Maike Hemmers: "Where then dispose of bad objects?"

Maike's 20 minute presentation for Maelstrom Slow Dance - DAI's 3 day graduation lectures marathon, June 2017

Empty! And find the doorknob


Maike Hemmers stands on stage in the darkness, reading from a digital device. “It speaks, and whispers about things that have and will happen. Do you ever feel so immersed in a space that you don't know how to get out?” A spotlight is directed at the empty stage and some light background sound begins to play. Maike’s face is gently lit by the glow of the iPad as she reads,“The destruction of the inner bad objects creates a new reality for the subject. It is a force moving between subject and object, where the subject destroys the bad objects but the destruction places the object outside the subject's control as well.”

The audio in the background will continue throughout the duration of the performance lecture, holding the piece together sonically. Maike combines various components in this performance, becoming more present through her eventual invisibility on stage during the last few minutes when a video is left to play from an iPad. In the beginning, the audience hears the sounds of the aquarium as Maike reads a text about the interiority of the body, and the spaces of the sidewalk and the canal. Referring to Melanie Klein’s subject-object theory, Maike explains that, “the body gets filled and fills itself with bad and good objects only after a few months of being born. Klein relates this to the mother, the baby, weaning. But I find prove in her theory that the initial state of being is empty and thus we can aim back to the empty state of the beginning.” In the last part, Maike sets the iPad on the floor and exits the stage. From the back of the audience, it is difficult to see the tablet she has set on stage, making the audience strain to see the video playing on it. The video shows a live octopus moving in its characteristic way through the water in a glass aquarium.

Ray Brassier began by recalling the elements of the lecture performance, including the references to Melanie Klein. He remarked that the body seemed to play an important role in the text, where it is colonized or invaded by oppressive forces. He was at once both baffled and captivated by the piece, observing that the footage of the octopus offered a spectacular instance of embodiment because they have such remarkable bodies (the central nervous system is distributed throughout body). Elaborating on this, Brassier said that “the distinction between the inside and outside is not so clear for a creature like an octopus.” He was struck by the use of text and how it became a primary component in the lecture performance.

Gabi Ngcobo admitted that she was not sure what “the performance wants me to do with it” and struggled with the question because, “as soon as an object is designated as bad, it begins to be seductive again.” She tried to read Maike’s artistic choices - lights, body, text, sounds of the body, and voice and was not sure if these were distancing mechanisms. “Maybe you want to give me what I don’t want. Or I just don’t know how to want it.” Ngcobo was intrigued by trying to grasp this and said she wanted the performance to be a performance [even] more than before. “The fact that I could see you made me want the drama somehow, for you to drag yourself into that light and do something with it.”

For Marina Vishmidt, the main category coming to mind in trying to read these different elements were the paratexts - “how seemingly unrelated elements try and perhaps fail to present a visible grammar.” She was struck by Maike’s discussion of the production of emptiness and connected this to the discussion of the canal and the existence of something as nothing - (something defined by what is adjacent). Vishmidt pondered whether the octopus inhabiting that confined, yet transparent space was actually a product of its confinement. She concluded by saying “the way it moved through that space was becoming mimetic of my attempt to understand the performance. [...]The question of the good and bad objects was provocative in the sense that the good and bad objects become coded as such.”

Rachel O’Reilly began by speaking about the relationship between the lecture performance and Maike’s thesis and use of Klein (and the feminist critique of space). Reflecting on what she saw in the video, she said that what she didn’t find it particularly Kleinian since she is not about merging ‘these things’. O’Reilly found the internal coupling of gesture confusing. She brought up a text by Chus Martinez, “Octopus in Love” where the idea that the octopus is multi-sensory, and has more intelligence than humans and is beyond judgment comes up. In this sense, it is almost as though the octopus offers a “romance of escape from your own feminist critique.” Agreeing that there is a great deal of drama, and that Klein is a rather dramatic theorist, O’Reilly suggested making the stage drama more present.