- Briana Cerezo
- Michelle Ellsworth, followed by her "Male-Gaze Simulator," in Preparation for the Obsolescence of the Y Chromosome.
A sassy New York Times editorial by Maureen Dowd about the evolutionary shrinking of the Y chromosome, coupled with the death of a friend’s father, got Michelle Ellsworth asking, “What will be missed when men are gone?” Struck by the possibilities (she told her audience at the Winningstad on Thursday night), she began the project that is the subject of Preparation for the Obsolescence of the Y Chromosome.
Preparation for the Obsolescence of the Y Chromosome is chock-full of smart, frequently absurdist humor. It shifts modes as rapidly as Ellsworth speaks: It’s part corporate R&D presentation, part dance, part comedy, part cultural anthropology project and evolutionary biology lecture. Ellsworth explains at the outset that her project is comprised of research into what will happen when men are gone, and her attempts to prepare for this absence through the development of apparati (rubber man-hands, bottled man-smells, “The Flinger”), web-tech (her interactive website and videos), and choreography. She guides the audience through these various technologies and devices. She demonstrates her choreographed token gestures to great males, and an Alex Lomax-inspired collection of Man-Dances, some of which she has recreated. (Worried about authenticity and appropriation, she puts her recreations next to men doing their own dances, of course.)
There is so much; she can only show of a fraction of the material on offer—some of it is for sale (really, truly), some is still in the early development stages, and some are just bad ideas, she concedes. But that’s okay. That’s all part of it, she assures us. Her persona is peppy, deeply concerned, and conscientious about the integrity of her work and discussion. She straps on a dog’s shock-collar so that a scientist appointed to the purpose might electrocute her if she spreads any false scientific information. She tells us “I’m feeling self-conscious about this,” as she demonstrates products such as the “Smallerizers,” which are designed to recreate the feeling of being small that some women who she surveyed said they might miss. “It’s just how it came out of the research. I don’t judge,” she says. She repeats this when showing a toilet seat that flips up unpredictably. “Again, I didn’t judge,” she says. She shows us the giant eyeball—“The Male-Gaze Simulator”—jumping and waving in front of it, and explains that while it’s not totally responsive to her movements that’s okay. It’s based on her own experience. Unresponsiveness is true for her.
The character that emerges seems to suffer from chronic self-surveillance, is self-doubting and endearing, and frequently makes references to being lonely. In other words, the piece is not an hour-long joke at the expense of men. What Ellsworth probes is a variety of stereotypes and gender roles. In the closing moments at her performance piece about the end of men, I thought we were seeing genuine grief, and it was difficult to tell whether Ellsworth was still in character or not. It was affecting. With keen artistic sensitivity throughout the piece, Ellsworth strikes the right balance between the satiric and the sincere.