The Pit, London EC2
Opened 2 February, 2010

Ursula Martinez’s performance pieces about individual identity, roles and perceptions make great use of intimacy. Sometimes this is visual intimacy as in her signature routine Hanky Panky, a magic/striptease act in which she keeps producing a silk handkerchief from ever more private areas until, totally naked... exactly. A video of this act is the fulcrum of her current piece. Before it, she spends 20 minutes or so reading out various anecdotes from her past. The English half of Martinez’s blood is to the fore in her verbal presentation: she has that cheery yet semi-apologetic air in common with fellow performance artist Bobby Baker. Consequently, the material she reads always feels light, and only a couple of seconds later do we double-take that she is mixing humorous stories of her own childhood with recollections of, say, her grandfather’s adultery or even her father’s recent death.
The same affable tone runs through the second part, but there it is much more problematic. After a video of Hanky Panky appeared online, Martinez began to receive fan emails, some of them being outright sexual propositions or other fantasies. She now reads a selection of these, accompanied by photographs of the senders (in one or two cases thoroughly explicit). The lightness of the reading, together with a selection of funny accents as if she were presenting a pervs’ Points Of View, keep the audience laughing. I, however, was writhing. Martinez’s programme note complains that these mails “stripp[ed] me of my ordinariness as a human being”, but she either does not realise or does not care that she is doing precisely the same to them, and moreover doing so in public. Her own intimacies are hers to peddle; other people’s, even if sent to her unsolicited, are not. That reading manner implicitly directs us to a response of derision of these men. (All the senders she presents are men. I suppose it is possible that Martinez has never received such a dubious email from a woman, though given her own sexuality and the constituency of much of her performance work I find it unlikely.) Perhaps either the senders have subsequently consented or the material is fabricated, but in that case the presentation is bogus. With intimacy comes great power and, as the amazing Spiderman notes, with great power comes great responsibility.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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