Monday, October 10, 2011

Ritual with Rob Andrews

On Saturday, I performed in the Art in Odd Places festival with Rob Andrews. In the piece, I was asked to wear a black cloth over my face which covered most of my body. I placed two jars full of water, gauze and some postcards at my feet, while standing barefoot on a grass mat. The postcards invited audience members to wash my feet, hold my feet and pray. The symbolism was strong and intense.

Initially, I had mixed feelings about the piece. I wasn't quite sure how the piece would make me feel or how it would affect the audience, but it was something I wanted to do regardless. I arrived in Union Square at 3pm. I was able to see the other cloaked figures with passersby gazing at the mysterious ensemble. Slowly and carefully, I placed my materials on the ground. For some reason, I decided to face the sun, to look directly at the audience. I covered myself in the cloth, and was still able to partially see through the black veil.

The first 15 minutes were a challenge. The sun was beating down on me and I couldn't quite find my place of peace. I centered my breath and started focusing. I saw the collection of eyes and cameras (meta eyes) peering at me, trying to make it all make sense. The echoes of voices, "what is this about?", "what does it mean?", "who would want to wash someone's feet?" swam about in disembodied voices. I could only see directly ahead of me and sometimes people with cameras came frighteningly close, trying to get the perfect picture.

I stood still. As still and silent as possible for two hours. I was unsure if I could actually accomplish this feat, but I was able to do so. The main problem was the heat, but I was able to meditatively focus on my presence and the actions of others. I got my feet washed about 8 times. I believe most of them were by my other performers, but at least two were outside viewers. It was interesting to feel the differences in people's touch, energy and action in washing my feet. Some people had such tenderness it was moving.

At one point, Rob and his son came to wash my feet. Rob's son said, "I'm making art with dada!" and I started tearing up it was so beautiful. The interesting part for me, was that I thought that this piece would make me uncomfortable, or feel degrading for me or the audience. But I had a completely different reaction. I felt peaceful and meditative--I felt a connection with those washing my feet, the touch of another human. We could not exchange glances, but only exchange energy and this was powerful to me. Hearing the comments and watching the spectators helped me focus. I enjoyed that the piece made people uncomfortable, made people question and made some participate.

About two-thirds of the way through, there was another attraction behind me. From what I heard, there was a nearly naked black man behind me. I wanted to look. I resisted the urge and stayed focused. It was interesting to watch the shift from me to him in a matter of seconds. To hear all the commotion, but not be a part of it. This portion of the performance tested me in my ability to 'stay in the moment'. After the other performer left, most people went off with him. A few more people wandered by, some taking photos, others hesitantly walking back and forth, deciding on inaction rather than action.

After two hours, I took off the cloth. The sun was still so strong and the air, and my breath and the ground felt different. I was in a haze-- something between being disoriented and being at peace. I walked home taking it all in trying to focus my feelings on the moment and in the intense beauty of the experience.

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