This essay was commissioned by American Realness for their Reading program, curated by Ali Rosa-Salas – a body of writing around work in the 2017 Festival. I write around Polish dance artist Karol Tyminski’s exceptional and explicit This Is A Musical.
If this is a musical – it ends in crescendo. Blown up the full height of the rear wall of the theatre, pixelated, frozen – Karol Tyminski in tight-closeup, smiling out at us with unencumbered, cheeky glee, his face shining from the patina of his off-screen sex partner’s cum. It is this image, this crescendo of queer pleasure, that I return to in the days following Tyminski’s This Is A Musical. Not the frenzied physicality, not the empathetic pain in my own body, not the duality of his present, dancing body, and his mediated form, penetrated roughly by an anonymous partner. All of that replays through my mind as well, but it always loops back, fast forwards, smash-cuts through to Tyminski smiling at the camera and through it to the audience. His face covered in sweat and semen and his eyes bright with pleasure and pride in all the things that this queer body can do.
It starts with quiet scraping from his buzz cut head, tracing circles on the floor. Legs stretched out and squeaking against the white dance vinyl. Arching his body back to thud suddenly down, the sharp exhalation of his breath is a shock. Violent; a burst from his open mouth. His body is in dim silhouette; the sound is more important than the visual. His body shivers; his face shakes, air caught in the hollows of his cheeks. Knees beat to the floor. Shudders, thumps, rasps caught by his microphone, amplified and looped, strung together in a visceral soundtrack.
If this is a musical – centred on sound – the aesthetic movement of Tyminski’s body is just labour. It is behind the scenes, it is ancillary. The bruises on his knees and elbows, the bruises on his shins, the wrapping on his ankle – these are not what we are supposed to focus on here. The sounds of the body are at the centre, and its materiality, its queerness, its joys and pleasures and pains are just the labour that brings it forth.
If this is a musical, the body is artist and instrument at once; agent and implement for the creation of noise. But it is hard to see past the body in the foreground; and it becomes increasingly difficult.
The sounds of it are tied to the sensations of it – as he smashes again and again to his knees on the hard floor; beats his open palm against his own flesh – and the sensations of his body wash out and over us. We see the sheen of sweat flowing from flesh flushing brighter from exhaustion and pain, and the pain of his body echoes in our own, empathetic and viral. If this is a musical, maybe we are the microphone; and more than just sound is amplified inside us.
We cannot ignore the body for long, not our own, not Tyminski’s in this work. Over the course of its hour, the work evolves from the flesh’s sonic possibilities to one that is more exploratory. The sexual current of the work becomes stronger and stronger; Tyminski drags the microphone across his flesh, over his crotch; it penetrates his mouth and we hear the sounds of the inside of his body. On his knees, he beats it against his tongue, against his face. The sound evolves from these dull thuds and scrapes of flesh to a more weighty house beat. If we are the microphone, what’s the relationship here? As the exploration of the body turns sexual, what have we moved into? He’s more manic now. His emotional energy has become wilder as the louder and more insistent beat of the music flings his body around the space. Writhing in the kind of performative, tactile glee of a man that looks you in the eye as he rubs his asshole, his gaze a gleeful, insistent dare; alternately angry – yelling at us, then laughing again. He’s looking back at us now, and not looking away; our bodies are pinned tight in his gaze in contrast to the way we chose to see through him – as if this was ever a musical.
Because if this is a musical, then the labours, pains, and pleasures of the queer body fall away into side stage shadows – Tyminski begins the work a literal silhouette, the details of his body obscured. The scabs on his knees from repeated scrapes, the bruises on his arms and legs – the strength of his movement sits behind the musicality in our consideration of the work. We place the music central, strip away the operations of the body, in its bruising, bleeding – its pleasing, its being pleasured – and place them to the side.
But then where are we? Queerness is always concerned with the margins; that’s where queerness happens. This to me is the churning engine of the work; the paradigm by which it makes visible and invisible the queer body. The singularity at the core of queerness has always been its effort to be visible and make difference visible, in rejection of assimilation as an act of labour that allows the non-normative body to integrate into a heteronormative society. If this is a musical, then the work insists on the secondary nature of the queer body that produces it; but these queer bodies have a way of pushing back into the centre, becoming visible, empathetic, bold, unignorable.
Projection begins on the wall behind him. Another Tyminski; a mediated, dual body. As the live-Tyminski chants to us, discordant text of the body and the heart, the space awash now with flashing coloured lights (the monochrome silhouette of its beginnings forgotten), the mediated-Tyminski is on his back. Tight close up on his face. He’s being fucked? Blown? By an offscreen man – then onscreen. But not just another man, he’s silhouetted with oscillating colours – something between a Windows screensaver, an acid trip, and the universe. Something between cosmic and cheap. The microphone has been forgotten now. We are the camera, now, we are the audience in the space as Tyminski chants to us, holds our gaze. Our ears are joined by our bodies, our bodies by our eyes, and our eyes are half in the camera, rotating around mediated-Tyminski as he is fucked hard by the universe in the shape of a man. Hands sometimes tight round his throat, sometimes gripping at soft flesh, sometimes rubbing over his body with the kind of instinctive touch that bodies in mutual queer pleasure tumble into.