NOLI ME TANGERE (TOUCH ME NOT) PART II
HEIDI WIREN BARTLETT / KULDEEP SINGH
“NOLI ME TANGERE (touch me not) PART II” was a performance that grew from a series of conversations and a performance by the same name. It is rooted in the commonality of the sensual chapters of Greek and Indian mythology involving gods committing crimes of mortal men. Equated here is the Greek myth of “Leda and the Swan,” the swan as one of Zeuss’ incarnations, and the Indian myth of Indra as ‘the thousand-eyed deity.’ Singh and I use these stories as ways to deconstruct notions of gender, race, and sexuality through processes of ritual and play. By embodying these myths, I become Zeus and Singh becomes Indra. As conduits for the gods, we better comprehend the hubris they possess.
Our storefront performance space was split into two separate dioramas. Singh’s space was the ‘exotic’ realm—a collection of paintings, fabric phalluses, plaster eyes, and brass vessels. The other half was me, the colonial deity clothed in white garments, and my objects—feathers, paint, salt, a log, swan heads, and an ice swan. Positioned directly between us was a harpist, our clock. The window was a container for both stories to be housed simultaneously. Female facing male, Occident facing Orient.
As Indra, Singh used the space to enact the nine folded human emotions, through the miming aspect of Indian classical dancing, and singing verses of the earth and skies in specific ragas. He anointed his garbed body with mud and cochineal pastes. Slowly adhering sculpted eyes onto himself, he incarnated a super-being, blurring the line between the sensual and grotesque. A bowl of rice cooked in turmeric water sat during the performance and was slowly consumed to satiate the energy spent in this incarnation process. The process advanced through variable pauses and song.
Through my Zeus persona I wanted to cleanse myself of the colonizer histories inscribed on my body. I walked from the Navy Pier to the gallery as a representation of a white body in search of its swan. Arriving at the gallery, I began a series of durational tasks. Over and over I would saw through a whitewashed log, remove layers of clothes, and press the melting ice swan against my breast—marrying my flesh to the myth.
Indra and Zeus ended with their eyes locked.