WORDS: BENJAMIN HICKS '18
M. Lamar visited Wesleyan last Thursday night as part of the QUEER/ART/POETICS/ conference to perform Surveillance Punishment & The Black Psyche. The performance feels its way through discourses of interracial desire and the transcendence of white supremacy, with what Brandon Peter Masterman describes as "a dark opulence that is simultaneously stunning in its beauty as well as tortured in its despair." . Equipped with an orange jumpsuit, seated at a piano with video feed projected behind him, his countertenor wails act in the same manner as his subject material does: piercing ears and echoing, refusing to leave the room or fade away -- repeated violences that resist comfortability -- forcing his audience to confront the indigestible histories as if they are happening right this very moment, and they are. His performance grabs hold of a Foucaultian white panopticism that has its origins in the plantation and upholds itself all the way to the prison industrial complex. The Overseer, Overseer, is at once the whip welding white plantation owner and the anonymous modern force of discipline against the black body that regulates its forces and operations systematically. Lamar touches on this state of conscious and relentless visibility in a way that confuses time. Whether his subject is ‘in his solitude’ or ‘on the plantation’, images of street cameras hover anachronistically over both landscapes while refrains of the white man’s eyes inside me ring across the room, so that the white demon possession isn’t a product of time, but rather internalized — inside me, it’s inside me. While his themes refuse to be objects of time, time plays an important part of this piece for the audience. His performance is durational — requiring both patience and labor from the audience. They must work to come to their own conclusions and understandings of Lamar’s work, making their own connections. In other words, since countertenor isn’t traditionally ‘satisfying’ — it doesn't want to be digested — the audience must summon the effort required in order to receive the performance lest it pass by unperceived, just like the violent histories that Lamar is exploring and refuses to disregard.
Here's a full video of the performance.