“If you don’t like the reflection, don’t look in the mirror. I don’t care”. This was found written on the wall of the small Toronto flat that became a crime scene when Chinese exchange student Jun Lin Jun was brutally murdered, on camera, in 2012. The video ‘1 Lunatic 1 Ice Pick’ was later uploaded online by the perpetrator himself –exotic dancer, porn actor and wannabe internet star Luka Rocco Magnotta.
After fleeing Canada, Magnotta was later found and apprehended in a late night ‘Späti’ in Berlin’s Neukölln district, when the shop owner recognized him sitting in front of a computer browsing pictures of himself. During his trial some of the footage posted on his online profiles were used as evidence against him, but Magnotta had over 70 Facebook accounts and countless others across social media. Based on his story, Thomas Bo Nilsson, along with Borghildur Indriðadóttir, Olga Sonja Thorarensen and Julian Eicke, developed MEAT –a 240-hour long performance installation held at Berlin’s Schaubühne.
As a 16-plus performance, MEAT is no kid’s play. Featuring a recreation of Magnotta’s small flat at the middle of the multi-room installation, there’s also a strip club, shopping mall, nail salon, hotel and various other places, in an event that functions as a world of its own. Viewers could enter the space 24/7, as around 60 actors, playing dancers, rent boys, bar owners, shop assistants, inhabited the space –some staying the full ten days, others working in shifts.
Much like Magnotta’s, the internet plays a huge part in these character’s lives. They each have active Facebook profiles, ‘Like’ pages and Skype accounts, while wielding smartphones and navigating a set dotted with computers. In fact, a major part of the performances happen online, as actors would regularly post photos and comment on each other’s walls, often exchanging Facebook details, even giving out their phone numbers to visitors; all in the name of blurring the distinction, not only between the online and offline realm, but notions of fact and fiction as well.
Each slot begins in the Späti. From there, visitors are led by actors through the maze-like installation of rooms varying from a Chinese restaurant to a dominatrix bedroom, before being brought to a place where they would stay before freely wandering around. Some of the sets are more welcoming than others, as the wooden Kneipe offers cheap German beer, conversation with the regulars and the occasional karaoke set from the bar owner’s wife, while others are far more intimate and unsettling. There are dark rooms playing soft porn and featuring callboys from the back rooms of some of the city’s grimier Spätis and a round-the-clock strip show at “Lucky Star”, where audiences could enjoy a pole dance in front of a gaudy flashing love-heart from the comfort of a leather couch.
Decorated with pink shimmering wallpaper, the stairs leading to the second floor from here are filled with off-duty exotic dancers, informing you that “the upstairs is only for private shows,” while winkingly qualifying, “you can touch my breasts there for 60 euros”. Solicitations like this one are common in a place where money is currency giving the audience an opportunity for a whole new experience of MEAT, where you could get a manicure, rent room for an hour or eat a meal.
Taboo offers are made in the back rooms but over-the-top prices are meant to drive off visitors who might consider the transaction. The question still lingers though, of how far actor and audience member might go for the right price, and where the line between performance and real-life really lies. It’s not until the last visitor leaves that the final shocking scene of MEAT takes place. Only the characters bare witness to the brutal murder of one of the call boys, marking the end of this equal parts engaging and repellent reality they had all inhabited for the last ten days. It’s an experiment in participation, testing the boundaries of theatre and the real-world effects of an online life and image. **