H R O N I C A C T O F D I S P E R A T I O N:
The Story of a Performance
My paint slid off of the canvas and began to cavort in other realms. First it mingled with photo chemicals, projected light and performance, and then it spilled into my life. An installation/performance involving a Ryder Rental Truck began with a nasty marital fight, the night before. Inadvertently, this event became the culminating ritual in the dissolution of a marriage and the reconfabulation of a story. On the morning after this quarrel, I parked a giant yellow Ryder rental truck atop a hill, outside the main entrance of the UMBC Art Department. It was topped by a comic cartoon figure of an outlandish middle aged woman, arms stretched horizontally, exposing herself. The drape she was parting was a large piece of sheer polka dotted fabric, which acted as a sail in the wind, causing the figure to revolve on the makeshift lazy susan it was cabled to. A circular area of the grass around the truck was of normal color, but moving outward from this center, the grass became an increasingly unnatural, brilliant green. Scattered across this Technicolor landscape, was a motley collection of children's toys all tagged with numbers. Clotheslines, strung from the truck to nearby light poles, were populated with various items of underwear and large pieces of black and white striped and red polka dotted fabric. A black and white striped banner, blazoned across the face of the truck proclaimed this to be "A Chronic Act of Disperation." Near the truck was a picnic table with a large umbrella and various lawn chairs. Interviews with visitors were conducted in plastic chaise lounges. A placard on the path leading up to the truck read: When the world was roomy, there lived a tribe that would toss it's garbage out the front door of their homes. When the pile got too high to get in and out… they would move. The interior of the truck was bathed in the glow of a giant red chronometer projected on one end… seconds and hundredths of seconds, in an agitated race. Layered on top of the numbers was an image of hands; wringing, forming and controlling invisible forces. Messages periodically flashed up between the numbers. "Be careful of" --- "the stories you tell," --- "Being" … "is believing." Posted on the wall, a note read, "the one with the most metaphors wins." Next to that, a xeroxed photo of my face was divided into a grid of 2000 squares, each with a different number in it. The red illumination of the chronometer revealed a chaos of furniture, family photographs, art detritus and electronic equipment; all tagged with numbers. The effect was one of a distressed cataloging and damage control. At the "heart" of the installation was a whispering voice repeating a litany of self-deprecating thoughts: "you're pathetic --- get a grip --- how long do you think you can hide this --- people are sick of your self-pity - you have the moral fortitude of jelly --- pretty soon you aren't going to be able to tie your shoe laces". Relentless, this monologue balanced precariously between humor and humiliation. This seemed a high risk operation. By revealing an interior monologue, I ran the risk of creating its reality in the mind of my viewers (be careful of the stories you tell), viewers who were people I knew and worked with daily. For months I had been a walking wound, trying to cover myself. Now I was making a public display of "coming unglued", a highwire act of reframing. I saw it as straddling a precarious line between an embarrassing display of self-deprecation and a ritual of redemption. I felt that it's reception and interpretation turned on a dime. And that that dime revolved on my comportment during it's daylong performance. I was gripped with the (unrealistic) conviction that both my professional and personal life depended on its success. It was my intention to have the site evolve into a party; an unseemly display inverted to celebratory triumph. But the emotionally draining fight disrupted my already tenuous equilibrium. Sleep deprived and painfully raw, I hallucinated the day. I turned the ratchet, but slowly/ Dense morning fog burned away. I forced myself to go get a beer keg. People assembled and enjoyed themselves. Friends helped pack up the truck. It was pulled off. But the greater drama was yet to come. By 3:30 in the afternoon I was utterly drained, in every way. Still I had to return to the rental yard, 30 miles away, and transfer the contents into my Toyota hatchback, before they closed at 5:00. The plethora of (much heavy) detritus, that had been solidly packed into a 14 foot truck, had now to fit into a tiny Toyota(what was I thinking!?). Once at Ryder's, I had less than an hour to complete the task. The scene that ensued was incredible. The parking lot was soon strewn with stuffed toys, lawn furniture, television sets, lamps, rugs and paraphanalia ad infinitum, overseen by the self-exposing scarecrow; as I attempted the obviously impossible task of fitting it all into and onto my car. Strangers gathered around to gawk and help. Much was given or thrown away. The Toyota began to look like a dustbowl relic. Packed solid, and then doubled in height, by the pile on top; it was crowned, of course, with my naked alter-ego. It didn't appear drivable. Sypathetic onlookers (a small crowd, by now) advised against it. Down the freeway, bathed by the drama and warmth of the setting sun, I felt a keen joy (what can compare with the pleasure of the deliriously exhausted as they anticipate bed.) Enveloped by my theatrical auto, disappearing into the sunset, I pictured myself the conquering hero. I had called forth my demons and annihilated them. When I got home, giddy, my husband greeted me to tell me our marriage was over. My triumph was again inverted, and for many months lay in uncertain limbo. The integration of that moment has been an ongoing pre-occupation in my, now wall-less studio. How to resolve this difficult element into my picture? I wait. Painting is a slow process. The unpredictable future must be worked into the malleable past; a gelatinous work, forever in progress.
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