By Patricia Tobin
(670 words, 4-minute read)
Content warning: References to sexual content or situations
Deproduction by musician-producer Terre Thaemlitz was released on December 28, 2017 as a multimedia album consisting of audio, video and text. In TPAM 2019, it was staged as an “anti-live AV performance”, as Thaemlitz combined the album’s textual, audio and visual elements in front of a live audience. The end result is a deeply difficult, confrontational and unforgiving live experience.
Deproduction firstly begins on a large screen, where short textual character vignettes are cast upon distorted scenes from Japanese incest porn. The imagery is particularly disturbing, typically consisting of sexual encounters in tight domestic spaces. The short stories feature abusive partners, unhappily married couples and pregnant teenagers. They are all thematically linked by the idea that family structures are evil, further emphasised by the graphic incest scenes. The video projection is accompanied by varied sounds, from birds chirping to haunting string chords. The live elements combined feel deliberately confrontational, as the audience is entrapped by the explicit visuals, the unpleasant stories and uneasy music.
This, unfortunately, gets worse. Deproduction moves on to its second phase, entitled “Admit It’s Killing You (And Leave)”, an apt foreshadowing of what lies ahead. Disfigured scenes of Japanese gay porn plays, while text scroll up across the scene. Thaemlitz’s manifesto begins: “There isn’t much time. We’ll have to skip the foreplay. First, having children is unethical. Second, families make democracy impossible.” He (Thaemlitz identifies as transgender and uses alternating gender pronouns) argues that LGBT agendas are increasingly revolving around the familial unit, but conforms to egocentric notions that familial abuses will be resolved by this generation being better parents than the previous generation. She raises that it is still taboo to discuss what it means to deliberately not be a parent, and to deliberately abandon family. His philosophy is arguably sound, as queer families are still seen through a heteronormative lens, and concepts of adulthood are irrevocably equated to parenthood.
However, it becomes increasingly difficult to follow the scrolling essay, as the running over of sentences and heavy sequential text requires some considered effort to comprehend, especially as porn scenes blur and flicker in the background. In addition, a looped clip from comedian Paul F. Tompkins’ stand up routine plays: “[Chick-fil-A] are apparently very anti-gay. Excuse me: they’re very pro-traditional family”. This clip reiterates Thaemlitz’s critique of the LGBT community’s fixation on same-sex marriage, though its continued repetition eventually hollows it meaning, a prolonged iteration that continually loses its impact with every play. Furthermore, muffled sounds and sharp audio feedback are scattered throughout this section of Deproduction, creating an agonisingly grating soundscape.
Every essential component of Deproduction is simply morphed into a sharpened weapon of Thaemlitz’s arsenal. Her conscious decision in making the experience so immensely discomforting is so very perplexing. The ongoing sensorial intrusion shocks and even distracts the audience from his manifesto. It even belittles the audience, as though incapable of empathy and understanding without this audio-visual bombardment. If her objective is to provoke, then he has succeeded. However, the reason of why provoke remains unclear, perhaps exposing that the core reason to provoke is simply to be provocative. With this, the core arguments in Deproduction are presumingly near meaningless, the act of provoking is what Thaemlitz derives pleasure from.
If the medium is the message, then Deproduction succinctly encapsulates the extremities of a live show. Deproduction the album was well-received, as stated by Resident Advisor’s Angus Finalyson, the album “delivers uncomfortable truths with elegance and empathy”. Much of this is due to the autonomy the listener has with the album, to sort through the tracklist and pick the order with which to engage Thaemlitz’s work. The transfer of medium into a live show, where there is little to no warning for the audience, is aggressively intrusive. Her artistic assault is frustrating, even intentionally awful, that it overpowers any serious issues or concerns raised. Pornography, some text and jarring sounds in a confined room: Deproduction makes for an exasperating performance. Now, I do admit it was killing me, and I should have left.
Deproduction was presented on 15 February 2019 at the KAAT Kanagawa Arts Theatre Large Studio, as part of the Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama (TPAM). Another review of the same production, written by Luke Macaronas, can be found here.
For more articles on TPAM 2019 presentations, please click here.
Patricia Tobin is a theatre reviewer from Singapore. She writes at havesomepatty.com.
About the author(s)
Patricia is a freelance critic from Singapore. She has been writing about theatre since 2014. She was part of ArtsEquator‘s Performance Criticism Training Program under Matthew Lyon and Lyn Gardner. She has chaired sessions at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival and at Centre 42.