Metro Arts artist and performer Brian Lucas discusses the ongoing potency of art, empowerment and despair in the age of celebrity sex scandals in the first of our regular series of blog posts ART SPEAK.
When we first began the process of transforming Oscar Wilde’s “De Profundis” into a performance piece – over four years ago – the issue of marriage equality was only just beginning to gain prominence in the Australian public sphere. The political, social and personal questions asked by the text, and the concerns about social justice, fairness and equity that it raised, became increasingly relevant over the two years it took to bring the work to life, and paralleled much of the debate that was occurring in our political and social spheres.
Since the premiere season of “De Profundis” in 2015, we have witnessed not only the unnecessarily difficult resolution of the marriage equality issue, but also a period of intense and often bitter public and political debate centred on questions of morality, humanity and identity. Sadly, while this debate has had many, many affirming and positive benefits for LGBTQI Australians, it has also uncovered a vein of toxic homophobia which it seems had been lying dormant just below the surface of our culture. Even with the eventual legislation of marriage equality, this homophobia has achieved a stronger voice and has unfortunately been somewhat normalised and empowered by some of our politicians and our media.
Wilde’s “De Profundis” has undoubtedly maintained its relevance and immediacy since the very moment it poured forth from Oscar’s brain, gut and heart. It is a text of universal scope and incredible individual intensity, and one that has maintained a sense of insight, intellectual power, brutal honesty and social importance for over a hundred years. To have worked on the development of the piece, and to have been able to share it with audiences throughout this time has been a remarkable experience.
Now we find that the work has taken on even more relevance to our current social climate and an even greater sense of immediacy. As we re-rehearse the piece for its latest season, the world around us is undergoing a period of massive social upheaval. Neo-conservatism is on the rise, fundamentalist religions of all stripes are again asserting their desire for control and influence over our lives, and our political and media spheres are becoming even more toxic and unsettled. In particular, we are re-birthing the piece into a world in which sexuality and sexual behaviour is being debated and contested in a way that we haven’t witnessed for some time. The advent of the Weinstein scandals, subsequent revelations and numerous accusations of sexual assault, and the powerful rise of the #MeToo hashtag are signs of a newly heated and volatile atmosphere.
It is into this atmosphere that we bring Wilde’s “De Profundis”. It is indeed a prescient work, detailing in almost painful clarity the poisonous ways in which celebrity, power, sexuality, scandal, media, public opinion, and political opportunism can combine to provide toxic outcomes. Wilde’s case was indeed the first celebrity sex scandal of the modern era, and so many of his experiences and insights have an intensely contemporary feel.
Ultimately though, “De Profundis” is also a redemptive work, redolent with truths about love and humanity, and infused with optimism, hope and a sense of redemption. It is also a profoundly moving expression of the individual’s need for clarity, purpose, passion and love, and of the necessity for each of us to find our own sense of strength and empowerment.