Sunday, May 30, 2010

Is the Watermelon Shirt Present?

After my last post about Marina Abravomic, I was convinced that I needed to go back, even though it seemed a little crazy. But there's worse things than doing what seems a bit crazy -- to quote Andy Warhol, "You have to do stuff that average people don't understand because those are the only good things." (Though, I have to say, I don't totally agree with this -- I do think that the average person can appreciate many fine things in life. Bacon, for example.)

And this time, I had a plan.

I had a closing shift at work, then walked the four miles home to enjoy the warm weather and call my parents. I would go home, eat something, check my email, pack my bag, don my watermelon shirt, and then set off for the MoMA.

I ended up deviating slightly from my plan to look through some photos from the exhibit, and was surprised to find a photo of someone I know:

My friend Emily, from Sarah Lawrence! I quickly sent her an email to find out what time she had gotten there, and what her experience had been like. She responded that she really didn't think it was possible without advance tickets. Advance tickets! I hadn't even thought of that. I went back to the MoMA website -- but, problem: I didn't have a printer, and it was 2 am. I sent a text message to a partner in crime, who gave me the address of a 24-hour Kinko's he knew of in Manhattan. Perfect. I finished packing my bag -- including The Last Samurai by Helen Dewitt, a 500-page novel I'd been meaning to get around to reading -- and started walking to the subway.

By the time I had gone to Kinko's, ordered my ticket, printed my ticket, and walked to the MoMA, it was about 4 o'clock. I sat by the gate and the waiting began. I took out my notebook and wrote. I tried very, very hard to feel inconspicuous, sitting on the pavement, watching a big truck with movers bring boxes into the museum. Around 4:30 am, after reading about 100 pages of my book, I had a thought -- I already had my ticket. Wouldn't it make more sense to wait at the other entrance, closer to the security guards that scanned the tickets, closer to the stairs, and closer to Marina? Yes. Yes, it would. I walked around to the other side and confirmed my plan with the man who was washing the windows who told me that yes, they opened up both museum doors at the same time in the morning. I sat and continued to read.

At six o'clock, another girl showed up. She introduced herself as Liz and I immediately identified her as a fashion student due to her homemade-looking jumpsuit, silk Hermes jacket, and the huge fake bird on her hair-barrette. She asked if I'd save her place while she went to buy a magazine to sit on. When she came back, we sat for awhile and talked -- she said she went to CalArts, and I almost said "I know" -- and then around six-thirty, we were starting to get a little worried that no one else had shown up.

"I wonder if there are people on the other side," I said.

We stood up and edged our way to the gate. Looking through the museum lobby, we could see a group of about six people.

"Crap," Liz said. "What if they open that door first?"

I tried calling the museum to get an official confirmation on the door-opening situation, but no one picked up. After a few minutes, one of the museum security guards came out and I asked him.

"We'll be opening the other door first, at 9:30. The museum opens at 10:30. But just so you know, the line outside has no bearing on who gets to be first for the exhibit. We discourage you from waiting outside, because we can't accept any liability. The museum opens at 10:30 and you are all first in line," he said.

"Crap," Liz said again.

We turned and ran around to the other side.

"We were on the other side," I said. "I've been here since four, and she's been here since six."

"Bummer!" the redheaded man who was first in line said condescendingly.

There were seven people ahead of me: Condescending Redhead, Man With Bowtie, Hipster-Looking Blonde, Short-Haired Professorial Woman, and two teenage boys listening to their iPods. The museum security guard came out and repeated the same speech he had given me about how waiting outside doesn't count as being in line. The two iPod boys left, saying they were going to go kill time. Five people in front of me. Hipster-Looking Blonde had a friend who showed up and joined her in line.

"Is she really going to cut?" Liz hissed in my ear. "Should I say something?"

"If you want," I said.

Liz stood and fumed for a minute before finally voicing her concern. Hipster-Looking Blonde's friend, who was a Hipster-Looking Brunette, looked at her very seriously and said, "I appreciate that you said something, but it's a part of line etiquette that a friend can join someone in line. We bought our tickets in advance and planned to go together."

The whole line began to discuss line etiquette and it was determined that Hipster-Looking Brunette could stay. I pointed out that it would be pretty obnoxious if everybody had a friend who joined them. "Yes, of course that would be frustrating," Condescending Redhead said. We all introduced ourselves to one another and I spent awhile talking to Short-Haired Professorial Woman, who was indeed a professor. She told me that she wrote primarily on senses and intuition in art and that she taught at York University in Canada, and I wrote down her name and some of her book titles because they sounded interesting. She even has a Wikipedia entry.

Around eight-thirty, an Awkward Brunette came and reclaimed her place in line behind Man With Bowtie. I learned that they had been saving her spot while she went to purchase an Alexander McQueen jacket. My place in line was #7. Behind me, the line stretched halfway down the block. I recognized someone else from college and we had a brief conversation in which we promised to help each other out if we could.

Around nine o'clock, a Loud Dissenting Girl tried to start a new line in front of another door. "The line doesn't mean anything," she said. "The museum guard even said. So I'm starting my own line."

At nine-thirty, the guard came out again. "We're going to open the doors in a few minutes," he said. "No pushing or shoving. You must enter single file through the revolving door."

The group around me in line huddled together. "Tight formation, guys. Don't let anyone cut in," Hipster-Looking Brunette said.

At 9:32, all hell broke loose. The guard came and opened not the door we were standing in front of, but the door between the Rightful Line and the Loud Dissenting Girl and a few of her followers. "No running!" boomed the guards. I went through the door as quickly as I could and speed-walked to the inside line. Number eight. Only one person had managed to cut in -- a Smug-Looking Curly-Haired Twentysomething.

"All right! Everyone needs to be single file. Only physical presence counts as a spot in line. We'll take the first thirty through now."

We were herded through into a separate holding area. At this point, they brought out the VIPs -- there were seven, putting me fourteenth in line. Amazing, I thought. I got here at four a.m. and there are fourteen people in front of me in line. There really is a lot of luck involved.

The main topic of conversation in line was, "How long are you going to sit?" We all agreed that we didn't want to sit for long, we just wanted to have a chance and allow others to have their moment. (Though, I wondered, if anyone would have admitted it then if they had planned to sit for a long time.)

Awkward Brunette pulled out a garbage bag and surreptitiously changed into a new outfit. This should have been our first clue.

"If you have to go to the bathroom, go now," said one of the guards. "This is your last chance."

We ascended the escalator, putting our arms out on either side so no one could try to sneak past. Then, we saw Marina. And all the memories flooded back, of the entire day I had spent already sitting in line in this very same space, just outside the square that I desperately wanted to be inside.

Most of the VIPs were performers in Marina's retrospective on the sixth floor, so none of them sat for long. Condescending Redhead and Man With Bowtie also didn't sit for terribly long -- between fifteen minutes and a half hour each.

Then, Awkward Brunette approached the chair and sat.

And sat. And sat. And sat.

We started to get nervous. "Well, if she gets up now, we can each have an hour," Hipster-Looking Blonde pointed out.

Then, "if she gets up now, we can each have half an hour." ... "Fifteen minutes." ... "Five minutes."

Hipster-Looking Brunette got up to talk to the security guard. When she came back, she told us, "Well, apparently she told the security guard that she needed to do some 'spiritual cleansing'. That is not a good sign."

We analyzed every aspect of her body, looking for a sign that she was going to get up. She had terrible posture, tilted over to one side with one shoulder raised. After awhile, we noticed that Marina mirrored this position. We each took turns standing up and walking to the opposite end of the square to look at Awkward Brunette's face (we learned her name was Helen). "Helen looks smug," I reported back for the group.

"You know, if only she had told me she was planning to sit all day, I would have done other things with my day and come back tomorrow," Hipster-Looking Blonde said. She was next in line...for about seven hours.

"It looks like Marina's telling her to leave," Liz said. "I guess Helen's not very good at reading social cues."

Some of the things people said were mean. Somebody said, "I should have known. She showed up looking homely like she was ready to sit." Someone else said, "Well, maybe it's the closest thing she's had to sex in years."

And although I was disappointed about the increasing unlikeliness that I would get to sit with Marina, despite having arrived at four a.m., I was struck by the fact that all these people were making character and lifestyle judgments about a woman based on her looks and how long she chooses to sit in a chair opposite a famous performance artist. And as a feminist, something about that made me profoundly uncomfortable. Sure, I was irritated that Helen had taken my chance -- and even if she was going through "spiritual cleansing", maybe there would have been many other people who could have experienced some of that -- but she was still operating within the confines of the piece. I really hope that Marina writes a book about her experience, because I would love to know what goes through her head while she's sitting, and if she's able to move past judgments of people. Somehow, I feel like she is.

I heard somebody say that maybe Helen was giving Marina a gift. That it was a response to the increasing speed of the piece -- that so many people just wanted to sit that Helen wanted to say, "This is a profound experience and I'm going to sit here with you and slow this down and share it with you." I don't know if that's true or not -- and again, I would like to know how Marina feels about it. I would like to think that Helen experienced something profound enough to cancel out my disappointment and that of those around me. If she did, I'll probably never know.

I asked Jennifer (Short-Haired Professorial Lady) if she would mind calling me if Helen got up so I could see the rest of Marina's exhibit. She took my phone number and I went upstairs.

Some pieces I found really interesting. Some I didn't. One in particular scared me -- Marina had set up a table with a lot of objects, including a gun with a bullet, various knives & whips, condoms, a cupcake, lipstick, and a hairbrush. On the table was a sign that said participants in the exhibition could use any of the objects on Marina in whatever way they wanted for the duration of the piece (between 6 or 8 pm, I don't remember, and 2 am). "I am the object," said the sign. "I take full responsibility."

Another piece consisted of two naked people standing really close to one another, facing each other. Participants could walk between them. Another piece was a man lying naked on a table with a skeleton on top of him. The skeleton moved up and down as he breathed, and the man was crying. In another piece, a young woman was suspended nude in midair sitting on a bicycle seat with her arms out, balancing. Since one of the focuses of Marina's work is energy, it struck me as interesting that Marina chose to change the gender of the performers in many of the pieces, since that strikes me as a huge change in energy. Originally, the naked-people-doorway piece was a man and a woman, and I saw it with two women. Nude With Skeleton was performed by a woman, and I saw it done by a man. When I returned from the exhibit, Jennifer asked me which performer I had turned toward when passing through. I said I had turned to the left. It didn't occur to me until later, when we discussed the possible implications of gender in these performance pieces, how much it would have changed the piece for me if the option was turning toward a man or a woman. Would I have turned toward the woman on the basis of familiarity/a mirror for myself or toward the man on the basis of difference/attraction? How different would the piece feel if it were performed by intersexed individuals, or someone whose external genitals didn't match their gender expression?

Later, I talked to my dad on the phone, and he asked me if I was going to go back.

"Well, I really think that $40 and two full days of my time are the most that I can put into it," I said.

"Congratulations," he said. "You've just answered the age-old question, 'What is the value of art?'"

No comments:

Post a Comment