journal of the theoretical humanities
volume 15 number 1 april 2010

1 an account of the performance of
‘‘the chymical wedding’’ from the
perspective of a member of the
audience (as we imagined it)
n 1 January 2008 I joined a number of david burrows
O spectators on the steps of Tate Britain to
witness ‘‘The Chymical Wedding’’ performed by
simon o’sullivan
Downloaded By: [O'Sullivan, Simon] At: 15:20 7 August 2010

Plastique Fantastique, a group styling themselves
as a band of mummers ‘‘from the extreme past
and future.’’1 The gang, who by sporting masks
took up the roles of various avatars that they WEDDING’’
named as eternal forms and redundant commod-
ity forms, had already paraded along the banks of performance art as
the Thames before assembling on the steps to
make a proclamation. One avatar, which the
masochistic practice
group referred to as Fox-Owl (presumably, an (an account, the
eternal form), announced that a wedding was to
take place and that a contract was to be written in contracts and further
pain and in blood that would prove, once and for
all, that there was ‘‘no such thing as the sexual
relation.’’ This strange declaration, that begged
reference to psychoanalytic concepts,2 was met
with joyous cries and applause that soon evolved of the performance and began to feel myself
into an incessant chanting, drumming and sing- strangely involved.
ing as the group entered the building. Serving as The ceremony continued with Fox-Owl
a wedding march, this riotous racket gradually demanding that the mummers hand over differ-
petered out as the mummers arrived at the central ent articles of the contract. With much show,
atrium. Here the group called for silence from the each member of the group handed forth an item
assembled audience and we all fell mute as the to dress the ‘‘naked’’ Subkast Kofke who was
performers began to strip one of their number. thus transformed by a black hood and bindings of
With some care, the group took away the mask various kinds into a blind and straining body.
and cloak, and therefore the identity, of one of This took several minutes during which many
the redundant commodity forms they all called members of our sizeable ‘‘congregation’’ who
Subkast Kofke.3 At this, some of my fellow were unable to see the ceremony grew restless.
audience members laughed and heckled and When the articles had been administered, the-
others muttered their displeasure at not being no-longer-Subkast Kofke twitched like a frigh-
able to hear or see the performance clearly. I, tened animal, issuing piercing cries that
however, amongst others, entered into the spirit reminded me of a stuck pig. What was intended

ISSN 0969-725X print/ISSN1469-2899 online/10/010139^10 ß 2010 Taylor & Francis and the Editors of Angelaki
DOI: 10.1080/0969725X.2010.496178


projected above the the players greeted the hooded and trussed new head of the whipped figure. I was not the only Third Thing was the image of the hooded Iraqi member of the audience to interpret this as a prisoner from Abu Ghraib prison. only a Chymical Thing . The sound track accompanied the that might be a fourth or four hundredth thing!’’ appearance of a figure. resting Duveen Gallery to be whipped. indeed noise erupted and rolled through the atrium. written through pain and abject I realised later that I reacted in a number of ways at this point of the performance. On hearing this cry transformation involving the production of some- all players ceased their whipping. the discomfort produced by this torturous sonic ‘‘ . The whipping and beating grew laws that govern their association. the Imaginary and the Mercy Third Thing!’’ All at once. ‘‘the chymical wedding’’ by this transformation? Whether Subkast Kofke too relaxed. declaring that the arrival with the words. I could feel that they were relieved had become bride or groom. who the group referred to as an angel.5 In this ‘‘The amused and repelled by this spectacle. a brand new knot of the RSI. which was Chymical Wedding’’ was as an alchemical both comic and disturbing. mildly shocked and embarrassed of the relations between desiring bodies and the by the violence. . . hallucinogenic image was the most disturbing The mummers then walked the bewildered and aspect of the whole event. Perhaps the had I. seemed beyond the concerns of followed – but we stood at a distance from the the world. blind and stumbling hooded and bound figure to the North bound with arms and legs outstretched. There was something satisfying to eyes and significance of the symbolic erasure of Subkast ears in the image of bodies shaping to administer Kofke was merely a preparation of some kind for a stream of blows and the noise of their delivery. to make a play turn bemused. The whipping was not gentle and the nication. This might also steadily worse until the hooded figure could bear be figured as a retying of ‘‘psychic relations’’ no more and uttered the safe words. or defiled priest or slave. This final reference to masochism. The audience thing new from within the same. The audience after the beating.’’ and yet haunted by this image of war crack of rubber on the body of the hooded figure and torture. I was in enact a masochistic pact of sorts. as at this point of the proceedings. The angel called for the by ‘‘The Chymical Wedding’’ became clear. Simon] At: 15:20 7 August 2010 mummers. this was not a bad guess on my part as angel appeared once more.4 ceremony. as did the whoops and strange and disturbing composite. Real. a Third Thing assault. when the punishment had ceased. the arrival of something else? Again there was a deafening sound and the In fact. so that we should understand that there was no loud that I raised my fingers to my ears to ease longer such a thing as a man or woman thing. projected high above the Whips were then placed at the feet of the hooded Downloaded By: [O'Sullivan. laughter and whistles of the mummers. The figure. growing steadily in force. It was at this point in the John Dee himself might have fully understood. All who attended attested to this echoed in the great hall. or beast or sacrifice. that the ordeal was over for the bound figure. a veritable ‘‘vacuole of non-commu- group. This onslaught of punishing blows and lashes lasted 2 the contracts of the performance for a full eight minutes. figure that stood still as a stone for several hours The apparition was projected onto the wall and until Fox-Owl untied the bindings that had held spoke in mysterious terms that perhaps only Dr arms and legs tight. ‘‘Mercy. was difficult to ascertain even though many had enjoyed its comedy. 140 . I felt excited. . that the thing that At this point in the proceedings a wave of white stood before us was not a man or woman. that Nevertheless. between the Symbolic. as did the humiliation (as we enacted them) ‘‘congregation’’ who expressed similar thoughts ‘‘The Chymical Wedding’’ was performed to and feelings to my own after the event. ‘‘Welcome Third Thing!’’ contract had been honoured. there was one phrase uttered that an image that had been unconsciously germinated struck a chord with me. . one who was made in the image of his father to be Mixed up with the images of the defiled priest- erased through the honouring of a contract to be bride-groom-slave that traversed the body of the made in pain and blood.

there was the (including self-contempt). as did we. or the protocols. however. within boundaries countering Freud’s assertion that masochism may set by the institutional contract. This involved a beyond the ‘‘economy of goods. the audience. for and to be enacted by the performers. In the case of performance art. they masochists. Embracing shame here is the paradoxical affirma- thing else it is a performance about performance. fictional situations – and the propagation of a a self-conscious presentation made by individuals ‘‘new’’ story involving redundant commodities who performed for an audience. after all. the first contract between violence upon him or herself. was to the protocols of the performance itself (maso. The performance. and ‘‘The itself: the writing of a fiction (by two of the Chymical Wedding’’ was no exception. but deny (put bluntly. This this was not just a personal affair but also an involved the invention of fictional avatars from artwork: a staging of certain relations and stories. Tate Britain) and the performers (in this abuse. performance. after all. albeit temporarily. The contract of pain and of its administration: Downloaded By: [O'Sullivan. Simon] At: 15:20 7 August 2010 fourth. burrows & o’sullivan A wedding is also always a contract. and bind and hood. there was the individual playing the slave by the other contract between the gallery/museum (in this performers. of the performance the performers agree to go beyond judgement. for before performance art is any. Money was exchanged for seduces or employs others to humiliate and inflict services rendered. In this fiction one of the players was to be about an event that has already happened?) ‘‘The submitted to expurgation from the group so as to Chymical Wedding’’ consisted of two types of produce a suspension of agency (so as to become contracts: those concerned with relations between a ‘‘thing’’). an agreement was masochistic contract bound all the performers – made that bound the group of performers an embracing of the shame of the performance together. the stuff we cannot This was. was the condition of possibility for the precisely a technology of the self. The contract of shame and humour: a further The historical contract: second. with an identity of itself (and of those who refuse to give up on their sorts that gave each member the social status of desires. there was draws up a contract with another or induces.8 performance. our bodies). With this contract contract.7 Masochism is parties. The latter would humiliate and case. involve a transformation. and whip and beat case. the group Plastique Fantastique) who were the former until the pain grew too much and the allowed to enter the building and undertake safe words were uttered. (‘‘The Chymical well be an inversion of sadism. There was no direct contract made (Note: this is not a contract between sadists and between performers and audience. tion of all that is ‘‘not’’ in us. for as Gilles Deleuze has pointed out. did as they pleased. for contra Lacan we assert masochism to performance artist.6 the masochist Wedding’’ was not a relational artwork. chistic contracts). there was the contract detailing the i the social contracts violence to be administered to the body of the The institutional contract: first. an affair of representation. enforcing articles of the be a viable strategy that pushes the subject institutional contract above.’’ but only by first further contract of a kind with the history of becoming a ‘‘thing’’ to be played with). This. If it is to be and eternal forces (a marriage of things out of reductively read (and how else might one write time). The whipping was to be certain actions after giving the guarantee that no as extreme and dramatic as the performers could harm would come to the exhibits or themselves or make it but would not end in injury or death. Indeed. Intended in all of this was the people. institutions and history (social contracts) production of a specifically different subjective and those detailing the roles of performers and formation. 141 . group) and of an internal consistency agreed on this wedding involved a number of contracts. it is also the shame of putting oneself forward for ridicule by engaging in ii the masochistic contracts ‘‘perverse’’ nonsense: a facing up to contempt The contract of fiction: third. no conviviality here).

masochism is a is a reminder of the dangers of a fascist ‘‘bodies practice rather than a lucky break). to see the performance out to its the heart of the sacred. can be a dangerous if not fatal fact only works when its signifying components process (masochism is always an art of dosages). stop working. All performers also partake of the strange tempor. it (note: Deleuze. that overcomes all an ironist in subverting the law through parody. is a humorist that all at once sees and seizes the event. For to separate the liation). The work (the performance) in signification.’’10 Careful The image of the Iraqi prisoner that emerged like preparation is required to reap the potential the bad conscience at the end of the performance treasure of this contract (after all. Here we produce a bastard and base Indeed. signal threshold (passing through abjection and humi. At of the protocols. on the other hand. very end. the end of any punishment. remarks that the sadist is is a moment that is irresistible. becomes an image on the subjectivity. For the without organs’’ (one in which the Crusader who contract of non-interpretation to be enacted a wants to enjoy occupation and total dominance certain style is needed. in which it is agreed to explore and body from signifying strata too quickly. stillness of a ‘‘Body without Organs. In the case of ‘‘The Chymical Wedding. swallow judgement whole and then shit it out the and the usual art careerism and its commodity other end. how else might the finite access the joy. who subverts the law through exaggeration and inviting his or her own ‘‘punishment’’). but one asignification (when the nostrils twitch and that follows from recognising the dangers of the the blood boils): there might be a sixth contract. words had been uttered. event. Much time and money is invested in This is the transformative power of ritual preparing for the performance. After the safe seventh contract. sacrifice is always present. the body of there is an untimely mixing of myth and the slave. bodies can get carried away. ‘‘the chymical wedding’’ We open our mouths as wide as we can and logic of everyday life and commodity obsession. or to experiment with sensation and intensity in order burn all bridges back to the world of social to erase meaning. All performers agree to enter into move. once uttered. involved and is realised through an investment The masochist. and and an agreement to follow a programme until all social strata can themselves produce a cancerous signifying regimes evaporated. This contract one that is entered into only by crossing a details the safe words that. Following the contracts of the performance is a tormentors and slave) for this threshold to be complex affair but one that leads to an alchemical crossed. all of which shame involves a gallows-humour of a kind: a are ‘‘burnt’’ in the actual performance (as is the comedy of the law and of a sticking-to-the-letter case with all weddings or sacred ceremonies).9 The contract of caution and of non-destruction: there is perhaps an eighth contract. Abu Ghraib $ a headless man – Acephale $ most importantly. that preys upon the life of the people. one that is in and out of time. inscribed with the violence and fictions sensation. This and running through the protocols. pain. performance art. until they seemed ‘‘Body without Organs’’ that is fascistic and like so much hot air leaving behind the cold deathly. the body must tingle with becomes a death-machine). This entailed a refusal to interpret More than this. in making props humiliation. a new-avatar-in-process: this collective project of schizoanalysis. latter. through play and pain stands shaking and slowly recovering. the whip arm must fly and the blood must course hotly through the body (of the spectators. producing a schizo-time for a schizo- of the performance. again. purging our subjectivities of paranoia. sacrificial figure of a folk play $ prisoner of ality of the event as a rupture in a given situation. The unnatural union of a Spinoza–Bataille infinite? In fact this is more than an agreement. and as the beaten slave To put things plainly. to explore a break with the ghost-demon of the Black-arts of the CIA $ 142 . fetishism. and of the sixth and seventh. which might Downloaded By: [O'Sullivan.’’ this event was the production of an apparition The contract of sacred time: there is perhaps a that was both in and out of time. Simon] At: 15:20 7 August 2010 The contract of non-interpretation and of in fact be only an article of the fourth. that is.

and 3 some further reflections on the to make things clear. burrows & o’sullivan upside-down Masonic ritual $ comic-death. only acts of masochism or simply acts that express the desire to become a thing. for the up of the body through masochistic play). we are not so Downloaded By: [O'Sullivan. . we find performance has many humiliation. ‘‘economy of goods. merely a unless the question of how to connect a schizoid symbolic play and nothing more than a perverse body and mind to an environment (in this case. Group activity is 143 . that secret and hidden place that both attracts and repulses. is to engage in a process of things in common with Oury’s practice of becoming-‘‘thing. maso. problems of the patient cannot be addressed chism would be a limiting practice. for new adventures. But if this is all there was to to the space that it is apparently in. instead of desiring the cold love and cruelty of the mother (as Freud said of all masochists). therefore. We repeat. focus on the space (and time) of treatment. In this. becoming an object of fun and ridicule. Simon] At: 15:20 7 August 2010 unlike other so-called masochists. that is. rather we produce a masochistic perfor- mance. to laugh ourselves into oblivion and back. symbolic). and idea. by masochism is never just ‘‘goods.’’11 In fact. However.’’ of passing into a state of institutional psychotherapy. In forming this view we are drawing on Jean To be involved in this masochistic reversal of Oury’s statement. How can that be? To reiterate. without back on it) both performers and spectators embracing a The masochistic performance (‘‘The Chymical shameful state of affairs. the masochism then Lacan would be right. only through becoming a plaything can The Thing be accessed. that the ‘‘hospital is paternal law. We do not call or diagnose ourselves maso- chists. In that we are a group punishing one of our own (as well as ourselves through submitting to humiliation). . embarrassment and humi- liation were important to the transformative performance as event (as we look process of the performance. we hanker after the cruel laughter of our own society. not least in its abjection. But then we contend that there are no masochists as such (in private or in public).’’ But the ‘‘thing’’ produced the hospital) is also addressed. In embracing the role of this ‘‘plaything. We have claimed that our performance art is not only a masochistic practice but also a form of schizoanalysis.’’ This fleshy jester in fancy dress $ ducking-chair for a thing is in fact a surface for fresh inscriptions and crab like witch . This manufactured thing can access The Thing: those forces and intensities that lie below habit. (ii) is wedded to a technology and society (the gallery and its constituency) that of the body through performance (R) (an opening the performance takes place within. wild images and intense relations it produces are too rigid and not sensations (I) (an outside to signification and the healthy. judgement and punish- Wedding’’) is a merging of two things to activate ment remain a block or a brake in the production a Third Thing: (i) the writing of a fiction (S) of the new. we address the environment (a myth of renewal).’’ the Oury remarked that the body and mind of the world of judgement and prohibition is turned schizoid patient is never still and cannot connect upside down. (iii) ‘‘museum is ill’’ and the subjectivities and producing hallucinations. through inviting punishment and ill.

See Jacques through objects. (S) and the Imaginary (I) are tied together in such formative fiction produced by David Burrows and a way that if one loop were to be cut the knot Simon O’Sullivan.org4. Brussels. As other matters. London. Rather thing as the sexual relationship. comics. that masochism is the inversion of sadism. a connection to an anonymous criminal behaviour. 2008. female). the schizoid within us all. Angela Richards unbidden. only a new form of knot can tie the aesthetics. during the reign of Elizabeth I.’’ Aspex.org4 for that hallucinations of a political. 2009. recognising the problem of an activity that is not 2010. ‘‘The Chymical Wedding.’’ Danielle Arnaud Gallery. and the subject become ‘‘untied. for some wrongdoing of the past). further details of performances. and ‘‘A Visitation.’’ Tatton Park Biennale. and Lacan 118 ^36. historical.1996) 11^96. onto this continually travelling Hutton. one). as presented in Sacher-Masoch’s 144 . ‘‘the chymical wedding’’ used to ‘‘graft’’ an opening. Simon] At: 15:20 7 August 2010 religious and aesthetic nature are conjured. London. with the ravings of the so-called 4 Dr John Dee. The collaboration involves an would fall apart. the twisting of the phrase Staabucks Fukkee that It is through this grafted opening (produced by was in turn a twisting of the phrase Starbucks the performance of ‘‘The Chymical Wedding’’) Coffee.1984) 409^26. presents and with the help of scriveners such as Edward Kelley. For more information see 5www. The Economic Problem of Masochism masked players who visited households. interpreting come to pass are paraded for all and writing down all his communication and who wish to see them. 2007. Zone. ‘‘Black Mass for Partial that has three aspects: the infantile (a desire for Objects. first recorded in the thirteenth century and common throughout parts 7 See Coldness and Cruelty: Masochism (New York: of England from the fourteenth to the nineteenth.plastiquefantastique. See 1 The word ‘‘mummers’’ refers to a group of Sigmund Freud. he suggests plastiquefantastique. ‘‘StrangerThings are a man to occupy the subservient position of the Happening. The practice. which in liberal times is suppressed as an activity. At one point. Portsmouth. writings and Downloaded By: [O'Sullivan. food and drink.’’ Aliceday Gallery. 5 ‘‘A brand new knot for the RSI’’refers to Jacques notes Lacan’s concept of subjectivity envisaged as a Borremean Knot in which the Real (R).’’ 6 Freud argued that masochism is a perversion Outpost. and mad. figured as the writing of a brand new knot in this Exhibitions and performances include: ‘‘Staabucks sense (albeit a temporary and somewhat fragile Fukkee is Your Enemy. the feminine (the desire of Academy. ‘‘Protocols for Deceleration. A psychoanalytical understanding of was repeatedly banned for giving cover to masochism. and the moral (the desire to be punished ‘‘Multiverse. often [1924] in On Metapsychology. The Stations of the Sun (Oxford: Oxford body and mind. Masochistic perfor. 1989).’’ for ‘‘Event Horizon’’ at the Royal childhood punishment). See Ronald environment. any relationship than grafting an opening onto the schizoid body being mediated by representation ^ and that it is that connects with the order of a specific love that ‘‘makes up’’ for the (non-existent) sexual environment (the hospital). See Jacques Lacan. only one in reverse. Norwich. futures that may or may never spoke to angels and eternal beings.’’ Tate Britain. we aim to graft an relationship.’’ ongoing investigation of the relations between In such cases. ‘‘The Chymical Wedding’’ might be performances in which others also take part. to perform a play in expectation of (London: Penguin. Symbolic ‘‘Plastique Fantastiqie’’ is a mythopoetic and per. 2008. Encore: The opening onto the order of an environment (the Seminar of Jacques Lacan Book XX. Bruce body of the museum or gallery) to connect with Fink (New York: Norton. The masochistic performance UP. texts.1999) 38 ^50. focused on pleasure but displeasure. 2 Jacques Lacan theorised that there was no such apy of a kind too. trans. dialogue. (as schizoanalysis) is an institutional psychother. all the pasts. London. installations. 3 Subkast Kofke is an avatar from previous mance is one technology that grows just such an Plastique Fantastique performances derived from orifice. politics and the sacred conducted subject back into the order of things. See 5www. 2008 ^ 09. 2009. trans.

as a technology of the body. 9 See chapter 7. Jacques Alain-Miller (London: Routledge. to this slave whom one trades back and forth and whom one shares’’ (239). Jean as depicted in Sacher-Masoch’s fiction. in turn. A question might be posed as to whether masochism consists solely of this play of goods. A Thousand Plateaus. the law is sub- verted. ed. 1988) 149^ 66. or whether masochism. views the interview1. Dennis Porter. Irony and the Law’’ in Deleuze.Coldness and Cruelty 81^90. In Sacher-Masoch’s fiction. 10 On the ‘‘Body without Organs.pdf4 (accessed 29 July 2008).’’ available 5http://www. allows for an intensive experience that goes ‘‘beyond’’ the symbolic. This. Brian Massumi (London: Continuum. ‘‘Humour. social and symbolic relationships is still produced. but a fictionalising of erotic.’’ the fiction is played out between indivi- dual and group. ‘‘The Hospital is Ill: An Interview with Dr. 1992) on Sacher- Masoch and on the perverse masochist who desires to ‘‘reduce himself to this nothing that is the good. In the performance of ‘‘The Chymical Wedding.Venus/Wanda. 145 .goldsmiths. Severin. Simon] At: 15:20 7 August 2010 8 See Lacan’s remarks in The Ethics of Psychoanalysis. Downloaded By: [O'Sullivan. burrows & o’sullivan fiction.The practice of masochism is one example given of how to build a Body without Organs. submitting himself to torture delivered by the woman.’’ see Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. the law of the father is then subverted as the punish- ment Severin receives affirms an erotic relation- ship with the woman/mother figure. trans. What is important about this story is that through fiction. 11 See David Reggio. which is further read as a desiring of punishment to be delivered by the mother (103^10). is viewed as a negation of the law of the father who punishes to prevent incest between mother and son. to this thing that is treated like an object. and an enactment that involves different roles and the taking up of invented names. trans.

Simon] At: 15:20 7 August 2010 ‘‘the chymical wedding’’ 146 . Downloaded By: [O'Sullivan.

Simon] At: 15:20 7 August 2010 147 burrows & o’sullivan . Downloaded By: [O'Sullivan.

Simon] At: 15:20 7 August 2010 David Burrows Birmingham Institute of Art & Design (BIAD) Gosta Green Corporation Street Birmingham B4 7DX UK E-mail: Simon O’Sullivan Visual Cultures Goldsmiths College University of London New Cross London SE14 6NW UK E-mail: s. ‘‘the chymical wedding’’ Downloaded By: [O'’ .burrows@bcu.

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