Athi-Patra Ruga’s …mr floating signifier and the deadboyz

Athi-Patra Ruga’s ‘…mr floating signifier and the deadboyz’ is a show that moves from the subtle and complex to the underwhelming and obvious, often in the same breath. His character or protagonist Beiruth, who again makes an appearance here, has got an intricate mythology developed through his previous solo. The Death of Beiruth series of photographs in this show, however, seem to only refer to other instances of Beiruth appearing, and becomes tight and shut to interpretation. It doesn’t develop the narrative, but twists the life out of it. The second series of photographs Deadboyz Auto Exotica, takes the timeworn symbol of otherness and estrangement, the mask, throws in some pop culture, full frontal willies and black bodies, and presses play. The results are surprisingly compelling images, raw and mucky, beautiful in that ugly sort of way. By the time Beiruth makes an appearance in the 4th and 5th image of the series, he is entirely unnecessary and complicates the simplicity of the images. The video work, The Body in Question Part IV… La Mama Morta  moves the show out of this tightness. It takes the themes of the photographic series and says them with elegance and simplicity. A man’s bust appears pure white in makeup and pearls, based on an image of the opera diva of the 50s Maria Callas. He begins to sing an aria from Giordano’s opera Andrea Chénier in a deep baritone. The part La Mamma Morta (My mother was murdered), written for a soprano singer, is an emotional piece, moving from despair at her life falling apart and her sister prostituting herself to keep them alive (Translation of lyrics: “I bring misfortune even to those who love me.”) to being saved by the concept of love (“For Love itself am I!”). An interpretation of the piece by Maria Callas became famous in the 90s when it was featured in the movie Philadelphia, with Tom Hanks crying as he translates the lyrics. In the movie it became a symbol of homosexual passion, an intersection point between camp and tragedy. Here it plays a similar role, but begins to fracture itself. As the baritone struggles to hit the high notes of the piece, his voice cracking into falsetto, his hands appear in the frame painted black. They move about, almost possessed then smear the black onto his face. The video ends with the singer recomposing his face into the pouty vulnerable image of Callas, now smudged and blackened. This is truly the Mr Floating Signifier of the title, as one watches all these words come floating in: gender, race, sexuality, masquerade, purity, camp, beauty, tragedy. Their meanings all tie up and play with each other.