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The toilet at the Live Art Development Agency is out of order. Door ajar, a confrontation is happening. Between the artist and reflection. Between invasion and privacy. Between social construct and the bodies they restrict. Creature Cramps (real name Orion), the artist, is sitting on the floor applying make-up. Getting ready.
Garments drape and seep into the enamel of the sink. Layering white facepaint, it’s almost as if Orion is attempting to do the same – a chameleon amongst white tiles.
Transformed, the toilet has become an image of a bedroom. Another private space. One for rest, thought, bareness. Glimpses of vulnerability line the silence between songs chosen by Orion and then lip-synced. Not a word is spoken. It seems as if everything to be said already has been.
Now it is time for action. Hence the song choices: empowering anthems revving Orion’s lips. They catch the singer’s every grunt, ad-lib and intonation. Getting ready to fight.
For what? This seemingly innocent question is one that Orion is challenging. In a climate where the discussion surrounding trans rights appears to have cooled, hidden out of view for cisgendered people by symbolic gestures and one-off ‘concessions’ with false hurrahs claiming victory. A climate where news of plans upon plans drown out the hush of inaction.
The toilet. A space many people pay little thought to. Cleanliness is preferable, functionality a must. Trying to ascertain the connotations of a toilet becomes increasingly difficult when I realise I can only use my own personal experiences. So these connotations are personal, just like the place they examine.
The public toilet. A single word that renders the personal very much political. So in this now politicised space, a politicised body is getting ready to fight for dominance.
Through conflating the two private spaces of the bedroom and the toilet (which is only public in location), Orion puts their own identity in opposition to the ignorant resistance surrounding implementation of gender-neutral toilets. They have easily restructured the physical and aural landscape of the toilet with the overwhelming force of their identity.
When placed in opposition, the arbitrary conflict between identity and toilet becomes laughable. Our identity is the most private thing we have; nurtured through pain and joy. The performance exposes the sheer absurdity that these spaces are being given prevalence over human beings.
A war declared won over a single battle is saddening. Faces averted by those who have the option to turn away is saddening. Asking people to care is saddening. In between the songs that fill Orion with power, their body moves inwards, legs tucked under arms: a stage in the cycle of frailty into strength.
Orion succeeds in giving materiality to their own questions and challenges. From facing a mirror intermittently throughout to demonstrate how the toilet has become a place where we are forced to needlessly confront our identities, to choosing songs and asserting control over the message.
This appears to be the crux of Urinal Residency – control. In bursts of playful acknowledgement, they lock eyes with the viewer, before sharply turning back to continue. Continue getting ready to fight for dominance as I watch.
I am not owed anything from the body inside the toilet, least of all an explanation. What I owe them is the humanity to turn my gaze into a voice.
Urinal Residency is leading a petition to support the Mayor of London’s 2017 plans to implement gender-neutral toilets in public spaces.
Creature Cramps is inviting institutions, primarily theatre and gallery spaces, to host them in their men’s toilets/urinal spaces. LADA is the first organisation to host.