Allie Hankins is a friend of mine. I’ve tried to recall the moment when we first met 4-ish years ago, but I can’t do it: too much juice and fun and life lived in tandem since then. My guess is that it was either in a workshop somewhere, or in a karaoke booth somewhere. Whatever the context, she was (and is) a stealthy thrill of a person, and we have since done all kinds of art-shenaniganing together. Her new work, better to be alone than to wish you were, will run during week 2 of TBA:16, and from the works-in-progress I’ve seen and the things I’ve read from Allie about it, it’s gonna be tricky. Allie and I wrote back and forth about…well…edging, about the depleting nature of lust, and about faggy rockstars we’re going to embody together really soon.
JH: I know that parts of your piece are funny…and are kind of intended to be funny, or maybe they’re intended to take “funny” and use it as a tool to expose things that really aren’t necessarily funny at all. How are you feeling/thinking about connections between humor and desire? Like…is humor a way to throw your hands up and say “yeah, cool this is nuts i give up” or is it maybe more…strategic than that?
AH: The humor came about pretty organically–like, maybe before I even knew that this piece was more or less explicitly about “desire.” You know me, so you know a little bit about my awkwardness and social anxiety, and one of the ways I’ve combatted that over the years is through humor, surely. I was just explaining this to someone else, but it is applicable here, too: I have a tendency to hide behind this Carefree Clown persona–this woman with a biting and sarcastic humor, twinkle in her eye, and a loose grip on the world. Of course what I’m hiding is someone with a near-detrimental tenderness (which I’ve calibrated to a less detrimental degree over the years) who wants to control ALL the fucking reins ALL the fucking time, and whose feelings you’ve probably already hurt because she’s hella sensitive. So while making this piece I was really mining this thing about me, and what emerged was this persona who invites the opportunity to be the butt of a joke–a joke that emerged by her own construction. She invites the messiness that occurs in the throes of desire. And she is also inviting catastrophe inside of the performance itself. She thinks it’s all pretty fucking hilarious, but she’s on the verge of throwing up her hands and diving head first into a pit of sweeping romance and despair, but not before she implicates you (the audience) in this puzzle as well. She plays with you, seduces you, attempts to make you fall in love with her, but she always pulls out the rug at the last second. I think of her as always almost on the verge of overflowing or being overwhelmed, and she gets off on riding that edge. None of this is overt, of course. It’s more subdued and energetic—it’s a certain tension. It’s kind of a hypnosis disguised as lecture disguised as stand-up comedy. Maybe. There is also a lot of potential for The Anticlimactic in jokes–the build up, the rhythm, the expectation, the anticipation of the lovely release of the perfect punchline–I think incorporating this hushed, stand-up comedy element allowed me to fuck with desire/expectation in a strategic way.
JH: Okay so this is insanely titillating for plenty of reasons, but namely, from what you say here, it seems the location of power in the work is really and truly obscured. Which is…thrilling.
On another note, in reading your description – and particularly seeing you name “the anticlimactic futility of lust”, I have a really warm and affirming response and think: YES! THAT is the best thing about lust: its futility and illogic. I mean, in a time where everything has to serve some kind of consumptive-productive purpose, lust is this outrageous and perfect antidote to it all. Is there some kind of statement about the nature of lust in this work? Do you feel alluded by its wonders and usefulness? Is there something you’re getting at about the nature of how the body/your body becomes a hilariously misplaced site for desire and/or lust?
AH: I’m not entirely sure what my relationship is to lust, so maybe you hit the nail on the head–maybe it’s something that eludes me. I don’t know. I think the degree of urgency to which people pursue what they are lusting after is super rad, but also very unsettling. Like the frenzied and hasty tearing away of layers is super thrilling in the moment, but ultimately, I fear it just leaves everything feeling a bit prosaic and deadened. I realize this sounds very curmudgeonly, but whatever. So sue me. I don’t know if lust leaves any space for the deliberate and measured establishment of familiarity or intimacy that turns me on. I mean, yeah, quite simply: sometimes you just wanna fuck. That’s that. But the charged pursuit almost always fizzles out. So I guess that’s consistent with what you’re saying–it’s totally not generative, not productive, it’s actually only depleting…? I think that depletion/deflation is a rich fucking territory. It’s very evocative for me.
JH: Ha. Yes, AND…I feel like we’re making qualitative guesses about the nature of lust that are in the same language and set of values, but actually end up suggesting very different things. Also, it seems there is both a critique of desire and lust, and also a kind of challenging offering-up of yourself simultaneously. I’m excited to get tossed around a bit by this, because that’s how critiques within the changing fortunes of time actually unfold, right? Any thoughts about that? Are you interested in playing with contradiction?
AH: YES CONTRADICTION. One very influential work for me while making this piece has been Eros the Bittersweet by Anne Carson (we still need to do our Anne Carson-inspired performance festival, Jesse!!!). Also Sexuality & Space edited by Beatriz Colomina. In Eros… Carson talks a lot about contradiction as a means of illustrating/bemoaning/celebrating the impossibility of desire. Like “the tree is completely bare. And on the highest branch hangs one apple” (I’m totally paraphrasing/butchering that). She also talks about puns as this way of making meaning that brings forth a sort of stereoscopic view of reality, of a “truth.” And while my body does not exactly serve as a pun in this work, I am conscious of its ability to create conflict or discrepancy or to become (as you said earlier) a hilariously misplaced site for meaning-making or desire–I’ve been thinking that maybe when it is placed in certain situations inside of this context, it can illuminate an absurdity of a pre-existing construct, or maybe it can throw all past associations or expectations into sharp relief, and hopefully we can all laugh at how limited our thinking was, and feel some relief in knowing it doesn’t have to be so limited. Colomina talks about the home as theater. She offers examples of hidden rooms or spaces in houses where the occupant can view intruders (or guests) without being seen, and how that position is so fucking powerful because it is hidden in plain sight. I thought this could be an interesting way to be on stage. Fully visible, maybe even fully naked, but not AT ALL vulnerable.
JH: Wow. yeah. It’s really thick to think of the body as a house in that context. I’m gonna work through that one for a bit…
In other thought realms, I assume that certain things about working with an all-female production team have been basically incredible. How did that pan out so far?
AH: It’s been really great. I mean, I don’t really know how to talk about it without making too many sweeping generalizations about gender–that’s not so much what I’m wanting to do. All I know is that many female-identified artists I talk to, including the ones I’ve been working with, understand this degree of extra hard work it takes to “prove” themselves in a patriarchal society. We’ve all been talked down to or condescended to by directors/producers/presenters/curators because of our gender, and as a result, we employ a different language or way of expressing ideas in these male-dominated contexts. I’ve found that (at least for me), with this all-female team, I have been able to access a previously elusive confidence and directness (even inside of my inquisitiveness), and that has yielded a work that feels sharp and resilient even as it tackles some precarious and delicate subject matter. It just feels possible to really MEET each other on THE LEVEL. Does that make sense?
JH: It makes sense, and it also is one of those too-rare conditions (both the structure of the all-female team AND its effect on your ability to make the work) that just makes me sigh and wanna work harder to realize those spaces more often. Yup.
So, lastly. I can’t wait to see you and hang. A few final questions: what duet will we sing at karaoke (even if karaoke is just impromptu belting at the TBA biergarten)? Where will we go to be secret introverts and hide from people and eat something good? What was one of your favorite total MOMENTS of life this past summer?
AH: I’m excited to see you, too! I always love a Jesse Hewit visit in PDX. I think we should definitely sing “Under Pressure” to try and embody the otherworldliness & fabulousness of Bowie & Mercury, and also: topical. I’m definitely going to take you to Cardinal Club for a stiff cocktail and chill vibes. I only ever eat the grilled romaine there, but I hear their other food is good, too. :) And omg let’s talk about how so many of my favorite moments from the summer involve our mutual beloved RACHAEL DICHTER. I’d say that performing our duet in progress in Berlin a couple weeks ago is up there. Few things make my heart dance like making Rachael Dichter laugh.
JH: Grilled romaine and glam faggots it is, my friend. And LONG LIVE RACHAEL DICHTER.