Workshop XI, Kat Válastur, 3 September 2020

Berlin-based artist Kat Válastur presents her 2016 choreography OILinity, which was inspired by her time living in Baku, Azerbaijan, for six months. She discovered that in Baku everything was defined by oil and that her own body was defined by it too. Drawing a parallel between oil consumption and blood, “it was as if blood was consumed by oil”.

OILinity reflects on this relationship by metaphorizing oil with black bile. Black bile is produced by our organism and represents melancholia in European thought going back to the Ancient Greek concepts of humours. While we produce bile, the earth produces oil. How do we experience and sense the problems affecting our society today, like global warming and war, through our physicality?

“Spinning melancholy,” a motorised machine which gets decapitated and conveys a sense of urgency, is a key object to convey these ideas in OILinity. It is also phallic and conveys a power system. Other objects, like the shelter and war helmet, link to a system of economy. The performers wear the same military pattern as the shelter (rendering them invisible). This pattern, here conveying both war and money, is an adaptation of British textile designer William Morris’ (1834-1896) Acanthus pattern, referencing his critique of industrial society.

For the dance vocabulary of OILinity, Kat Válastur created an archive of movements conveying motorization related to the concepts of energy and power. The piece performs the circulating movement of the economy and also recreates a wargame on stage, featuring bodies moving through oil.

She developed her movements starting from an internal sound inside her body which she found penetrating. This sound and the substance itself (though she did not use real oil) generated the movement. OILinity was thus guided by sound, which was made using plastic bags and felt extremely real. Sound opens up a space for thought. Sound has magic: it transforms one thing into something else without losing the connection with the original source. Sound in OILinity feels as if it comes from inside, creating an immediate connection.

For Kat Válastur, the subconscious of our minds is present in oil as it is in every artistic process. The underlying question of her work is: What are the ethics?

Baku I blood I melancholy I energy I power I body I plastic I subconscious