Performing Non-Normative Gender Identity: A Look at Ivan Monteiro and Valérie Reding’s Work

Ivan Monteiro and Valérie Reding in B.O.M.B.E.D. — Bursting Our Memories By Enchanting Desires. Photo by Lukas Beyeler

In the 4-hour long video Gender Metamorphosis, multimedia artist Valérie Reding exposes the societal construction of gender by fluidly morphing from one gender to the next using make-up, wigs and costumes, in the vein of artists like Cindy Sherman, whose work reveals femininity as a performative act.

Imbued with references to Christian iconography from his native Brazil, the work of Ivan Monteiro displays a similar interest in playing with gender construction and boundaries. Although their styles and aesthetics differ, Monteiro and Reding have been collaborating since meeting in school in Zurich, Switzerland, where they studied media arts. They are currently in a residency at ODC that was granted by the city of Zurich and continuing their collaborative work: “We both approach our artistic practice in very different ways so the collaboration with Ivan is a challenge but also very inspirational and fruitful,” Reding shared. “Ivan relies on instinctive intuition and improvisation, I am a very meticulous researcher and elaborate projects first on a more rational, theoretical level.”

While Monteiro’s background is in visual and media arts, Reding studied classical ballet in her native Luxembourg for over sixteen years while also training in modern, jazz and tap dance. While studying media arts at the university, she worked as a freelance make-up artist and explored contemporary and butoh dance theatre. Monteiro has been exploring different dance forms while at ODC and noticing how this formal training is informing his work: “I can see that my body is painting totally different landscapes when I practice in the studio or perform on stage.”

Monteiro and Reding are both drawn to issues of non-normative gender identities and influenced by queer and feminist theories. Their first collaboration was Malleus Maleficarum, which they presented as their BA final project in 2015. The piece combined music, text and movement to explore “the connection between witch hunt and postmodern mechanisms of slut shaming,” Reding mentioned. When the collaborative pair was granted the residency at ODC, they originally planned to develop Malleus Maleficarum while in San Francisco.

But as they delve into the Bay Area artistic scene, Monteiro and Reding discovered the work of artists tackling political issues such as racial segregation, gentrification and gender equality. Aware of the struggle for space and exposure many Bay Area artists are facing, Monteiro and Reding decided to curate an evening that would feature their work alongside the work of local artists.

Haus of the Odher, which will be presented on August 28 at ODC, combines visual art, performance, music and dance and focuses on non-normative gender identities and expressions from artists from a variety of sexual, social, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The event questions gender, identity and intimacy, to ultimate explore what and who makes a home.

Haus is the German word for “house” and the title of the event refers to drag and voguing culture, where families of drag performers gather into ‘houses’ and teach each other the skills of their art form. “Since both drag and voguing are art forms that are not institutionalized, oral transmission and teaching in these houses and families are the only possibility to keep them alive from generation to generation,” Reding offered. “[The title of the event] is also a word-play on “odd her” (referring to queerness, femininity, etc.) as well as “the other” -in reference to the abnormal body constructed as “the other,” the one outside of what is considered as the social norm.”

Reflecting on the value of the residency and how their stay on the West Coast has informed their practice, both Monteiro and Reding shared that they have encountered socio-cultural realities that they were not aware of prior to living in the Bay Area: Even though I am perceived as a woman in our society and experience sexist treatment on a daily basis, and even though I associate with the queer community because of my non-heteronormative gender identity and sexuality, I can rely on many privileges (i.e. being white and coming from an academic background) to guarantee my physical well-being and the respect of my rights in most circumstances,” Reding shared. “Experiencing first hand the social precarity, life-threatening violence and excruciating injustice that many minorities like the P.O.C., Latinx and LGBTQIA communities face every single day in the U.S. made me even more aware of these privileges.”

Monteiro added: “Our politics, ways of working and awareness of creating art within political, cultural and social structures will never be the same after having been on the West Coast, because the socio-cultural scenario here is totally different from the situation in Europe. It is an amazing time in our lives: intense, fruitful and educational.”

Monteiro and Reding in Malleus Maleficarum. Photo by Carol Wanner