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category: Gazette,Performance,Review

A Cure For The System

Friday, September 26, 2014 by

A couple of weeks back, I watched my parents as they stood staring quizzically at the bathroom wall, deciding where to position the new medicine cupboard. I tried to understand why they were so preoccupied with such a trivial logistical issue, only to realize that their conundrum was a legitimate concern.

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It occurred to me that medicine cabinets are central to family space. They represent the nucleus of the modern family’s well-being, and thus each member’s ability to deal with the each other and with the world. Medicines for all sorts of illnesses, pains and irritations are habitually administered, bordering between need and desire as drug use is gradually normalised.  And from this comprehension of the significance and ubiquity of medicine, enters Ira Melkonyan’s own investigation into the centrality of illnesses and the dependence on remedies within society. Melkonyan, the writer and researcher of the rubberbodies collective’s latest production, The Pill, gave a convincing solo performance presented as a history of her character’s ailments and attempts to get a fix.

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Although narratively performed as an autobiographical reverie, The Pill revealed far more about society than Melkonyan’s mummy issues. The story continuously transitioned between her childhood and adulthood, with some scenes representing her intermediary adolescent phase. This schizophrenic idiosyncrasies called to mind Deleuze and Guattari’s definition of capitalism as a divisory and paradoxical system, for it relies on stability in the form of social order (family, religion, etc.) and contradictorily, on the individualist personage who must consume and strive for uniqueness. Melkonyan’s inquest into her childhood for answers is telling of the nostalgic yearning for family structure that dissipates once we develop into adults. The desire for balance is the driving force behind her search for a pill “that cures all illnesses and restores well-being”, a necessary product for our hypochondriacal, overburdened society.

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As a child, Melkonyan is obsessed with Mars (and insists that her teddy bear named Giraffe hails from the Red Planet). Her view of space is universal, and her perceptive abilities stretch beyond earthly infatuations. Upon entering adulthood, Melkonyan’s worldview narrows itself down to matters of materiality, a change seemingly catalysed by bodily afflictions such as chicken pox and migraines. Yet her desire for those days of infant frivolity and cosmic wondering was conspicuously expressed in Melkonyan’s envy of her sister, whose dissertation she crushed because Nadia became an astronaut like their dad. Differently to Nadia, Melkonyan studies biology, and so focuses all her energy on understanding life on planet earth. Her individualist impulse takes ahold of her being, so much so that she is unable to sustain a relationship with a man because her inner balance was disturbed.

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To analyse Melkonyan’s life spatially, and not only through the geographical earth/universe dichotomy, is to observe the systemic, the political. Growing up in Soviet Union Ukraine, her social experiences were assumedly collective ones, lacking the culture of individuality predominant within the capitalist West. In The Pill, Melkonyan made repeated reference to a green substance – a single, all-encompassing liquid with some unpronounceable name – which was used to cure almost all illnesses in former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Her infantile desire for universality remains strongly, and nostalgically, embedded in her person, as Melkonyan tries and succeeds in manufacturing a singular antidote, one which is suited to the capitalist, consumer thirst for money, relaxation and good health.

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Thus, the schizophrenic idiosyncrasies of the performance were not only apparent in the Deleuze/Guattari sense, but also in the co-existence of ideologically opposing political paradigms in Melkonyan’s memory. This theme of binaries ran consistently throughout the performance in both its dialogue and use of space. For example, to surreptitiously illustrate Melkonyan’s volatile relationship with her mother, she described her birth as white, whilst it being a black experience for her mother due to temporary epidural paralysis. She later remarked that tomatoe juice was the favourite drink of her mother and herself, though she preferred it with pepper, and her mother with salt.

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The spatial relationship between the diagrammatic territory of the white board and that of the white wall was well thought out. The former served as a delineation of her professional life; a conventional and confined space within which her actions were restrained. Contrastingly, the wall was sketched upon liberally and erratically when representing the less ordered formative years of Melkonyan’s life. Elements such as these made the production technically intriguing, with the treatment of space, light, sound and objects being highly dynamic. More importantly, the employment of these elements was fascinating due to the holistic collaboration between the narrative and its rendering.

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The Pill was an abounding piece, with several themes existing alongside the principle storyline. It provided great insight into contemporary desires through an inward-looking analysis into society’s religious veneration of medicinal products, and our reliance on substances for physical, and, by implication, spiritual welfare. Melkonyan portrayed illnesses and cures as a form of collective memory, defining how we relate to the world, in both the private and public sphere.

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All photography by Matthew Grech

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Category Gazette,Performance,Review

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