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Reviews/Dance/Fringe World Festival

Interrogating toxic masculinity

1 February 2019

Fringe World review: Bonnie Lane, How to be a Better Man in 2019 ·
Paper Mountain ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·

As a performance and dance artist whose work uses stereotypically “sexy” imagery of her own body, Bonnie Lane has archived the messages she’s been sent by men, mostly through Instagram, over the past few years. In her performance, How to be a Better Man in 2019, the Australian born, New York-based artist presents them with a healthy dose of commentary. Her aims in collecting and responding to these messages is to educate (straight white) men on how to avoid the pitfalls of modern social media communication that – all too often – these same men fall back on: dick pics, frankly weird DMs (direct messages), and, when these first two strategies inevitably fail, gender-based insults, slut-shaming and rape threats.

On opening night, Lane was obviously nervous, and as the performance – which is really more of a presentation – continued, the emotional effect that her archive has had upon her psyche became clear. I can understand why – ten minutes into the show I was already feeling emotionally drained by the sheer weight of fairly nauseating, sleazy, or outright pornographic screenshots of messages looping continuously as Lane spoke. I cannot imagine what it would be like to receive these on a daily basis, let alone return to the material to compile it into a work.

Lane has many insightful comments concerning her attempts to respond to, or educate these men who message her on a constant basis, as well as several interesting and provocative points about who “owns” or even gets to “identify with” artwork of women’s bodies. However, the show is unfocused as a whole, more like a workshop for the artist than for the audience, with material that is so draining in its sheer volume that Lane’s performance seems encumbered, not empowered by it. It feels as though she started out to make a work that would examine this archive and ultimately reclaim it, undermining its power, but I am not convinced that it succeeds in this aim. If anything, this proves the absolute necessity of interrogating the role of toxic masculinity in our culture, a job that seems to have exhausted Lane. I hope she can dig her way out of her archive.

How to be a Better Man in 2019 runs at Paper Mountain until February 2.

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Author —
Miranda Johnson

Miranda Johnson is a curator and writer who has worked for various contemporary arts institutions, co-founded Cool Change Contemporary and co-hosts Fem Book Club at the Centre for Stories. Miranda’s favourite aspect of the playground is getting the chance to meet as many dogs as possible.

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