Text by Miriam McGarry
An Urban Choreography of Civic Disobedience
We spent every lunch and recess of Year 4 hanging from the monkey bars. Bony hips permanently inked with bruises from swinging back and forth with enough momentum to execute the ‘double under.’ Biting into salad sandwiches and roll-ups infused with the scent of metallic palms. The revered status of anyone who attempted the banned Cherry-Bomb disembark. Then in Year 5 it was ‘suggested’ that the girls be required to wear P.E shorts to play on the monkey bars. (Lost grip).
The overlay of social conventions upon physical sites can encode or prohibit certain forms of behaviour. As Lefebvre has described, ‘space is not a scientific object removed from ideology or politics. It has always been political and strategic. There is an ideology of space. Because space, which seems homogeneous, which appears as a whole in its objectivity, in its pure form, such as we determine it, is a social product.’ In flipped grip, Theia subverts prescribed ideologies of urban space, and flirts with the edges of decorous civic etiquette through the art of pole-dancing.
In Korea, where Theia filmed these videos, space is at a high premium in a densely populated country. To maximise the efficacy of the available land, specific environments have been constructed to perform isolated functions, e.g. the Noraebang (Karaoke room), Jjimjilbang (bath house), PC-bang (computer rooms), and DVD-bang (movie rooms). A technocratic order coordinates the city, where form follows functions.
In Spatial Aesthetics, Nikos Papastergiadis argues that a ‘city that is dominated by monofunctionalism – with exclusive boundaries that separate classes, activities and values – is a repressive city.’ Theia plays with the limits of this monofunctionalism in the public parks of Seoul, which offer a space for socially sanctioned callisthenics routines, but also offer a pocket of discretional potential.
flipped grip places the sensual body into a public space. The dancers perform intimate gestures in a metropolitan context, and in doing so, extend the possibilities of civic experience. The gestural vocabulary of the functional exercise objects (swing, twist, turn, push, pull and slide) are reappropriated in
an act of subtle transgression. Motions which had previously been encoded as publically appropriate exercise activities are here reconfigured to communicate an alternative function of the body.
Sex, in the city.
Point, flex, extend
However, in translating the pole-dancing movements to the sterile playground environment, the actions are stripped of their erotic agency. What remains is an awkward virile athleticism anchored in self-conscious sexual undertone. Let’s get physical, physical. flipped grip demands an intimacy from the audience through the spatial orchestration of
the video screen, poles and flooring. It is not so much a suggestion of leaning into the work, as
a requirement to ‘please-lie-down’. Put your ear up close. Like a seashell contains the ocean, the modular pole holds record of the activity to which it has borne witness. Push. Pull. Pant. (Are you blushing? A flush of arousal/the glow of cardio).
In urban sociology, the term ‘desire lines’ refers to paths organically demarcated by layers of human- footfall. These informal lines materially capture a breach of the socially prescribed path available, as they override landscaped pathways with more direct routes. Academics have described desire lines as ‘record of civil disobedience.’ In flipped grip, Theia similarly captures how intimate bodily movements can be employed to defy the prescriptive routinisation of civic spaces. Desire is inscribed not in lines, but in the mark making choreography of an exercise routine. The parafunctional site/the poetics of the pole.
Lefebvre, H., & Nicholson-Smith, D. (1991). The production
of space (Vol. 142). Blackwell: Oxford.
Newton John, Olivia. (1981). Let’s get physical. MCA
Papastergiadias, N. (2010). Spatial aesthetics: Art, place and the everyday (Vol. 5)
4 July - 28 July 2018