They Make Love To The Car, Don’t They?

“Remember to breathe. Let the car enter your imagination and enter the car with your imagination,” says a mischievous voice whose tenor brings to mind Mephisto, the demon from German folklore. These words mark the beginning of “Enter Exude,” an auto-erotic performance piece put on over the weekend as part of Performa Biennial 2023, the latest exhibition of a group founded in 2004 by art historian RoseLee Goldberg to cultivate new ideas in the world of experimental performance. Put together by the Finnish artist Teo Ala-Ruona, “Enter Exude”, turned out to be a daring exploration of trans-masculinity and queer ecology through a hypnotic and erotic show which took place in a warehouse, situated on Scott Avenue, at the border between Bushwick and East Williamsburg. The performance itself provoked memories of Berghain, the infamous techno club in Berlin, where foreplay in all its forms is welcome and where anything is possible.

“The car is like a sex God, let it shine in front of your eyes…” one of the three performers in Ala-Ruona’s show continues, “Grow one, thrust your fingers in the ventilation holes on the dashboard. ” And through a thick cloud of smoke, Ala-Ruona slowly walked toward center stage, seemingly possessed, eyeing audience members nearby, touching them seductively. Soon, a third enters the stage, equally alive, also turned on by the unsettling, eerie soundscape filling the room with saxophone sounds that call to mind the noir mood of the music from David Cronenberg’s 1996 movie Crash. Ala-Ruona’s sound designer, Miša Skalsis, points to the Italian DJ Gigi D’Agostino’s electronic subgenre of “lento violento”, which literally translates to “slow violence,” as an inspiration for the sonic motifs throughout. 

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Eventually, in the front row, someone with a camera calls a little too much attention to himself with his huge zoom lens. This soon captures Ala-Ruona’s attention. The performers then surround the camera-man; one of them, Charlie Laban Trier, wears a camo hoodie, holds a toy car in his hand and then he ever-so-slowly pushes it into the camera-man’s mouth. Lucky him.

Of course, the question arises: what is this performance piece really about? Another sequence is more telling. This one involves Trier jumping on the car, while Ala-Ruona caresses its tire and Raoni Muzho Saleh, the show’s third performer, rubs its passenger side window. 

By all accounts, it looks like they’re having an orgy with the sports car. 

“The year is 1978 when my father buys his first car,” Trier says, while still standing on top of the sports car,  “He sits in his car more than anyone. He is united with the metallic creature.” 

“This is the dream,” Saleh then shouts and Ala-Ruona does the same. Their repetition produces a kind of cacophony of sound that evokes the raw energy of immaculate conception. “A god-like feeling,” they soon begin yelling.

Hidden beneath the surface of these erotic motifs, the group are able to subvert the audience’s expectations of car culture. The performance’s larger allegory begins to stand out and make its presence loud and clear: cars  — and so much of what they represent in the context of a queer ecology — are awful for the planet. In their very physical performances, they’re able to portray the darkside of toxic masculine car culture; It’s all a sensual nightmare that feels unexpectedly fresh. 

After the show, Ala-Ruona tells me this was his first show in New York. He’s overjoyed with glee. “I don’t come from a theater background either. I treat it as a somatic psychological process,” he says, “See, back in Finland, people are more reserved.”

Photos taken by Max Rovo for Bushwick Daily.

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