I felt urged to write about a 15 minute experience I recently had while laying motionless on the center of the MuzeuMM art gallery floor this weekend with a captive audience waiting for me to begin the piece “TWINKLE: Traveler Beneath the Stars”. It may take you 15 minutes (or more) to fully read should you care to, but I felt urged to share some of the profound results and messages that came from the experience. Andy Warhol said we’d all get our 15 minutes of fame, which was one of several sub-themes of the performance, so it makes sense to have people wait that long, but it isn’t why it happened. It happened unexpectedly partly due to longstanding relationship I have with Hermes (the trickster, messenger God – thank you Mercury retrograde for communication glitches), but it was NOT a mistake. As my performance art mentor, the late Rachel Rosenthal would say, that was what “the genie” of live performance wanted and those minutes became filled with unimaginable relevance.
I was lying on the gallery floor as a reference to one of the central art pieces created by Serbian-born Vojislav Radovanović in his exhibition “PRAYER FOR TRAVELERS: Diary of an Immigrant” based on his first year living in America during a politically charged time, reflecting his emotions on the “themes of love, acceptance, and the universal immigrant experience, including displacement, cultural heritage, and the power of memory” that is “the perfect antidote to the country’s current cultural shame: the present administration’s handling of immigrants” in a manner that is “so sweet and beautiful it is heartbreaking” (words coincidentally written by another genie…Genie Davis, from her Art and Cake review). The art piece involved a piece of cardboard lying on the gallery floor painted with a sleeping man curled up in a fetal position. It’s both a self portrait and a portrait of a homeless refugee he met while living in Paris. In working closely with Vojislav to create the performance piece based on his themes, it became clear to us that we had to begin the performance with me replacing the art piece on the gallery floor. It was partly out of practical consideration so the work was not stepped upon and that we had the central space free to do the performance. But it became clear to do so and have me address the current homeless crisis occurring in Los Angeles, as the performance was about having compassion for all of us as fellow travelers on this planet together and the deep responsibility we have in being humane in an era where we are overrun with a severe lack of it in our leadership.
I had deep reservations tackling such a thorny issue as a white male privileged with a roof over my head, but it feels like the type of responsibility of engagement we must all assume at this point in our history in order to evolve and survive culturally. Lying on the floor was just a performance art piece, but it opened up my already pretty open heart in ways I had not expected. I cannot fully explain the experience of lying in a vulnerable position upon the ground like that. The footsteps of audiences coming into the space pounding upon the floor were like an approaching army. The whispers, laughs, coughs, and other strange noises from the audience took on new, foreign, almost haunted house quality of disconnected sounds. The movement of a bench scrapping the ground becomes a monstrous roar. A plastic cup falling on the ground becomes a thunderous clash. I can only imagine what the outside world must sound like to someone living on the street. It’s surely terrifying.
After a few minutes, the audience became somewhat settled down and it seemed clear that they were all in place. I suppose very well I could have begun the performance. I was waiting for my cue. There was some miscommunication about giving me a signal of a bell – a tinkle for the twinkle to begin, but that didn’t happen. I could have begun at any time, knowing full well that the audience was ready, but something inside me said to keep on waiting. I was allowing myself to open up all my senses and feel for the right cue to emerge. I would know when it was time to begin, there would be a sign somehow, I just knew there would. In that moment I thought about my training in improvisational performance art. Rachel Rosenthal would have us do performance pieces that she lovingly called “blowing it out the ass,” which was to say – we’re just going to let it fly and see what happens! In those moments, she would compel us to wait for the “genie” to give us the signal to enter the stage. In doing such training, one would find themselves inevitably stumbling in at the wrong moment – it may have seemed like the right time, but you could see it as the audience member easily when someone interrupted the scene too soon. Waiting in the wings we were often so eager to go on because we had some fabulous costume or nervous excitement and we were ready to leap out onto the stage and do our thing. But we really had to “listen” for the right moment. We were urged to be patient, and that if we truly opened ourselves up – we’d know and be open to the proper moment. I miss those days of performing improv weekly under Rachel’s mentorship – I departed the company in 2009. The Rachel Rosenthal Company troupe continues to create improv performances regularly at her studio, and I urge people to see them sometime – it’s a truly remarkable evening of live and unexpected theatre. Lying on the floor for a mere fifteen minutes waiting for the right moment, I could palpably feel her spirit with me…and there was something lovely about having those moments feeling the connection.
Apparently there was a lot going on with the audience while they waited for me to begin. I was ready to go, but something – some invisible force that I can only say was “the genie” was sort of holding me there. When the planned cue did not occur, the “genie” was able to have its way and gave the audience a rare experience to interact with waiting. Apparently after five minutes or so, a handful of people left. Staring at a person curled up was not interesting to them and I really don’t blame them. Consider it the genie’s way of gentle weeding. From feedback I received from several people in the audience, they really valued the process of waiting. It offered them a moment to reflect on several things, including their own humanity and how they usually ignore people on the street. And during the process of waiting, they got to see a performance from the audience themselves. The various reactions and whispers and murmurs. How do people react in such a situation? Someone came up from the audience and placed a dime next to me – surely a reference to “brother, can you spare a dime?” But I didn’t move. As much as they were hoping that would make me start the performance, I couldn’t tell what was going on and that really wasn’t the right cue to move.
I was on my own little journey. The 15 minutes became a bit of a fever-trip like experience with my eyes closed and hearing the chaos of the world around me. Nothing was silent. I said the audience was somewhat settled down, but it was never quiet. The noise from outside the gallery could still be heard. Cars whizzed by. A person who actually was living on the street came in to the gallery apparently and joined the audience. He was talking to himself, and of course he was welcome to be there. But I got my own little lesson during that time, to understand the noisy and confusing world that life on the street without a home can be. I’ve been so fortunate to always feel at home in the world. As angry and upset and disappointed I can be in this crazy world, I have always felt both simultaneously alien to it and completely at home in it. So to have 15 minutes where I actually felt homeless, was a bit of an indulgent neccessity for gaining some perspective.
Some folks also mentioned that it reminded them of a Marina Abramović piece. Like Vojislav, she is also a Serbian-born artist, so we’ve spoken at length about her work. I know many people who either admire or loathe works by her. I experienced “The Artist Is Present” exhibition at MoMA in NYC and a friend of mine, whom also trained with Rachel Rosenthal, Yozmit, was part of the show recreating her body of work. Vojislav and I also discussed that the artwork he created of the homeless man sleeping in a fetal position referenced a piece of art he made for his first college solo exhibition “Bath Culture” – which also took place in a gallery that Marina Abramović showed her work. And after the show I was gifted the memory of one of the first performance art pieces I ever created in college – helping to complete the circle.
In one of my earliest works I chained up and placed a lock upon all the chairs that the class (in this case they became the audience and the performers) would normally expect to sit in. I drew a line across the stage and stood on the opposite line from the class next to the key which lay on the floor. As the people arrived they inquired as to how they could get the seats unlocked so we could finally begin the class. There was much discussion with each other about what to do. Finally someone, we’ll call “Adam” decided to cross the line and attempted to grab the key. I stopped him. An altercation occurred. We wrestled. It got violent. The class erupted in chaos and urged it to stop. They pleaded for Adam to just give up and come back behind the line. He finally agreed to do so. The class proceeded to ask me questions about how they could get the key and eventually discovered that only one of them would be allowed to get the key and open the lock, the question was – which one was going to be allowed to do it? They went through one by one asking if they could be the person to unlock the chairs. They were surprised when we exhausted the list of people in the classroom about unlocking the chairs. Finally one of them realized, that every person had asked if they could unlock the chairs, except Adam. He had already tried to grab the key, but he was rejected and the fight occurred, so he didn’t think about asking. He asked, “May I have the key?” I answered “Yes, since you asked, you may.” In truth, I didn’t know Adam was going to be the one I would pick, until after we had our fight. He didn’t get the key by force, he got the key by asking permission. The teacher, the late Hans Breder loved the piece and according to a friend who later became his assistant for years following, Hans would talk about that piece frequently. It said something about human interaction, unplanned moments, and turning the audience into the performers. I actually never liked performance art when I started taking the class, having seen only a handful of examples and thinking it stupid. I was only really taking the class in order to make some video-art, but we were required to do several types of interdisciplinary work in the course of the semester. I may have caught the bug for performance art after that night.
So…there I was waiting for the right moment to release the audience from staring at me just lying on the floor. Finally, I felt a whisper and a change in temperature and energy that said “ok, go.” A few seconds earlier there had been a giant door slam somewhere – or so it sounded like – nothing was certain, but it felt like a good enough signal. At that same moment, an audience member placed a silver mylar star that was part of the set upon my foot. I didn’t feel it, but it was the action that “activated” me. It was a sweet, little gesture, and one that had I actually been aware of physically I would have started with. For folks who know my penchant for feet, someone placing a star on my foot…is definitely a sign to begin!
Of course, all of this may mean very little to other people, but in my life I have always been open to these subtle connections and correlations. I share this with you now as an attempt to open up a bit about the mysteries that I admire at play in my own life. I consider such moments as inside cosmic jokes. Little insights given by the Universe, or little nods by Hermes, the trickster magician messenger god. Because, it is only after the performance or event that one gets the complete picture of “why” something happened.
And it truly opens up my heart when events like this take place. I wanted to create a performance that spoke to the issues we are dealing with in our world at the moment. I wanted to present something that was very human and spoke to the humanity in others. I know from the response of most of the people there, that indeed it touched them. I connected with the stardust inside them as I hoped to do, and I learned a lot about myself and what I want to in order to be a better human moving forward. I am certain that “TWINKLE: Traveler Beneath the Stars” will manifest again in some form, so if you missed it – don’t worry – it will likely emerge again, although I am not certain if there will be another 15 minutes…that may have had it’s moment. Who knows how long it will take next time…but I do hope that we’ll all be more aware of each other as fellow travelers on this journey of life beneath the stars together.