‘When there is no more left, no more me left, all abstract mess of namelessness, the pale Calacatta marble slab is carefully wiped clean and its classic vein is revealed once more.’
The protagonist of the 1697 fairy tale ‘Bluebeard’ opens a forbidden room in her house to discover the bodies of her husband’s previous wives strewn across the floor. In her surprise she drops the key, which becomes coated in blood, incriminating her to her husband. The story is partly based on the confessions of Gilles de Rais, marshal of France, condemned to death in 1440 for the murder of 150 children. In Tai Shani’s hyper gory re-telling of the tale a cube of flesh speaks alternately as each of Bluebeard’s seven wives of whose bodies it is composed. Its title ‘Be, be the seven darknesses,’ draws a parallel between these seven lives and physicist Isaac Newton’s description of brightness as being composed of seven darknesses.
Performed in a derelict empty space above the exhibition, an actress was lit by spotlight, on her forehead a small black hole, “tunnel into and out of the world, circled by a ring of torn skin, small veins visible, detonated unsettled flesh, and a throbbing rivulet of fresh blood coming forth from the mouth of the source.” Each macabre detail of the script (originally published in the metal fanzine ‘Buried’ was drawn out, the reader’s composed affectation a window into the psychotic mind of its antihero. The reading was accompanied by a live score by Chlöe Herington (V A L V E) for clarinet (via harmonist pedal), electric guitar (bowed and looped) and triggered samples.
The work came about partly as a response by the artist to her experience of reading the visceral horror story ‘Guts’ by Chuck Palahniuk, whose promotional tour attracted headlines such as “67 people fainted as I read my horror story” (The Telegraph). Her initial anticipation was replaced by disappointment when, as she describes, the text lingered “within the confines of my head, no human voice and all of its high-drama, I was alone and in control, I could stop when I wanted to, disassociate.” Shani’s ‘Be, be the seven darknesses’, a tightly choreographed experience created for an audience desiring to be overwhelmed, works to take its sordid tale out of the realms of conceivability and language and to distill its narrative into a violent and intolerable revulsion.
Tai Shani (b. 1976, London) is an artist living and working in London. She studied fashion design and fashion photography in New York and Tel Aviv. Selected presentations and performances include Tate Britain, London, 2016; Tensta Konsthall, Stockholm, 2016; Serpentine Galleries, London, 2016; Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, 2015; Southbank Centre, London, 2014-15; The Arnolfini, Bristol, 2013; Matt’s Gallery, London, 2012; FRAC Nord-Pas de Calais and Loop Festival, Barcelona, 2011. Shani’s multidisciplinary practice – comprising performance, film, photography and installation – revolves around experimental narrative texts. Alternating between familiar narrative tropes and structures and theoretical prose, her works explore the construction of subjectivity, excess and affect and the epic in relation to post-patriarchal realism. See taishani.com/wordpress/2015/04/06/dark-continent