“Object Orgy” – 7 Pleasures (2015) by Mette Ingvartsen

I show up rather early to NYU Skirball Center, getting a little too excited for the first time Mette Ingvatsen brings 7 Pleasures (2015) to New York City. Alone on the weekend in such a dynamic place, I cannot find a better occasion to open myself up and experience different forms of pleasures outside of “those choreographed by everyday life”[1]. Strange and singular arousals emerge, flooding the theater space with a multitude of affective stimulation that is unbound in its vibration and contamination of matter – animate and inanimate alike. The latter particularly garners a lot of agency in the piece, asserting its tremendous potential and capacity of pleasure during the “object orgy”[2], a radical experimentation to displace pleasure from its conventional site of the human body.

The “object orgy” is presented as the fifth out of the seven notions of pleasure, following the climax of the work where the performing space in its full three dimensionalities is shaken vigorously to an orgasmic explosion. Transitioning from this high-energy environment with heavily percussive music and extremely bright lighting, the “object orgy” assumes a more understated sensibility, reminiscing of the atmosphere in a soft-core erotica. The only source of lighting comes from two light bulbs hanging on stage, while the music all of a sudden becomes very soft and sensual, catapulting the set as a living room into the surreal realm of sexual fantasy. Twelve naked bodies glistening in sweat all together slow down and gather in this dreamy erotic setting, but instead of sexually engaging with each other as in a conventional pornographic scene, their first and foremost task is to pleasure the objects on stage.

The human is no longer the center of the sexual cosmology that Ingvartsen invents – indeed in this section the performers never directly touch each other unless it is mediated by an object. A dancer gently tears a piece of paper on stage, putting it in their mouth, feeding it to another dancer and proceeding to engage in a rather absurd paper mouth fight. In other vignettes, two people are together humping a pillow in between their bodies and moaning in ecstasy; a dancer is rocking back and forth on all four with a metallic ball rolling on their back, sensually accentuating both the haptic quality of the object and the corporeal arch that the ball is in contact with; in upstage area, someone is being tied to a table, their back firmly pressed into the materiality of the wooden surface, soaking in every inch of its tactility.

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Overwhelmed by the multiplicity and simultaneity of pleasures, I feel a strong kinesthetic and affective responses to how these everyday objects come to play with the human bodies. Yet, there is a re-routing of this daily-ness where objects are no longer solely used to produce bodily pleasure, but they on their own can also have sexual feelings. What then do objects desire, and what can the performers offer to satisfy those desires?

By asking these questions, Ingvartsen is unambiguously attempting to reverse the hierarchy of animacy, rejecting the notion of pleasure as an exclusively human concern and re-centering her investigation on objects. As the choreographer relinquishes the agency of the individual, the everyday living-room objects in 7 Pleasures are able to come alive as things, asserting themselves over the human subjects in this unfolding field of sexual relations. In turn, the performers’ bodies are (in)animated[3] as things, as “viscosity” and “bio-technological liquid”[4] that traverse in space and time.

However, there is no “alongsided-ness”[5], as Lepecki suggests, between the object-things and the human-things in this relational ecology. Instead, the human-things explicitly set out to pleasure the object-things, to prioritize the sensation and the satisfaction of the inanimate. When two performers feed each other paper, the concern is less about whether the dancing bodies are aroused during this uncannily sensual act, than it is about the paper’s desire to be torn apart, its gratifying friction as it rubs against the mouths, wetting itself in the process of absorbing the corporeal moist. Thus, it is not exactly a “dance with things” as in Bernstein’s framework, which stresses the agency of things only in relation to a personal awareness of the self[6], but rather it is a dance for things, wholehearted serving things without necessarily asking what the humans can get out of this relationship.

However, in rendering the body a thing secondary to the object-things, Ingvartsen is taking the risk of disintegrating the racialized surface of the corporeal matter in favor of the quest for “viscosity”. The two black performers in the piece, Ghyslaine Gau and Ligia Lewis, uneasily dissolve themselves among the majority of white performers into a seemingly colorless “biotechnological fluid” flowing through this “object orgy”. While this act of becoming thing, becoming liquid challenges the humanist conception of pleasure, there is a queasiness during this transformation due to Gau’s and Lewis’ hyper-visible naked blackness that shines in sweat, that refuses to be swollen in red after a vigorous shaking session.

As Tina Post theorizes, this shiny and black surface of the skin is not just membrane and matter, but it enacts a mode of “plural masking”[7] that allows fugitivity and self-erasure of the black subject in face of constant objectification and commodification. Far from liquefying themselves, these two black women appear only to disappear, evaporating their sense of selves in order to fully submit their body to the vision and the experimentation of the choreographer. Thus, Ingvartsen’s treatment of Gau and Lewis as colorless fluid only serves to further this process of self-erasure, adding another layer of biotechnological mask to this already-existing plurality that is governing blackness.

7 Pleasures, and especially the “object orgy”, is making a very important proposition to look at objects as a strategy to generate erotic arousals and affects that are yet to be regulated and controlled by everyday choreography. Yet, at times Ingvartsen is treading a rather thin line: if humans are completely in the service of objects, does that come at the expense of erasing the human-to-human violence in the wake of racial injustice? This queasiness does not take away the urgency of the work, but rather, it invites more questions, more problems, more pleasures that perhaps need to exceed the number seven.

Image is sourced from Mette Ingvartsen’s website.


[1] http://www.metteingvartsen.net/performance/performance-1/.

[2] http://www.metteingvartsen.net/texts_interviews/mette-ingvartsen-on-estranged-understandings-of-bodies-and-objects/

[3] The term “(in)animated” is derived from Rebecca Schneider’s development of the concept “inter(in)animation”, bringing attention to the inanimate in its capacity to shape the animate. See: Rebecca Schneider, Performing Remains: Art and War in Times of Theatrical Reenactment. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2011.

[4] http://www.limelightmagazine.com.au/features/7-pleasures-dancing-around-pleasure-principle

[5] André Lepecki, “Moving as Thing: Choreographic Critiques of the Object,” October no. 140 (2012): 80.

[6] Robin Bernstein, “Dances with Things Material Culture and the Performance of Race,” Social Text 27, no. 4 101 (2009): 70

[7] Tina Post. “Williams, Walker, and Shine: Blackbody Blackface, or the Importance of Being Surface.” TDR: The Drama Review 59, no. 4 (2015): 89.

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