Frieze Live | Passive Aggressive #3

Image courtesy the artists and Southard Reid. Photo: Hugo Glendinning.

The British artist duo Edward Thomasson & Lucy Beech reveal the violence of everyday performativity with their last installment of the non-theatrical 3-part series Passive Aggressive. The piece accentuates how this performativity is not just a gendered diagnostic of the contemporary Corporate Female navigating her way through the aggression of the work-place, but a constructive mode of life. At 2:45 PM daily during the fair in Regent’s Park, a group of six women in professional attire appear on stage to perform a mesmerizing choreography with the sounds of their bodies. Mic’ed on wrists, necks and underwear, what initially feels like a claustrophobic corporatization of the body reveals itself as a form of collective catharsis. One after the other, the smirking women present to each other their self-produced sound effects in an unsettling hybrid of affection and competition.

Edward Thomasson & Lucy Beech met in art school in the early 2000s when they were both skirting around the issue of live work. “We never actually made anything live, I don’t think we had the balls to do it,” Lucy recalls over coffee. “We were treading the same path and approached the same things, but from completely different angles.” Although they never worked together in college, they “did pretty much everything else together,” and when Edward was approached for a project a few years later, they decided to finally collaborate professionally. Interested in the mechanics of performance, they made a choir and a film, amongst others, but with limited success. Ultimately, it was simple 2-minute enactments of team-building games that triggered a real interest in the duo. “It was just an exercise comprised of pushing a balloon between two people. Everything we had spent weeks doing was absolutely terrible, but this thing had legs.” Both trained video artists, the filmic medium now only serves as complimentary to their collaborative performances through single-channel shots documenting their study of the particularities of everyday performativity.

They first began exploring the notion of passive aggression in 2013; looking at their old work they began to think about the mode of performance as a whole. “We began to realize that there is something passively aggressive about the atmosphere of our performances – passive aggression not just within the interpersonal, but actually as a tone,” Edward explains. “We were also thinking about passive aggression as a mode or way of life, and the term really is very indicative of the subjects we are talking about: these moments in life where you are performing under a double-standard,” adds Lucy.

This borderline performativity of everyday behavior is accentuated through Edward and Lucy’s use of amplified sounds of their heavily wired performers, which adds an additional layer of representation to their practice. The meticulous and anxiety-provoking noisy installing and dismantling of microphones serve as the performance’s pre- and postlude and installs a red thread of sonic perception through the piece. Under the veneer of familiar performed female passivity dwells a violence indicative of the oppressiveness of these performativities, not just of theatrical environments or designated spaces of public performance, but in every encounter with oneself and one’s surroundings. “We have a general interest in the fetishisation of the unsaid, engaging the things that can be felt, but not seen,” they explain.

Edward and Lucy’s synthetic style of performance derives as much from therapeutic YouTube tutorials as from conceptual dance; particularly Pina Bauch’s Tanztheater has informed their approach to bodily (non-)expressionism. Still, theatrical behavior for the duo is always object-like and borrowed, immersed in the monotonous setting of the everyday. During Thomasson’s residency in the Outset Artist’s Flat at the South London Gallery, they employed actors as estate agents hosting an ‘open house’ event, thus casting the audience as potential buyers. In their work, the viewer becomes site-specific under the general concern of entertainment, which pushes the conventions for performance-as-spectacle. “Who is the audience and how are the performers using them? It’s quite interesting to engage and really ask the audience to get on board,” they reflect. Here, ‘the theatrical’ transpires to the directly interpersonal.

As opposed to previous work, Passive Aggressive #3 aims to present a narrative instantaneously, as Edward and Lucy try to engage the passive art-collecting audience of the fair. “I think with this one we’ve really pushed it in terms of the theatricality and framing of their gestures,” Edward says. “In a way, we deal with dramaturgy as an object – handing the performers a mode of theatricality.” They specifically cast actors rather than dancers to avoid movement-based forms of expression, and do not consider themselves choreographers. Rather, they work with the principles of choreography and examine their logic and (in)expressions, while extending this knowledge to a larger sphere of movement in non-theatrical environments. “We feel very comfortable using movement that is based on logic, that sets it in place – there’s nothing expressive about it, actually.”

The first installment of Passive Aggressive took place in an empty bank in Istanbul, where the duo worked with a group of eight local theatre students. Paradoxically, the empty space was highly guarded by armed security guards who performed x-rays on visitors prior to entry. The group subsequently allowed this double-standard to sieve in to the work itself: dressed like guards, the participants performed and choreographed a kind of ‘security training’ mimicking the actual guards outside. The second installment followed soon after, in Camden Arts Center in London, and incorporated audio into the performance. After a longer break, the duo met again for the completion of their study of bipolar performance, concluding with an all-woman cast dressed in the quintessential attire of the Corporate Female, evoking the kind of rightwing feminism that sees gender equality as ‘women working like men.’ This includes aggressive forms of (self) management.

“The all-women cast was a parameter for this piece,” Lucy explains: “We initially started thinking about what women do in groups. We were specifically looking at female competitiveness and corporate feminism, and the moment where feminist discourses get appropriated, incorporated and geared towards a model of capitalism. We looked at Sheryl Sandberg’s lean-in circles: these therapeutic groups meeting in order to proliferate or succeed on the level of men, and how this works against itself as feminism bites its own tail.”

The women in Passive Aggressive embody the gendered term with a schizophrenic duality, embodying the mode of expression that is asked of women in a corporate environment: “smiling through gritted teeth,” as Edward puts it. At the same time they celebrate it and find usefulness in it: the irritable sounds of movement in a female office suit lay the foundation for a choreography to the sound Kiesza’s Hideaway. “As they collectively make these sounds that they cannot talk about, they are in a way working through that anxiety,” Edward explains. Much of their work refers directly to therapeutic situations (group circles, work outs, games), using their strategies as a tool of fiction. In that way, the performances simultaneously interrogate the language of represented performativity of the media, from corporate training videos to Pilates DVDs. “We make performance in non-theatrical environments and look at the theatrical frameworks that exist in interpersonal relations,” Lucy explains – “and what happens when you put those thing back in the theatre.” “It’s a bit of a head fuck,” Edward adds. The result, however, is incredibly efficient as these ‘theatrical frameworks’ are instantly-recognizable as something inherent to experiences in all of our lives. As they break away from the architecture of theatre, they confront the audience with levels of performativity that may never have been otherwise witnessed.


Image courtesy the artists and Southard Reid. Photo: Hugo Glendinning.


Image courtesy the artists and Southard Reid. Photo: Hugo Glendinning.


Image courtesy the artists and Southard Reid. Photo: Hugo Glendinning.


Image courtesy the artists and Southard Reid. Photo: Hugo Glendinning.


Image courtesy the artists and Southard Reid. Photo: Hugo Glendinning.


Image courtesy the artists and Southard Reid. Photo: Hugo Glendinning.

Recent Posts

A Conversation about Ergonomic Futures

Lafayette Anticipation associate curator Anna Colin talks to artist Tyler Coburn about Ergonomic Futures, a speculative project engaged with art, design, science, anthropology and writing. In this interview, Coburn discusses the research, production process and network of collaborators of a multilayered project ultimately concerned with the futures of humankind. Anna Colin: When one comes across your museum seats Ergonomic Futures (2016—) in contemporary art exhibitions—and soon in natural history, fine art, and anthropology museums—they look… [read more »]

nils lange + saliva : l’eau des algues

L’Eau des Algues Two alchemists already aware of each other’s Instagrams meet for the first time in a gay sauna. They are swimming; it’s the Hood By Air afterparty in Paris. They are Lukas Hofmann and Nils Amadeus Lange. Months later, they meet again. They are on the edge of yet another steaming pool; it’s the Manifesta Biennale closing event at Cabaret Voltaire. They are performing the perfume titled “L’eau des Algues.” Head notes: Zürich… [read more »]

Toward a Low Key Voting System Where Votes Are Actually Considered | Adrian Massey

While reading A Very Short Introduction to Game Theory, I came across the following passage, “If you want people to vote, we need to move to a more decentralized system in which every vote really does count enough to outweigh the lack of enthusiasm for voting which so many people obviously feel…Simply repeating the slogan that ‘every vote counts’ isn’t ever going to work, because it isn’t true.” I was jarred. For me, anecdotally knowing… [read more »]

Tough Luck | Tyler Reinhard

When life is being super unfair, just do what we all do: suffer the consequences. I wake up and the first thing I do is check my phone. A convenient euphemism for using Facebook’s machine learning techniques to discover which 300 entries are statistically most likely to stand out from the tens of thousands of brain dumps my friends and family have produced over the last 48 hours. Impressed by what Facebook provides, I think… [read more »]

America Is Hard to See: A Guide to not being depressed about US electoral politics this November

In order to make sense of state politics in the birthplace of statistical marketing and the internet, one has to be wary of the effects of these technologies on the country’s popular media. In a time when our news and advertisements are tailored to our pre-recorded political opinions, it can be especially difficult to empathize with differing political views. Likewise, learning about the histories of state politics is not encouraged by platforms that profit from… [read more »]

On self-care and the election | Eva Saelens

We can get together and laugh about it. We can heave sighs and express disbelief, but it’s never enough. This presidential election year has lasted for years, and they sit on citizens like a slick film. We feel touched by an unshakable germ, invaded by a blood-sucker, afflicted by a social cancer, drained of the plump vitality of life and the amazing liberty of choices, and transformed into a cynical, depressed shrivel. After being touched… [read more »]

Swarovski Crystal Meth at National Sawdust

Swarovski Crystal Meth, a collaboration between Ser Serpas, Daniela Czenstochowski and Gia Garrison for the National Sawdust “Selkie Series” performances, curated by Alexandra Marzella. Music composed and produced by Daniela Czenstochowski Poem by Sera Serpas Sound Edit Mateo Majluf Vocals Sera Serpas, Gia Garrison and Daniela Czenstochowski All Images Olimpia Dior i went to the desert con mi mama outlet store shopping is fried onto mi conciensa, big bags, wins bigger losses fragmented lux economy… [read more »]

Hasbeens and Willbees Auction @ Romeo Gallery

Shop items from the most recent Hasbeens and Willbees luxury auction now! Featuring Bjarne Melgaard, Bror August, Women’s History Museum, Lou Dallas, Hermes, Gautier, and more. All photography Dillon Sachs Styling Avena Gallagher Hosted by Rome Gallery NYC


What is a piece of clothing that “works”? Who is working whom? Is the one who poses the one who actually “works” hardest? The S/S 2017 collection of Berlin-based, Swedish- Vietnamese designer NHU DUONG entitled ‘WORK COLLECTION’ plays with the ideas of professionalism, leisure and appropriateness through a range of garments that are inspired by work outfits and hobby uniforms. Overalls, raw denim outfits, kung-fu pyjamas, biker pants, baggy tights and gloves, bomber-jackets, bomber suits,… [read more »]

Preparing to Welcome the Chthulucene | Agustina Zegers

Preparing to Welcome the Chthulucene is a text made up of living exercises to accompany Haraway’s theorization of the Chthulucene and her upcoming book Staying With the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Haraway posits that not only should we name the Anthropocene carefully (including the terms Capitalocene and Plantationocene within its narrative) but that we should also be using this crucial ecological timeframe to move towards a dynamically multi-species, “sym-chtonic“, sym-poietic future: the Chthulucene.… [read more »]