In light of the range of body positive, gender-bending and boundary destroying performances storming this year’s Fringe, we talk to revolutionary performance artist and ecofeminist Emma Maye, the lion tamer behind her sex clown alter-ego Betty Grumble.
What is this year’s show about?
The show is called Love and Anger which is a mantra of mine. It originally started as ‘love and light’ but then something happened before I went onstage once that got me angry and I thought, actually, ‘love and anger’ – this is righteous. Patti Smith talks about righteous anger a lot and the figure of the witch and the hysterical woman. The concept of the angry woman is rearing its head again in the zeitgeist and feminism has become popular and this idea taps into that but I still wanted to keep it playful as well. The love and anger mantra is about not being passive or apathetic, instead of allowing ourselves to be rendered that way as women.
You’ve often said that your work is not burlesque. How would you describe it instead?
In terms of burlesque language, I guess people need some kind of structure to foist upon a body to try and understand it. But what I’m about is smashing stuff together and chaos and the in between spaces. I name myself a sex clown – I like the language and what it stimulates, and there’s a long history of sex clowns throughout history. But often, language is used which shames the woman body – as though if I am to display my pleasure and my erotics so freely then I can’t possibly be serious in my art. This kind of language reveals exactly what I’m trying to show is wrong about what we think about where our bodies begin and end. Betty Grumble is a really fun show and a deviant show, but I welcome people to not enjoy it as well. Part of the beauty of it is that not everybody has to express themselves the way I do.
I do honour burlesque tropes, history and energy in my work. It’s origin feeling of sensuality and reveals appeals to me, but I’m not interested in how it, like many subcultures, has been commodified and sanitised. Though there are still many radical burlesque bodies giving it back!
What about Betty’s aesthetic?
She’s very different to me. I think of her as a drag queen. She’s definitely inspired by that solidarity with the drag world, in terms of using fantasies and beauty and tragedy to push back at a world that tells us there’s only one way of being. Gender expressionism is a way of thinking and laughing at the enemies of grooviness and the people who want to control and shame bodies.
You describe yourself as an ‘ecofeminist and ecosexual’. What does that mean to you?
‘Ecofeminism’ and more deeply for me, ‘ecosexuality’ are terms which I discovered through Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens, who are performance artists doing amazing work. Ecosexuality for me is a new kind of sexuality, but it’s also a way of aligning the woman body with the earth body, relearning that we are nature. And that if we – to borrow Annie Sprinkle’s language – reposition the meaning of the word ‘mother’ to ‘lover’ then we might start to take care of the world again and save it. This is the renewable love energy I’m trying to manifest in Sex Clown Saves the World Again! Ecofeminism also locates our bodies as bodies that should be looking after the planet, because we are ultimately nature.
See Betty Grumble in Love and Anger (or Sex Clown Saves the World Again!) at Heroes @ Monkey Barrel until the 27th at 8pm and in Sweatshop at Assembly George Square Gardens until the 27th at 10pm. See our review of the show here.
Interview: Chiara Margiotta
Picture: Liz Ham