by Sukanya GargOct 15, 2019
Kunstverein in Hamburg presents the first institutional solo exhibition of the Canadian musician and performance artist Merrill Beth Nisker, who is popularly known by her stage name Peaches. Titled Whose Jizz Is This?, the exhibition, which was organised in cooperation with Internationales Sommerfestival Kampnagel, opened on August 10, 2019 and will remain on display until October 20, 2019.
In the exhibition, Peaches has created a sort of living organism or ‘Fleshies’, who have renamed themselves as such to rewrite their narrative.
Presented at the cross-section of visual and performance art, the works exhibited create an alternate universe. According to her, objects like the double masturbator, silicone sex aid reduce the body to holes in a passive state. She, therefore, wishes for ‘Fleshies’ to break free of humans’ narcissistic world and sexual equations. She instead wishes for these made up residents of her new universe to find sexual equality amongst themselves, working to become a satisfied self-sufficient community.
Peaches brings together various disciplines, including music production, live performance, performance art, video, theatrical direction, set and light design, sculpture, textiles manipulation, and animatronics to create a sort of ‘deconstructed musical’. The immersive installation, then, is divided into 14 scenes.
Here, scenes are the language and strategy of theatre and live performance practiced in a gallery context. Using directorial concepts and storytelling, the struggles and triumphs of the 'Fleshies' emerge. Peaches uses set design as a way to explore the ‘stage’ without the performer, reinterpret its purpose and present its architecture in unique and challenging ways. She casts animatronics, fountains and latex sculpture in leading roles as live performers. A three dimensional ‘album’, Soundscape, narrates the scenes and a composition of light. Lightscape modulates emotion through the syncopation of colour and rhythm. Video is used to create new fantasies and intimate realities asking the viewer to become passive to the passion of the emancipated ‘Fleshie’. Further, a series of acoustic tapestries explore privacy, ceremonial spaces, and transformation.
The exhibition then presents a journey into the ‘Fleshies'’ struggles and revolution to find sexual equality. The viewers experience the ‘Fleshies'’ highs and lows in the Glory Hall, at the Peep Show, at an AA meeting, at the altar where they sing songs of survival and at the commemorative fountain, where they reverse the notion of being jizzed into and ask the question, Whose Jizz Is This?
According to Bettina Steinbrügge, the director and curator of the exhibition, “Peaches is a gender provocateur whose work combines a dance party vibe with political significance. She is tearing up old signifiers and staking out new territory for the mainstream gendered performance. The exhibition in Hamburg renders inconsistent the assumptions of binary gender and hetero-masculine privilege. If we can’t determine the gender of the Fleshies, we can’t determine the sameness or difference of her object-choice.”
Peaches has recurrently worked on the theme of empowering the body. At Kunstverein, she has brought focus back to issues which are of contemporary importance, approaching themes of sex, queerness and new millennial politics in this unique immersive work. To some the exhibition might belong in the realm of transgressive art, while it may empower others to explore their sexuality freely. Perhaps what Peaches has done here is not just to raise a question about sexuality, but rather the freedom to choose one’s identity in a world that increasingly brackets everyone under a label.