Les passant.e.s

A three screen video installation by Edith Roux

Dancer: Musafa

Music: Nicolas Repac

Les Passant.e.s is the French gender-inclusive spelling of “Passersby.” The addition of the dot (.) recognizes both the masculine and feminine forms of the word, a contraction of the singular “le passant” and “la passante.” Roux’s choice of spelling intimates her goal: a query on gender and sex, an extended study of fluidity and finitude.

As in her other works, Roux draws on Edouard Glissant, as well as Plato, Brecht, and contemporary theorists like Paul B. Preciado, for her palimsestic vision of gender and refusal of dominant practices. “The thinking of trembling,” writes Glissant, “is not the thinking of fear. It is the thinking that is opposed to the system."1 Roux’s oversized trembling mayflies, one of oldest of species on earth, in dialogue with the ancient tale of Plato’s Symposium, posits an historical anchor in this opposition to contemporary systems. Viewers are compelled to confront gender identity, gender expression, sexuality, and reproduction. Les Passant.e.s simultaneously recalls life’s finitude and the precariousness of nature. All in a mere ten minutes.

According to Aristophane's story, humans were once of three types: male, female, and androgynous, which combined male and female elements. Aristophane reveals a utopic world of pleasure in the pairing of men, and with women and men, yet never considers what joy women together might entail. Roux’s work commences with this notion of multiple genders, foregrounding androgyny, and asking how to express gender fluidity without focusing on masculine pleasure or gender opposition. The answer is dance, depicted both by the dancer and the mayflies. Movement alone might signal traditionally gendered affects—violence, death, softness, romance, —but through a single body or thousands of insects-- Roux is able to cast potentiality, of both sex and gender, moving beyond binaries. Roux’s answer is genderqueer.

The Triptych holds a single dancer, Musafa: they dance solo, triples on the three screens that hold the work, and then multiplies, disappears. The dancer expresses difference, engagement, isolations, mirroring, and doubling. Nicolas Repac’s music moves alongside, sometimes reflecting the dancer’s movement but often riffing on the scenes on the screen, providing another layer to the work that both enhances and complicates the experience of Les Passant.e.s.

Musafa’s tunic initially appears in three colors, red, purple, and blue, recalling this mythological origin story for human beings. While red and blue are primary colors, purple is more than their mixture. Purple is a unique, non-spectral color and no single wavelength that carries it. Roux’s choice of purple as the “combination” or red and blue infers that androgyny is more complex than a combination of two, the male/female binary. Purple might both male and female, neither male nor female, or falling completely outside these categories.

At times, Musafa dances as if they are the only dancer, even while their doubles are dancing parallel on the other two screens. At other moments, they actively engage their multiple selves, dancing, mimicking, ignoring, merging, with no regard to the boundaries of the three screen palet. The initial three colors in the opening tableau of the work begin to shift and jump from the many bodies of Musafa dancing from screen to screen, appearing, combining, and disappearing. The colors change seamlessly on the dancer’s body, recalling the alterity within every human that Aristophane's tale suggests. Roux quotes Preciado’s musing on Glissant when discussing his transition: “The infinite variation of the modalities of existence beyond heteronormative culture codes.”2 Refusing to limit gender expression to a single body, and the doubling and merging of the single dancer strongly argues these infinite modalities of gender expressions available to the human body. All combinations refuse the limitations of sexist cultural codes.

Ephoron Virgo, mayflyies, have only one job: to mate. The adults of some species live as few as two hours, with the singular drive to couple. Because time is of the essence during the adult life stage, some mayflies don't mate to reproduce — females can produce viable female offspring through parthenogenesis, a form of reproduction in which an egg can develop into an embryo without fertilization, asexual reproduction. They possess vestigial mouth-structures because their lives do not necessitate sustenance. Mayflies are the oldest living group of winged insects, dating back to the Carboniferous Period, about 300 million years ago. Not only is their life brief, many subspecies are endangered of extension due to environmental degradation.

In the course of Roux’s tableau, mayflies live out their lives and die. Each of the three screens commences with Musafa rising from the floor in purple, blue and red, as the Mayflies emerge from water to begin their brief lifecycle. Their brief mating provides a beautiful overlay, as the dancer sometimes imitates them or seems to dance with them, and at other moments appears to resist or to push at these immense flies, rendered by Roux the size of birds. Once the dance has ended, the final images are of thousands of these beautiful and graceful insects in piles, making their last dying movements before their brief lives complete. Their immense size on the screen and their movement from life to death recalls the finitude of life in all forms.

Nicolas Repac created the music for Roux’s tableaux. Composing the music after the visuals provides a soundtrack, rather than the cues for the movements that fill the three screens. He riffs on the visuals, enhancing, at times, the dance, diverging at others. His music is dense and layered, generating pleasure, suspense, and even, at times, detachment. The track concludes with slow, hollow tinkles, much like the ending of a dancer in a wind-up music box. These sounds signal the close of the dance and the termination of the life span of the mayflies. The music underscores uncertainty, but also possibility, the joy of gender fluidity, and the promise of non-heteronormative union.

This simultaneously conceptual, performative, and visual work resists easy conclusions, instead inviting contemporary meditations of ancient Greek myths and prehistoric insect copulation, foregrounding fluidity and finitude. As the screen dims with the death of the mayflies, the audience is left with a reminder of the delicate balance of life and the need for harmony and beauty both in body and environment. is a fragile, but fulfilling possibility.

Les Passant.e.s explores pleasure beyond normative societal confines as an approach to living and dying. By decoupling gender expression from identity and sex from reproduction, Roux refuses categories and genres, providing a respite from contemporary violence and restrictive ideologies that police gender identity and gender expression, and prescribe the constraints of heteronormative reproduction. Her intentional imagining and materializing of liberated futures—where freedom from oppression, trauma, violence, and discrimination are conceptualized—conjures an alternative planet still rooted to the past but not doomed to contemporary systemic injustices and environmental destruction. It’s a world to live, thrive and die.

Notes by Jillana Enteen

Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies, Northwestern University, USA

(Please do not quote without permission)

1Edward Glissant. Ed. Hans Ulrich Obrist. Archipelago: The Archipelago Conversations. ( isolarii, 2021).

2Paul B Preciado, “An Apartment on Uranus: Chronicles of the Crossing (Semiotext(e), 2019).