Monday, August 06, 2007

Subtle Power

While we're on the topic of art today:

While nothing can compare to the special little place in my id where I store my complete and utter loathing of poetry slams1, I have a nice little hardened knot in my bowels that tightens in disgust whenever I am subjected to watching performance art. Maybe it's having seen one too many liberal arts students hepped up on crystal meth, thinking their used tampons are an extraordinary piece of art that chronicles the human condition, or maybe I'm just a philistine, but I'm wholly convinced that 97.935% of performance art is bullshit, and that a lot of it actually contains actual bullshit, making the comparison to tripe that much easier.

Case in point: Public circumcision. Snipping off your pippy in public could, I suppose, be seen as a means of making some inchoate statement about genital mutation, but if not done in precisely the right way, it seems like a thinly veiled excuse to whip it out in public for a few friends, a statement that has been made to me far too many times after far too many drinks, and with far too many lousy pickup lines.

Yes, I know my shoes are nice. No, I do not want to- DUDE, put that thing away. Jeez!

And yet, there's always that exception that proves me out to be the mistaken and overly misanthropic skeptic that I can be.

Last Saturday, as the Object and I were driving to a luau, as we passed the Bodysmith parking lot on 14th Street near U Street, we noticed what appeared to be a dead body sprawled out in a huge pool of blood, with blood spattered all over the walls of the nearby building. Just in passing, it appeared to be a gruesome and violent bloodbath, the kind you'd see on a can't-miss-sweeps-week-episode of Law and Order: SVU. A small crowd had formed around the scene with a few people taking pictures and vying for a better angle. Something deep in the pit of my gut churned and the Object reflexively slammed on the brakes.

"Did you just fucking see that?" we cried out simultaneously.

"There were people taking pictures!" the Object cried out.

"Turn back!" I searched for some valid reason to actually need to go back and check out the scene without completely being a rubbernecking asshole. "Ummm, we should see if everyone is alright."

"You're so morbid," the Object responded, seeing right through my guise. But he turned the car around with such haste that I knew he was grateful for the excuse to go back. As we reapproached the scene, we saw that the crowd that had gathered couldn't be the gawking of overly curious passersby.

As it turned out, the scene was a piece called "Healing" by performance artist Kata Mejia that commemorated the one-year anniversary of the murder of her little brother by Colombian FARC guerillas. Mejia, dressed in a black robe, had dipped her hands and hair in deep red paint. She placed her hands in the middle of the wall,then proceeded to use only her body writhing slowly down the walls to draw a series of thick, straight lines onto the floor of a stark white space. The suggestion was one of a body being slammed against a wall and then being dragged across pristine space.

I couldn't understand where the healing was involved. Here was a woman who had evoked powerful and violent imagery, creating a deep sense of empathy for the pain she and her family must have gone through. And yet, I got no sense of catharsis, no sense of healing. Eventually, the Object and I had to get back in the car and move on to our evening's plans. As we drove to the party, we were quiet for some time, reflecting on what we had just seen.

"That was something," the Object quietly remarked. I nodded in agreement. We pressed our hands together gently, as though trying to reassure ourselves with some kind of human connection without being obvious about it. The Object changed the subject, asking about mundane plans for the evening, and we carried on with our lives. And therein lay the healing: the artist's vision realized.

1. I once dated a man who fancied himself a "poet". He would drag me to poetry slams and then spend the evening scoffing that he could write better poetry. He mostly just programmed computers, though. Six months I dated this man. Six months!!! No... regrets!


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