Gardens and Labyrinths

Blog by Gareth K Vile | 20 Jul 2010
  • Venus Labyrinth

A man stands on stage, a row of silver chains attached to his forehead by hooks. He removes them gently, allowing the blood to pour down his face. Cinderella is abruptly transformed into a hard rocking rebel. A woman in a plain black dress tells me her story of childhood deceit. In a dark room, I am tied to a woman who encourages me to push against the wall. I am dispatched to mysterious rooms to meet Judgement, Muscle Control and Survival. I lead a man on a chain into a room filled with women and men wearing latex, leather or little. A backwoods preacher enjoins me to find a friend, before whirling flames around her head. A bruised, battered burlesque dancer stumbles past me. In the dark room, a mirror is held to my face. I notice how tired I am.

Seeking outre performance has brought me to this: a night at Torture Garden, followed by a plunge into the Venus Labyrinth. One is the world's most famous fetish club, sprinkled with burlesque dancers, a latex fashion show and a lively gathering of clubbers, Masters, Submissives, the curious and the exotic. The other is an intimate performance in The Arches, a guided tour around aspects of the female brain.

Gathering my thoughts in the decompression chamber, thoughtfully provided by Cantabile 2, as a coda to the Labyrinth, I consider that this is exactly why I shifted from "theatre" to "performance" critic. Individual performers are submerged into vast, curatorial projects. The script is either abandoned or a side-bar. The auditorium and the gap between stage and audience is irrevocably dissolved. Intimate, personal encounters replace the structured narrative. And the critic, weaving through unique encounters and trying to capture a thousand impressives in a battered notebook with a chewed pencil stub, is reduced to just another subjective voice.

It is easy enough to explain what Torture Garden is for. It is a safe place for people to explore how they choose to express their sexuality, and a massive big party that celebrates difference. The Venus Labyrinth has equally clear objectives. Across twenty eight rooms, aspects of the female brain are given a one-on-one performance. It uses performance to consider the nature of consciousness, feminity, the relationship between the physical and the notional. Simple.

What they share is the challenge. The individual entering the Garden or Labyrinth is forced to find their own way. I follow ideas that appeal to me, watch friends get hand-cuffed, meditate on Dominic Johnson's bloodletting Live Art, coolly observe the fashion parade and men and women undress. Of course, it reminds me of my alienation, the essential disconnect between the critic and the crowd. They are having fun: I pompously remind them that I am working. In the Labyrinth, I am guided, at first by an Oracle standing at a switchboard, who directs me around the building. I am forced into the presence of one other person, who coolly observes my response to their stories. Being at these events does not allow me to sit back and relax into someone else's narrative. I am structuring my own.

Today, I am overwhelmed. I am not quite sure what was revealed to me in those dark stone rooms- both Torture Garden and The Venus Labyrinth evoke memories of ritual, compulsive intimacy and childhood duplicity. A moment of revelation in The Arches, when I lift the veil from a woman clad in white and she simply smiles at me, suggests a dream- I half expected a face of unspeakable ugliness- and is countered by an equally vivid moment at TG, when Wild Card Kitty deconstructed burlesque down into a tired undressing, the remainder of a wild night out. I juggle words, erase and rewrite, trying to find the correct sequence. I am not sure what I saw, what I felt, and the unpacking of experience is exhausting me. If it is not clear, The Labyrinth is an essential experience.