Photo by Gretchen Heinel
To be born female is to be intimate with pain: the dizzying cycles of bloodletting, the splitting horrors of childbirth, the social othering that casts us into roles we did not choose: virgin, whore, harridan, demon. Our choices are to break under patriarchal will, or follow the path of pain to power.
On Saturday night at Trans Pecos in Brooklyn, Myth To Flesh: Live confronted this intersection of physical and psychic pain through music, performance, and photography that explored alternative narratives of femininity. The collaborative project, conceived by Gretchen Heinel and Luna Duran, fleshed out the trials and transformation of the goddess Lilith with a live show presented by Annihilvs Power Electronix; the event featured performances by SIRE, Muscle And Marrow, and a suspension ritual during a set by doom legends Evoken.
The evening's celebration of the dark feminine opened with the photographic series Lilith: From Myth To Flesh, taken by Heinel and starring Duran as Lilith. As Adam's first wife in the Hebrew bible, Lilith was created from the same earth as he—not from his rib, as his second wife Eve would be. When Adam asked Lilith to take on the permanent role of submissive in their sexual relationship, she refused, shouted the forbidden name of God aloud, and vanished into the night in defiance. Although her reputation in Hebrew lore is as a killer of infants, the queen of demons, and a succubus, her origins are equally in Mesopotamian mythology as a powerful femme fatale, keeper of sacred sexuality, beholden to no man.
Photo by the author
Documenting Lilith's labyrinthine journey, Heinel's lush series depicts the misunderstood goddess first with her husband Adam, and then on her own torturous and redemptive quest. Reflecting the endeavors the goddess endured, the images show Duran also performing painful, metamorphic feats, undergoing hook suspension and temporary subdermal implantation, alone, in the wilderness.
As attendees shuffled through the narrow hallway, eyeing the photographs on display, the musical portion of the evening began with a brutal set by SIRE, whose singer unleashed transcendent, visceral screams into an unsuspecting crowd. Muscle and Marrow followed with a haunting and heavy set, ending with a spoken word loop (appropriately) repeating "fear my power" before White Flag Suspension started setting up for the main event.
The energy was electric in anticipation, and the crowd quietly made room for the capable hands taping down plastic on the floor, cordoning off the performance space, and instructing viewers not to cross the barrier. At the same time, Evoken assembled onstage, flanked on either side by two burning candelabras. Duran and Heinel took their places wearing skeins of cloth wrapped around jeweled belts and little else, and the performance began in silence, with the two upright, leaning into one another.
Photo by the author
Once Evoken segued into a seductive dirge, Heinel and Duran slowly, lovingly removed the shrouds that hung around their bodies, careful not to snag them on the various hooks that pierced their flesh, or their impossibly long hair that fanned out across their backs — Heinel's platinum blonde and Duran's rich brown. After they had disrobed, the duo, connected by thin ropes between their hooks, began to pull apart, teasing one another in a delicate balance, gleefully cackling as their adrenaline began to flow. The energy between them was focused and palpable, a sisterhood forged in the blood that dripped from their wounds onto the black plastic beneath their feet.
After Heinel and Duran dropped to the floor together and continued their slow, intimate dance, they cut the connecting cord between them in a ceremonial snip, before removing each other's temporary piercings and hooks with reverence. The band paused for applause, before moving into another crushing song as Heinel stood up to be secured into the rigging and begin her suspension performance. Alternatively spinning and hanging, with lean, linear limbs and pointed toes gracefully flexing and pointing, she made elegant geometry with her body.
Photo by the author
Eventually, Duran joined her, suspended from the chest and arching her back in a delicate pose with her hair flowing downward like a dark, waving kite. They caught hands in a moving moment of connection, as thin streams of blood fell in rivulets from their bodies and the band crescendoed. Soon after, the ritual of reclamation was complete, the band stopped, and the performers were lowered to the floor for a final bow.
From the eardrum-shattering screams of SIRE and Muscle and Marrow to the quiet ecstasy that Heinel and Duran exuded while suspended mid air, Myth To Flesh: Live was an arresting aesthetic testament to female strength. Conjuring Lilith through the redemptive power of bloodletting and sisterhood, the show was highly political yet felt deeply personal. As one of the earliest archetypes of the dark feminine that has been twisted to enable the patriarchal need for female submission, Lilith's tale is vital to retell and reframe. History, myth and legend are written by the victors, so women rarely get to structure their own narratives, but in one night, through music, performance, and photography, Gretchen Heinel and Luna Duran did just that.
Kristen Sollee is the editrix and head witch at Slutist; find her on Twitter.