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Compulsive Workout by Elina Bry

Streamed on Instagram live from her bathroom at home and illuminated by flashing green and violet lights, Elina Bry premiered her latest performance ‘Compulsive Workout’. The performance was organised as part of Glasgow Open House Arts Festival’s Crowdfunder campaign created to raise funds to cover the costs of the festival themed ‘Artists in Isolation’, coming this September to the Glaswegian community after a four-year break in programming. Elina Bry is a multidisciplinary artist, educator and climate change advocate based in Glasgow who has also donated twenty spots to her drawing workshop about climate change inspired by COP26 as a reward for people pledging to support the festival.

A performance characterised by irony and introspection on the part of the artist, Bry appeared to the public in a combination of a workout and cleaning outfit wearing a black leotard over a pair of leggings with a strawberry pattern that immediately recalled her performance and character ‘Betty the Strawberry’ (seen pictured below).

To the tune of ‘Maniac’ popularised by the movie ‘Flash Dance’ Bry wore a pair of gloves and began to scrub and clean her bathtub and shower at an increasing pace inviting the audience to join her in a compulsive bathroom workout. Even if the performance didn’t make me feel inspired to do my own cleaning, I couldn’t sit still through her whole routine as the fantastic energy that Bry was able to communicate overcome the detached impression of online performances. Bry’s performance wasn’t only funny and aesthetically appealing, she also managed to explore important issues related to the artist’s gender and her experience of the pandemic.

In her introduction Bry explained that she is a compulsive cleaner: a trait that she doesn’t like about herself and that may or may not be appreciated by the people living with her. As a compulsive cleaner and a woman, she started to wonder whether there is a relationship between these two things. Does she clean because she enjoys it, or does she clean because gender norms have pushed her to find it enjoyable? Bry has had a passion for cleaning since she was young. When she first got a room of her own - when she was only eight - the biggest perks she recalled was the possibility to clean it whenever she wanted: and she always wanted it to be clean. Although compulsive cleaning is a trait that runs in her family, she wondered why her brother didn’t inherit it and she did. Through this performance, she explored the conflicting feelings that pulled her towards cleaning (as she does enjoy it) and the feelings that push her away from the activity, as she doesn’t like how this trait of hers may potentially reinforce gender stereotypes.

Therefore, attempting to overcome the gender stereotypes that come with her passion, she attempted to make cleaning a more masculine activity. She linked her reflection about compulsive cleaning to her lived experience of the pandemic which reduced the possibility of doing the sort of intense workout she was used to. While stranded at home, she realised that her cleaning routine in covid times got out of hand, straying even further than usual from the idyllic depictions of cleaning that we see in movies.

Elina Bry, 'Betty the Strawberry'

Combining these different reflections Bry created an energising performance where her conflicting feelings and the implications of being a compulsive cleaner surfaced in her routine. Her cleaning and dance moves became increasingly frantic and compulsive while her hair got messier and messier and she mixed her cleaning routine with a workout one. In a shorter re-make of the performance, shown above and currently available on her Instagram profile, she enhanced the feeling of being out of control while cleaning by changing the lyrics of ‘Maniac’ singing ‘now she is cleaning like she has never done before.’ Collapsing in her bathtub Bry crawls towards the camera concluding the performance by saying ‘this isn’t as glamorous as in the movies but this is how real cleaning works out’.

With her irony and refreshing take on a pandemic experience, Bry created an unexpected feminist hymn where the public is invited to follow her lead getting lost in a compulsive workout, physically exploring and releasing the tension built up from some of the unpolished emotions we have had to uncomfortably sit with - more than usual - during the pandemic.

Original performance streamed live on GOHAF's Instagram page at 6pm on 3rd April 2021.

Elina's website:

Take part in Elina's Workshop by donating to the festival's Crowdfunder campaign.

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