Back in 2011 shape shifter Elizabeth Bernholtz settled on the persona of Gazelle Twin: a mix of sci-fi film scores, choral techno and creepy performance art. Today the persona looms with menace over Bernholtz’s act. It takes the form of an androgynous, alien figure in a blue hooded tracksuit. Although most commonly understood through Bernholtz’s experimental compositions, Gazelle Twin can only really be understood in the context of performance. In a parody of masculine aggression, her masked face has morphed into a confrontation of the gender binary. It is complex and often uncomfortable; interrogating our perception of gender, technology and the body. Tonight’s performance with Carla Mackinnon took cue from Gazelle Twin’s 2014 album Anti-Flesh; a beat heavy, anatomy obsessed. Together they compulsively surged through Gazelle Twin’s nightmarish world, dragging you with them at every stage.
But tonight wasn’t solely about Gazelle Twin; it was about women and the body; conditioning and free will. Advertised as a series of shorts by local women filmmakers, Bernholtz was able to contort her act to make a wider, collective statement. What made it special was that Gazelle Twin was able to grow in the context and become more than a character.
Organised by London Short Film Festival and hosted by Picturehouse at Fact, Liverpool, The event began with the series of shorts, inclusively bringing together some of Liverpool’s women filmmakers. Most of the shorts touched on issues related to the body: Em Clark directly tackled the female body under a lived-threat of patriarchal violence while Sarah Cox looked at the experience of the body in death and it’s last moments of free will. As themes of and around the body reappeared amongst the artists the importance (and difficulties) of bodily experience within feminist thought became more apparent.
This is the stage set before a frail hooded Gazelle Twin, a political setting for a child-like persona straight from PE to weave her industrial electronica. But that seems on hold, for in this instance Gazelle Twin is transfixed by the projection above her, like a kid before a television, MacKinnon provides a projection on a cinema screen above the stage. A heart shaped lump of meat thuds onto the screen with heavy tumbling beats. The visuals use stop screen animation to morph both artificial and organic matter into uncanny hybrid beings.
All this plays out over a bed of experimental techno that sprints off vaults and jumps. Dark exploration matched with weird contortions. Here the boundaries between the artificial and organic and the canny and the uncanny dissolve. The tracksuit carries themes of personal biography as it is being based on Bernholtz’s adolescent P.E kit. Against the aggressive music runs the sweet subtext of a vulnerable youth. The sound responds to visual changes with shifts in texture, a-tonal clashes and harsh drones. On top of this Gazelle Twin does a live vocal improvisation using a jittering delay and looping breaths, which slowly form disintegrating micro-rhythms.
In a refreshingly open Q&A session after the performance, Bernholtz discussed how improvisation gives her body the adrenaline to experiment; this allows every performance to be specific to its environment. The lyrics intersect as a disembodied commentary and mirror the neurotic and hyper-analytic mind. The exhalation, from inside to out, brought me back to John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing”, which discusses the woman as a doubly surveyed entity.
“And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman,”
By adopting the persona Gazelle Twin attacks this conditioning, acting as a catalyst for a communal exorcism of the body. Bernholtz holds no allusion to this persona. The catharsis is tangible. The work seeks to engage the audience through a direction of the body’s ingrained conditioning and connects women together in this brave questioning.
Through this radical gender performativity, multiplicities of gender readings are able to take place. As a performative figure, Gazelle Twin inducts an interrogative analysis of the body in a social context, which acts as a starting point for a continuing exploration. Gazelle Twin was able to carry these ideas and respond to the subject matter of the shorts. She contorted her act to make a collective statement about body. The audience left with a clear message; our bodies are always political sites… always ready for a collective subversion.
Rachel Margetts is an artist based in Manchester.