* If you are a performance artist, or if you are Claire, anytime I say weird, I actually mean engaging and thought-provoking. Obviously.
This is my bohemian-hipster-artist sister Claire.
She says she isn't a hipster. Which is what makes her a hipster. The mustard-coloured corduroy pants, vintage no-name sweaters and her mittens with stupid strings qualify her as bohemian. She is an art student at a bona fide art academy, which makes her way weirder* than an art student at a public university. She's also a Bartleman. So, that about sums that up.
Claire was in cowtown for the past two weeks for a performance art seminar. Don't know what performance art is? Let's put it this way: even the art students at bona fide art academies think it's weird* ...
The workshops finished up this weekend with a show at a gallery downtown, so I called my friend Erin, to see if she wanted to go with me. I warned her that it was going to be weird*. To which she replied "I grew up hanging around your family. How much weirder could it be?"
Erin, the flier advertising the show has a picture of a lady combing a stuffed orangutang holding a furry umbrella. Remember the time my whole family was lying on the kitchen floor staring at the smoke detector and reciting lines from Wayne's World? I am pretty sure you will think of that as normal after this shindig.
When we got to the gallery, I asked the greeter if the duration pieces were still going on. She said "Yes, you can hear one happening right now." Echoing up the stairs we could hear this vague, wheezing sound. "We are just hoping that she doesn't pass out."
I turned to Erin and said, Yep, that's my sister.
We walked down the stairs and were greeted by a pile of clear plumbing hose connected to party noise makers, and every 10 seconds or so they would inflate and deliver their iconic kazoo sound. It was kinda reminiscent of a birthday celebration at an old folks home.
Down the stairs, around the corner and at the end of 80 feet of tubing, you could find my sister, sitting on stool, blowing into into the hose. You know, for two hours or so. Then she cut through the hose with a pair of scissors.
As far as I can tell, this piece symbolizes the preciousness of breath and how it navigates the channels of our lives, represented by the clear tubes, and splits off in various directions, bringing energy to circumstances and experiences that are spliced into our existence, and that the hose could be cut at any time, and the effect our breath has on whatever it is connected to immediately ceases.
Yeah. Actually, I totally made that up. I'm pretty sure she just wanted to see how much tubing it would take before she couldn't get the noise makers to inflate. The answer is 81 feet and a flight of stairs.
In between wondering when my sister was going to lose consciousness and marvelling at the amount of spit that collected in the tubes, we watched a girl scratch the bare chest of her partner and then drench him in honey, and another guy make a big flower with pillowcases, then draw on himself with oil pastels and light a bunch of candles.
Which made my sister seem so normal it was almost boring.
Jesting aside, while I am not a huge performance art fan, what makes it interesting is not what I think about the piece, but what the piece thinks about me. When you look at a painting or a sculpture, you think about it, and judge it and criticize it and admire it, but you don't consider what the painting or sculpture thinks about you. But it is nearly impossible to interact with another human, no matter the circumstance, and not consider your perceptions of each other. When you walk down the stairs and see just the tubing and the party noise makers inflating and deflating and making their comical, wheezing sound, it's easy to watch it, laugh at it, judge it and walk away. But when you turn the corner and come face to face with another human who IS the art piece, it is not so easy. You might want to watch, laugh, judge or walk away, but you can't do so without considering yourself now. Without wondering what the "art piece" thinks about you. Am I allowed to laugh? Is it awkward if I just stand here and watch? Is it rude to walk away? Am I allowed to think it's weird*? This is what makes performance art actually engaging and thought-provoking - it's not a one-way medium.
Oh, don't get me wrong. It's still straight-up weird* with a side of Huh?. And this coming from a Bartleman.