© Bea Borgers

Mats Staub: There are very few works where I can still feel years later the emotional states they put me in – I saw to come (extended) on 31 March 2018 in Berlin and I remember well how I was in a state of wonder afterwards, yes, I was simply full of joy. You dealt with sexuality in several projects between 2014 and 2017: was the joyful aspect an intention for to come (extended)?

Mette Ingvartsen: At the time was actually thinking about this feeling of joy as something we need deeply. The #MeToo movement was not really there when I decided to make the piece, but it had started as I was working on it. The topic of how sexuality is also connected to political issues in our society, to power structures or to abuses of power, became very clear in that period. I was making two pieces at that time. 21 pornographies, which was looking at these questions of power and abuse and the issue of how pre-existing structures dominate our notions of intimacy and sexuality. At the same time I was also making to come (extended), which indeed focuses on a more joyful and also an inventive space where you can invent a sexuality that maybe doesn’t actually exist in the real world. The last section of the piece is linked to the social dance of Lindy Hop, which was developed in the black communities in the United States in the 1930s and later travelled through many different bodies across different continents – it is a dance that has a lot of energy in it and a lot of jumps, so when you do it, it produces a joyful state in your body. I see joy as a kind of resistance to the oppression of bodies in general and to the oppression of pleasure and desire. And I see it as a kind of feminist strategy for how to avoid putting yourself in a victimising position, to actually think about how it’s possible to invent – that it’s possible to do things differently or possible, at least momentarily, to escape certain oppressive structures in society.

MS: Sexuality is surrounded by so many problems that it’s not at all easy to focus on joy and empowerment. I think it needs an openness that’s only possible when you feel protected. In to come (extended), the 15 performers in the first section wear blue full-body suits and this reminds me that the honest conversations I was able to have for Intime Revolution were only possible because all interlocutors could be sure that their narratives would remain completely anonymous.

MI: When you deal with sexual material with a big group of people, you need to be very open and available to each other, and at the same time have very clear frames for how to do this. We did speak a lot about how to create a safe working environment. Of course, dealing with intimacy and sexuality brings people very close. So even though we are wearing blue bodysuits and our bodies are completely covered in fabric, we still do very intimate things that everyone needs to feel comfortable with. But we were really trying to take an inventive approach, where anybody would be able to take any position, so that you would also be free of your gender. When you put on this blue full-body suit, you indeed become somewhat anonymous, which is actually quite liberating: to not have to deal with knowing who you are touching or who is touching you. It also creates a capacity to be close in ways that you would perhaps not feel comfortable with if you would be naked. These blue bodysuits were also used as a way to enable a sculptural expression to be composed of physical connections that usually would not be so easy do in public. I think our work on joy really came from the sexual materials and from treating them with a lot of playfulness, with the possibility of each body to take up the positions they wanted, without having to be defined by whether you’re a man or woman, or whether you identify as male, female, non-binary or any other definition you might aspire to in your real life. Inside this piece, you can play with it and you can make yourself whatever you like. And I think that was quite fun for everyone in the group.


MS: The middle section is quite fun too, where the performers stand together naked and moan together – it’s not an individual moaning, as everyone listens through headphones to the sounds of an approaching orgasm and imitates them.

MI: Yes, we call this »the orgasm choir« and it’s a kind of multiple orgasm that goes on for four to five minutes. We found out when we did this that in different countries orgasms actually sound different. In the West they have a tendency to sound a specific way, but there seems to be a difference in how different cultures express sexual pleasure. That really connects to the question of how much our sexual expression is actually something we have culturally learned. And how much they are influenced by all the films or the pornographic materials that are now easily available.

MS: Yes they are everywhere, but re-encounterinkg to come (extended) made me realize also that there is a glaring lack of diversity in visual expressions for sexual acts.

MI: Yeah, we're very used to looking at a Hollywood sex scene, and we’ve all seen it – in almost every film there’s one scene where you say, »Okay, that’s a representation of that«, but it always looks the same. I remember in the very beginning, I was busy with how sexual images are used within capitalism and within commercial economies, how sexual images are actually overflowing our visual culture and what that then does to the way we actually have sex in real life, because there is definitely a relation between the images of sex that we have available and what we actually do in our bedrooms. So for me, to come (extended) was also a piece about being aware of the impact that these desiring and affective mechanisms are having on us. How much of what I do during sexual activities is actually my own? How much is learned and how much is influenced by the images that circulate that everyone has access to? The piece is also about how to work with these collective images, to manouvre them and to create other images or other ideas about how it could be done or how it could look.

MS: There really are a lot of correspondences and I am very happy that the Ruhrtriennale audience has the chance to see both of our works – although Intime Revolution is precisely not about the visual, but about words, about the lack of language for sexuality and the attempt to overcome this with personal stories.

MI: I think when you listen to these stories, which are not so easily accessible in general, this also gives words. Because sexuality is still something that is rather difficult to talk about. Even in couples where everything is open and fine. And it is interesting how words give words, you know, how the fact of listening to words also then gives you words. I experienced it a bit with two of my other shows where I'm also speaking about sexuality, and quite often people would talk to me afterwards and tell me super-intimate things, so I’ve heard quite some stories. What I was telling on stage, all kinds of things about sexuality, were not necessarily personal stories, more historical ones. But the fact of actually creating a space to speak about it, and to give words to it, was actually producing this space.

MS: By creating a public space, you also insist on the fact that sexual practice is not only intimate and private.

MI: Usually we think of sexuality as belonging to the private sphere, but what we’ve learned post #MeToo is that sexuality also has a huge impact on the public sphere and on how the public sphere is organised. Power structures happen on all levels of politics. They happen on the level of war, but they also happen on the level of who gets to direct the country and how many women you have in the parliament. If you look at the equal pay for equal work, if you look at how many women are CEOs in companies, then it's still very much men who direct the most powerful companies and institutions. And this inequality is, of course, problematic. I have a kind of a theory that the way we practice power within the intimate sphere in relation to sexuality is something that really influences how power exists in the public sphere. The microstructures and the macrostructures for me are super-connected. And
by looking at these most intimate structures around sexuality and sensuality, I think there’s really something to learn. In to come (extended), we take activities that are usually happening in couple structures and try to put them onto a big group structure. So the sexual act which usually takes place between two people, when it gets blown up to a group, it becomes an orgy. And what does that actually mean? And inside of that, there is, for me, also a critique of the kind of structures that dominate our society in relation to how we think about pleasure, but also about family structures and about how those structures can potentially be oppressive as well. If you create a different kind of equality, or a different kind of flexibility in terms of how positions of power can shift in the intimate sphere, then I believe that this could actually potentially have an effect on how macrostructures work or operate.


MS: I share those beliefs. One of our interlocutors said »Maybe the tragedy of our society is that most people don’t get the sex they wish for.« I think the world could look very different if this changed.

MI: Yeah, it would.

MS: Five years ago, when you were working on to come (extended), a pandemic was just a fictional horror scenario and now, as we speak, on 7 March 2022, it seems to finally be coming to an end, but the world looks very bleak in Europe right now.

MI: Yes, Covid-19 all of a sudden becomes a side topic, which is normal because of what is happening, and there is little space to be happy about the fact that we are out of something we’ve been in for a long time, because one crisis is replacing another. Indeed it’s quite complex these days to feel that joy we have been talking about, but when deciding which of the older group pieces I wanted to revisit, to come (extended) was the one where I felt it makes the most sense. It’s really connected to the situation we’ve been in for the past two years, of not having been in collective or physical contact, and where touching each other, or even being in proximity, has become a danger. I have a feeling that finding joy or finding the pleasure of being together, of refinding that, is quite crucial. And to come (extended) is really a piece that seeks to do that, you know, because the whole piece is about group choreographies, group dynamics, about what you can achieve together that you can’t achieve alone. There’s not one single solo in the whole piece. It’s really only collective movements in group constellations. In a way that’s a statement in relation to where we are right now, to somehow consider how we pulse energy into the social, because it’s what we all, well, at least what I want, and I think there’s a lot of people who really are looking for a joyful social context to come together in, because it’s what we’ve been deprived of for so long. And it’s only now that it’s opening back up, and I think it’s quite a crucial moment, to work on how to be together.

In to come (extended) METTE INGVARTSEN has studied the social and poilitical spheres of sexuality choreographically. MATS STAUB deals with the linguistic aspect and vocabulary around sexuality in his new work Intime Revolution (Intimate Revolution). Together they talk about pleasure, power structures and the cultural influence on orgasms.