What it is to be young: a rough patchwork of pop songs and outrageous behaviour, of adopting and discarding different possible identities, of alcohol and drugs and piss and puke, and falling in love so hard you want to stitch yourselves together for ever. Being young is exhilarating, messy, and – you forget this, sometimes, when you’re older – bloody hard work. In Kein Applaus für Scheisse, Florentina Holzinger and Victor Riebeek perform their own youth with an intensity that makes them repulsive at first, then so charming you want to give them a hug as you leave the room.That warmth takes a while to build, because it’s hard to tell whether their opening provocations comment on white privilege or re-enact it, subvert female subjugation or reinforce it.
They enter the stage wearing African robes and colourful feathers; wrapped in his hair are matted strings of fur like dreadlocks. They skank their way through Rihanna’s Man Down, then Holzinger pulls her dress above her naked hips, settles in a chair with her legs upstretched, and waits patiently while Riebeck extracts a bright red string from her vagina, holding the audience’s gaze all the time. In an era when women removing their pubic hair has become the norm, it’s delightful to see that Holzinger’s remains intact, a voluble statement of non-conformity.
But that feminist stance is problematised by the scene that comes after: a double-exorcism that begins with her shedding her robe and ends with him vomiting Slush-Puppy-blue liquid over her bare stomach. When, a few minutes later, he stands naked over her prostrate body and lets out a stream of urine, her subordination seems complete. One person walks out, then two more. As it happens, their lack of patience is the problem, not Holzinger and Riebeek’s willingness to push uncertainly at boundaries and at themselves.
Because what’s really happening here is a fluid – yes, possibly too fluid – exchange of roles. Between the puke and the piss is a deadpan scene in which they play out the insecurity of love: she accuses him of not wanting to touch her any more, he accuses her of not being there in an hour of need. There is a rape, a pregnancy, a death – but they belong to his role, not hers. Experience is shared so equally that when Holzinger takes in a mouthful of Riebeek’s piss, she doesn’t swallow it but lets it trickle into his mouth so he can instead.
This is the moment when Kein Applaus transforms: from a challenge to its audience it becomes a communion with them. She puts on a blonde wig and sings The Greatest Love of All while he cuts her fake hair. He talks to us about money, love and his six-year relationship with Holzinger, while she performs an elegant aerial routine on the silks. A small bottle of vodka is passed around the audience (usually it’s a joint, but weed has been peculiarly hard to come by in Bristol), to the throbbing psychedelia of Devendra Banhart’s Rats. They are earnest, open, friendly, relaxed – silly, too, because this zen atmosphere is ruptured by the firing of a bazooka that splatters Riebeek in ultraviolet paint. Reborn, he hands Holzinger an acoustic guitar and to her faltering chords they sing Marina Abramovic’s An Artist’s Life Manifesto as though it were an ages-old folk song, handed down from the elders to give succour to the young. Which, in a sense, for artists finding their way, it is.
Walking out, I knew I felt beguiled, but I wasn’t sure I’d caught the “generosity” of the piece identified by others in the audience. At 6am I was jolted awake by an appreciation of how carefully constructed Kein Applaus für Scheisse. Within that was a recognition of their willingness to get things wrong, to do that in front of others, and experience rejection because of it. An awareness, too, of their trust in the audience, to join them on this journey, and see their world, their relationship, their youth, through their eyes. I’d found its generosity – and it made my heart glow with love.