Serpentine Gallery, London
By Jonny Venvell
A drag queen struts into the limelight in the Serpentine’s Magazine restaurant. Raising her voice over the hubbub, she performs her duties as master of ceremonies, ushering in Emily Sundblad and her crew to the performance area and whimsically welcoming the audience to ‘Ibiza’.
The Balearic fantasy ended there, however, and for the duration of the evening Dichterliebe/Divine Bitches Part Two failed to make it much further than taxiing around the artistic runway.
Described as an ‘erotic collage operetta’, this was the latest incarnation of the Serpentine’s Magazine Sessions’, ‘site-specific evenings of performance, where all aspects of the experience are considered’. Yet the event lacked the cohesion to justify the ‘operetta’ label and the diversity necessary for a collage. It consisted of Sundblad’s interpretation of songs from Schumann’s Dichterliebe and pop ballads accompanied by the Musarc choir, interspersed with her own poetry and that of fellow artist Juliana Huxtable.
Sundblad was at her best when performing the popular repertoire, and she handled the subject matter sensitively – particularly spinsterhood. However, her casual stage manner was ill-suited to the Schumann, which, though ably accompanied by Ken Okiishi, was underprepared and emotionally overwrought. Huxtable’s poetry, meanwhile, showed promise, but did not progress further than graphic descriptions of sex acts (perhaps justifying the ‘erotic’ tag). The result was both banal and boring.
There were efforts at creating an immersive artistic space: a bullfight video playing on a background TV; a menu of vegan snacks designed by the artist. But, like the wilted flowers dotted around the Magazine, it was difficult to tell how much of Dichterliebe/Divine Bitches Part Two was born out of artful intention and how much out of lack of adequate thought and preparation. For a more interesting exploration of gender identity, the Serpentine’s brilliant DAS INSTITUT exhibition, in the main gallery, is highly recommended.
Watch March’s Magazine Session with Swedish artist, Karl Holmqvist: