Performance artist Katy Dye is interested in creating pieces that explore difficult aspects of human nature. Her current show, Baby Face, explores societies’ infantilisation of women. She questions why we live in a society where paedophilia is not OK, yet fetishised images of women as prepubescent girls are. The show challenges the nature of complicity and conditioning when it comes to the messy moral questions that come up surrounding the idea of sexualising women as children. Arts Editor, Kate Procter, caught up with Katy ahead of her Sheffield performance.

Where did the idea for Baby Face come from?

The inspiration for the show came from a number of sources. I have received subtly infantilising treatment throughout my life because of having a small body, and the subconscious effect of this interested me to explore further. I have also grown up in a culture saturated with pop references to infantile regression in the 90s and early 00s. I became interested in the process of creating this performance to explore where these impulses to infantilise women came from. My other interests were the imagery from anime cartoons of schoolgirls and child women, as well as how the female voice is used in pop songs, K pop and bubblegum pop. From the cultural to the deeply personal, it was apparent to me that infantilisation runs deep in our society, and I wanted to create Baby Face to find out why.

What reaction do you want your audience to have?

I want the audience to feel physically moved by the show in some way. Much of the material in the performance is action based, choreographic and dance related. The show also involves audience interaction, and messy liquids such as baby lotion and talcum powder. There is a high level of tactility in this performance where I want the audience to take away a palpable sense of the ideas in the show. I would like them to consider how infantilisation of women and the sexualisation of the childlike is so strange considering the raw and primal reality of babyhood – pooing, weeing and dependency. How is this often confused with sexy qualities in our culture?

Why did you choose a theatre show for your message?

I think to explore an idea such as infantilisation – which is full of voyeurism, pornography and passivity, I needed to explore Baby Face as a theatre show. It seemed appropriate to have a female performer create an extremely physical performance, where there is also strong use of the voice to counteract infantilisation in the form of the piece, as well as on a thematic level. The act of performing is liberating and (hopefully) full of agency and power, which can transmit to the audience more then if the piece had been presented in any other way.

How has your show developed over time? Are there any elements that you’ve adapted during the tour?

The show has developed hugely since its early incarnations. The piece has been created over a four year period, and in earlier versions it was explicitly autobiographical. The show has become more and more physical over time, and starker in terms of the visual aspect of the piece. There is audience interaction in the piece, and this will constantly change throughout the tour depending on the audience – it’s a different show every time!

What were the challenges in developing Baby Face?

There were many challenges. I feel the ability to create performance material that could be performed repeatedly and still have a palpable feel to it was my biggest challenge. I related to the subject matter in the piece very differently four years ago then how I do now. In the latest creation process of the piece I found that the more physical my performance was, the more I was able to re-perform the piece and find something new to explore in it every time.  

What responses have you had since you started performing the show – has anything surprised you?  

Yes, there is a moment in the piece where I, dressed as a 15 year old schoolgirl, ask a male audience member if it’s acceptable to find me attractive but not act upon it. I have learned through performing this moment on a number of occasions that this needs to be a real conversation with no rehearsed elements. I find it interesting the audience member’s response, both verbally and physically, and have learned there can be such a range of reactions depending on the individual, and it’s interesting how each of these reactions can contribute to the piece in different ways.

Does your show offer any solutions for society’s issue with sexualising young women?

I believe that, if there is any solution, it comes down to how we use our bodies and the power we command in our daily lives. The ‘solution’ the show offers is in the performance of the piece: a woman commanding autonomy over her own body and not allowing it to be acted upon. The ‘aggressive’ nature of the performance is the antidote to the sexualisation of young women and this is a solution of kinds.

Why do you think students should come and see your show?

I think students should come and see this show because it is about an idea that is intimately connected with our everyday lives, our personal relationships and how women, in particular, relate to themselves. In Baby Face I ask people to throw themselves into the show by witnessing it, as much as I am doing by performing it. Come if you want to feel like your inside Snow White’s biggest nightmare… oh, and also if you love the smell of talcum powder!

Image Credit: Daniel Hughes

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