Readings — From the December 2014 issue

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By Carolee Schneemann, in response to a letter she received from Mette Ingvartsen, a Danish choreographer, included in PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art, volume 36, number 1. Schneemann is most famous for Meat Joy, a 1964 work in which seminude performers rubbed raw meat over their bodies. Ingvartsen asked Schneemann to remake Meat Joy to show how the performance would “transform completely . . . with older bodies.”

Dear Mette,

Thank you for your very thoughtful, engaging letter. Unfortunately, or inevitably, most of my splendid participants are dead. Others are somewhat incapacitated, or completely overwhelmed with their own work, or have disappeared into the desert or mountains, and I cannot locate them. Somehow, it is never made very clear that by the time you’re in your sixties or seventies, people have lost flexibility, mobility, and the sort of ecstatic sensuality that is best communicated by young bodies. Men typically lose their hair, usually women’s hair will thin, and if you look closely you will see there is often almost a bald spot at the top of their heads. Women’s breasts have moved down toward their waists and are wrinkled; men’s breasts usually acquire a layer of fat, as does their stomach. Female upper arms almost always have a flabby layer. Many men’s do as well. Viagra is very popular. If women in their sixties and seventies remain genitally viable — desiring, lubricating, and muscular — the Venus mound has nevertheless put on a layer of fat. For both sexes, their knees will be intensely wrinkled, and unless they exercise consistently, ankles weaken, and their feet are invaded by arthritic disturbances.

We never wonder why old people walk around in slippers and flat shoes. They are content to miss our raves, dancing parties, pot-smoking celebrations. . . . The exquisite ballerina who is eighty, the irrepressible mountain climber who is ninety, the sixty-five-year-old Hollywood star surrounded by lovers. . . . What do they represent? An exceptional displacement of reality, a fantasy of younger people who can never imagine they will become old, and the kind of physical adventure that process will entail. Popular culture only introduces subjects of aging or old age as anomalous, sorrowful, or ridiculously optimistic.

Mette, do not try to re-create Meat Joy!

With all best wishes,

Carolee

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