Snake Talk, premiered in 2016, is created and performed by Abby Crain, Layton Lachman and Mara Poliak, with lighting design by Elizabeth Ardent and sound design by Samuel Hertz. In Snake Talk, the female subject remains slippery and undefinable within an aesthetic terrain of discomfort, excess and distortion. We are are dense, opulent, dazzling, awkward, seductive, repulsive, terrifying. We ooze, leak, wander, tie ourselves in a knot, rip apart at the seams. We have forgotten the difference between kissing and eating.
“There is something strained, desperate, precarious about the zany that activates the spectators desire for distance. “
“The aesthetic of non-stop acting or doing that is zaniness is hot: hot under the collar, hot and bothered, hot to trot.”
“seemingly lighthearted but strikingly vehement”
---Sianne Ngai describing the aesthetic category of zany as outlined in her 2012 book “Our Aesthetic Categories”
Snake Talk is a third-wave feminist proposal nestled within an extreme and often uncomfortable aesthetic framework. We are tired of men making dances about feminism, and we are tired of making dances that attempt to transcend or obscure the troubling effect of neoliberalism and late capitalism on contemporary life. Snake Talk harnesses the somewhat terrifying aesthetic of the “zany” (as delineated by feminist cultural theorist Sianne Ngai) to confront, consume and transmute patriarchal and neoliberalist frameworks. In Snake Talk, three women use their own bodies as discursive sites for a radical reformulation of the female figure as a performative entity. Snake Talk constructs a decidedly un-cute femininity, that meets voracious consumerism and hyper commodification with its own uncomfortable hunger, unrelenting energetic arc, bottomless sexual fervor, and subversive refusal to swallow hegemonic structures of power and meaning.
Snake Talk presents a performing female subject who lives within an aesthetic terrain of discomfort, excess and distortion. She is slippery and undefinable. She indulges in the intoxicating delirium bred in the heat of a crazed neoliberal economy that predicates the success of its citizens on their ability to take on “virtually any job at any moment in an incessant flow of activity” (Ngai). Neither she nor her consumer differentiate between artifice and authenticity. She is as ready to howl, climax, or spin out of control as she is to present a lecture, draw a diagram, slump pants-less on the couch, scavenge for carrion, eat, or shed her skin. She is a mother of three enjoying a “Little Debbie” snack cake after a thirteen hour shift at Walmart. She is a crazed whore ready to devour. She is a know-it-all scientist and a self-assured liar, a hormonal teenage boy, a sexy terrifying giantess. She is a soldier, a pervert, a harpy, and a nurse. She is useful to us because she does not stop, because she will do anything for survival, but we are not sure if we want to be close to her.
Snake Talk inhabits a voracious intellectual landscape driven by the pressures of production. Mirroring capitalist frenzy, Snake Talk chooses availability over discernment or logic as its primary aesthetic filter. It seizes anything that seems relevant or willing, and puts it to work. A sprawling body of source material draws from influences as diverse as teenage pop culture, 80s minimalist opera, 90’s goth divas, 70’s feminist iconography, scientific texts on animal behavior, new age spirituality, sci-fi, queer ecology, and amateur porn. To quote Roland Barthes, “a host of perceptions suddenly come together to form a dazzling impression (to dazzle is ultimately to prevent sight, to prevent speech).” This disorienting patchwork of texture and information is served to a consuming subject that may never be satisfied. As the effect of the dizzying spectacle wears off, the spectator may soon be hungry and begin searching for more. Snake Talk thus draws the performer -- the cultural producer -- and the consuming subject into a web of complicity.
The structure of the work is predicated on survival and adaptation from underneath the dominant form. It is a diagram of the fissures, weaknesses, and gaps of the hegemonic framework. Snake Talk moves between streams of unmediated movement that ooze, leak, and wander. It abruptly halts and shifts direction, ties itself into a knot, and suddenly rips itself at its seams to make room for more performers. It does not resolve nor does it arrive at its destination. However, Snake Talk dares to suggest that it is exactly in this refusal to take a recognizable form that we create our most viable structures, and this excessive, subversive accumulation of more and more textures may be our best chance of “seeing (if only for a flash) everything at once: seeing whole” (Ursula K. Le Guin). Crazed, spinning, gasping and powerful, the female subject survives and transforms herself.