On 5 June 2021, as part of the Buzzcut super-stream-a back to back performance marathon. Whiskey Chow shared a new performance to camera piece titled, A View from the Bottom.
Whiskey Chow is a London-based artist and Chinese drag king, who’s work combines embodied performance, moving image and experimental sound pieces. They currently work as a Visiting Lecturer at the Royal College of Art and are the director/curator of Queering Now, a programme amplifying the voices of queer Asian artists in the West.
A View from the Bottom touches on queer identity, race, power and attempts to decode traditional perceptions of hypermasculine attributes. Overturning a binary understanding of gender, Chow explores the idea of multiple masculinities through playing with stereotypical motifs of athleticism, strength and vulnerability.
On a whole and as a concept, the piece is strong and the performance gets off to a solid start but unfortunately it falls into a rather cliché and overdone abyss of gender performativity, which is a difficult subject to cover effectively, so I commend Chow’s bravery in presenting a piece which tackles the topic.
At the beginning of this 10 minute performance piece, I was immersed in the action and intensity of Chow’s work. As their heaving breathing lingers for the first half, I feel my own body syncing up to the rhythmic pulse of breath.
As the breathing continues, Chow is seen in a white studio lying on their back lifting weights. Rested on Chow’s chest and torso is blue magnetic sand and what truly resonates in this sequence is the idea of weight. First, in the most literal sense, the weights in Chow’s hands draw on the perception of what a masculine body should look like. Second, the sand appears to be weighing down on Chow’s body, causing shortness of breath and distress, touching on the pressure placed on a masculine body. Finally, the weight of understanding and defining one’s identity is presented through the blue — commonly perceived as a masculine colour — in contrast with the stark white surroundings. In this decision, Chow satirizes the way society assigns colour, and in doing so assigns gender as a choice of two, pink or blue.
Part of me feels that Chow’s message is conveyed well enough in the first half and doesn’t need a second sequence to follow, as this unfortunately dampens the piece on a whole. In the second half, Chow is heard chanting “boys don’t cry” whilst unlacing a sports jockstrap, slowly revealing what is underneath. Within the pants is a white muscly toy bodybuilder.
I believe what Chow is touching on here is the idea that men should be tough, strong and not show their emotions which is most commonly known as a facet of toxic masculinity. It’s toxic because it’s harmful: there is no one way to be masculine and thinking that you can’t express yourself or your feelings can lead to emotional and mental distress. Great in theory, but not so effective in this performance.
Upon reflection, I feel as though this particular piece would have been more successful as a series of images and if not, as a piece without the second half. All in all, this was an adventurous performance which fell prey to clichés, overshadowing the commentary on a whole.
A View from the Bottom is available to stream online as part of the Buzzcut Festival. For more information, see Buzzcut Festival’s website.