performance (40 minutes)
concept, performance and text
Valérie Reding and Ivan Monteiro
photography and flyers
The performance piece „Malleus Maleficarum“ is an eclectic mixture of dance, music, live singing and spoken manifestos, including references to tango, voguing, drag, ballet, contemporary and contact improvisation. It evolves around two characters, the Slut and the Witch, exploring fluid expressions of female subjectivities and their multiple ways of interaction. The constantly reoccurring transparent veil is used for its mask-like potential to hide yet also protect and empower its wearer, while connecting the two personas and simultaneously separating them from the Other.
Through the Slut and the Witch, two queering female figures - feared, marginalised, silenced and chased throughout history for being a destabilising threat to social norms and power hierarchies as well as for being the manifestation of society’s (sexual) fears - the performance „Malleus Maleficarum“ explores the connection between witch hunts and postmodern mechanisms of slut shaming. The ever-changing, dancing interaction of those two gender-bending individuals investigate the dynamics of relationships, oscillating between power, dominance, submission, trust, mutual balance, need, rejection, acceptance and synergy.
The major waves of witch hunts and trials against witchcraft, that inflamed the stakes of New England and Early Modern Europe during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, led to the stigmatisation of very particular, rather marginal yet formerly accepted and even well respected members of the society (for example healers, bearers of the knowledge about herbal medicines, midwifes, elderly or poor people and independently living women).
Especially female sexuality, that was seen as the source of women’s potential power over men, aroused the suspicion among (mostly male) political and religious authorities and was even fueled through publications like „The Hammer of Witches“, originally „Malleus Maleficarum“, written in 1486 by German Catholic clergyman Heinrich Kramer. In recent years, more and more scholars like Silvia Federici (Caliban and the Witch: Women, The Body, and Primitive Accumulation, 2004) among others, put the ferocious rise of the witch hunts in direct relation to the emergence of the early traces of capitalism.
Federici even sees this demonisation of female sexuality in a broader context of the State’s and the Church’s attempts to eliminate all „non-productive“ forms of sexuality:
„homosexuality, sex between young and old, sex between people of different classes, anal coitus, […] nudity, and dances.“
Hence, the rising establishment of capitalism’s patriarchal sexual practices, that continue to define social norms even nowadays, have branded not only female sexuality but also homosexuality and generally any gender non-conformity that could question the hegemonic heteronormativity. Federici claims that the witch hunts „expropriated women from their bodies“ by subordinating them as dependent housewives and turning their bodies into „machines“ for the unpaid production and reproduction of labour.
Current phenomenons like „slut shaming“ and „victim blaming“ are only a few examples of the prevailing of these mechanisms that try to deprive their (mostly female) victims of the ownership and authority over their own bodies.
However, the words „slut“ and „witch“ are being re-appropriated by multiple communities such as the feminist, queer or polyamorous movements, to destabilise the system with its own weapons and fight for more personal freedom and against the marginalisation, even criminalisation of their bodies and behaviours.