SPILL STINGS 7: Harminder Judge

Thu 01 Jan 1970

A response to Harminder Judge’s Do What Thou Wilt by Johanna Linsley

A man leaned over the waist-high pool of black, viscous liquid – mesmerized, perhaps.  ‘Don’t drop your phone,’ a woman said.  The spell was broken.

I’m sure there wasn’t a body suspended from the ceiling when I walked in, and yet I can’t be certain because I don’t remember looking.  I only saw it when I felt a rustle of movement behind me. Turning to see a group of people gazing upwards, I followed the line of their eyes.

The body began its descent. The pace must have been precisely calculated.  So slow that I only noticed its progress after my mind wandered, my eyes shifted then returned, and I saw that the laser beam that had bisected his wrist was now at his elbow.

The liquid looked so great.  I wanted to get in it so badly.

Recently, the performance artist Owen G. Parry made a piece titled I Want to Be in That Show.  While researching the piece, he asked people to send him stories of experiences in which they’d wished they were in the show they were seeing.  I craftily evaded the question by saying that I was currently interested in performances where I felt like I was already part of the show, where my presence as a spectator was accounted for in some way.

Watching this man slowly lowered into such an appealing pool of liquid I changed my answer to Owen.  I wanted to be in this show.  The fact that I knew I wouldn’t actually join the man in the pool, even though nothing physical prevented me, only made my longing more exquisite.

My fixation with the pool, and the man’s slow descent into it, meant that I only really registered the dimension of sound in the performance once the man began his ascent.  I began to differentiate voices emerging from the drone.  I heard ‘Hail Satan’, which was repeated while a laser pentagram appeared, framing the man in a sort of refracted, perpendicular crucifixion. I could pick out accents. Upper-class British vowels cut to flat tones from the Midwestern United States (recordings of the occultist Aleister Crowley, the band Coven, and Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan, I learned from programme notes). The sound collage interacted with the lasers and swirling green fog in a deadpan but clearly quoted spectacle – a faithful rendering of the source material, perhaps.  One of the fascinating things about the makers of Black Metal, which this piece also incorporates, is that they never break character.  Self-seriousness is often the precondition of a celebration of the self.

The ascent was less gripping than the descent, since the pool no longer exerted such a pull.  I think this may have been intended. It was, at least, appropriate.  Desire – the thread here connecting religion, spirituality, marketing, spectacle and individualism – gave way to detachment: a familiar feeling.  Do What Thou Wilt didn’t seem precisely critical of its mechanisms ­– that would have meant stepping out of character, and as mentioned above, part of the thrill and the frustration of the source material is its dogged commitment to its role.  Nevertheless, the piece very suggestively staged both desire and its limits as the structure behind the celebration of the individual.

I haven’t seen The Modes of Al-Ikseer, to which Do What Though Wilt is a sequel or ‘dark B-side’ as the programme describes it.  I understand that the earlier performance also uses liquid, but instead of a dark, mud-like pool, there is a floor made of white milk.  Imagining this other work, I’m interested in the colour contrast, and whether or how this intersects with racial politics.  I’m also interested in the idea of direct opposition, and how this idea of a positive and a negative side structures the rest of Judge’s practice.  From what I’ve seen, I suspect strict opposition may give way to something more complicated or hybrid.