Friday, November 18, 2005

nipples and stuff

"OK I get it. Do we have to continue watching?"
"What are we waiting for? Blood? Does blood make it better?"
"Is that a female to male transexual? His pants sure look strange."

Some of the questions running through my head last night as I sat on the bleachers watching Mary Coble perform "Binding Ritual, Daily Routine."

She came out, wearing black trousers, nothing else, a stool at her side with a stack of three, very large rolls of black duct tape. Then she ripped a strip of tape (the sound was great) and pulled back her breast. Another strip, applied to the same breast and it disappeared. She'd successfully transformed half her body, covering her sex. The other side, same thing. It was strangely beautiful -- the shiny black tape against her white skin. Then she peeled the tape off. Repeat for two entire rolls, 1 and 1/2 hours in total.

I went through stages. First: it's a one-liner, I get it. No need to continue. I got the image of her covering then revealing. It was almost magical the first time, then it got mundane. Oh, her right breast must be the bigger one.

As her chest began to turn pink, then to glisten (sweat? no, I think that's the new skin she's revealed), I wondered, what were we as an audience waiting for? Were we the sadistic voyeurs waiting for blood? Why did we want to see her pain?

Then I thought, this would be nice with a mirror. If she were staring into a mirror, as if she were doing this at home. Then I realized, as she stared me and the others in the eye, daring us to flinch, to look away, that we were her mirror. She faced us and did this to see what it looked like by our expressions, our faces. Then I felt like this was incredible. Mary had taken our passive action, traditionally explained as the male gaze in feminist teachings, the gaze that objectifies the performer, the object being consumed and feminized us. She'd made us her mirror (can I get Lacanian here?) and thus feminized the dynamic between us.

And still she continued. I recalled the feeling I had when, in an Ashtanga yoga class, we performed 100+ sun salutations. A room of silent, sweaty people repeating the same action over and over. I also went through phases: this is easy, this is boring, this is going to kill me, this is amazing, will this ever end?

By the time Mary had reached the end of the repetitions, I was at the same place at the end of that yoga class: this could go on forever. I'd reached a trance-like state and wasn't even aware at first she'd finished. Then she left the stage.

When researching for the piece I wrote to preview the performance, I came across some blogs of artists/critics (I use both terms loosely) who posited that with performance you don't even have to be there. And people videotaped the performance, took photos, wrote words (including me). These others posited that reading or seeing images of the performance is enough. They're one-liners that don't need the live experience. Oh how they're wrong.

There's something powerful when the body is put through something difficult, dangerous, strenuous, boring. Something that creates a space that is more powerful than the mediation of words or pictures. It's something that needs to be felt or witnessed. Anything else is a poor subsitute.

Oh and there was blood, her fingers, right below the nails were torn and red. But you didn't see that unless you waited for her to come out later, a normal young woman, out of her performer guise. There were no pictures of that.


At 1:56 PM, Anonymous MTWall said...

Geepers creepers. Now I want to play Bingo while soaking my barefeet in ice water infused with yellow food coloring.

At 2:44 PM, Blogger Nicole said...


(I didn't do my performance-art homework, due to at-work work.)


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