Venice International Performance Art Week

Co-Creation Live Factory “Dissenting Bodies - Marking Time”

January 2020

European Cultural Centre - Palazzo Mora, Venice (Italy)

A 2-hour performance piece, SAFETY THIRST takes inspiration from the phrase “SAFETY FIRST”. Imbued with universal value, the warning sign is most commonly observed in construction sites as well as in public transportation. In response, SAFETY THIRST explores the human body not only as architecture but also as a vehicle, encapsulating stability and change respectively. SAFETY THIRST interrogates the tangled relationship between safety and risk, with a devout transgender eye. Ultimately, SAFETY THIRST asks the following question: When does an obsession with safety itself turn into risk? For some, taking risks may be the most direct path to safety. 


Any major turn in life teeming with rewards is equally fraught with risks. For example, despite its many joys, gender transition is largely characterized as a risky life choice; indeed, the undertaking heavily influences sociability, employment, and access to other activities critical to survival. In the same vein, hormonal injection, as one popular means of gender transition, involves handling syringes whose sharp ends pose potential harm and can inspire fear in the user. Failing to adhere to weekly injection rituals, however, can lead to physical and mental health issues. In this regard, needles constitute a necessary evil and give rise to the affect of ambivalence. 


For the main component of the piece, the artist walks in circles on a white table cloth with nearly 20 syringes on his right thigh. Not quite in standstill and yet without a set destination, this forward motion brings attention to the cyclical nature of hormonal injection. It is through the recurring, dangerous encounters with the needles that the artist’s level of testosterone can maintain stability. At the same time, the artist wears the matching number of airplane seatbelts on his naked body, constricting the blood flow and giving the skin a pale gray hue. This single-material attire is reminiscent of both corsets and mummy bandages, but hardly convincing as functional clothing. Therefore, the seatbelt garment serves as a visual metaphor for punishing restrictions placed on transgender bodies in the healthy name of enforcing protection—but, really, of whom? 


The needles at first punctuate the artist’s skin in a concrete “V” shape. Soon this popular victory symbol shows signs of disintegration as the syringes give in to gravity. With each step the artist takes, the needles gradually slide out from under the skin. They produce in the quadriceps an endless string of pricking sensations. The spectator can access the felt effects of these invisible attacks in visual translations: the syringes wag their tails more and more vigorously, not unlike seismographic trends of aggravating earthquakes. 


It is pivotal that the artist respects these needles on their slow, backpedaling journey to the exit, and moves in sync with their specific rhythm. Any in/voluntary contraction of the lower body could leave the needles broken inside the muscles or damage the nerves nearby. If treated with necessary care and caution, the needles can maintain an ever-attenuating yet unending relationship with the flesh, the very soil in which they are planted.

© 2020 by KAHN J. RYU