Interview with
Female Wizard

#1—A Body Complicates

We made friends with Female Wizard very early on in Becoming, they popped up after ordering a copy of Technically Man Dwells upon this Earth, very cool, intelligent, sexy, very enthusiastic; Female Wizard, if they like us, we must be doing something right. Fast forward six months and we both end up in Berlin, as she was visiting the ruins of Europe from Australia, and there we got to meet, and hang out and chat. It was super, she is amazing. Love her. We recorded many hours of interviews and it may take a while to get through the transcription process, but we will disseminate the discussions piece by piece.
           We are starting this time with a short passage where we discuss some topics that bring us full circle, all the way back to Becoming Issue Zero, with a discussion centered around Grandmaster Flash and Minimalism. In many ways, the topics of transness, immanence, minimalism and Grandmaster Flash were the point of departure for the first publications of Becoming, so to be back here, 2 years later, in the run up to the publication of Where Does a Body Begin? talking with one of the first friends we made through this publishing practice about bodies and John Cage, its all very, very hot and circular.

Inputs/Outputs (performance piece)
What A Body Can Do (album)
Boiler Room (dj set)

Art historically has been a very materialist thing, we used to think of art as a sculpture, made of literal matter, or a painting made of oil paints on a physical surface, but the last hundred years has brought with it the dematerialisation of art, and with that comes the rise of conceptual art, contemporary art… its more about thinking about art than the materiality. In some ways it can seem good to dematerialise art but it brings with it a loss of an understanding of materiality. In a way, I’m trying to say that we may have forgotten that Art has this kind of physical side to it, so I might agree with you that studying philosophy and metaphysics can inform art practices a lot due to this whole dimension of an artwork “existing in/as space” — what we’re doing is really happening in the world and we’re doing it with materials and the body.

           FEMALE WIZARD
I think that something that really interested me was reading this Sylvia Federici book “Caliban and the Witch”, which has problems, as a book, but I liked it at the time. She really attributes a lot of ideas to Descartes, with the Mind over Body; it’s a moment in British history where there is a drive for population growth, to use all these bodies as machines. I haven’t seen anyone else attributing this to Descartes except Kodwo Eshun in “More Brilliant than the Sun”, where he talks about the Cartesian approach to dance music in relation to a “soulless European sound” that appeared when dance music came to Europe. Or for example Eshun writes about how Breakbeat is distributed across the body, hitting all areas of the body, which pushes against this Cartesian dualism.
           So, I was thinking that as a Dancer, how do we imagine a Body? I have been through twelve years of Ballet training, for example… if this person (Descartes) is supposed to be so influential on how we understand our bodies, its quite problematic, it leaves you seeing the body as just this separate machine. Whereas when you read Spinoza and you get something quite different. I had engaged with Spinoza through that book Practical Philosophy by Deleuze, and it was profound to me because, for example, I had read one of McKenzie Wark’s books and didn’t understand a word of it, but reading Spinoza, everything made complete sense to me. It’s not an easy book, but I just got it. I was completely absorbed by this idea of denial of the self, or life-denying as Nietzsche would say. With Spinoza, the body is completely equal to the mind, so all of a sudden I realise there is alternative way of looking and understanding the body. I felt that Spinoza could be used to push back against the capitalist form of art making and thinking about bodies that, to circle back, was a consequence of Cartesian dualism.
           What I have been trying to do since I started working as a choreographer is to create pieces that are so immanent, where it feels as though the actual space itself is contributing to what is going on, on stage. Where the looking of the audience is not just accidental, or disconnected, but there is somehow an actual back and forth between us.

Okay, that has an interesting overlap with something I’ve found within Ethnomusicology circles, a certain critique of the relationship between audience and artist. It’s very common to see people from a sociology of music background mapping art and music culture onto Cartesian Dualisms, with the Audience/Performer being a good example. Take the example of a concerto, with the audience and artists being set apart, where the performer bestows upon the audience, the audience is blacked out, completely passive, non-existent. It’s easy to see the classical concerto as a fractal of the society within which it is situated, with the performer representing the illuminated, active, masculine mind that sits atop of a feminine, passive, blackened body. The Rock concert is the same, with the helpful addition of a literal Phallus, the electric guitar — in this image you can clearly see a symbolic white man ejaculating magic over a dumb blacked-out crowd who are desperate in their submission. Not only does music culture, in these situations, affirm patriarchy, but it unforgivably hides the truth about music. Music is not generated by one person and distributed to others, it is created together, with intelligent, cultured listening being just as crucial to the realisation or actualisation of music as intelligent, cultured performing.
           Yet, sometimes in discussing these ideas, people have obviously said to me, are you seriously suggesting we don’t perform? No, but there is pressure to consider what performing means and what the consequences of certain modes of performance are.

Yeah, this is part of my problem with seeing Dance in a theatre. I feel like it’s really hard to watch, I’m not sure even how to watch it. Let me give you an example, the contrast between John Cage & Grandmaster Flash. John Cage’s “4:33” nonetheless took place in a concert hall, and its obviously such a groundbreaking, phenomenal shift for humanity, pivotal for my understanding of art — everything has followed from this gesture; we’re listening to the sounds of the concert hall, bringing it into this void, but the thing is about “4:33” is that it has a score! A manuscript. Look at the great powers of the rational mind, we can render everything on paper. If John Cage is the Cartesian figure, Grandmaster Flash is the Spinozian figure, but this is itself problematic —
           Immediately I would have to say that its wrong to attribute so much to Grandmaster Flash, as what we are talking about is so collectivised and relational that accrediting everything to Grandmaster Flash is contradictory to what it would to call Grandmaster Flash Spinozian. From a Cartesian position, we would see John Cage as oppositional to Grandmaster Flash, but from the Spinozian position, there cannot be these kinds of distinctions. From a Cartesian position, you could attribute so much to Grandmaster Flash, but with Spinoza, every individual body is being constantly produced by every other body, constantly in interaction. We can’t ever imagine ourselves in a void, as much as Cage may wish to. Grandmaster Flash and all the other bodies that determine him, were there in the streets, it was fully immanent. We hosted Traxman a month ago in Melbourne, and you know, I’d been trying to engage with the African American history of dance music in books, but it didn’t compare to simply spending time with someone and talking to them. A very pivotal figure in history but also just a human being. It was very clear to me that to be a producer from the south side, the production and the lifestyle is extremely horizontal. I can produce music from my bedroom, I go to clubs… I could just as easily not do that. These communities or this field that Traxman was a part of, firstly he describes growing up in the ghetto as when you go outside, your mission is just to be able to get home. There is already this like, immanent risk of life just from being alive there, so to make music there, to be interested in DJing there, its more than a job, or a thing that you go and do, its has this horizontal relationship. If we look at the field of Afrofuturism, what I understand about that is, say, when a black man is taken to space, who can he be? In space there is no narrative if oppression or a certain way of being.. it blows open the whole, trippy, extremely ungraspable set of possibilities — this afrofuturism in dance music asks this question ”what can a body do?”
           As a transgender person, this is the inspiration, this dance music afrofuturism, using dance music, using it within the dirt that you live in, producing art from your skin… that just makes sense to me. That’s what I’m trying to answer, what can a transgendered body do.

By recognising the importance of the role of the body, and the physical, metaphysical aspects of the practice.. due to the internal pressures or internal tensions we feel as transgender people, the arts and cultures that really inspire us or draw us in.. are the ones that at least acknowledge what we are going through, arts that acknowledge the antagonisms of being a body … or rather, the antagonisms experienced when you are in the wrong body, or a body that society is made for.

Antagonisms is a great word. Another way I incorporate Spinoza’s ideas is to understand that something is defined by a limit, and so if we take a machine, a record player, and we don’t see it for what we’re told that it is, its name, its function, and we kind of go towards the actual limit and turn it into something else, now the turntable isn’t just playing a record, now the turntable is an instrument and you can approach any machine like this, this is why noise music is very exciting, music that is like experimental dance music, distorted music, these things where we approach machines as something else. That’s the history of how all dance music came to be, that’s where the 303 became the 303.

This is where I relate dance music to Deleuze’s work as well. Not much in the sense of asking that “deleuzian question” or as you say, Spinozian question, “What can a body do”, but look at the example of Grandmaster Flash. Deleuze & Guattari wrote that the horse and the rider do not become an assemblage without the invention of the stirrup, It is a horse-stirrup-man-machine. In this sense, I always saw the inventions, or the machinery invented, by or through Grandmaster Flash as pivotal because he created the equivalent stirrup that allowed rave culture to materialise. The extension of the break created exactly the extended instrumental breakbeat loop that became both the basis of rave music, and the basis of hip-hop.  
           It’s interesting, dance music and hip hop were born out of some kind of dirty minimalism that has been practiced far, far away from any concert hall. Immanent, horizontal minimalism.

Sure, Grandmaster Flash needs to be recognised as on the same level as John Cage, if anyone is to be accredited at all. What we’re talking about the Grandmaster Flash is just not understood in the same way as John Cage.

Well, that’s because there is no score, no representation, no hard copy to agree upon as the thing that is being analysed. It is a shame because in terms of the history of minimalism, Grandmaster Flash is so pivotal that it is sad that they’re left out of the discourse. Yet, in some relatable way, the more towards immanence an artist is, the less clear it might be as to precisely what the individual or the object is doing, as it, in its immanence, surrenders its boundaries and dissolves. The more immanent the art, the less easy it is to pin down the art, to locate it.

I’ve been exploring this in my choreography, where for example I might use the limits of my body to influence what I’m doing; to wait until a point of exhaustion to decide to move on to the next piece of choreography. When I push myself into such exhausting states, it naturally invites the audience to go through this with me, and I hope that it pushes a confrontation towards, you know, why they paid money to come and make me do this, to exhaust myself. I find it interesting to produce choreography from getting the body to do something by itself, take for example tremors that come from exhaustion; the tremor is the body doing something, the body intervening. It’s funny, for me to be experiencing these tics now, it’s so on brand for the body to intervene by itself.  

I like this point about asking why the audience is coming to watch you exhaust yourself.

Somehow it upsets this idea of the comfortable art consumer, forcing people to get exhausted with me. I’ve been thinking about all kinds of things, to have dance in a club, for example. A night club can be fun, creative, hot, sexy, it has this back and forth, whereas a theatre is so stifling, and the spaces where you are dancing intervenes with the dance. Or whenever there is a loud noise in a theatre space, it is inevitable that someone or many people will attempt to cover their ears, but never in a rock gig or a club space. The space itself intervenes with our sensitivities, which can be trained. I’ve become more interested in performing in spaces where the audience can hold a drink, they can walk away if they don’t like it, they can whisper in their friends ear. This is way more interested for me to perform there, and it’s not completely sustainable, it’s not perfect for every performance, but I’ve been trying to do it more and more this year specifically. I’m trying to bring everything into the performance, dance can be strict and formalist, and that’s great and I could do that forever, but I think its better to also be hot, sexy and cool… I think being hot and cool is important, too, it’s such a great, cool thing. It doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice artistic depth and integrity.

To be continued in the next transcription x