#metoo has inspired a flurry of performative responses by women artists over the last few years. Sung Im Her’s Nutcrusher is a dance work which adds a valuable contribution to the movement with its gritty aesthetics and undoing of the sexually coded body.
Korean born but London-based choreographer Im Her, focusses on sexual objectification and exchanges of power. Performed by herself, Martha Pasakopoulou and Chihiro Kawasaki the three women use a variety of strategies which interrupt objectification which include the following: creating a hostile environment for the audience, both visually and aurally; performing a repetitive regime of gruelling actions; and concealing their faces. Half of the 50-minute trio is performed with their backs to the audience and when they turn towards us, they move so vigorously that their long hair further obscures.
As the audience take their seats, the three women occupy the stark, white space mummified in black body suits. Striking various static postures, I’m aware that they’re looking out at us. It’s disconcerting. We’re under surveillance. Excessively loud electronic/rave music increases the dramatic edge of this riveting opening, in which the faceless, confrontational performers make us know who’s in control.
In a sudden silence the women peel of their body suits to reveal brightly coloured lycra leggings and black plastic aprons. Each of them possesses a mane of dark hair which shortly will be used as an extra limb, extending their range of motion in incredible ways. Standing in a line, they frustrate and tease by performing with their backs to us. Endless, monotonous phrases of minimal movements are counted out consisting of hip drops and small weight shifts, with slight inclinations of the head. It’s a maddening drill which begins to test – part robotic, part disciplined fitness routine.
There are no smooth transitions in Nutcrusher and the women abruptly remove their tops as the deafening music starts again. Heads are thrown back and forth in head-banging phrases which reveal more – glimpses of their semi-naked torsos and faces – but by no means all. Strobe lighting further disorientates. The effect of their black hair being repeatedly tossed into the air and the pull of gravity which distorts their faces as they throw their heads up and down is fascinatingly disturbing. It’s a punishing action interrupted occasionally by a technical leap or leg extension.
As I watch them labour through this physical endurance test using their hair like a weapon, I think of feminist rock stars who reclaimed head-banging from their macho brothers and used it liberate themselves from oppressive eroticised gazes. Also feminist activists have often bared their breasts in protest so there is nothing unusual in seeing that here. I enjoy the lineage of feminist artists that Im Her invokes through her work and how she makes her point so forcibly about disrupting female commodification. However, I do question whether such actions still hold currency in modern feminism. Her eye contact ‘avoidance’ techniques, used throughout, make her subjects anonymous when surely the strength of the #metoo movement is being able to see and identify with individual women.
Nevertheless, Nutcrusher is a brave work. As the women head-bang to the state of exhaustion, running themselves down like machines out of battery, they finally collapse on the ground. But here their fierceness and anger dissipates. A vulnerable heap of sweating female bodies exposes the victim in each woman and it’s a depressing image to leave us with.