Photo: Movie still from Elephant Flesh
Elephant Flesh, 2017 (video performance of Aleksandra Kubiak)
How to tell personal trauma story? Is there any good way to talk about it? Is there a good moment?
The very first scene of the Elephant Flesh starts with dialogue between two women in a complete darkness of the stage. As the conversation continues, viewers are not sure what they are watching or what to expect. Is it a play, a performance or maybe a real story? The fact that the video performance takes place at the theatre suggests a certain context and offers a margin of safety. Actress Monika Buchowiec plays herself and Katarzyna Kobro (Polish sculptress and heroine of a theatre drama). Aleksandra Kubiak is herself; she either speaks out, verbalizing her thoughts, or answers Monika’s questions.
“I’m scared of the dark. This moment just before performance […] I feel like this bloody blackness wants to eat me, I’m suffocating but at the same time I can hide in it.”
The light comes on. The actress is wearing clothes from a different century. Aleksandra is in a white knickers and a jumper. Her legs are ridiculously hairy, and resembling a prop from a silent werewolf movie. The meeting between the two women takes place on an almost empty stage. Their conversation is shaped by a specific dynamic composed with theatricality (actress) and naturalness (Aleksandra). These two conventions are needed here to tell the story of sexual harassment. The text of the dialogue is based on a dichotomy of time, with past and present intertwined. The actress, the traumatic event and all seemingly unimportant details relating to the perpetrator (an uncle) are things of the past. The conversation and the encounter of the two women belong to the present. It is important to understand the constellation and order of these elements as this is the key to comprehending this work.
The actress provides a background. She belongs to the past and at the same time she remains present here and now. She plays a role of a trigger to make the act of disclosure possible. Her studied gestures with the cigarette, the awareness of the camera may be a little annoying, yet precisely because of that the attention of the viewer focuses on the substance of the story. When finally Alexandra gets to the culminating, traumatic point – and hides in a closet as a little girl– she unpredictably bursts into tears and can barely take a breath. Her sobbing is punctuated by the repetitive, phrase uttered mantra-like by the actress: “Say it. Betrayed by mother, betrayed by father!”. Instead of that, After a while, however, there follows an assertive and definite retort: “„Be quiet!”!”. The past is thus silenced and closes up. The theatrical convention disappears. With the story of personal trauma articulated, only the present and the uncertain future are left. The past has gone where it should be.