Dynasty Purse’s Titanic and the farce of historical past

Dynasty Handbag, Titanic Depression, 2023. Performance view, Pioneer Works, New York. All photos: Walter Wlodarczyk.

Dynasty Purse, Titanic Despair, 2023. Efficiency view, Pioneer Works, New York. All photographs: Walter Wlodarczyk.

AS I WRITE, the search continues for the Titan, the submersible vessel that went lacking off the coast of Newfoundland on a high-ticket vacationer dive to view the wreck of the RMS Titanic. Operated by deep-sea journey firm OceanGate Expeditions and carrying 5 passengers—OceanGate founder and CEO Stockton Rush, maritime researcher Paul-Henri Nargeolet, billionaire businessmen Hamish Harding and Shahzada Dawood, and Dawood’s son Suleman—the Titan misplaced contact with the terrestrial world one hour and forty-five minutes into its journey on June 18; the craft’s oxygen provide is estimated to run out tomorrow morning. On this race towards time, the media—just like the expansive rescue efforts convened by the US and Canada—stay totally mobilized of their protection of the story’s each angle, as if to problem an consequence that appears already foretold. Final week’s shipwreck off the coast of Greece, through which a whole lot of refugees and migrants had been misplaced to the Mediterranean (the loss of life depend continues to rise), has remained, unsurprisingly, a footnote in lots of information shops.

In a grim coincidence, I had, days earlier than the Titan fiasco, accomplished an essay for Artforum on comedic performer Jibz Cameron’s Titanic Despair, which was staged at Brooklyn’s Pioneer Works for 2 nights in late Could, and which coincided with the twenty-fifth anniversary rerelease of the 1997 box-office dreadnought by Hollywood auteur James Cameron (no relation). Noting the deluge of current media consideration just lately given to the sunken ship—from a blockbuster exhibition that cruised from London all the way in which to the husk of an City Outfitters on Fourteenth Avenue, to the sold-out off-Broadway musical Titanique (a campy parody of James Cameron’s movie from the angle of “My Coronary heart Will Go On” diva Celine Dion)—and the swell of on-line conspiracy theories round each the historic tragedy and its iconic Hollywood rendition (was the vessel sunk on purpose to eradicate opposition to the Federal Reserve? Could Jack have fit on that makeshift raft door?), I speculated about “a collective if market-driven want to excavate some sunken ‘Actual’ from the Titanic’s wreckage.” That line carries a obscure portent now, in mild of current information. But it surely glosses previous a psychoanalytic perception essential to Titanic Despair’s lumpen late postmodernism and grimly enacted by the Titan incident (which appears to condense the story of the Titanic—a narrative of cash, hubris, and calamity within the North Atlantic—right into a twenty-two-foot titanium container operated by an off-brand PlayStation controller): that the Actual can by no means be retrieved however fairly should be traumatically repeated.


STAGED WITHIN a transformed Purple Hook warehouse-turnedsteamship and copresented by New York Dwell Arts for the Planet Justice competition, Jibz Cameron’s one-woman burlesque travesty, conceived with artist Sue Slagle (SUE-C) and with visible path by Mariah Garnett, surfaces the fictions and fantasies on the coronary heart of James’s transatlantic catastrophe melodrama within the context of immediately’s impending local weather disaster. Jibz’s stage persona Dynasty Purse set expectations on the prime of the present: “A few of you’ll have an important expertise and really feel such as you’ve been on a journey and also you discovered your self via a stereotyping of the opposite after which inhabiting that factor, after which realizing that you want to separate from it with a view to discover your true self, and a few of you received’t in any respect. A few of you’ll go down enjoying the violin and screaming in agony.” However one factor is for sure, she warned: “We’re all gonna die.”

Her most expansive stay multimedia work but, Titanic Despair unfolded each on stage and inside an interactive video. Dynasty carried out a vaudevillian, raveled Rose, but in addition acted out almost each different character, and voice, within the hour-long efficiency. Her manifold, embodied characterizations was complimented by a refrain of (her personal) speaking heads—amongst different animated figural drawings on display screen—which she sometimes manipulated via an onstage foot pedal. Whereas it was by no means not Dynasty Purse performing, shuttling between all of the characters was a feat: It’s exactly the place the abandonment to freewheeling improvisation confronts timed shifts requiring managed elocution, cued traces, and the onset of musical preparations that Dynasty’s comedy is at its finest. The performer’s virtuosic acts of self-undoing are purposely shabby: They collapse on the seams, every sequence and scene stitched clumsily collectively into awkward entanglements. In Titanic Despair, the fictional, historic, social, and biographical had been by no means not one another’s triggers.

Dynasty Handbag, Titanic Depression, 2023. Performance view, Pioneer Works, New York.

Dynasty Purse, Titanic Despair, 2023. Efficiency view, Pioneer Works, New York.

Because the well-known story goes, Rose’s object of want just isn’t dastardly robber baronet Cal—in Titanic Despair, a cigar-smoking, one-shoed, roughly drawn dildo named Dick, whose sentences themselves appear to detumesce—however a dashing urchin named Jack, who right here took the title of “Hat” and the type of a nonbinary lavender octopus snuck onto the cruise ship in a hat field. Titanic Despair’s narrative broadly resembles that of its namesake movie: Rose is a confused and insecure member of the downwardly cell elite who rebels towards her mom’s needs to safe social standing via a strategic marriage. She protests: “I need to be a local weather activist and dancer, heal the world with my stretchy physique!” “I need to be an activist and overworked and underpaid!” She cares about social justice, however can be, as one would possibly anticipate, hooked on the fabric comforts afforded by her privilege, and solely considerably conscious of her altruism’s deep-seated narcissism. She’s significantly vocal about waste, enumerating the sum whole of eggs consumed by passengers on the ship and excrement discharged into the ocean in return.

Historical past, just like the Titanic, retains biking again, although Dynasty Purse manages to throw an anarchic wrench into its ouroboric regress.

Waste runs deep, so to talk, in Dynasty’s thematic repertoire—from the current FX quick sequence Rubbish Fortress (2019), through which she putters round in a trash-filled SRO and battles towards her landlord (performed by Maria Bamford), again to her 2008 efficiency as a zany bag girl whose numerous disposable, now-banned plastic baggage bombard her with their wants and expectations (Baggage). Dynasty’s preoccupation with refuse—the junk and dregs symptomatic of consumerism, but in addition symbolic of our psychic excesses and collective neuroses—was exactly what José Esteban Muñoz aligned with the artist’s queer utopian refusal of normativity, conformity, and the failure of political creativeness to assume itself in any other case. “Dynasty Purse is the utopian oddball par excellence,” the late efficiency theorist wrote in Cruising Utopia (2009). Hers is a “mimetic efficiency of an individual, a spoiled subjectivity, who is taken into account a loser, or garbage . . . and as a substitute insists on her personal worth as a countercultural heroine.” In Titanic Despair, refusal and refuse are the driving forces of the screwball narrative: The vessel’s deadly collision is with floating landfill, and it’s a reusable, metallic straw—actually the “final straw”—that causes the ship to sink.

Dynasty Handbag, Titanic Depression, 2023. Performance view, Pioneer Works, New York.

Dynasty Purse, Titanic Despair, 2023. Efficiency view, Pioneer Works, New York.

What of affection, then? What of the class-defying fiction that had so many viewers of the movie rapt with hope for Rose and Jack’s submerged relationship. Some would possibly keep in mind Žižek’s persuasive argument, superior in The Pervert’s Information to Ideology (2012) and reiterated elsewhere, that the wreck got here, exactly, to stop what would have been the movie’s “true disaster,” i.e., Rose and Jack getting off the “ship of goals” collectively in New York. Whereas Žižek presumes that their love affair would fizzle after a couple of weeks of passionate intercourse, the protracted, devastating collision with the iceberg capabilities to maintain the “reactionary fable” underpinning James Cameron’s “Hollywood Marxism”: exactly, the parable of a “younger wealthy child in disaster whose vitality is restored by a quick intimate contact with the full-blooded lifetime of the poor.” As Žižek writes in In Protection of Misplaced Causes: “What lurks behind the compassion for the poor is their vampiric exploitation.”

Dynasty sought out that lower-deck exuberance in an underground membership crowded with bobbing animals—deep down within the stowage the place she will lastly break freed from her gilded cage and right into a liberatory, frenetic dance. As Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack is to Kate Winslet’s Rose, Hat, the silent cephalopod, is Dynasty’s mirror, the perfect floor for the projection of all her affective attachments. He/they/it by no means mentioned a phrase however drew her nude eight methods (“like one in every of your French horns. Whores. Sorry. European intercourse employees,” she instructed), every sketch extra attentive to her unruly bush than the subsequent. Within the lead-up to the indelible, steamy automotive scene, which was relocated from a Renault Coupé de Ville to a dingy camper with Melissa Ethridge’s “Come to My Window” enjoying as soundtrack, Dynasty brandished a childishly penned “consent type” filled with interdictions (no touching, for one) for her soon-to-be-lover to signal. Their climax, such because it was, constructed up via a crescendo of “oh my God”s—lifted from movie clips through which an offscreen, impending hazard has been noticed—giving manner eventually to photographs of ice caps melting and glaciers collapsing, water gushing out. However no orgasm: “I misplaced it. We misplaced it . . . It’s not you, it’s me . . . Intimacy is rather a lot . . . I simply must some inhales and outhales.”

Dynasty Handbag, Titanic Depression, 2023. Performance view, Pioneer Works, New York.

Dynasty Purse, Titanic Despair, 2023. Efficiency view, Pioneer Works, New York.

Failure will be recuperated, waste recycled. Like Jack’s life-giving sacrifice within the North Atlantic, Hat’s silence ensures Dynasty Purse’s self-actualization. In one other important scene, she known as up a “ten-second life-changing self-affirmation meditation by a lady with an Australian accent” at her therapist’s behest, however quickly the subsequent observe comes on: a loss of life acceptance meditation that leads her in a frantic enactment of the 5 levels of grief. She’s going to reemerge from it having shed her delusional attachment to Hat, and with a newfound tolerance for the thought of escaping the condemned ship (and a loss of life sentence) in Dick’s vaunted “house pod.” As she seems to be frantically for Dick, heaps of trash start to amass, filling the stage and the video body. Aboard the spaceship, which is able to dock on one of many numerous “planets” Dick owns (Health, Hollywood . . . ), her virtuous, true self, wins out: She returns to save lots of Hat, who escapes with out her assist as she tries to type the rising trash into recyclable piles, a activity, Dynasty bemoans, that ought to have been a collective effort and never a “misguided try by one individual to strive to sort things on their very own.”

For positive, there have been a number of laughs available in Titanic Despair (extra uneasy ones, maybe, than in Shell of a Girl, a comedic lecture-performance and takedown of the “10 Biggest Works of Artwork” based on the web—all made by males, after all—which had the viewers in stitches throughout its run at Joe’s Pub in 2018). Titanic Despair isn’t simply humorous; it’s anxiogenic—and certainly a bit miserable—in its dead-on satire of the hand-wringing performances of self-awareness we leftists make within the face of the intersecting, presumably insurmountable doomsday situations unfolding earlier than our eyes. (“Comedy,” Lauren Berlant and Sianne Ngai remind us, “helps us check or work out what it means to say ‘us.’”) The critique of patriarchy and capitalism in Jibz’s work doesn’t think about an alternative choice to these programs or their neoliberal cultural expressions (the cult of “wellness” for instance) a lot as ironize our subsumption within the grotesque, human-centipede flows of social and monetary capital that bother Titanic Despair’s protagonist and maker alike. “It’s the identical shit pile and it’s truly the identical shit individuals,” she declares—a sloppy state of affairs the place “battle of curiosity” can simply develop into be a quaint, old school notion: You may get a Guggenheim (as Cameron did in 2022) and roast the Guggenheims—Benjamin, particularly, a sufferer of the sinking and a “actual nightmare of an individual” who made his fortune, as she relayed, between interjected fart sounds, in mining and smelting and nitrate farming in Chile. The gentleman’s quarters on the cruise—a smoking room for “shitty males” just like the fur and opium dealer John Jacob Astor, who died on the ship, and J. P. Morgan, who owned it—is sufficiently big for some up to date luminaries, too: Zuckerberg, Musk, et al. Environmentalist futurevore James Cameron even makes a cameo: Coincidently, he shares a primary and final title with Jibz’s father, himself the son of a uranium miner and ravenous entrepreneur—George Cameron—whom she by no means met. Historical past, just like the Titanic, retains biking again, although Dynasty Purse manages to throw an anarchic wrench into its ouroboric regress, puncturing—in her self-consciously insecure and ineffectual methods—the overdetermined fatalism of her supply materials. Humor, particularly of the self-deprecating form, is a leaky lifeboat. However what else might we hope for within the face of the inevitable?

Dynasty Purse’s Titanic Despair was carried out at Pioneer Works on Could 20 and Could 21.