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Likewise, tattoos are charged signifiers for choreographer Mark Jeffery and artist Judd Morrissey, who collaborated on The Operature. In this 90-minute durational dance partially based on Steward's "stud file," tattoos worn by four male dancers serve both as glory holes and as gory holes that appear as red splotches in battlefield paintings on the bodies of injured soldiers.
But where Steward was unambiguously hypersexual, Jeffery and Morrissey are hypervisual. A text-based simulation is the guiding metaphor of the work. A kind of virtual scalpel cuts up phrases from Steward's journals, then layers the words onto the dancers. Audience members can scan the dancers' tattoos with their smartphones to reveal even more text and visual imagery.
The spectacle is not all virtual. When a dancer stretches his leg through an aperture in the enormous wood operating table that is at the center of the room and sticks his face through a second opening in its surface, the stunt is as striking as if he were to juggle his own head. The effect plays out Jeffery's excitement and curiosity about dissection. Violence is always implied, but not actually demonstrated in The Operature, which is all about delicate operations.
Through 3/29: Fri-Sat 6 PM, National Museum of Health and Medicine Chicago, 175 W. Washington, eventbrite.com, $15.