As we enter the theatre space in Cirko, Angela Goh, the performer waits for us front stage, kind of casual, looking at us and at the same time not looking at us. I don’t feel any expectation from her gaze and non-gaze, which feels kind of rare and a relief. The atmosphere we enter in is almost like in a Mårten Spångberg show, with its pop music, style of clothing and Internet influenced aesthetics on stage. However, unlike in Spångberg’s work, nothing is really moving here. The objects are still and so is the performer (more or less). Nothing is really animated. And to pin down what she is waiting for exactly, and why, is difficult and remains a mystery. As soon as the audience is in, she exits the space. How odd – and how nice! The music and light change from bright, fully lit space to red and Goh appears on stage naked, only with a pair of sunglasses. What strikes me from her nudity is, there is something less human in the presence of the body. It is worn out of any sensuality and eroticism, it is almost worn out of any errors, too. The body appears more like a shell, a container. Throughout the performance, the attitude and presence of the performer appears sort of distant and, perhaps more so, indifferent. This indifference makes the play between thing and human within one body very tangible. She is not trying to capture us, entertain us or be animated. She just is and it feels as if she is not really feeling the things she is doing. Sometimes redundant and shiverish to watch, Goh seems to stay very true to her research of a body between a robot and a human.
The objects then – they are disgusting objects. Mass produced robotic features, such as a massage chair, or a silicon bra, that she handles into a kind of lump moving on a massage pillow with circular motions. Goh makes love with some things, caresses others, builds up images and connections. She creates a kind of robotic universe, where sex, sexuality, connection and relationships are empty, mundane, repetitive and objectified. There are no simple materials here. No basics, where meaning would be created with things that are accessible to all, where the basis of a language would be matter. No. The idea seems to be that there is no originality, yet, there is a technological productiveness, complex objects that have lost their simplicity, origin and a kind of soul.
The dramaturgical structure of Uncanny Valley Girl feels redundant – each live image is constructed more or less the same way and is similar in length. There are diverse objects on stage and Goh appears to travel through all of them, combining some with each other, but keeping same principle with each, an interaction that is a kind of fragment. From dressing up in a black winter jacket and lime green leather boots to licking repetitively and perversively a soda can, she gives us time to dip into the world of images and image creating. We have time to contemplate, be bored and distracted. I believe that what Goh is creating in front of us is exactly this, a kind of indifferent universe, where things just happen. Uncanny Valley Girl feels like an Instagram feed of images, manipulated in different ways with same tools, where our perceptive field fills up with a kind of emptiness, where origin is lost, where authenticity is lost, where a sense of humanness is lost.
The dryness of the embodied material Goh brings in front of us allows us to look at her and what she is doing in the same way, without expectation and with dryness. With a kind of disgust and fascination at the same time. Even though the work consists of strong live images and a very particular concentration, it leaves me rather unanimated. It feels as if the work directs us there; to a land of ambiguity, to a land of machines and machine-likes, to a contemplation on meaning and meaningfulness, to a place of many voids.
Sonja Jokiniemi is a choreographer, performer and self-taught visual artist based in Helsinki. She works in intersection of visual art, performance and social field making transdisciplinary work with research interests in choreographies between things and humans, neurodiverse language and thinking structures. Different materialities take part as co-composers and performers in her stage works.
Kuva: Tani Simberg, Baltic Circle 2018. Kuvassa Angela Goh esityksessä Uncanny Valley Girl.