Monique Jenkinson, aka Fauxnique, isn’t exactly best friends with gender theorist Judith Butler, but she’s held Butler’s head in her hands as part of a structured performance piece.
“We wanted to take it beyond the realm of sitting on the dais with glasses of water and microphones, and Judith was really excited about that, too,” Jenkinson says. “So when I proposed some different body states as part of our conversation, she was really game for it — which was thrilling to me. I proposed this somatic practice and she went for it.
“We disco-danced, and did all the experimental stuff, so yeah, around that, we definitely had some time in the studio to make sure it was something she really wanted to do,” Jenkinson adds. “I can die happy.”
Led by RuPaul’s Drag Race, drag has become so commonplace as to be almost normal. But for the past quarter-century, Jenkinson-as-Fauxnique has brought an impressive degree of erudition to the art form, far beyond the average insult-comic hostesses and lip-synching divas. Simply put, Fauxnique is firmly situated within the history of performance — with an added layer of subversion in that Jenkinson is a cisgender woman.
Her latest piece, Girl, combines the 1960s social movement Viennese Actionism with the schlock-horror trope of the Final Girl, or the last character left alive after the monster has killed off the jock, the nerd, the cheerleader, and everybody else. In spite of the campy, overtly sexualized nature of horror films and the helplessness of most “scream queens,” the Final Girl can be read as a feminist hero. She might be a bloody mess in a suspiciously low-cut top, but she survives. (There’s even a 2015 horror-comedy called The Final Girls in which one character inhabits a 1980s gorefest her deceased mother made.)
Jenkinson, a classically trained dancer, began working on Girl several years ago, when she was in the thick of two other works, The F Word — which refers to “feminism,” not “fuck” — and C*nt, or The Horror of Nothing to See. Referring to that period in 2014, she says, “It’s like, ‘Wow, my feminist rage was so cute back then.’
“Now it’s like the ante is upped,” she adds. “I started reading the French feminists, like Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva and the theorists that were writing around feminism and the body, and thinking about this idea of erasure — and also that word. The C-word is the worst thing you can call anyone, and yet it’s not even a reclaimed word, it’s just a word that’s always meant what it’s meant.”
Her fascination led her deeper into the problems of difference and misogyny, and the Final Girl became something of a lens, she says. Notable in that it’s the first time the Joe Goode Performance Group has produced the work of an outside artist, Girl also marks the first time Jenkinson and her husband, electronic musician Marc Kate, have fully collaborated.
“We knew we wanted to make a piece, centering around horror and the current political moment as a point of departure,” she says. But Girl is neither explicitly about slasher flicks or Brett Kavanaugh. As performances go, its structure is more CounterPulse than Oasis, with what Jenkinson calls an “anti-narrative.” There is spoken text, and there are musical cues. She does “most of the moving around and [Kate] does most of the twiddling of knobs, but we’ll be in spaces you may not have seen us exist in before. It’s not fully abstract, but it’s not an A-B-C-D narrative.”
Fauxnique, Jenkinson adds, is “not an alternate persona or a character, but a filter of an amplification system for me and my artistic concerns. For me, embodying Fauxnique always liberates what I’m trying to do or say.”
The urgency of the present moment is inescapable, and that’s why Girl is a performance piece instead of, say, a short film or even an essay. A physical sense of immediacy is paramount. But it’s hard not to see a certain cinematic father-and-daughter duo hovering around the margins of Girl. Italian director Dario Argento’s style of highbrow luridness is having a cultural moment, and his daughter Asia is in the unusual position of having been caught up in #MeToo allegations as victim (at the hands of Harvey Weinstein) and perpetrator (vis-a-vis musician Jimmy Bennett). There’s even a regular art-nerd party at the Stud called Stereo Argento, which combines gory art with Italo-disco and drag; Fauxnique has performed there.
While allowing that Dario Argento’s Giallo films have a pornographic quality that feels exploitative by current standards, Jenkinson says she’s more interested in process. For example, did Stanley Kubrick have to psychologically abuse Shelley Duvall to get a good performance out of her in The Shining (as has been widely alleged)? Or Lars von Trier with Bjork in Dancer in the Dark? Of course not.
“Any director who says they need to put you through actual trauma is a terrible person,” Jenkinson says. “That is not necessary. It’s acting, and actually in order to make the kind of work where you’re going into places of trauma should be a safe space. There should be after-care. … In terms of dance and performance, I’ve been in processes where it’s really not fun and I’ve been in processes where I’m making work that’s really traumatizing-looking, and we’ve been joking and laughing throughout the whole process of making the work — because the people I was working with were a joy. Processes should be nurturing so that the work can be good.”=
Girl, Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 11-20, 8 p.m., at the Joe Goode Annex, 401 Alabama St., $25-$35, fauxnique.net