Such Is the Magic of Power
If J. M. Barrie's play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up and its reincarnations as Barrie's Peter and Wendy, Disney's Peter Pan, and Steven Spielberg's Hook have taught us anything, it's that enchantment is never unencumbered. It arrives entangled with lust, terror, (attempted) murder, and colonization. Consider the knotty subplot of Barrie's play. After collaborating on a kidnapping, a fairy named Tinker Bell tries to murder her human rival, Wendy. She then finds herself cohabitating with her partner, his new love interest, and their pack of adopted children, the Lost Boys. Wendy takes on the part of Peter's mother while both tackle the domestic labor. They relentlessly pine after Peter, playing supporting roles in his colonialist projects of killing Indians and battling pirates.
For our gallery-based performance and art installation The Wendy House (2011), we ask audiences to step into this twisted mess and wrestle with us for an hour. Our Wendy is a drunk. Tinkerbell is on uppers. Peter and the Lost Boys have abandoned them, so they have nothing to do but sing and dance for a gathered crowd. They fight for the audience's love and insults (in Neverland, it's impossible to tell the difference between the two). They tell stories about Peter's manifest destiny and re-create the maps he drew of his empire. They labor, quite literally, to maintain the deteriorating architecture of a Neverland that Peter created with his powerfully enchanting imagination. But the empire rises only to fall apart. The material infrastructure of power needs constant maintenance, leaving Wendy a worn-out, desperate housewife and Tinkerbell an abused and angry child. [End Page 244] Both are hypocrites. They bemoan their own oppressive confinement in the Wendy House while supporting—even imitating—Peter's hegemonic masculinity. Such is the magic of power.
While our piece confronts the erotics of colonialism, it also gives audiences an opportunity to encounter enchantment as it is situated within the practice of performance. Wendy and Tinkerbell offer us vehicles to work though performance's fraught relationship with something as affectively charged as the magic of "presence." Clowning, a performance technique we use to animate our version of Tinkerbell, draws its power from the tension produced by the meeting of three different feelings: the joy that comes from encountering the nonthreatening dope, the suspicion generated by the jester or the trickster, and the terror that greets the appearance of Pennywise or the Joker. The white cube of the art gallery derives its presence from absence; like Peter Pan himself, it suggests the supposed purity and innocence of childhood as well as the blank slate that white skin is believed to be.
Below we offer a textual fragment of The Wendy House. The words spoken by Wendy and Tinkerbell offer one point of entry into the tangled mess of enchantment presented in our work (another means of access is the art installation—a childish, jerry-rigged structure made of cardboard and discarded bedsheets). In performance, the scripted text is read from index cards, giving our words a material presence that circulates physically in the gallery space. Viewers pick up the cards when they first enter the gallery and later surrender them to Tinkerbell during one of her fits of rage. Cards are torn to bits, nailed to the wall, partially ingested, trod upon, kissed, and laid to rest in the waistband of a pair of stockings.
Ultimately, The Wendy House asks the shameful but necessary question, Why is the language of empire still sensuously enchanting, even though its power is held together by duct tape and its magic is revealed to be nothing, really, but glitter and shadows?
The Wendy House
Peter was here. I smell the signs of great good fun. He said: Huddle up, children, now is time for building and later time for falling down. He said: Let's reenact the rise and fall of the Kingdom of Prussia with peanuts wearing tiny hats. What a waste of history. Peter is the [End Page 245] biggest...