By Sarah Rose de Villiers
“South Africans are weird about nudity. They shouldn’t be. Everyone should just be naked,” says Lexi Meier, who choreographed, directed and performed in Sipping Lapping Slap, her second-year Master’s piece.
Meier radiates creative energy as she chats about her award-winning work. The piece interrogates the relationship between bodies, objects and movements in a visual and vulnerable performance, which incorporates bathtubs with teacups, and ends with an artist being birthed from a mutton cloth.
When Meier began working on Sipping Lapping Slap 18 months ago, she didn’t expect such an overwhelming response from audiences. At this year’s National Arts Festival, her hard work was rewarded with a Standard Bank Fringe Ovation award and an Aha Award.
“It was a big surprise. I actually sat on the floor and cried for a little bit,” says Meier, “But it’s nice that it wasn’t all for nothing.”
Meier began researching her master’s project in the beginning of 2014, when she set out to answer questions through performance and choreography.
“My interest is in how space, objects and materials – inanimate life and bodies – affect the choreographic relationship of human bodies,” she explains. “Our relationship to inanimate bodies is the relationship that is being excavated in the work. In every bit of the performance, you go back to that question and ask, ‘How did I make that happen?’ and ‘Is it affecting people to move?’”
But Sipping Lapping Slap is not just about bodies – it explores how Meier engages with the world and her own experiences.
“There are receptacles of water, which became a personal symbol for the subconscious or the unconscious mind; change and flux. I think a personal starting point was that I suffered quite a lot of pain and anger with human attachment because I went through a break up just before I started with masters. That also came out in funny little ways.”
Meier also immersed and exposed herself to audiences in a much more physical manner.
“I didn’t want to perform in it, and then I realised that, if I want to understand the research I’m doing, I have to experience it as well. I loved it. I was trying to move away from just representation. So in the end of the work, I’ve got a toilet bowl with a tube of mutton cloth attached into it, and I crawl into the mutton cloth. It’s a birthing process, coming out of this tube of mutton cloth, and I come out completely nude in front of the whole audience. It’s not a big deal. It was just trying to be as vulnerable as I could with an audience,” she says. “To let people in like that is both empowering, and flipping terrifying.”
Although Meier noticed some initial awkwardness in the audience, the performance moves away from objectification of the human body towards the freedom of the naked form – stripped of shields and disguise; bare before a room of people.
“People acknowledged how vulnerable it was. This work has turned me inside out, and put me on display, so I appreciated that people understood and liked it for that.”
But choreographing, directing and performing are not Meier’s only talents. She is also an incredible artist with a collection of visual journals full of sketches, paintings and designs that trace her creative process.
“My mom is an art teacher so I was encouraged to draw whenever. It’s become an expression: a way of dealing with the world, a way of being with the world.”
She points to a series of technical drawings in one of her notebooks, laughs and says, “This was 2013, I was already obsessed with the bathtub”.
She points to another page, where colours and patterns arrange movement among bamboo shoots.
“This was the first attempt at trying to marry signography and choreography: my love for design and my love for working with the movement of the body. This process taught me quite a lot and I failed a lot, which was really good for me to learn. For this process especially; this work informed a lot of what Sipping Lapping Slap turned into.”
She flips through the visual diary, past designs for wings with yellow feathers and tubes that hold human forms, eventually finding the desired page.
“These are really wonderful,” she says as she points to page covered in dynamic marks and scratched lines. “The audience did things like this in the performances. This was during festival, and it’s one of my favourites. I set it up by drawing so that I highlighted the choreographer-mover-material relationship: the triangle that happens in the space, and how I try to make sense of that. Then I passed it around to the audience and they could do whatever they felt like,” she says. “This one is different because people got more into the mark making than actually trying to represent the figure. Like trying to drawing a feeling or the movement of the shredded paper falling.” She reads the words buried in the havoc of lines, “Stay true to the balance. Up. Go.” She chuckles.
Through this creative process, Meier has found a breathtaking balance between creating and performing; human bodies and human beings.
“I think the best part of being able to perform that is experiencing people, and not objectifying. Seeing them as being there with you. You can see that the audience feels awkward at a point, but as soon as you be yourself, people let go of things and you can feel it happening in the performance. That’s the best part of it.”