“I have always staged my fears as a way to transcend them.”
– Marina Abramovic
“In every ancient culture there are rituals to mortify the body as a way of understanding that the energy of the soul is indestructible. The more I think about energy, the simpler my art becomes, because it is just about pure presence.” – Marina Abramovic
“What makes it art? Context and intention.” – Judith Thurman
“The sense of purpose I feel to do something heroic, legendary, and transformative to elevate viewers’ spirits and give them courage. If I can go through the door of pain to embrace life on the other side, they can, too.” – Marina Abramovic
From “Walking Through Walls,” a profile of Marina Abramovic and her performance art by Judith Thurman, The New Yorker, March 8, 2010
I have a lot of respect for Marina. You might call her my muse. But, as you can see, I have taken the art of performance to another level. In order to elevate and inspire my audience, I have actually incorporated my art into my everyday life. This is something that not even Abramovic could do.
So, in welcoming you to this exhibition: a retrospective of My Life as Performance Art, I invite you to view each installation as a way for you to overcome your own insecurities and insufficiencies of spirit.
Installation #1: I call customer service on the phone. You cannot imagine, or perhaps you can, the pain of sitting immobile for hours at a time. Especially when you have to listen to a recording of a woman, her voice dripping with misplaced (and somewhat patronizing) orgasmic enthusiasm, and over what? Over the fact that you have telephoned the bank to resolve a problem with your monthly account statement. In this installation, Jillian sits at a desk, representing me at a time when I had to make just such a call to customer service. You may not know it, but Jillian has to go to the bathroom. And she really wants to check her Facebook page. This is part of the ordeal. She has to sit there listening to the customer service voice recording ad infinitum. It’s practically unbearable, no?
Installation #2: This installation represents an excruciating incident when my bathing suit top sprung off in front of a boy when I was sixteen. Here you will see Britney standing, partially nude, on a sunny day in July. A boy is there, pretending not to look at her exposed breasts. The humiliation is palpable.
Installation #3: The agony of our corporeal selves: I fart in front of my fourth-grade class. Young, vulnerable, pure, etc. – my innocence is destroyed when I accidentally let gas loose during class. Rather than stealthily providing relief, the gas announces itself to everyone present, rendering me an object of hilarity and derision. Here young Tiffany stands in for me, suffering the embarrassment over and over again so we can all overcome our cowardice.
Installation #4: The agony of our corporeal selves, cont’d: In which I am constipated while pregnant. How do we reconcile our immortal souls with our shitting, pissing, farting, bloating bodies? This is a question I address in this installation. Until I was pregnant, I was ignorant of the agonies of constipation. Here, Yuniqua, my doppelgänger, sits on a toilet trying to pass a stool the size of a baseball. The stool is also hard as a rock. She is nine months pregnant. She screams to her husband, who stands helplessly outside the door.
Installation #5: I stub my toe on my brother’s foot while playing tag. There is little in life that can compare to the pain of a stubbed toe. The indignity of receiving such an injury by impact with a big brother’s foot while playing tag – it’s almost unendurable. Ashley, representing me, will limp for the rest of the week.
Installation #6: I stub my toe by kicking my boyfriend’s motorcycle. This installation illustrates the fact that, although we think we are progressing forward, we really do not learn anything. So I stub my toe over and over again, suffering exquisite tortures. This time I, represented by Isabel, am in college and angry at my boyfriend. The motorcycle is not a forgiving object to kick. Isabel’s toenail will turn black and fall off. What have we learned from this?
Installation #7: I get my period again and again and again. A bloody painful mess every month, this ordeal must be suffered for decades, until it suddenly stops. But somehow, one misses the pain and mess. What does that say about us? Here, Patty sprays Shout® on the soiled sheets and underpants and scrubs them in cold water. Very cold water.
Installation #8: I drive my car. Something I had yearned for as a child – driving then represented for me freedom and joy. Yet now I sit in traffic and there’s nothing good on the radio. I am terrorized by drivers who tailgate me and then cut me off. Representing me in this installation is Shawna. Her heart races; her blood pressure rises. We will be lucky if she makes it through the exhibition.
Installation #9: I pay my bills. This is the ordeal of the Sisyphean task. One pays and pays and yet the bills reappear the next month. And what does one get for all of this torturous effort? New shoes? A trip to the Caribbean? No, it’s all ephemeral things like liability insurance and heating oil. Here Tanya sits at a computer with pen and paper, struggling to make a dent in the infinite.
Installation #10: A trip to the dentist. Barbara sits in the dental chair, her mouth wide open, various instruments dangling out, while the dentist pokes and scrapes and inserts nasty-tasting chemicals. Barbara gags on her own spittle. She grunts amenably when the dentist asks her inane questions about her life. And, whoops, a cavity needs to be re-filled.
Installation #11: A trip to the gynecologist: The annual exam, a humiliating torment that we women submit to each year, and why? Because we are frightened. Frightened of cancer and venereal disease and all of the other horrors that the media and doctors confront you with to subdue you. Here Candice sits clad only in a paper gown, opening to the front, with her feet in medieval “stirrups,” and her doctor ready to insert a speculum which will open her vagina to ten times its natural size. The doctor will peer in and then stab Candice’s cervix with a stabbing tool. The Spanish Inquisition would pale in comparison.
Installation #12: Fear of mice. Belinda, representing me, will be stuffed in a small square room with a bowl of Cheerios. The Cheerios have suspicious brown pellets in them – mouse turd. Belinda will have to set mousetraps with peanut butter and SNAP – she will catch one. Now she has a mouse corpse: crushed, with obscenely bulging eyes and stiffly extended legs. The capper is the rodent tail, sticking out in vulgar defiance. It’s beginning to smell – what to do with it? Belinda must overcome fear and disgust over and over again in this, our final installation.
Original art by Ilyse Magy.