“The Araniello Show.” The words stumbling slurring over a soft jazz flute thing. “-niello show, -niello show, -sh, -show”. We see projected remixes of Kanye’s Bound 2 (doves flying, Kim on the bike); sexualised little dolls; a Mad Max-esque orange-haired trundling wheelchair force. Video and sound is laced throughout the work: the seemingly throwaway is undertaken with close attention and subtle wit; I find myself totally mesmerised by the detail worked into how text rolls out the lyrics to a song. A few times I wondered why this is even needs to be a performance: these materials are good enough to stand alone. But Araniello counterbalances this pop-junky videoplay with the inevitable tensions that arise when presenting herself before an audience’s gaze.
“Show, -sh, Araniello show”: Araniello herself, on show. Inescapably framed by her condition, the work introduces her SMA through a brilliantly détourned ad for baby milk. She dead-pans, slowly moving in her huge motorised wheelchair, resisting any easy answers as to how or why we’re meant to be watching this. She plays out her role as artist, struggles to put a pen to paper: Great Art for Everyone… will art let her to ‘express’ herself such that she might (finally) contribute meaningfully to society? Perhaps we will learn the true meaning of perseverance, struggle, and how we might overcome our obstacles. Slowly, painfully, she draws. The sheet of paper is turned towards us: a cock. She grins.
A shaven-headed nurse (Shona Walne) sits and leafs through her gossip magazine; infrequently stepping out to help, she dons industrial chemical gloves that ride up past her elbows. On the other side of the stage, a slim and hooded supercool figure (Jenna Finch) in a green and black tracksuit hunches over a sound desk. An angel and devil on her shoulders, or maybe the other way round; they’re strange figures. They see to Araniello needs, act on her demands, and at one point take it upon themselves to fully dismantle and destroy what she can’t quite reach – all while continually constraining, ignoring and humiliating her. They substitute her arms with their own: blindly stuffing her mouth with food, pointing a gun at the audience, and toying with razor-blades shudderingly close to her throat. There’s no subtlety to either these figures or their gestures – The Araniello Show mires itself in the inevitable clichés that will surround Araniello’s work, but render them hollow and cartoonish; making evident the paucity of representation or understandings that might go beyond pity, fetish or embarrassment.
Daniel Oliver animates the space as a huge, bearded and loud figure. A physically intimidating presence, his blundering, incompetent masculinity orbits Araniello as (variously) a fan, advocate, apologist, inept collaborator, second half of an odd-couple, until finally settling down as some kind of sexually-inept backing dancer. This unstable dynamic keeps the show from settling into any one thing: and while the work at times was a little clunky, it goes well with its nihilistic spirit. Alongside her video and sound, Araniello’s performance carries us throughout this unevenness. Sweetly singing an invitation for her audience to “look at me, in my chair”, she stares back, daring us to look away. Immobile and impotent in the role of a useless dame in a silent film, her shock at Oliver’s idiocy deliciously degrades into boredom and exasperation. The work falls from one thing or another, pursuing its discomforts and filth until it indifferently drops into whatever it fancies next.
“I was born this way, gonna die this way, wouldn’t have it any other way”. Bright orange mohawk, she signs her drawing by tearing it up. She tells us rambling stories that go nowhere. A bottle of glitter is thrown in her face, radically rewriting her features. It’s a shocking moment – within this punky angst, there’s no certain identity here she’ll rest and capitalise on: she’s just gonna keep grinning and staring us down. She shares with us a nightmare in faux horror – the doctor telling her that all of her unmoving newborn children are “lazy”. She flaunts her unwillingness, her uselessness; updating Guy Debord’s ‘never work’ and Mladen Stilinović sleeping ‘artist at work’ to the refusal of the affective demands of positivity and willingness – the refusal to smile, to participate, to express oneself, to be grateful, to be inspiring or inspired – to participate in pity porn. She refuses the binary of either living a happy, celebratory, positive life, or to respectfully consent for a tidy Dignitas death. The Araniello Show articulates the miseries and pleasures of a life deemed to be not worth living; she grins on, a foul mouth full of spit, wallowing in fluids, brokenness, excess and abandonment.
NOW18 is on at The Yard until 17 February 2018. Click here for more details.