Showtimes: Prove You’re Not a Robot: Interactive Experiments in Fear-Art-Love

Photo by Hanna QuevedoMay 29, 2010 at 2:29pm

Performance art is ephemeral. We pour our life juice into the project, it culminates with a show, it ends, it’s gone, it’s over. I write about it because besides witnessing it, I think it’s the closest you can get to “getting it”.
Videos and photos are an option to capture the experience, but…For example, I showed my aunt pictures of the show and she said, “I feel old.” I said, “Why?” She said, “Because I don’t get it.” Of course, she can’t get it, she wasn’t there. And watching a video doesn’t cut it either. The magic of performance art is about co-creating it. My aunt said, “Guess you had to be there.” And she is absolutely right. You have to fucking be there and that is why it’s really worth it.
Ok, so here goes writing about it.
Prove You’re Not a Robot (or PYNAR) is the first full length production that either Sadie Lune and I have concepted. It made sense to join forces. It was the result of a year long residency Sadie had at the Garage Theater.
I come out to live with Sadie three weeks beforehand to prepare. We know the name of the piece. We know we want a series of installations/games/performances that journey through the theater space, down into the basement and back again. We know we will do two shows a night for two nights for a limited number of people. We know we want to make art to learn how to love ourselves and each other better.
To develop our piece and the moral character to attempt it, we practiced everyday. Either rehearsing in the space or doing exercises. Some of our exercises included staring into each others eyes for the duration it took to eat an orange, me taking daily portraits of Sadie’s asshole, holding hands as we walked with unfocused eyes through the redwoods, tying our bodies together with rope the length of my body, and practicing non-violent communication.
Preshow: PYNAR began with Sadie and I on the sidewalk in front of the theater in the SOMA. This was part in response to the Sit-Lie initiative in SF to make sitting or lying on the streets illegal. Sadie wore a black and red zentai suit, a nylon/spandex suit that completely covers her body, head to toe. She wore a men’s business suit on top of that. I wore a Lady Gaga-Hipster-Availabilist inspired costume that was purple boots, shoulder pads, big glasses and spandex 80’s pants.
That reminds me of a major component to this piece: our dedication to an availabilist aesthetic.
We made sure to use what was available to us. Getting props and costumes from friends, the street, or Sadie’s expansive closet.
Moving along…
Scene 1: People had walked over us on the sidewalk and into the lobby where they found two Swedish girls. When I say Swedes, I mean the ever popular and beautiful Farry and Tove. And actually, the second night Hannah stepped in for a sick Farry. Hannah is not Swedish at all. They wore acid washed denim jackets, necklaces for shirts, and little boy style colorful underwear. Not to mention matching leather daddy hats. They are creating an image with their bodies that point people into the next place of action, the theater. Sadie and I moved through the crowd to take our places on the risers. We moved all of the chairs out of the theater. We imagined that people would stand around us as we performed. It was different every night.
Sadie and I made tableau vivants and worked through the Non-Violent Communication process. The first tableau vivant was Sadie laying across my knees pieta-style and me typing on a laptop that was set up on her belly.
Sadie: “I see that you are on the computer again. I feel invisible. I have a need for connection. Would you be willing to look me in the eyes? Hold my hand?”
Between images, we ground coffee. Each scene would have a corresponding scent. Coffee was the first smell.
Sadie’s on the floor dying like a bug. I hold the computer in my mouth.
Lula: “The other day when you told me you had that dream where we in a plane that was crashing and I was like Sandra Bullock from Speed, I felt annoyed. I have a need to check my facebook. Would you be willing to send me an email the next time you have a dream about me?”
Coffee grinder. Sadie grabs my hand and is on one knee.
Sadie: “I notice that when I see you, we talk about sports, your latest TV purchase, the weather. I feel isolated. I have a need for acceptance. Would you be willing to sit down and have a conversation with me about my work, my art, my whole fucking life?”
Coffee grinder. Sadie gropes me and pulls at my lip.
Lula: “When I left my key at your house and you said that you put it in a box with all the other shit girls leave in your room in the morning, I felt humiliated. I need acknowledgment around intimacy. Would you be willing to take that box and shove it up your ass?”
Scene 2: Lights went up.
Jump in the Line from the Beetlejuice soundtrack comes on hot.
The Swedish girls start running around in circles, encouraging people to form a circle on the ground.
I speak as I change into crow like dominatrix, with a leather daddy hat, a huge black feather collar and paper shredder belt. “OK! We’re playing a game folks! And not just for fun. We’re here for a greater purpose. We’re going to exorcise somebody’s shame here, people. It’s not my shame. It’s not any of yours…Maybe you can guess who’s shame I am talking about.”
Sadie was circling around the room, still in the zentai suit, head hanging low.
“Yep. Sadie’s shame. Ok, Sadie, this was your idea to get rid of the shame so let’s start playing Duck Duck Goose.” Everyone always tagged her, though she tried to run away, her zentai covered feet slid all over the floor. And when they tagged her, she handed them a photo of her asshole.
“Don’t be shy, you can pass that asshole around,” I’d say to the prize winner.
“You know, every time I tell someone about Sadie’s asshole shame they say, ‘No! Sadie? The performance artist that shows her cervix all over town? Sadie, the sex worker, has asshole shame?’ And I say YES!” After a handful of people tagged Sadie at Duck Duck Goose and she slid shamefully into the center of the circle, I plugged in the paper shredder I wore around my waist. “Sadie, don’t worry. You’ll be cruising for anal pleasure in no time, cuz we about to shred that shame!” Folks eagerly fed their asshole pictures into the shredder as I sat on top of a slumped Sadie.
This is the first time Sadie takes off her hood and reveals her face. She looks each person in the eye and says, “When I think about anyone touching or seeing my asshole, I feel embarrassed. I feel ashamed. I have a need for pleasure and acceptance of my body. Would you be willing to look at my asshole?” People nodded emphatically. There was a magnifying glass that hung from the ceiling. They took the glass and peered in to her asshole. She talked to them as she did this. People joked sometimes like, “Don’t worry I am a nurse,” or “It’s ok, I am over 40.” I gave them a lollipop after they take a look. And then, when Sadie felt like she had exorcised enough shame she said thank you. She held hands with audience members as we walked down the stairs into the basement.
Scene 3: The Swedes had skillfully lodged their bodies in the stairwell, making it so the audience had to walk underneath them. They wore fruit hanging from their bodies that people ate as they descended into the next piece.
In the basement, there were two cell like rooms: one white, one black. My cell was all white with a projection of Lady Gaga and Beyonce’s “Telephone” music video. There was a white fur coat on a hanger and a pillow on the ground.
Sadie’s cell was black with a big mirror and a depression light in the back. There was an umbrella hanging upside down from the ceiling and dripping with boiling hot water. There was a tea kettle getting ready to whistle on a hot plate.
My actions: I move into the white room and undress down to a pair of white underwear. I put on the white fur coat. I slip a roll of duct tape on my wrist. I pick up the pillow and pose as though I were sleeping standing up. I make popstar faces. I take the pillow and wrap it around my head. I pose. I wrap the duct tape several times around the pillow that is around my head. It is already difficult to breathe. I begin to dance the choreography from the music video. I struggle to breathe and dance. I am audibly struggling to gasp for air. I dance until I literally can not dance anymore. I take the pillow off of my head and look at the audience.
Sadie’s actions: She squats down on her haunches. She is naked and squatting with her back to the audience. She pulls one hair out of her head at a time. She lights matches and burns her strand of hair with the flame. It begins to stink. Meanwhile, the hot water drips out of the upturned umbrella and burns her bare back. I can hear her make sounds from my cell. She repeats the action of burning her hair. The tea kettle whistles.
Before ten minutes are up, we meet at the front of our cells and change into slips and robes. Scene 4: We pull a curtain aside and we slide on a pink rope into the next room. The Swedes follow. The audience gets the point that we are changing locations. The next room is lit with purple xmas lights. Chairs and couches are arranged in a spiral. Sadie burns palo alto and pours tea with the hot water from the black cell. The Swedes and I each have a sound device: an ipod, a boom box, a tape player, that play sound collages. Sounds from walks or conversations Sadie and I have had, or messages left on Sadie’s cell phone, some music, is all swirled around every audience member as they drink their witchy tea. The first show, I was so disoriented after the pillow dance that I was crying afterwords. During scene 4, audience members would console me and hold me. It was very sweet. Sadie made an observation that we wreck ourselves in our performances so the audience can mommy us after. Mommyme.com was her joke. But the people sitting around and next to each other in scene 4 had the time and space to see each other. There was a calm expression on many faces. Some people even reached out to strangers to touch them on their backs. The sound collages end and the four of us follow the pink rope out of the room and go up the stairs.
Scene 5: Upstairs. There are two disco balls hanging. Classic tunes are playing like “Unchained Melody”. There are two blue evening gowns hanging from the ceiling. Sadie and I quickly change into our dresses, zip each other up and are ready for the audience by the time they settled into the next scene. We slow dance with each audience member. We look into their eyes and sway. This part of the piece was always shocking to me. It was Sadie’s idea to end it with a big slow dance. I initially thought people would be too protective of their personal space to slow dance. I was wrong. People were into the slow dance and the eye gazing. When I looked into people’s eyes, they were so open. This quickly became my favorite part. Meanwhile, the Swedes are slow dancing with each other and spritzing people with rose water. Sadie and I whispered into our dance partners’ ears, “How would you…prove you’re not a robot?” It was strange to talk to people after connecting with out words. A lot of people didn’t know what to say. I still don’t. One person cried. One person started to tickle my back. One person said, “I bleed.”
The song, “Home” by David Byrne comes on. Sadie and I look at each other. It’s time for us to dance now. We pull dental floss from the busts of our dresses. We floss each other’s teeth. Mutual flossing. What a metaphor, eh?
And then the music ends. We look at each person in the audience. The Swedes strike a pose that suggests that is time to go. Sadie and I get into our original personas and go back on to the street. Full circle.

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