The gummi worm, star player of Desert Body Creep hype, is underwhelming. For one, it is quite small, about the size of a spine. I know this because that’s the first thing solo performer and dancer Angela Goh does with it – put it on her spine. She also spends a long time using a slender blue pole to show us just how wonderfully slinky it is. Running the pole slowly and deliberately along its underbelly, back and forth, its tiny articulated segments glisten in stages beneath a hanging shroud of machine-made fog.
This part of the show has the Funkadelic track Maggot Brain behind it, and its soaring Eddie Hazel guitar solo floated me to a state of stoner transcendentalism, where I wandered down pathways of thought and by-lanes of half-thought, pausing over gutters of forgetfulness to find myself standing in rooms that asked of me questions like: “I was worm-like once, wasn’t I? When just an embryonic slime coil?” and “Do I still have worm-like properties? Probably, hey,” and “Have I myself sampled upon the maggots of the mind of the universe?”
The worm also does not deliver on the kitsch pop aesthetic that gummi lollies express so well. Like a squirm, yes, it is two-toned; but its colours are dulled. Never mind. The prop actually doesn’t feature too much during this performance, nor is it a very dynamic element – it makes some moist flops against the floor, but not too much else.
Instead, it is the prototype which Goh herself embodies through awful compulsive mimicry, wriggling lithely as she does within a horror theme. Subsequently, the worm becomes a symbol of the non-human, the constant-consumer; the primordial monster that shovels dirt in and dirt out every goddamn second of every goddamn day – but in doing so, serves a wholesome purpose after all.
Desert Body Creep is really more a series of abstract, experimental and extraordinarily bold demonstrations of a futuristic Kafkan acid dream than any easy-to-digest storyline. Once the gummi nematode has been flopped aside, Goh live samples a series of looping wails, which when built, she scuttles about to along a receding line of stage, her mouth shaping an ‘O’.
In a crescendo, this unearthly dirge at last cracks into eardrum-damaging shrieks (bit overdone) at which point Goh – now larval-like on the floor – begins eating a sheet. The sheet then gobbles her up, and she becomes a ghost, and then a zombie worm which commences razing every other material it can get its chompers on. The ghastly cycle of life – nature’s glorified cannibalisation of itself – is brought into weird and uncomfortable vision.
Hope returns though. When she is finished with her gluttonous rampage, Goh emerges from her green chrysalis nude (utterly). I had not been expecting this, though probably should have, given Fringe World is pretty much Perth’s annual triumphal welter of exuberant art smut. Also I didn’t check the content warning. Anyway: the first glimpse of a perfectly drooping breast through velvet folds surprised me.
More surprising, and perhaps most pleasing, was when Goh climbed, still naked, atop a vibrating platform – you know, those ones they advertise on E! to depressed housewives who wish to wobble themselves thin so their husbands will stop cheating on them – and exhibited to the audience a pair of rapidly trembling buttocks. Life after death after zombification as represented in flesh ripples: that is what I will take away from this performance most.
Desert Body Creep
Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA) – Perth Cultural Centre, James Street, Northbridge
Performance: Wednesday 25 January 2017 – 9.00pm
Season continues to 28 January 2017
Information and Bookings: www.pica.org.au
Image: Angela Goh in Desert Body Creep – courtesy of PICA
Review: Kate Prendergast