Queer interpretations of Eve
The stories of Eve and Pandora have always been offered as cautionary tales about the threat of female knowledge in societies ruled by the patriarchy. But what happens when the two female figures, who share a parallel narrative and fate, are reintroduced from a critical and queer-feminist perspective? We sat down with Teresa Vittucci and Colin Self to explore together the potential and consequences of female curiosity and the danger of a singular story. DOOM, the second part of the trilogy In the Praise of Vulnerability is an attempt to rebirth an old story as a Her-Story by unlocking the playful and powerful dimensions of renowned female figures, Eve and Pandora, as depicted in Greek mythology and the book of Genesis. They perform the performance at CAMPO Nieuwpoort on October 19 and 20.
Can you share with us a glimpse of your artistic practice?
Teresa: I’m a choreographer and a dancer. I started out making solo work that centred around themes relating to the politics of the body, as well as queer and feminist perspectives on how the body is given certain rules and ways to exist. I was always interested in investigating alternative ways of existing and how they are perceived as a danger to society. Recently, I began an investigation on the origins of misogyny. I was curious to explore where these internalised power mechanisms come from, both in society and in my own biography. The investigation has become the trilogy titled In Praise of Vulnerability, which looks at the first female figures constructed in western narratives of mankind, as depicted in religion and mythology.
Due to my own upbringing, the bible was a source of curiosity for me. The first piece of my trilogy, HATE ME TENDER, is an investigation into the figure of the Virgin Mary, and how ideas of virginity relate to capitalism, property, and ownership. The second piece, DOOM, which I made in collaboration with Colin, looks into the figure of Eve and how it relates to the figure of Pandora from Greek mythology and questions that relate to the origins of misogyny.
Colin: As for me, I’m a composer. I see the practice of composing as being the arranger of elements for different types of projects. Prominent themes in my practice revolve around alternative forms of assembly, such as non-biological family/queer family as a place of worldbuilding. In DOOM, I returned to themes of queerness in relation to religion, sovereignty, and colonialism. I also grew up catholic so stylistic and musical symbolism from religion are weaved into my compositions.
How did your religious background inform your artistic practice? And what tensions did you face during the act of reinterpreting established historical stories?
We both grew up with a mutual understanding of stories in the bible. We both saw the story of Eve as being told from a patriarchal perspective. As artists, we understand that a singular story can carry several interpretations, thus it was important for us to offer a different narration of Eve. The title of the piece already foreshadows the outcome of the story, which implies that humankind was doomed to unhappiness as a result of Eve’s daring act to eat the forbidden fruit. Likewise, the same implication of DOOM is applied after Pandora opens the box, and all evil enters the world.
We both saw the story of Eve as being told from a patriarchal perspective
We were curious to reframe the story by positioning Eve and Pandora as courageous and curious figures who dared to listen to their intuition. What if this isn’t a story of sin, but a story about curiosity that has been punished by the patriarchy?
In the performance, we specifically focus on the moment of growth – the moment you go from being ignorant to coming into knowing, and then the responsibility knowing has. Knowledge is power, but it is also responsibility.
It’s almost as if the tension in the work is female curiosity meeting a patriarchal structure.
We focused less on the patriarchal figures, such as Adam and God, who assumed more comedic roles. Instead, we zoomed in on the struggles, the curiosity, and the moments of breakthrough. Precisely, the act of daring to know something and opening your eyes to something that is not easy to see. Once you know something, you can't unknow it.
What do you think is the difference between curiosity and temptation?
Teresa: Recently, I read about psychological discovery that says fear and curiosity cannot co-exist in the same body. When you are fearful you cannot be curious and vice versa. In the training for trauma therapy for somatic experiences, you learn to guide the nervous system to find a place of curiosity, because the moment you are curious you cannot be fearful anymore. This is why curiosity is a central topic in this work. Curiosity is a state where things can happen.
For me, curiosity works within an inwards/outwards dynamic. There is a lot of playfulness and freedom and questioning that arises from our interior self. Temptation is more an outwards/inwards dynamic, there is pulling towards something from the outside.
It’s very hard to dissociate a well-known figure from an established historical story. Was it your intention that your performance creates an opening for a different interpretation of what Eve might be?
Yes, we are inviting the audience to question what they have been told. It’s part of the queering practice to deconstruct a narrative from a certain patriarchal structure. How the story is told serves a patriarchal system, and we were curious to see what other interpretations might be. How can we retell the story as a Her-Story?
Can you talk us through the elements of the body in the performance?
Teresa: The work begins with an amorphous body that is undulating – buzzing with the energy of something starting or something birthing, and the music also mirrors that dramatic build. Many elements in the original tale are also present in the performance but in abstract gestures. The figure Colin portrays contains multitudes, for example. It appears and disappears and changes identity. At once, it is the snake, then it is an angel, then it is a devil.
Many elements in the original tale are also present in the performance but in abstract gestures
Colin: As the figure I portray morphs, so does the binary of good and evil. We were interested in different ways good and evil appear in the collective imagination (both visually and sonically), and the small but real possibility that they may be the same figure. Perhaps the body is mutable and it can be both an angel or a demon. At the end of the performance, there is a moment where everything dissolves, where we are neither angels nor demons, but just us. Teresa calls my name and I call hers, and there is this break where we become ourselves. In a way, the performance is about folding into the different layers of who we are supposed to be and how we embody and transform characters.
In the performance, there are two figures that are partially nude and vulnerable. Simultaneously, they are uncovered yet unseen by the audience. Can you talk about how you decided to dress or undress for the performance?
Teresa: Nudity forces me to enter into vulnerability. On the one hand, I feel powerful because it was my choice and exercised my agency in undressing during the performance. On the other hand, it makes me vulnerable to others’ gazes. There is always tension. In the performance, the act to decide to see is really important. We start without seeing the audience, but towards the end, we see the audience and the audience sees us.
Nudity forces me to enter into vulnerability
Do you see the performance as a counter-narrative?
We do not necessarily see it as a counter-narrative, but more as an opportunity to move and play with different iconography and concepts, such as the inherited misogyny and the inherited trauma that is deeply embedded in our collective psyche. There is humour, there is play and there is the sense of figuring out another interpretation together. We are not necessarily countering the narrative, but offering other possibilities of seeing. Part of the queering practice is realising things are much more than ‘either/or’ – instead, we are giving space to everything in-between.
Are there any mutable elements in the show that change while you are on stage?
The performance is an alive way of being with each other. Our performative practice allows us to be surprised. We take those interruptions and mistakes as additional elements that we weave into the show. We try to embrace what happens! There is a set infrastructure that we built together, but as we perform it continues to transform, and we are more well-versed in improvising or emphasising different sections. So stay tuned for the surprises!
We take those interruptions and mistakes as additional elements that we weave into the show