For the past seven years we have constructed performances that are heavily influenced by somatic practices. Most recently, inspired by our favorite sci-fi writers, Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, and Marge Piercy, we have become busy with finding non-human logics as a lens through which to view futures and pasts. Logics (or non-logics) allowing us to be adjacent to anthropomorphism and human-centered perception of space-time. Our project has become the co-creation of the world and the dance of Water Ape. The Water Ape imaginary is a pre-human entity that resides in a completely techno-free landscape. This creature has become a Third Thing for us — a space between binary segmentation. It is an approach to physicality that lets us reflect upon our situation and the controls that are exercised on/within our bodies by society. In this way, we would call water ape a 21st Century Freaky Feminist practice. Time implodes with our instantaneous dropping-in and -out of pre-humanity, pre-culture, pre-dance, pre-gender, and pre-capitalism. This sci-fi somatic cartography is the closest we’ve been to feeling like we can catch a breath and consider how to re-approach existence, resistance, and tentacular thinking.1
Below is a collage of:
Writings I have done as Water Ape,
Reflections on how to contextualize the practice of Water Ape,
and Layton Lachman and Mara Poliak asking each other questions as…
Two years ago I was swimming in a quarry in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. The quarry was lined with high rock walls jutting out of an unnatural blue water. When I put my head under, out in the middle of the quarry, I heard the claustrophobic sonic pressure of machinery. Breaking the surface for air, a man treading water nearby said: “‘bet the water apes would have hated the sound of that.” This was my first introduction to The Aquatic Ape Theory, a theory that attempts to account for various physical aspects in the evolution of apes into humans, most notably our hairlessness, uprightness, our layer of subcutaneous fat, and our slightly webbed hands. This theory has largely been discredited, and in general it has not received much traction in the scientific community. Nevertheless it lingers. It’s often lumped with other pseudoscientific ideas in anthropology such as alien-human interbreeding, the Loch Ness Monster, and Big Foot.
Q: How is the hair on your body perceived by other water apes? And the loss of your hair as you go onto land over time?
WA: The hair on my body is felt by other water apes. And they feel it leaving.
Q: And is there sadness of the loss of the hair?
WA: There’s sadness in being alive, but there’s not sadness in changing.
I wrote this about sadness:
blurry vision for water ape.
diagnosis is difficult
the sun too much, too little?
did water ape live with other apes?
did they say “you need to cry into the river.”
did they all sit and stare off onto the opposing hill with blurry vision?
water apes eyes are useless and their hair is falling out and their tongue is
swollen from eating something bad or from biting each others tongues because
they can’t see so well.
their head is too big and heavy and pushed too far forward.
their neck hurts, their back hurts, their pussy…
they want to be wet again. to have wet fucking at the edge of the wet world.
sometimes the snakes crawl in at that edge, especially during wet years, like this
they all bob listless — water ape, the snake, and some twigs.
the last time water ape felt this hollow they closed their blurry eyes for good and
Q: I question how to observe timings of death and regeneration and not feel completely helpless in the face of immense fragility and gross destruction. How can we experience a liberatory body and consciousness when terrestrial life feels so precarious?
WA: I don’t know, but I assume yes.
Q: I notice various reoccurring responses to the potential death of our species, or what Donna Haraway dubs “the horrors of the Anthropocene and the Capitalocene.”2 She describes the two most common responses to necro-pontentiality, namely a belief in salvation:
“The first is easy to describe and, I think, dismiss, namely, a comic faith in technofixes, whether secular or religious: technology will somehow come to the rescue of its naughty but very clever children, or what amounts to the same thing, God will come to the rescue of his disobedient but ever hopeful children.”
and a second version of future that is fixated upon “being doomed”:
“The second response, harder to dismiss, is probably even more destructive: namely, a position that the game is over, it’s too late, there’s no sense trying to make anything any better, or at least no sense having any active trust in each other in working and playing for a resurgent world.”
I’m curious how you conceive of the future of your species?
WA: Oh that depends…I’ve experienced both of those.
Q: If you were to draw time or history as a shape, what would it be?
WA: It would be a very small dot on a very big piece of paper.
Q: I would perhaps add to Haraway’s list; blatant denial. Denial is commercially ready-made for mindless consumption in our era. For instance, one time I split a Viagra (which I found) with my friend and fucked through nearly 17 hours of Planet Earth (which we watched on my wife’s ex-boyfriends father’s Netflix account). Do you classify anything that you ingest as an intoxicant?
WA: Ingest to alter?
WA: Many, many things. yes. almost everything. Almost everything intoxicates us.
Q: What is water ape sex?
WA: Um, it’s hard to answer because…I know that for most humans that’s very specific and then for some less than others. And then if you can get even less specific than that. Then you’re getting close. (pause) I’ll try again, you look confused. Um, sex is anything that brings pleasure that is…that makes all our hair stand on end.
Q: What’s your favorite physical sense?
Q: And what’s your favorite food?
WA: It’s pink.
Q: Paul B. Preciado describes our current state of consciousness as a species as “prosthetico-comatose.” “We’ve closed our eyes, but we continue to see by means of an array of technologies, political implants that we call life, culture, and civilization.”3 The Pharmacopornographic Era — a period based on a complete societal and somatic integration with technology, semiotics, and pharmacology — has its claws sunk in real deep:
“…the pharmacopornographic industry synthesizes and defines a specific mode of production and consumption, a masturbatory temporization of life, a virtual and hallucinogenic aesthetic of the living object, an architecture that transforms inner space into exteriority and the city into interiority and “junkspace” by means of mechanisms of immediate autosurveillance and ultrarapid diffusion of information, a continuous mode of desiring and resisting, of consuming and destroying, of evolution and self-destruction.”4
Do you trust everyone in your community?
WA: Trust them with what? or trust that they won’t hurt me?
Q: We can start there…I feel that in light of the constant marketed stimulation that we are exposed to nowadays, there is a need to develop strategies for identifying the scope of our somatic integration and cultivate reflection on how to engage with it…
WA: We don’t use those words, though I’ve heard them before. Sometimes some of us do things that no one understands. Even the one that does it doesn’t understand. And sometimes those things that no one understands bring something new and wonderful and sometimes they hurt that one or the others. And so then we spend some time trying to understand.
Q: and how do you try to understand?
WA: We swim somewhere else. We all fall asleep together. We talk about it.
Q: How do others know your value?
WA: Fixity is overrated.
“Every cell in the body has the potential…I’m not fixed. You’re not fixed. Why do I perpetuate that? Why do I perpetuate that in performance? I may look fixed, but I’m not. and neither is my audience. Isn’t that a liberating way to see the space I’m moving through.”5
“staying with the trouble requires learning to be truly present, not as a vanishing pivot between awful or edenic pasts and apocalyptic or salvific futures, but as mortal critters entwined in myriad unfinished configurations of places, times, matters, meanings.”6
Q: What is worth your life?
WA: (long pause) We don’t talk about that much. That’s definitely not…I’ve never been asked that before. But I think I would have to say a scene. Like a view.
Q: How do you mourn?
WA: I learn to climb trees and I climb them and I sit in the top and I yell and I shake the branches and I pee from the tree and I spit on my hands and I wipe them on my face.
Q: Is it in the same way that your whole community mourns?
Q: And how is that?
WA: The community all together? It hasn’t happened so many times, but…but when we do we all swim underwater until one dies.
Q: And how does your community celebrate?
WA: We cut the hair of one and then we glue it onto the front of the others.
Q: What is your family structure?
WA: It’s not a structure. It’s not set. The family could be one or many. It depends on interest.
Q: Can all water apes gestate?
Q: Have you had a baby?
WA: Five babies.
Q: Do you lie ever?
WA: I don’t know. But I assume yes.
Q: And what is the water apes relationship to other species?
WA: Sometimes we like to pretend to be them. We find it’s a way to learn more about how they might feel.
Q: So I have a question about movement; when you move, who are you moving for?
WA: I move for many things, both the amusement of myself and the simultaneous amusement or pleasure of other beings
Q: I think dissident somatic practices can be used to resist specific forms of control imposed on bodies by societies, specifically pathology, which has been used as a means to control (re)production of bodies and pleasure.7 Somatics radically shifts the conception of understanding the body, replacing an approach to the body as an object of study with an approach to the body as felt from within through experiential exercises. These practices, originating in the field of movement education, have heavily influenced contemporary performance methodologies and are forms with which I keep quite busy. Through sensation and imagination these forms redefine the binaries of human/nonhuman, female/male, interior/exterior, nature/culture and object/environment from the perspective of the individual experiencing itself. Preciado states, “It will thus be necessary to think about doing something while we are on the way out, undergoing mutation or changing planets.”8 Re-appropriating techno-fixes and biotechnological apparatuses as a means to resist political and sexual subjectivity is Preciado’s approach, however, I see somatics as an adjacent form of resistance that is concerned with autonomy, re-appropriating movement and advocating a consciousness of the body as material that can be infinity redefined and experienced. I also find it significant that somatics are usually practiced communally, and approach the issues of human-ness and extinction through multiplicity rather than promoting claims to individualism(s). I see great value in training the collective social muscle. We could all sing into the bones as a way to subvert societal control. Or dance wild dances from our anus’.9 Or shoot lasers from the tips of our fingers and grow giant diamond Manubriums.
Just one more question: Do you feel that you will always live on the land or in the water, or that you are moving one way or the other?
WA: I think we’re spending more time on the land because the water is lowering.
Q: Does that make you sad?
It’s also exciting.
It’s hard for water apes to change.
- Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble, (Durham and London: Duke University Press) 30. ↩
- Ibid., 3 ↩
- Paul B. Preciado, Testo Junkie (New York: Feminist Press, 2013) 344. ↩
- Ibid., 40 ↩
- Deborah Hay, “What’s the What?” internal choreography seminar, DOCH, Stockholm, Sweden 2017 ↩
- Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble, (Durham and London: Duke University Press) 1. ↩
- Paul B. Preciado, Testo Junkie (New York: Feminist Press, 2013) 279. ↩
- Ibid., 34 ↩
- Frederic Gies, “The anus doesn’t exist,” My Wild Flag, Weld Theater, Stockholm, Sweden 2017 ↩