Eleanor Barba on TAINT, Pt. 1
It was an extremely humid evening when I arrived at the Fridge to view Taint, Pt. 1. The alley way was buzzing with anticipation and I asked my friend “Do you know what we’re seeing tonight?” No one I spoke to had any clue of what we should expect. The door wasn’t open yet and as we lined up for entry, the excitement of the crowd began to grow even more. This feeling of a curtain call was dissimilar to many other DC performance art events that happened this summer, such as Take it to the Bridge where the performances go on all day long, so one can come and view as they please. Taint was urgent and I felt bad for my friend coming late.
Vestibule Performance at The Fridge: A Reaction by Deena O. Hyatt
First of all, I’d Iike to state how ashamed I am to have taken any part in hitting the humongous papier mâché head representing Ghandi. Things were getting pretty intense, people with crow bars and seriously bashing. A local comedienne yelled out “I hate you Dad!” and people continued to pass the crow bar. Your time to shine, everyone’s looking, camera’s rolling, here’s the crowbar, what are you gonna do? I think I was reacting to the intensity and wanted to lighten to mood by making a comedic appearance. See, I’m on crutches right now, knee problems. So I went up to the huge Ghandi head, hopping on one foot and took light blows with my crutches. Laughing later. Then, back to being an observer, I was starting to get disturbed. There were a few children there and I duly noted their reaction as they shrank down in confusion. No, they didn’t want a turn bashing the head in.
The doors opened twenty minutes late. When I walked into the space I didn’t see the stage at first—it was blocked by a giant head that resembled Gandhi made out of inexpensive sculpting material (cardboard and tape). Beyond the head, and the multimedia pieces on the wall (by Deshaundon Jeanes and Joe Orzal), was a small stage. Along the border of the stage and about four feet in front of the stage lay small piles of pigment of a variety of colors. On the stage sat three women (Jasmine Heiss, Catalina Lavalle, Melinda Diachenko), on yoga mats sitting in “Easy Pose”—what the projected image above them told us. The projection is from an Ipad and seemed like some sort of yoga app.The battery was low on power. Sitting crossed-legged, the women (wearing skin colored body suits) looked bored—squirming and grabbing at their phones angrily. After twenty minutes of easy pose, the women move into Table Pose. They moved not in a fluid motion as yoga is usually practiced, but quickly, firmly placing their hands and knees in on the mat. They perform every pose like this, moving like a cheerleader’s stiff routine.
The performers distress over their cellphones, a robotic voice coming from the iPad, and their stiff movement, added a sense of humor to the performance. One woman’s phone actually fell apart as she angrily slammed it to the ground. I thought of this as a nod towards the trendiness of yoga in America and how the ancient practice is used now for capital gains. I cannot help but think of the extremely pricey yoga pant outfitter, Lululemon and recent trend in yoga competitions (who receives the blue medal? The first person to reach enlightenment?)
Then the tone of this performance changed. After 50 yoga moves, the iPad died and a video came on with Hindi music and hundreds of people dancing in a street with dusts of colors being thrown across the hoards of people. With this change, the performers stand at the edge of their mats and then slowly slither onto the floor where they begin to move, in unison, through the piles of colored dust on the stage and on the floor. This new choreography was opposite from before—they moved fluidly from the stage to the floor and then back. Their pristine flesh colored garments were suddenly full with an array of color. (The festival on the screen behind them came from a celebration called Holi, which occurs throughout India in the beginning of spring.)
The two parts of this performance were so drastically different. The first half seemed to be drawing from consumerism, our idea of transforming a practice so honored into a weight loss phenomenon that results in sales of $100 yoga pants. It also demonstrated our inability to stay away from technology—an inability to turn away from the little screens in our lives. The second half of this performance represented removal from the stiff, angered way of consumerism by drawing inspiration to one of the more lax religious holidays in India. The visual comparison between the iPad screen and the video of Holi, the difference between the performers’ movement and the introduction of color compels the viewer to examine variations of how we consume another culture. Half heartedly, or with true intention and respect of a culture?
Towards the end of the Yoga performance, the mood in the space began to change. People were ushered away from Gandhi head (sculpted by Joseph Hale). Margarite malt liquor cans were rolled out, and Sef Palmero pointed a crowbar at the work on the walls, asking the audience “Is THIS art?.” He asked the question again as he pointed to the Gandhi head. Then the crowbar entered Gandhi’s taped, well-rounded head and everyone was invited to this violent pinata. The crow bar got passed around but it wasn’t before long that people go bare-knuckled to the now disfigured Gandhi. As the sculpture was pulled apart, salt and plastic margarita cups fall onto the ground.
In a way, I really disliked this part of the night. Like doing yoga stiffly with a cellphone, attacking a head of Gandhi violently seems to make a point at how the western world transforms eastern culture to fit our modern views. When a performance piece involves audience participation, especially when they are encouraged to be destructive, do we miss the symbolism in the piece? Or is the violence the point trying to be made? As a viewer (who participated a bit), I found myself trying not to get mauled by others around me. “Watch your back swing” became the mantra in this piece, as we were circled in this small space. (Would it have been better in a bigger space?) Those participating (mostly men) got so excited! Was this the point of the piece? Or was the meaning (capitalism as imperialism) overshadowed with the spectacle?
How drastically the mood of the night changed from watching a performance with a clear stage, to (whether you wanted to or not) being involved in the illustrative destruction of Gandhi. The yoga piece made sense to me; I found it visually beautiful while thought-provoking. I don’t know if I had those same thoughts while having to avoid being hit by a crow bar.
What I should have done was hugged the head, placed my back to it and my hands up in the air looked around and said stop the violence.
After arriving on time because Vestibule’s heavily promoted performance stated explicitly to start at 7:30pm, we were left outside in the heat for what felt like a long time. Maybe a half hour. Then we were allowed in and we all naturally faced the stage, ready for the performance to start. It had started, as noted on the projection behand the performers revealing a timer. Three women of varying shapes and sizes dressed naked in beigh leotards performed yoga poses to an iphone app leading them through position with a robotic voice ominously stated “now relax” and so on. From the promo, I had already keenly sensed that Western appropriation and bastardization of Eastern culture was on the menu. Fittingly, the women intermittingly checked their cell phone during yoga. Sometimes slamming them on the ground. “Table pose,” we hear the robot voice call, and the performers stressfully hurry to get into position. I don’t need to explain to you what this means. You know, yoga came from the East. It’s a spiritual practice, and it’s just as much about breathing as it is about stretching. The way these ladies performed yoga, holding their breath all tensed up with an end-gaining attitude and determined faces, well, we got the idea. There was even a NY Times article about it recently. They did their yoga to the projections for a long while as we waited. I do wish we were walking around and looking at the art during that time.
Then about forty minutes later, the projection changed to live footage of a mob of Indians during some kind of parade celebration where colored dust adorned the air. Music played and the three women began a beautifully choreographed and well exucuted dance. Broken bodies, lovely modern movements, scared and intense gazes into the audience. The stage and floor below the stage, lined with piles of different colored sands, served as a fantastic face palette the performers as fell and covered their faces in colors. White women now colored in spices of the East. The moving modern dance came to a close too soon, then the performance suddenly shifted focus to the large Ghandi head where a Vestible representative screamed “is this art?” and he began the bashing ceremony.
Now let’s go ahead and state for the record: if that was a real person there’s no way I would have taken part. I know that sounds obvious but I do want to make a distinction and I know that for a fact. This was a performance and I felt like I should participate. It showed how people in mass react to a spectacle destruction; how the ferver spreads and amplifies until you’ve got people ripping it down, yelling, and pouring beer on it. How we joined in, or why we didn’t. It worked. Sometimes it’s fun to just break things, especially after waiting around for so long for the performance, then watching stressful durational yoga, people had some built up tension. But it was just a big paper mache head, it wasn’t really Ghandi, or any other living being for that matter. Right? It was an image, a symbol, a representation; it wasn’t real and that’s how we can justify our behavior.
A few days ago Clint Eastwood addressed an invisible chair representing President Obama during his own performance art piece for The Repulican Convention. I wonder, were his insults meaningless because Obama wasn’t actually physically sitting there. Or are we offended nonetheless?