Artistic director Tessa Wills on the wide-ranging, boundary-busting This Is What I Want performance festival
TW Yes, I think that's right. Mica Sigourney's piece is one that I was very keen to curate. He's the only one who's been in all the iterations of the festival, and I think each time he's done [TIWIW], it's gotten a little closer to actually managing to stage desire, in motion, on the stage. His piece is kind of a secret, but there's a way in which he is working directly with money. He's trying to figure out his erotic value in the moment, with the audience. There's a way in which his work always gets right to the heart of the theme for me.
SFBG Back to your piece: Does it build on previous work?
TW Yes. Last year, when I was at the festival, I did this piece with electric butt plugs. [Note: In this piece, Wills and co-performer Harold Burns were naked inside (what looked like) giant pink bath scrunchies (designed by Honey McMoney), wearing electric butt-plugs attached to a microphone set low before a pillow at the front of the stage. Individual audience members could come kneel and whisper their fantasies, their words registering solely in the physical responses and expressions of the performers.]
When they asked me to be in the festival, I identified that what I'm really excited about is the process of saying what you want, the somatic experience of saying what you want — especially if it feels transgressive inside of you. I don't really care what the content of the thing is. And I don't care whether society thinks it's ok or not. I'm not really interested in any of that. I'm just interested in the physical, somatic experience of saying what you want. That seems like the most valuable thing for me.
So what I did in the butt-plug piece was to get the audience to come up and say things, to say what they wanted, and they couldn't really be heard, and then we would just get the sensation — we would get the quality of how they were talking but we wouldn't get the content. And we'd experience that in a very intimate, deep way. That's what I wanted to try and develop a bit further this year. So after this week of people watching other people struggle and interrogate and stage their desire, [in this piece] they get to have all of that research land in their own body. They have their own process of saying what they desire, and they have their own somatic experience.
SFBG So it's very individual and private, there's no larger audience, there's no documentation of the whole thing.
TW Exactly. It's kind of rough for me as an artist, because I've put so much work into it, and it's a very generous piece in terms of the amount — like we talked about the economic worth and the amount of one-on-one time with the audience. So it's very sad for me to never get an audience response, actually.
SFBG No payoff?
TW Yeah, I'll never get that.
THIS IS WHAT I WANT
Performances Wed/27-Fri/29, 8pm, $20
SOMArts Cultural Center
934 Brannan, SF
"Slow Sex Symposium" Sat/30, noon-4pm, free
"This Is What You Want — Experiential" Sat/30, 5-11pm, $15-$25
Center for Sex and Culture
1349 Mission, SF