publications and texts

Dance Massive : Massive Chats on MONSTER BODY


Atlanta Eke’s intense and honest Monster Body provoked strong responses when she first performed it at lastyear’s Next Wave festival. We asked Atlanta a few questions by email about Monster Body, and received this eye-opening ‘postcard from Jan Juc’ in reply.

Firstly, where did the ideafor Monster Body originate?

I am sitting in an almost empty café in Jan Juc, and Metallica – the band – has just walked in. It seems they are having some lunch before going surfing.

Um. I can’t remember anything.

Death Magnetic. This was not such a good album.

I am thinking a lot aboutwhat to do right now. Look, don’t look, listen – yes – be cool or not. I am in this café all the time, but now I am confronted with a situation where I am consciously noticing myself in relation to the four rather tired-looking, frizzy-haired rock stars.

Maybe this is the affect I am going for with Monster Body: eliciting a conscious noticing of oneself and one’s behaviours and relations to others inside the familiar space that is the theatre, as well as feeling a weird buzz. (It’sfun to do coffee next to Metallica.) People enter the theatre confronted with the fact that they are there sharing the space with me in real time. The performance is not separate from the audience.

Monster Body has come along way from its original inspirations… In 2009 I was reading a book by Georges Didi-Huberman titled The Invention of Hysteria, which explicitly examines monstrous expression in the image of the female body in the context of performance… As the process [of making the work] evolved, my interests shifted toward more contemporary times. Monster Bodyis the result of a series of experiments concerned with how to utilise the subtlety and physicality of the dancing body, to broaden the representation of the female body in our society today. It is very presentational in that sense.

What are the ideas you wanted to explore in the work?

‘Death Magnetic’. Maybe not. No. Yes. Let’s try this…

The audience and me, we are the magnets, attracted to or repelled by each other. We are the material or objects that produce the magnetic field.

This magnetic field – it’s our relationship. It’s how we know how to relate to each other, based on the properties that constitute us. I’m interested in death: the death of these properties, these learnt behaviours; the death of these power relationships constructed by the conventions of the theatre – the audience member subordinated, tucked safely away in the darkness of the seating bank to objectify the body of the virtuosic dancer…

Death is the loss of knowing how to be in this relationship. It is a death of the invisible force that determines conventionalised audience/performer relations…

Death as transformation. Creating a new invisible field of attraction.

Hmmmm. Or maybe it’s just more like [Metallica’s] Master of the Puppets.

Regardless of Metallica, I wanted to use Monster Body as imaginative force of production. I wanted to explore a political imagination and for the theatre to be a place where this imagination happened collectively, where we could all work together to create different kinds of futures.

What themes are you drawn to again and again?

I like exploring themes of life and death.

When making a performance I work to lose something of myself, to take risks, to change, to alter my understanding of the world. When considering the context of its presentation I work to set up a situation where there is a possibility for the audience to lose something of themselves. I do not enlighten or empower the audience but simply offer a space where something else can happen. There is trauma, but mostly felt on my behalf.

How did participating in the Deborah Hay Solo Performance Commissioning Project influence your own process of creating work?

I worked with Deborah in 2009 and again in 2010, on a solo titled In The Dark. In this solo she gave me an instruction: “Become Monster without revealing Monster”. I spent many weeks working within Hay’s practice to ‘become Monster’. This was very fun and [was] one of the instigators for a deep exploration into the concept of ‘Monster’.

Deborah Hay’s performance practice and her poetic radicalism is a continual de-codification of ingrained conditionings; an ongoing questioning and deconstruction of inscribed codes of dance and performance. Upon meeting her in 2007 she reconfigured my perception of the capacities of what dance can be. So yes, I love her and when I have worked with her she comes to the studio with huge generosity and rare intelligence.

Are you influenced by genres like performance art? What do you find interesting in forms that stretch the boundaries of ‘contemporary dance’?

I am interested in expanding the capacity of what dance and choreography can be. I think dance is so regularly associated with entertainment. Audiences are saturated with spectacular feats of virtuosic skill. They get bored with this and always want something a little bit…more. Dance is more than this. It is just a matter of thinking through the artwork instead of displaying physical feats.

What kind of audience experience would you like to provoke with Monster Body?

I guess one that Metallica might provoke. A completely mind-blowing and electrifying experience. If an audience member cannot necessarily formulate their thoughts into sensical statements after seeing my work…this is generally good.

NAVA (National Association for the Visual Arts) March Edition 2013

Sam_Ackroyd_Monster Body_111

I had a friend who some time ago told me about one of the most traumatic moments in his life. It was the first time he heard the sound of his girlfriend urinating; “…we were in a hurry to get out the door but she really had to go …”

The sound he heard was so far removed from his idea of what it should be that, for a moment, his understanding of the world was completely altered. He had expected a delicate trickle, like the therapeutic sounds of the stream from a feng shui garden water feature. Instead he was left to stand alone in the hallway visualising a forceful burst of liquid from an opening at the base of a large hairy animal. He stood there unable to imagine anything but a beast with a perforated hose like power spraying organ flooding the bathroom, it was big, high pressured and scary. I don’t think he had any sisters. If he did, they were not close.

I don’t know him any more.

But I was happy for him to endure such a trauma. For him to experience something new and unexpected that surprised him and, for a moment, completely transformed his idea of reality.

He lost something of himself that day.

I am interested in the social reality of art

I am interested in what art really does in the place it is being made and presented.

When making performance firstly I have an idea, then I do extensive research, both theoretical and practical, and then I piece together a performance. Inside of this process I journey through the constraints of my working conditions and begin to compose a performance that in and of itself considers the context of its presentation, ie the theatre, a gallery, museum, the street etc. I integrate into my ideas new ways people can relate to each other inside of these contexts.

When making a performance I work to lose something of myself, to take risks, to change, to alter my understanding of the world. When considering the context of its presentation I work to set up a situation where there is a possibility for the audience to lose something of themselves. I do not enlighten or empower the audience but simply offer a space where something else can happen. There is trauma, but mostly felt on my behalf.

My work has been described as aggressive; I think it is soft and persuasive.

Its almost like learning how to surf; the big waves are scary but the water is soft.

I recently made a work titled MONSTER BODY. It is a work about a political imagination, life and death, dreams and consumerism. After performing it several times now I have come to realise the ‘monster body’ is the relationship between the audience and myself. The performance is never separate from its context.

Since making MONSTER BODY I have been asked about how this particular work draws from feminist traditions and aesthetic in the art world, from the 1970s and beyond….

Many art works and artists have influenced me. Some of this work has been categorized as feminist, but I just see it as great art. I do not consider feminism a tradition and definitely not an aesthetical art practice. I think feminism renews itself all the time by necessity, it exists within a multitude of contexts and understandings that have never shared a collective consensus defining what it is and what it does. Categorizing art can be very reductive; historically labeling art ‘feminist’ has been an easy option for art institutions to throw a lot of significant female artists into one bag. From my position today the feminisms of the past have not worked. Abuses against women still exist as we continue making categorical distinctions between genders and gender roles. And when the corporate media presents feminism as a fad or a trend that has come back into fashion it only consolidates the problems that feminism works to erase. Yes I am a feminist, but isn’t everyone? As long as you think things like rape, clitoridectomy, unequal pay for equal work are bad, and that abuses and discrimination against women should no longer exist in this world then you are a feminist, that’s pretty much everyone I know.

Feminism by nature is forward looking and I am interested in what the future can be, not the future of feminism but of a feminist future.

My latest work Deep Terra, made with Swedish artist Emma Kim Hagdahl, considers the social, political and historical context of our work. Drawing on influences from sculptor Louise Bourgeois we are experimenting with the destruction and constructions of shifting landscapes, imaginary and real.

In the performance we sculpt; building and demolishing landscapes, it is a live transformation of objects and bodies in space. The theatre becomes a paradoxical environment of progression and destruction, it is a dance about scrutiny on a mass level, that unfurls on stage like a hallucinogenic daydream.

Deep Terra work is an imaginative force of production, where imagination happens collectively, where we work together with the audience to create different kinds of futures.



Co-Editor Atlanta Eke, Jeff Kahn and Paul Gazzola


Atlanta Eke

A Tool for Development

The self-interview is tool for developing work. It is a written communication with oneself to help expand ideas, specify curiosities and reflect on process. The self-interviews published in this book were used as a method for the artists of Return To Sender to progress their respective works.

Documentation that produces possibilities

By communicating these inward reflections toward an outside audience, this functional tool for the writer can become an activational tool for the reader. The sharing of ideas expands the possibilities of those ideas and this documentation provides access to knowledge shaped through a process of exchange.

These self-interviews accompany the performances of Return To Sender not to provide for an explanation or justification of the works, but to convey the outcome of utilising such a strategy in crafting the ideas explored.  They offer an insight into the mind of the Return To Sender artists as well as the international artists that have influenced them.

By producing this publication together, we create new opportunities for the visibility of the Return To Sender works and rethink strategies for distribution and exchange in a performance context. This black and white articulation preserves a moment in a form defined by its ephemerality and acts as an archiving of this moment from inside the creation of a performance.

A Book as a Performance Space

This book was written by artists and it produces an alternative format for dance performance to exist.  When it is read, the self-interview becomes a tangible product of the artistic procedure. To read this book is to experience a process as a performance.




Do you feel stuck?

Well I don’t know if I feel stuck.

I feel sticky.

Like so much stuff is stuck to my stickiness.

Oh, I see. Would you prefer to be more slippery?

No. I don’t think so. Not for now anyway.

Being sticky is useful, like being porous; I would prefer to be more porous than sticky. But that which is stuck to me is impossible to shake off. So I have to work with being sticky.

What is stuck to you?

Lots. But mostly the stuff that I like, the stuff I think is useful, smart and cool. The stuff that influence is made from. Influences have stuck to me and my body refers to these influences every time I move. Luckily, there is a transformation of the influence into something else once it has manifested through my body. So I don’t usually perform a direct quotation but a notable reference is always present. I have references stuck to me, or perhaps I am stuck inside the references.

How can you be stuck inside a reference? Isn’t it the reference that is stuck inside of you?  

Yes, like I said, but I am not sure which way it is. If the reference is inside of me then its manifestation is of course going to be something else. I can try to walk like you walk, but it is in the action of me attempting to walk this way that a transformation happens. I walk like you walk, but with my body. But If I am inside the reference, I see no room for transformation, only monotony.

I think you are stating the obvious but making it sound very confusing. That’s not very smart. So can you speak about this in relation to the performance you are working on? A recreation of a solo by Emma Kim Hagdalh?

Yes! Name Given By The Spectator by Emma Kim Hagdalh places this augmentation of derivation on stage as a comment on how the body accumulates knowledge that determines its capacity to move. Emma made this solo in Stockholm in 2009 whilst working in a collective called INPEX. The first time I met Emma she was performing this solo in France at PAF, in the autumn of 2009. I thought the solo was very excellent and since then we have become close friends. Emma originally made the solo out of frustration with her “inability” to dance “freely”. Every time she moved, she felt as though she was referencing that which she had experienced before. The references she danced were her training, attitudes, images she had seen, characters…even narratives. She felt stuck in bodies that weren’t hers. Or that her body was filled with references “she couldn’t get rid of”. She made the solo as a kind of exorcism of the references, to repeat and exhaust her body of references, to make it transparent that “we are all like this.”

Upon seeing the solo did you think she managed to communicate this?

In my eyes what stood out the most in this solo was Emma Kim Hagdahls notorious magnetism and bravado coupled with her finely tuned and personal attentiveness to every human in the room. The performance stood on its own. It did not seem like an historical account of dance or a performance of any direct quotations or references but I certainly saw the movement of a ‘trained’ dancer, yes. The impression Emmas performance made on me went beyond particular points of recognition, but as her body swayed in and out of citation it wa  through repetition and exhaustion that she blurred or eroded my capacity to pinpoint reference.

So when Emma performs a reference you don’t even know it is one? Perhaps you are not particularly versed in dance vocabulary.

Perhaps, or maybe I am so totally, utterly and irreversibly versed in dance vocabulary that I don’t see the movement as reference – I see it as dance. I see a dancer dancing without seeing this as the most major reference of all. And this reveals to me how categorical I am in what I am qualifying as dance.

Why is it important for you to speak about reference? Why not just dance?

References remain in my body whether I make them explicit or not. But it is in making the reference explicit where I can then move beyond its implicit limitation. Attempting to do this through dance is actively recognizing that movement exists as something non-abstract – it may feel a little reductive or categorical, but it isn’t. It produces a structuring of knowledge for a transference of knowledge. In recognizing the information inside of our bodies as references, it then contests the position of the ‘author’ of the dance. It forces me to step away from the romanticizing about authenticity. And in making the reference transparent in a solo dance performance, at least for myself, then I can begin to work to digest the reference, even collaborate with the reference – here is the transformation – as Emma has done in Name Given By The Spectator with exhausting these references as a means of producing a new dance work.

So you have never danced freely?

I have never danced freely.

What do you see when you see Emma dance?

I see a friend that I admire. I see a dancer dancing. I see insistence, repetition and exhaustion.

How are you approaching the work you do in the rehearsal studio with this performance?

I find there are so many references emerging out of my somewhat contaminated body that it is difficult to persist with repeating a select few. Mostly I watch a video of the Emma performing and use that as a score for the dance. Basically copying – because that’s the most fun, and it makes it impossible for me to ‘own’ the dance, and as Emma is performing references she also is refused ownership off the solo. I think this is ironic, for when Emma made the solo she had hoped it would function as a score for others to take as their own.

Is that not true of any dance performance anyone sees?

I guess it is possible to say that seeing any dance performance provides the possibility for you to do the same. But again, making these decisions explicit, consciously and transparently offering a performance as a tool for others to use, is very generous, and giving a dance a function is especially clever. Some of the fundamental questions or interests of the solo were about sharing and moving away from authorship.

And why naked?

Emma performs the piece without clothes, but not naked. She is holding a mobile phone. We have spoken about how she feels more ‘naked’ without her mobile phone than when she is without her clothes. I relate to this notion of feeling naked without a phone, or laptop or connection to the internet, so in considering a costume for this recreation it is difficult to deviate away from this proposition. My costume will be Emmas audacious attitude and her rare intelligence and that fucking excellent to wear.


Atlanta Eke interviewed by Martyn Coutts for Live Art List Australia

2010 Australian Dance – The Future, Cultural Terrorism 

Authors: Atlanta Eke, Amelia McQueen and Tim Darbyshire


Editor Atlanta Eke

Inspired by the actions of The INPEX at Impulstanz 2009, The Paper is an uninvited performance to the Melbourne International Arts Festival and has adopted the intention to challenge notions of preconceived production agreements and rethink the established conventions of dance performance and production that no longer fulfill the capacity of what dance can be.

We were recently asked the question; “In ambushing the Melbourne Festival, don’t you think it is dangerous in that you will be encouraging others to do the same?”

Firstly, this not an ambush, we are not strategizing ways in which to attack. We are simply actively affirming our presence through the inscription of our own history to pave the future of our artistic practices, and in turn working to valorize the medium of dance as an art form by producing and sharing writing.

Secondly, encouraging others to do the same is exactly our incentive. We were inspired by The INPEX , and we work to activate others to ‘do’ in order to dissolve the pacifying role of being an ‘onlooker’ in ones own community.

The question of danger is has been long scrutinized in respect to art making. It is interesting to observe the response to dangerous threats like newspapers about dance, the fear of the unknown and the resistance to do what has not already been prescribed by governing authorities. It is difficult to consider art as dangerous when we live in a country that has freedom of expression. Perhaps the danger is in thinking that this freedom of expression is exactly that.

Putting aside notions of risks that threaten physical safety, not to mention precarious acts of virtuosity, what is dangerous in the arts is the immobilization of the artist in his or her dependence on a facilitator in order to act.

danger is dependence

danger is delay

danger is lack of desire and a sense of urgency

danger is exclusion to the individuals that don’t fit into determined categories

danger is the qualifying of art as either good or bad

danger is being opportunistic to market forces  and instrumentalisation

danger is regulation

danger is subordination of the dance audience as passive admirers

danger in systematising the best way to get things done

danger in formulating standards and producing protocols

If the only danger The Paper poses is the disgruntling of conservative, outdated and immobilizing attitudes that no longer fulfil the capacity of what dance can be, then so be it, because it is always worth it, to take a risk.


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