“Cock, cock.. who’s there?”

Samira Elagoz confronts the trauma of #metoo.

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Voices are becoming increasingly united in speaking up about sexual violence. With #metoo going viral on all social networks, the need for discussion on protecting women’s sexual autonomy and fighting rape culture is finally becoming more visible. People are elicited to share their personal experience on the pressing topic. One of them is Samira Elagoz, who speaks up with the performance Cock, cock.. Who’s There?.

Awarded the prestigious Prix Jardin d’Europe 2017, this performance is based on the personal account of the Amsterdam and Helsinki-based artist who publicly discloses her story while opening up ways to discuss sexual abuse. Ahead of her performance at Theater Bellevue tonight and tomorrow, Elagoz told Glamcult how she plays with the established gender system and offers a different perspective on the male/female gaze through her work.

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Can you describe your personal filmmaking approach—especially, regarding Cock, cock.. who’s there??

I think the most indicative parts of my filming are that I don’t use actors or performers, and that all subjects in my works are men. For the past few years I’ve been building an extensive collection of first encounters arranged through various online platforms. It quickly became a research on the, often laughable, gender roles—these almost compulsory ways we tend to interact in that man/woman dynamic.

The performance Cock, Cock.. Who’s There? is more specific, and works almost like a retrospective of the research in which I reveal, simultaneously, some form of exposure therapy after my experience with sexual violence. An attempt to relate back to men. It frames the material within my personal trauma and confronts the effect it had on my identity, relationships and sexuality.

How does the (female) gaze play into this technique?

Art history is littered with the classical set up of male gaze where woman is the passive object/muse of male artists. When searching for what female gaze then could be, I wondered if it had to be juxtaposed with, or simply a reversal of, male gaze. Then I saw lot of New Yorkian exhibitions where so-called 4th-wave feminists were very busy with their own image, the female gaze being attached to selfie culture, women’s gaze to themselves. I’m very happy that we are living in an era where women are finally in charge of how they want to be depicted. But for me that was not enough to define the female gaze. I felt there was a void of women portraying men, and I knew I wanted to do that, but it was important that the featured men weren’t actors or models, and that I wouldn’t direct them. The gaze in my work has often been referred to as humanist rather than gender-specific. I like that a lot. I think my work deconstructs the male gaze without placing it in contest with a female gaze. By allowing my subjects to film me too, the camera is in constant conversation: the men are not forced to adopt a role; they are free to present themselves however they want to be seen. I never filmed with the intent of exposing any specific characteristic.

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Cock, cock.. who’s there? is based on a personal story. How does the film, if it does, reconcile your personal experience?

As a woman who went through an experience of sexual violence, I found it very empowering to claim my story as my material. I realised I could decide the course of reality and, in effect, make something that was restorative. On numerous occasions the performance elicited really touching stories from audience members who went through similar states and actions as I did. That aspect of sharing the work has meant a lot to me. Indeed, through the process of creating this piece, touring around the world, meeting so many people, hearing or reading the affects my work have had on them…it transformed the rape, perhaps not the memory of it, but most certainly its significance to my life.

What message do you want to transmit with this performance, and how is it conveyed through the visual aesthetics you’ve compiled?  

With this work I wanted to offer an honest and accessible perspective on rape that would unburden the audience of the discomfort of seeing me as a victim, in favour of promoting a frank discussion about the actual topic. I also didn’t want to attack or vilify men, I knew it should be inclusive rather than alienating, which hopefully would allow those that recognise something of themselves; to analyse rather than reject.

The work aims to explore, not judge. Not only men, but also my own actions. Victims of sexual violence don’t necessarily lose their sexuality and shouldn’t have to stay away from it in fear or shame. I wanted to depict myself as a woman who is aware of her sexual image and is not afraid, or guilty, about showing herself as such. In this way, I also touch on the social perception and attitude towards rape, the personal struggle, and my ideas about dealing with trauma. I’ve found the performance opens up many, usually unspoken, questions and attitudes around sexual violence, and discloses a discussion within the audience’s own ethics and prejudices.

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Photo by Nellie de Boer

Can you tell us about the process of using dating platforms for the ends of this film? What other platforms or sources did you use as a source to collect data?

I find there is an instinct to be less private with online strangers, more honest. Whether that is about sexual inclination, social views, or other convictions, there is an odd intimacy created by anonymity. A confidence to be oneself, or act how one would like to be without fear of judgement. By creating a one-off meeting with my subjects, this idea is maintained. No matter how much we shared, we would remain strangers, and perhaps avoid conventional initial interaction. It was also important people were up for it—I didn’t want to have my presence be uncomfortable. So having them choose me through such platforms as Tinder and Craigslist, made it easier to interact.

Do you use dating applications yourself?

My relation to meeting online is rather tied to my projects, and as such has had little room to evolve into a dating context. Not that I wouldn’t consider it, but I’ve been quite busy.

At this young age, you’re already considered a promising filmmaker. What comes next? What are you working on at the moment?

I graduated a little over a year ago with a film and a performance. Then I made a gallery work and have been touring with these works ever since. Being noticed by various festivals for both film and performance has been incredibly fortunate. It quickly introduced me to the professional side of things. The coming months will still consist of touring with those existing works. Especially with the performance, it feels important to share.

After that I will take some time to get lost again. Travel is a big part of my work: being able to feel like a stranger myself, in a new city, with new faces, but likely with an altered concept this time. I’ve recently gotten a grant to pursue my new work—however, it is still too early to detail here.

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Cock, cock.. who’s there?  is on tonight and tomorrow at Theater Bellevue, Amsterdam

 

Words by Alejandra Espinosa

Main image by Jirina

 

www.samiraelagoz.com

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