Saturday, October 20, 2007

Intimacy: It's Just a Gesture

As I waited my turn to see Marilyn Arsem at the Western Front, Paul Couillard propped open the washroom door, sat on the toilet and pulled down his pants. "Can I come in?" Hiroko Kikuchi asked. She needed a tissue. "Sure," Paul said. "It's just a gesture."

When it was my turn to visit Marilyn, she led me into the guestroom at the Western Front where she is staying. It's a clean, dimly lit room just big enough for a bed, a desk, and a sink. She asks me to choose a wooden disk after we bother mix a pile of disks up in the bottom of a glass. I closed my eyes and chose "candlelight". We do this ritual three more times and I chose "speaking", "laying down", and "your future." I light three candles. We lay on our backs next to each other on the floor and Marilyn gently invited me to talk about what I imagine my future will be. She will tell me what she wants her future to look like. I feel delighted to share my vision of a big flower and vegetable garden with my own apiary. She sees a garden in her future too, perhaps near the Atlantic Ocean. We drift off together, making observations on lobsters (our lack of them on the Pacific Coast), male performance artists (always torturing themselves for our entertainment), and we shareour love and fear of travelling the globe. I'll admit I was having such a good time with our intimate conversation I felt sad to leave and begrudgingly opened the door to let in another stranger who would visit my new friend.

Outside the room, the bar was in full swing. People were giggling and offering Paul Couillard reading material. Audience members were tasting bitter melon samples and tea served by the Bitter Melon Council, writing down their personal stories of bitterness.

During the 15 minutes I had spent with Marilyn, Jeff Huckleberry had made his way through over half the walls in the tunnel he and his friend had constructed in the gallery earlier in the day. I peered through the wreckage and saw his naked butt staring back at me. "Nice to meet you!" I thought. I looked up to search for the performer's face, but could only see his naked torso straining to punch through the side of the wall his head had already passed through. I moved up and finally saw his face and scalp covered with sweat and dry wall dust.

It was fascinating to have an intimate view of such a laborious process, this Herculean task. His leg muscles were and built like the proverbial tree trunks and striated with the force of exertion. Edward Muybridge would have loved it. Here we have the male body pushing through the boundaries of space and time, crashing through one frame to another, breaking the barriers of image and sound. (The walls were miked.)

As he neared the end of the tunnel created out of pine two-by-fours and dry wall, the artist's assistant motioned for everyone to move away from the area in front of the tunnel. When the human steam engine finally broke through we all felt a palpable sense of relief and applauded his efforts. Humbling and inspiring, it was like witnessing the strong-man act at a circus, or the super-human feats of Andre the Giant.

Jeff Huckleberry's performance 16 feet
exhibited as part of Western Front's Participatory Dissent series, Oct 18/07

LIVE5 Photos: Jeff Huckleberry's Photo Set

I went back upstairs to eavesdrop on people filling out the forms created by the Bitter Melon Council. I heard an artist say she had started to write a bitter story, but then thinking it was too personal to share, she tore up the paper. I asked another woman if she would tell me the story she had written down. "My bitter story is about losing my most bitter story," she said enigmatically.

The evening continued with cocktail chatter and so I went to check out the aftermath of Huckleberry's performance. The crew was already busy dismantling the lumber structure and disposing of the broken drywall pieces. The artist sat resting for a moment in a tank top and pants looking calm, flushed, and transformed by his action.

Experience is an arch. Sometimes we pass through it with gentleness, humour, and grace, other times we scratch and bite our way through it. The things we do to meet people, make friends, seize the poetic metaphor of the day. Shop, drop and roll. Shit or get off the pot. Take ownership of your bitterness. Give until it hurts. Invite someone in, and listen to their quiet stories. Look out the window at the squirrel frolicking in the wet leaves across the street. Mourn the tree that used to be there. Above all, do no harm. At every cocktail party there are always casualties. Collateral damage. Wait on the stairs in an imaginary country and wait for the blonde celebrity to flash her bald pussy. Not a bush left standing. We are looking for intimacy in all the trite places. Once in a while something beautiful flashes in the distance, rumbles like thunder under the skin. Suddenly you have made a connection. Communication/art. Social(ized)(ist)/intervention.

Lori Weidenhammer


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