies just at the edges of politics, in all its social and governmental coming into being. Wood-panelled rooms flipped inside out, slowly burning on the sides, whilst bodies repeat what you don’t want to see, over and over again, like a Twin Peaks nightmare, and we’re on the sides, clapping and cheering. But maybe we should join in, too.

What do you have to do to perform language, or rather, how does language slip away, or rather, what does it mean, deliberative democracy, if there is a presumed consensus or rather, how do bodies enact their own disassociations or rather, how did politics come to look like this, or rather, what does the body reveal about language, or rather, who is being dispossessed or rather, why are we here again, and how much louder do we need to get.

 

As seen at Southbank Centre on 29th April 2017.

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