Response to Perfume Lost
Walking into the space of Shristie Budhia’s show Perfume Lost at De School in Amsterdam feels like walking into a tomb– cement floors, vast rooms, all red glowing lights. I move my body between the two spaces her work occupies, and look through the window: the floor radiates with life, the one white wall vast and empty. On my other side is a centered, golden body glowing in the darkness. I move my body through the red and into the room. The body floats, exalted and glinting golden light, the spotlight shining on it from above. I look closer and see that it is no body, just a shell of armor (Gold tiles, cement), back arched slightly. This empty husk of chivalry hangs, like a body risen from the ground, its own shadow chalk outlining the space which it formerly occupied. It bounces light, like some ominous disco ball, glittering and shimmering across the walls. Sounds seep in from other rooms. I circle the body as it rotates slowly, hanged from the ceiling by a cable, like a fish caught on a hook, being pulled up from the ground rather than rising on its own. Across the room and through the open doors, I see a video on the floor and hear what sounds like a siren, or an emergency alarm and steady ticking, muffled through the walls. I, too, am pulled, and follow the sounds back out and into the other room.
Dark except for a video glowing beside my feet, looks as though it’s slid off the wall and onto the floor, an inverted shadow, the wall, bare, left behind. The music hums, like a build up chord being held and the opening shot, a sun through black clouds, hazy in the distance. The slipped image becomes a window to outside, until the shot switches to a close up of hands running through silver hair, gold ring on finger, longer on top, a dark eyebrow above black and white silver stripes shimmers of glitter or crystals dot the lashes, come down, round and hard on the cheekbone like tears. The shot remains close on his face, background blurred before cutting to waves, angry moving quickly towards a wall in slow motion, a steady beat starts ticking, and then again we are looking at the person with dark eyebrows: a boy in makeup. He is then, suddenly, sitting on the edge of a bathtub outside, a cloth draped over his lap and moving up, like ivy across his chest, and into the tree where it hangs, his hands rest on his neck, before interrupted by another disaster, more hurricanes crashing, mountains moving, his feet, an explosion, his hands on his chest, trees being hurled around, and then suddenly, the siren sounds over the ticking as we see him reclining, slowly, into the bathtub. He stares us in the eyes, his makeup, the hardened crystals like tears never wash away, but remain the whole time. Cement grounds and ceiling recalls the coldness. I think of the wrath of the weather, the madness of Ophelia, whose portrait Budhia used the starting point for this work. There exists a scientific study titled FEMALE HURRICANES ARE DEADLIER THAN MALE HURRICANES and it is still debated whether or not this is true. The beautiful boy laughs out, roars with laughter, looks mad, sinks back into the bathtub. Is this another Ophelia?
Walking back out to the red glow of the hallway, I glance back through the window, back to the slipped video on the ground, and think of the club pulsing beneath my feet. The violence of the images feels, at first, an odd juxtaposition, but the violence of Ophelia’s death was in her supposed madness, in the unfair expectations that cornered her. I think about the potential violence of clubs, of nightlife culture, and realize it would be absurd to assume that violence had never happened within the walls of the club before.
I want more and more to think of Ophelia as the beautiful boy in the bathtub, laughing, able to plunge her head back up from the depths of the water after going under, and angry. Turning the supposed madness on its head, able to be angry and messy. The video bubbles, reddish orange, the steady ticking persists over the music building, and he dunks his head under. One shot stands out to me: it is him reclined, eyes closed holding two hands out of the water, in relaxed fists, spliced three times with images of tornadoes and endless roads and then, in the last shot of him in the bath, he hasn’t moved an inch, but his hands are suddenly open, a letting go. Meteorological charts swirl over bath salts, self-care looks like lava– bathtime becomes molten.
I watch the rest of the video through the window and I suddenly get a sense of what is being done, the slow stripping of powers, as Budhia aims to do in the work. The power of representation is returned to the hands of a woman, and she is able to project all of the angst and anger, inexpressibly felt by so many, onto the floor, leaving us to do as we please with it.
Ophelia, in her final madness, is shown handing out flowers, she says, “There’s rue for you/ and here’s some for me.” I feel close to her in this dark and cold space. Standing between the two rooms, awash in the red glow of the lights, I look back and forth at the two installations. The knight, the hero is reduced to a slow rotation, the spotlight is on him, of course, but there is no weight to him, just a shell of shimmering gold. Meant to be the picture of virility and strength, he is neither, he is stripped of it all in this moment. The stillness and darkness of the room shows the absurdity of his position and power, regardless of how he glows and floats, arms open wide. The strength is to be found in the violence of the motion behind me, the violence of nature against the buildings and boats, the winds and rains tearing everything in their path.