Drycleaners of the Soul

Format: Book, Performance
30 Dec 2017
3AM — Bringing the Books to Life, Flutgraben e.V.
3 hrs
Book: available from Circadian, Unbound (second printing in 2022)

Concept, text, performance: Aslan
Nailya Bikmurzina, Dajana Lothert

Drycleaners for the Soul is a book that consists of two parts. The first is an essay examining how queered individuals are often ‘used’ by the societies they are marginalised by to process difficult or dangerous emotions (I use ‘queer’ here in its broadest sense of an individual who transgresses or doesn’t fit into the categories of a society, including gender and sexuality, but also caste). This often manifests as the queered individual in question being a go-between for a spirit world of some kind, or engaging in some kind of symbolic action that transgresses social norms. There are many examples of this kind of societal interaction from across the world - the lwa of Haitian Vodoun, the nat kadang of Burmese folk religion, the hijra of the Indian subcontinent, and drag performance in Europe and America. The aim of this section is to attempt to look at queerness and marginalisation in a functional sense, rather than in an aesthetic or identity based way. It also aims not to recast the identity of these individuals as queer in a Euro-American sense, but rather to recast the identity of queer individuals within a broader ‘queer’ heritage and culture that stretches far beyond the current context.

The final part of the first section looks at the position of queer performance in the current context as a belonging to this heritage and tradition, proposing a view of marginalisation that is functional and positive. This is in contrast to views of marginalisation as inherently negative, and the pressure to ‘gentrify’ or ‘whiten’ queerness, thereby removing its character and reducing it to an aesthetic, similar to say, being a Goth or something.

The second part of the book is a practical guide to making rituals that are in the spirit of the rituals (in the sense of group reenactments with symbolic meaning) and ceremonies of the Drycleaners of the Soul. It includes drawings, diagrams, ideas. There is a selection of invented rituals, and rituals taken from the examples in the first section. The approach for this section will be to view each ritual as a score for reenactment, for doing. It includes lists of things that a ritual may include, so that the reader can invent their own rituals and reenact them. The book acts as an encouragement for people to enact their own rituals within this tradition, and thereby locate themselves within a heritage and a tradition.

The above images include photographs by Dajana Lothert and of the book Drycleaners of the Soul.

Drycleaners of the Soul is a book by Aslan, published by Circadian, and a durational performance by ONCE WE WERE ISLANDS.

Additional thanks to: Diego Agulló & Dmitry Paranyushkin.