Cherdonna: Clock that Mug or Dusted
Monday, June 26
Living Arts Collective, Durham

One statement recurred throughout Cherdonna Shinatra’s Clock that Mug or Dusted: “I’m not trying to be mean.” Early on, Cherdonna, the femme drag alias of Seattle-based performer Jody Kuehner, sweetly plied the audience with it. At the end, she was screaming it, having violently smashed a larger-than-life-size doll and bashed its face with the spike of a high heel.

What happened in between? You could interpret the piece along a rough narrative arc. But Cherdonna’s world, presented within a bounded square in the Living Arts Collective, gets messier and more inscrutable as the night goes on. (And—it should be said—at about an hour and fifteen minutes, it goes on a little too long.)

The three blank canvases hanging along the back of the stage area are eventually filled with line drawings; the stage becomes crowded with an absurd collection of objects: a birthday cake, a fake severed limb, a baguette, a pair of scissors. Cherdonna manipulates them, sometimes in collaboration with the audience, more often with an eerie internal focus. At one point in my notes, I likened her onstage behavior to a mother surveying domestic wreckage.

But you could discard the pressure of interpretation altogether and attend instead to the aggregate of the work’s affective dabbling, and I find I prefer the latter option. The “domestic wreckage” reading only works insofar as we associate a “female-bodied person, presenting as a male-bodied person, presenting as a female”—as Kuehner has described her onstage persona—manipulating inanimate objects onstage with a vague notion of the domestic. What makes a fake severed limb domestic, anyway? Cherdonna’s project footnotes a legacy of feminist body and performance art, but, more important, it approaches it through a queer feminist lens. Part of her intent is to queer objects themselves: to question the coded meanings of the props we all incorporate into our everyday lives, particularly in connection to the body.

At one point, Cherdonna takes up several squeeze-bottles of paint. At a glance, they look like dated ketchup and mustard containers. She begins flinging the colors across the stage. The paint blankets her repertoire of things and her white bell-bottomed jumpsuit, designed by Danial Hellman. The lesbian feminist singer-songwriter Cris Williamson’s “Waterfall” plays, seemingly louder and louder: “When you open up your life to the living/ All things come spilling in on you …/ Filling up and spilling over/ It’s an endless waterfall.”

In a perfect parallel, Cherdonna places a bottle of red paint on her crotch; the red paint, well, fills up and spills over. As funny as the moment is, there’s no real need to call this bawdy. Cherdonna nudges us beyond impulses to categorize. The body is nothing to be disgusted by; after all, it’s just a bottle of ketchup.