.:.WOMAN IS A WEAPON.:.
An Interview with BRUT
by David Tonkin
In a community full of imitators trying to emulate the shock and provocation of artists active decades ago, Sonia Dietrich is a rare individual. I’ve not had a chance to witness her live performances in person, but by all accounts they are everything these would-be provocateurs aim to be: visceral, confronting, and always thought-provoking. Her proud gender assertions in a scene crowded by men make her work as BRUT all the more interesting, as do her talents in both the audio and visual fields. Dietrich was good enough to speak with Heathen Harvest amidst her move from Edinburgh, Scotland, to her new home in London:
Heathen Harvest: There are plenty of artists in the industrial scene who flirt with gender issues, but your output as BRUT puts gender front and centre. You’ve stated the project began in response to the inequity of women’s role in social media and the post-industrial music and art scene; can you elaborate on the project’s original intentions, and have they changed or refined in any way?
Sonia Dietrich: I think the most important thing is to keep moving and challenge yourself as a creator in whatever aspect you have created. Whether it’s sound, the visual side (as in movies or projections), or, of course, the performance itself. I see BRUT as a moving and living entity. I guess my first realization that I wanted to combine noise with performance art and gender issues was my one-off performance in the Edinburgh College of Art called Pure Identity, where I stayed in an almost-trance state for three days in an enclosed space with manifestos under red light. Afterward that became a performance piece where four ‘nameless’ participants destroyed the writing and space with bleach wearing hazard suits and left one of my key mottos that became the name for the first BRUT movie/performance, Know Your Enemy.
At that point in 2010, I knew the enemy as I see it: the social boundaries not only on creativity and, let’s say, underground movements being pushed out to middle-class art rooms and galleries, but also the social aspect of women in those boundaries. We could go back to the Guerilla Girls and other female performers/artists who depicted the role of women in ‘art’. I looked for women in the noise scene from that point on. How many are there and what do they stand for? I guess I am quite ‘old-school’ in the sense that I believe that behind creation there should be a manifesto/verbalization of what you stand for—some sort of backbone. There is noise for the sake of noise—to each their own. I believe in the post-Dadaist idea to deconstruct the deconstructed. BRUT very openly talks about my own experiences, traumas, and issues through the struggles of other women such as social inequity, rape, equal rights, child labor, consumerism, comparing the Western benefits of life to the downfall of the ‘Third World’, and the exploitation of human and animal kind. Yet somehow, still, women are seen as a lower grade of human animal—in all aspects of health, pay, voting, driving, and the horror of them all not being in total control of their own bodies. They are suppressed by religion, prudeness, and economic inequity. So this fight—a fourth wave of feminism and activism—became my goal. The more I explore BRUT and push these limits, the more I learn about myself; the more research I do and learn about social and economic injustice and how it is harshly entangled with gender and sexual orientation.
My love for noise, the power of performance, idealistic hope for equality, and a hate for the stupidity of the human animal got me to BRUT as we see it.
HH: ‘Woman is a Weapon’: it’s a powerful sentiment. Explain that for us a little.
SD: It goes back to the Suffragettes and the first female rebellions. Woman’s body is almost shown as the root of all evil and destruction of mankind. The one who took the apple, seduced and destroyed heaven—bloody brilliant! A cause of all disasters that we suffer: how religion loves to remind us of that! Woman is the great temptress and ultimate destructress, I love that! Women get circumcised; their pleasure center/clitoris is perceived as the point of evil or Satan-worshipping in religion. Some radical philosophical and psychological doctrines, and ‘modern’ theories of sex and sexuality are driven by this stone-age segregation. There is an aspect of ‘you can look but cannot touch’. She is a weapon of mass destruction. She is a main source of entertainment and an object of sexualisation/sexism. She is a commodity—a payment method. She is a monkey in a zoo to serve as entertainment when she is needed in a very television-friendly, politically correct way. Fuck that! I am not here for entertainment—I am a weapon!
Throughout history and religion, women have been repressed and treated as a lesser equation. We are the point of desire, and yet that desire gets sold for dimes and kept in cellars in Bangladesh, so we rot after our bodies can no longer bring profit or excitement. We are now living in an era of fake liberation for women, LGBT people, and liberal education that teaches 60% less, especially on part of the history of mankind, wars, emigration, occupation, invention, and human rights movements. So I appoint myself as a Guerilla Feminist of this scene and state: ‘Know your enemy / Woman is a weapon / United we stand’. This is not extremism, and I do not hate men, but I hope to inform and share my information with men, women, and all in-between, and perhaps give something back to the community so others would speak out, stand up, and fight for what is theirs! Let’s go back to the roots and use the stages and our records to start a ‘revolution’, whether in personal struggles or in more politically driven areas.
HH: I’m interested in how you use your body as a sound source with contact mikes. It draws attention to body politics (and body horror) in a very concrete and visceral way. How important is your mode of sound creation in conveying ideas?
SD: Good question. I believe my body is an instrument with more abilities than a digital multifaceted sound-generating set. The physicality of putting a contact-miked steak knife into your vagina in a way gives a sound to rape. It gives the energy of hate and pain of the recipient (me), and perhaps the visual interpretation of what rape is. It is a killing act—an act of horror. It is death to the psyche; it’s horrendously embracing; it’s numbing. I kill my self and destroy my ego. My body is imperfect; I bare it in front of you. I let you watch me reenact rape, and you choose to stay. You rape me as much as I rape myself and, at the same time, you, the audience. Are we equal?
Beating and scraping the self with microphones immersed in everything from sweat to blood and paint gives a sense that the body is just a body. The body is a boundary—it is ugly, warm, cold, erect, and numb, but the body sound is also ecstatic, pleasing, and divine.
The actual sound is being created last. Firstly, I see the visual side of performance that I wish to do based on the topic. For example now I am starting to work on Chapter 4—LGBT ‘recovery’ Christian camps where they rape women trying to make them ‘straight’ in parallel with Lesbian activists. When research on a subject that is being discussed is collected, the movie is made and edited. The performance outline and concept is done; it is then that the sound comes into play. And the live sound is never the same, as each time it is a completely different atmosphere and energy. I believe that during a performance you exchange energies with the audience and respond to it. Hence, each time the sound will be completely different; so is the spoken-word-based text that is recited. It’s a perfect platform to tell different stories and share different experiences.
HH: BRUT appears to be an audio-visual project in its purest sense: obviously the visual aspect is just as important as the audio, if not more so. Does your formal study background in visual arts inform the musical aspect of your work?
SD: As mentioned in the first question, yes. I liberated something in myself when I stated to listen to noise around 2004 and felt that 2D aspect of creating was too narrow for me. After a long birth came Pure Identity in 2010, but when I found BRUT in 2011 one drunken night in a pub in Edinburgh and wrote my manifesto, I had finally found the best of all worlds: painting, photography, movie editing, research (reading endless studies on the human psyche and trauma), compulsive listening and buying of records, and constant writing. So what I do now is a result of many years of self-discovery, self-doubt, and elaborate studies in various fields.
HH: Are you consciously fucking with your audience’s expectations around expected themes? We all know artists treading similar territory who present a (largely impotent) voyeuristic view of themes such as rape. You seem to be drawing people into that genre theatre before showing it up for what it actually is. Is that a fair assessment?
SD: 100%. I think you can be very straightforward in your work and still leave space for subconscious experience and create something that will linger on as an aftermath. Nothing is as it seems. Fucking with expectations is the greatest part. Thank you, I’m taking this as a compliment!
HH: I can’t help but draw comparisons with your live actions—particularly your use of blood and gore—with the Vienna Actionists. Is there any conscious influence there?
SD: It would be ridiculous to say no. Of course! They had a huge impact on me when I had just started my BA in painting. Seeing their work shown in a lecture completely blew me away. There are others who also broke all imaginable boundaries and destroyed my brain and perception of the world, but now I tend to step away from the performance world—let’s say the post-90s era—and focus on my personal material. It helps not to get influences too much. It’s a conscious decision and, so far, it is working for me.
HH: What sorts of reactions do you get to your live performances? Despite their genre expectations, I suspect many in attendance are genuinely confronted—would that be right? You seem keen to draw them in in a very real sense.
SD: Thank you! The reactions are different. Some are very verbal, some are silent: a look in the eye and a nod. Some are thankful. Sometimes there are none. Some end in exquisite conversations. I am grateful for each and every reaction, action, and non-action. Thank you to all who attend.
HH: As far as I know, you are yet to put together a formal release outside your works published online, but you’ve quickly gained a reputation for your live performances. You recently told me you plan to put together a formal release of some description in the near future, but you plan something ‘not quite standard’. I take it there will be elements of your video work?
SD: Yes. I have a vision of putting together a very substantial piece of work that will include video of live action, self-made films that are shown during performances, various sound materials, and some hand-printed, painted, and collected items. I am searching for an interested label and plan to have a Kickstarter campaign as I guess the release would be expensive to put out. My desire for this release is for it to look extra slick (a hardcover book, personalized dedications, etc.) and to be an object rather than just another release. So if there is an interested party, I am open to suggestions.
HH: I’m curious about a comment that you once made about Nikola Tesla being something of a hero of yours. What significance does he have for you? I’m slowly making my way through Marc Seifer’s ‘Wizard’ biography of Tesla.
SD: I see Tesla as a true hero and a genius of our time. He was a revolutionary and a true anarchist. The idea that he is not very talked about in schools and that corporate industry is not a fan of his work is almost like the Wikileaks of our time. I know some might completely disagree with the comparison. Perhaps I romanticize Tesla, but he is my hero on talent, genius, ‘believing in society’, a certain mystique, an absolute dedication to one’s work, and of course the rebellion against the profit margin.
I will get the book you are reading. I’m interested in what information is presented in it. All together, information presented from various sources in the modern world is very questionable, so a good read is vital.
HH: It looks like you’re keeping a busy touring schedule in 2015. What can we expect from you in the future?
SD: In a few days it’s the Tate Modern with the legendary Jordi Valls of Vagina Dentata Organ and Albert Serra, then it’s Zurich, Barcelona, and Slovenia, as well as starting work on the 4th Chapter movie and performance. There’s also Fuck 28: the spoken word project that should appear in mid-summer (more information will soon be available online). Hopefully by the end of 2015 I will find a label for a BRUT release and do more touring and lectures. BRUT is Oxygen—I would suffocate without it!
HH: Thanks for speaking with Heathen Harvest, Sonia. Any last words?
SD: Be true to yourself, never fear, and love yourself. Respect all living organisms. Question everything! Love those close to you and fuck those against you. Life is deadly—united we stand!