(Originally published in the San Francisco Bay Area Reporter, 1992)
The Theory Girls’ Scream!, a site-specific, audio-visual foray into cycles of aggression perpetrated on, and by, women was presented May 30-31, 1992 at sundown at the corner of 17th and Capp streets. The intensity of the area itself, as a place where sex workers and johns meet, and the art group’s current concerns, were spliced together into a cogent, visceral argument for re-thinking projected attitudes of passivity onto women, particularly those involved in specific trades.
I’ve partaken in many ephemeral, non-object art pieces before, but none was so moving and unsettling. This particular work by Laura Brun and Jennie Currie combined imagery from slasher films, movie narratives, and tabloid news that seemed to bridge the gap between the prostitutes at the site’s visual periphery, who are frequently confronted with male violence, and the space where the audience was positioned – as witness and participant in the eye of the storm.
The Theory Girls have once again pulled the aesthetic rug out from under their audience’s feet by collapsing the metaphorical onto a “situational” reading of sorts. This subversive approach generates an exhilarated sense of comprehension that is laced with danger and power.
For instance, as the performance progressed some of the sex workers blended with the group of spectators, while furniture, mattresses and other personal belongings paraded through the site where videos were projected onto the buildings, as inhabitants of one apartment happened to be relocating during the performance. Car headlights also wove into the imagery and the street activity, providing real-time cues alerting you that the typical theatrical distancing devices didn’t apply. This kind of performance work actually subtly undermines many of the conventions deployed by theater, such as situating the audience into dual positions of passive reception, as well as domination – over performers, more often than not, designated as masochistic objects. Hence, within the performance scenario – versus, say, the theater of spectacle – it becomes nearly impossible to just turn away.
The Theory Girls’ current of examining female rage turns myths of female passivity on their head by spotlighting aggressive icons, like convicted “serial killer,” lesbian and prostitute Aileen Wuornos. This line of inquiry considers the bum rap that our twisted culture of heroes and heroines usually get.
Besides the visual overlays used to examine these kinds of projections, The Theory Girls juxtapose real life statistics about rape and domestic violence. In technically seamless dissolves and voice-overs from image to image, from myth, to media, to street actions, they ask who is it that is constituted as “other.” By inserting their audience into an environment layered with inescapable contingencies (i.e., reality), they help us trespass against our own well-guarded selves.