Fortner Anderson, “Straight White Boys Texting: Boryana Rossa,” October 10, 2015
For the concluding act of day 2 of the festival, Bulgarian artist, Boryana Rossa, provided a sly, droll and intelligent (re) presentation of Carollee Schneemann’s 1975 iconic feminist performance « Interior Scroll ». Photographs of Schneemann’s performance, show her naked, standing on a table, reading a long scroll of text that she has pulled from out of her vagina. Partial and incomplete news of this performance reached Rossa as a young woman studying art in Bulgaria. She immediately recognized the performance as an important and radical feminist critique and an affirmation of the body, just the things she needed to hear in one of the Soviet socialist republics.
Rossa entered the performance space wearing only a gold lamé trench coat and a pair of floral Doc Martens. Setting up with a hand-held mic and riffing with the memes of spoken word, burlesque, and performance art, she began to recount the story of her relation with the « Interior Scroll » performance.
According to Rossa, the 1975 action was poorly or insufficiently documented. There exist photos which show Schneemann’s body paint and her pose at that one moment in the performance, but no definitive version of the text exists. Given the importance of the action and its impact on her own development, Rossa vowed to find the original text and re-enact the performance, or more precisely, that part of Schneemann’s performance that has attained iconic status : the image of Schneemann proclaiming a text that she has pulled slowly from her vagina.
As Rossa told us, her initial research was inconclusive. Some witnesses, or people who ought to have known, suggested that the text included a list of offensive synonyms for the word vagina, others, including her male partner, suggested it must have included examples of hypocritical and objectifying male love poetry.
In a sometimes approximate English, and reading from a text, Rossa tried out both, first reading a list of 58 synonyms for vagina which included the very rarely used « Vertical Bacon Sandwich » and « fur-burger ». She played this for laughs and got them. She continued with quotes from the worst love poetry by men and choice selections of texts from straightwhiteboystexting.tumblr.com, which were again both very funny.
As we chuckled and her rapport with the audience grew, Rossa drifted from a veritable reenactment of Schneemann’s original performance. Already, she had replaced the sheet Schneemann originally wore with the gold lamé trench coat. A coat which Rossa reminded us was very suitable for flashing. Further Rossa evoked and recreated the iconic image of Schneemann, but with a crude stick figure which she painted on the wall behind her.
When Rossa finally flashed the public, she revealed carefully trimmed pubic hair and a brassiere with two modest prosthetic breasts, of the type worn by women following a radical double mastectomy.
Once nude, Rossa painted her body, not with mud as Schneemann is said to have done, but with black paint applied sparingly along her arms, legs and torso. As she tentatively entered Schneemann’s pose, Rossa’s story continued. In a moment of doubt, her partner had urged her to continue on with the project and suggested other possibilities for the text. Quotations from the arch-chauvinist Pushkin?
When the text is finally extracted from Rossa’s vagina, it is not a scroll. As she said, « Putting things in your vagina is not that easy. » Instead it’s a small folded piece of paper which contains the lyrics to popular love songs. « Love me tender…Love me do ». These Rossa suggested are either the true messages from her vagina to her or from her to her vagina. Indeed, they are both in love together and forever.
Of course, Schneemann, who extolled women as goddesses, would never have considered the possibility using objectifying and bad and funny citations from « the worst love poetry written by men » or anything similar as the text for her scroll. With these multiple falsifications, Rossa’s replay of Schneemann’s original presents us with the extremely complex portrait of gender relations constructed within a context of hyper-alienation that lodges within alienation within alienation within alienation.
As Rossa had suggested earlier in the day during the conference « Art Facing Fire », “to go forward we must begin again from the beginning, or almost.”