Performance as Playground for Self-Actualisation – Renegotiating Identity in and through Performance

I turn 35 in three days and I’ve learnt more about myself in the last two years than I have in over 12 years of therapy. The reason is pretty simple. I have engaged with more like-minded people in the last two years. Like-minded meaning artists. And it hasn’t been a coincidence that I’ve met more artists in these two years than ever before. The more I become who I am supposed to be, the more like-minded people I meet. And it has been through seeing the world through the eyes of an artist, being inspired by and inspiring other artists and, most importantly, collaborating with other artists that I have been able to move from a victim of selfhood to a creator of my own identity and world.

Performance has been, and I know will continue to be, at the heart of my self-actualisation. Through performing my identity, my gender (to be explored in a subsequent post), who I am, I’ve been able to free myself of an identity that almost killed me.

Performing who I am is completely different to being who I am. Being who I am was a way of existing in relation to an identity, created for me by others and mostly myself, that was claustrophobically passive, comfortable; an existence in which I was the receptacle of life’s whims, a victim. Performing who I am allows me to have agency in who I am in relation to a world I have the power to influence.

The shift from ‘being’ to ‘performing’ was simple, in retrospect, and yet it took me over 12 very suicidal years to get there. What I did was to make the decision to embrace seeing the world differently. Having many like-minded friends was integral to this brave decision. Before this, it was easy to bemoan my fate as a creative soul too sensitive for this world; the ‘suffering artist’ archetype who was fated to be undiscovered and unable to fulfil my promise because of society’s limitations. Complete bullshit. The second step was to start calling myself an artist, a writer. Instead of introducing myself as ‘a writer earning a living through proofreading,’ I now introduce myself as ‘an artist’ or ‘a writer.’ The way we label ourselves is very empowering or disempowering, and labelling myself in a more empowering way made me feel more creative. The next step was to make the decision to live actively as an artist, despite having to spend most of my time earning a living in the corporate world. Since making that decision I’ve created more in the last three months than I have in the last 10 years.

Performing who I am allows me to have agency in who I am in relation to a world I have the power to influence. For me to take on ‘performing’ myself has been an unbelievably huge step. I have always been afraid of taking up space in the world, making my self as small as possible. The idea of owning the space around me and fully being present and actually having an impact on those around me has always been agonisingly terrifying. I suffered from acute social phobia up until my late 20s – answering the phone, speaking to people, ordering from waiters, eating in public, being noticed in any physical way – these were all excruciating for me. Art became a very important vehicle for me to overcome my discomfort with my physical reality.

Through the portraits Tracy Edser took of my breast reduction, I became more and more comfortable with being noticed, with being the object of The Gaze, with being an objet d’art.

This shift was most apparent to me in my work with Nadine Hutton.

The artistic relationship between me and Nadine has been an important rite of passage in terms of me relating to myself on two levels. Firstly, she has captured my evolution in terms of identity and gender expression over the span of two years – from 2010. Secondly, through the vehicle of art, the photographs capture my movement from art object, to collaborator, to artist – all three roles playing an integral part in my expression of self.

The series of photographs by Nadine ‘Transitions #Germaine’ saw a leap in my relation to art from the portraits taken of me by Tracy Edser. I was no longer being photographed as a victim and survivor, I was being photographed as an empowered person taking her identity into her own hands. It was through Nadine’s lens that I became able to perform my identity, playing with it, discovering it, performing the boundaries I was crossing and destroying on a daily basis. The next project I worked on with Nadine, ‘The Killarney Houseboy,’ a filmic production, marked the beginning of me having agency in the artistic process, of me being an artist in my own right. 

Besides collaborations with other artists, I perform many aspects of myself. I see my physical presence in the world as a performance: I combine societally-perceived contradictory elements in the way I dress, act and am. How I dress, act and am are the way I am as an authentic and contradictory being, but they become performance in that I’m very aware of ‘the audience’ and how I am perceived. This allows me to play with people’s perceptions and society’s definitions. I will explore this more in the subsequent post on the performance of gender.

The other ways I perform myself on a daily basis are in my interactions on Facebook and in the artwork I produce for my blog. My interactions on Facebook are very performative in that they’re exceedingly personal and unmediated. They are about my experiences of the world, how I see it, and how I shape it. The photographs I take are performances in that I am the main subject. I take very honest photos of my own journey through self-actualisation. The writing I produce is a performance. Writing is normally a solitary occupation, shared with readers if one gets published. My writing is performance in that I do not censor anything I write. I write what I think. It is unedited, stream of consciousness-like, very personal and confessional, and then shared on a public platform.

I don’t believe that anything is personal. When we share only our politics, we censor our human side. For me, it is only the human that is worth sharing. And it has been in my performance of my self and my struggle with self that I have come to a place where I am closer to being the person I want to be, living the life I want to live.

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