Ah, the 1980s -- that was the time for urine. Andres Serrano's Piss Chris. The Butthole Surfers' "piss wands". David Hammon wandering around New York, pissing on public sculptures. Public urination, and the artistic presentation of urine, seemed to be inherently political. It insisted that whatever was private and personal was also fundamentally political and contested. Annie Sprinkle, for instance, pissing in a bottle while regaling an audience with the story of her life. Urine seemed to have a genuinely subversive, not to say corrosive, power.
I'm not sure that the same can be said of urine today. In art, urine seems now more a gesture of affected naivety, a somewhat literal expression of the desire to relax the harsh abstinence insisted on by last century's post-modern anti-capitalist activist-artists, and return to a kind of re-idealised state of uninhibited exhibitionism.
Pissing on herself is not all that Australian contemporary dance artist Atlanta Eke's does in her new work, Monster Body, but in many ways it is representative of the performance as a whole. After swilling some sort of diuretic concoction, Eke stands before us, naked, and relieves herself to the balladic strains of "Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman". Then she rolls about in the puddle, striking poses that reference figures of seduction, though keeping her expression blank and mask-like. Surprisingly, and perhaps it's because everything looks so clean, this is not so disgusting as you might expect. Rather, her wet skin sparkling and the bright, yellowish lights suggest images of swimsuit models lolling in the shallows.
After she leaves her self-made puddle, one of her earnest facilitators hurries out with a mop and bucket (it takes only minutes for urine to stain varnished floorboards and we wouldn't want that). Eke returns to her plinth and we all wait for someone else to clean up after her. Now the mask she wears is one of smugness.
There is something charmingly obvious about it -- indeed about most of the night. When we first enter the studio space, we meet Eke standing on a plinth by the entrance, within arm's reach, naked except for hula hoops and monster mask. Naked. Right there. Monster mask. As if for our convenience, there's a mirror leaning against the plinth, facing the audience, but like most things in this performance, the aim is just a fraction off, and instead of sending back an image of ourselves, we get mostly ceiling.
The performance is an essentially comic one, and also somehow nostalgic. This combination is always engaging, but not always politically provocative. If there is anything haunting about the images we see, it's in the eyes behind the various masks, which restlessly – perhaps desperately – return again and again to the audience, searching among the faces, but for what? Approval? Resistance? Or something else? Though an exuberant and entertaining evening, with the occassional thrill of discomfort, Monster Body is also spectacularly self-regarding. Atlanta Eke rivets our attention, and her excess implies a provocation, but ultimately it is not clear what nature of provocation she intends.