Performance art is shocking. Naked. Terrifying. Beautiful. Grotesque. Above all else, performance art forces us to think. I love it.
Opening tonight, two of my favorite San Francisco performance artists, Sadie Lune and Lula Mae Day, present “Prove You’re Not a Robot: Interactive Experiments in Fear-Art-Love,” a roving performance art installation piece at The Garage Theatre. Created as the culmination of a three-week intensive series of daily living exercises between the two artists, including cohabitation and other crazy experiments, this art piece is a dissection of intimacy, boundary issues and our visceral experience as humans.
I caught up with these fabulously creative ladies and got them to dish about their elaborate process, gettin’ naked, and what the heck performance art is, anyway.
Q) Through your exploration process for this piece, which exercise did you find the most challenging?
Sadie) I think the most challenging one for me was actually a really short and simple exercise. We do a lot of “eye-gazing” in our work, and this one was to do sustained eye-gazing with each other while we each ate an orange. Usually I’m a really good gazer, I love to just melt into it, but the combination of the orange and the sunlight and I don’t know what kept me blinking and trying to escape Lula’s eyeballs.
Lula) The day we tied ourselves together with a 6 ft. rope proved to be the most challenging for me. I realized how difficult it was for me to go along with Sadie’s plans. She had an appointment with her creative coach. I sat there and regressed to a kid who played with markers and waited for it to be over. Then, I rejoiced when the tables had turned and I had a hair appointment. I didn’t introduce Sadie to my stylist, Becky and she had to find her own seat. Afterwords, Sadie told me she felt like a freak and unsafe. I realized that was my own unspoken fear about going with her to her appointments and then I in turn helped to create that experience for my beloved collaborator. It was a great and obvious metaphor for how I am at times in relationships.
Q) I’ve noticed that often times, performance artists are naked, and with Marina Abramovíc’s retrospective at the MoMa in NY, it seems that everyone in the art community is talking about naked bodies right now. What role does nudity play in your piece, and how do you use the body as a site for art?
Lula) Nudity is an instant way, many times, to achieve a level of vulnerability and frankness. I believe that it reminds the viewer of their own humanity and fragility. It is also a very cheap and available costume. There will be some nudity in this piece and we use it as a means to portray this very humanity and fragility that I speak of. I also change costumes in front of the audience, an idea that I picked up from seeing Keith Hennessey perform at last year’s POW POW performance art festival in SF. It gave me a feeling that we are all in this together and all a part of the creative process.
Sadie) Nudity in performance art is kind of between a joke and a cliche. But hey, I’m not tired of it yet. I feel like that’s one of the beautiful things about the loose and plastic structures of performance art: there is room there to both indulge the artists, titillate the audience, and enact something sacred and true and very commonplace that there isn’t as much room for in society as their should be, all at once. I think that is kind of the job or performance artists: to keep balance with hegemonic society and mainstream culture, to overstuff the holes, and open the painted shut windows and shine the lights in the dark corners, to make public service reminders about what it is to be human in a world full of other humans. Is society still a little too racist, sex-negative, shameful and homophobic for comfort? Are our visuals watered-down and redundant, is there a dearth of non-mean-spirited absurdity? Well, performance artists roll up their sleeves and get to work on those places. And one of the most persistent fallacies of “civilization” is body-negativity: while “civilization” canonizes humanity for all its big-brained superiority, it’s never quite known what to do with the fact that we all have these wonderful messy bodies too.
So I feel like bringing nudity- and nudity that does not defy arousal but that acknowledges sexuality amongst the wide breadth of other ways and times we are confronted with our own bodies, is crucial. It’s crucial to me anyway, to help me feel like a whole person. I see the human body being treated so sorely, and culturally it is still the dumping ground for this high-grade ambient shame that seems to persist, so I think nudity is an important tool to address that shame. I’m super interested by the tension between compulsion and revulsion, and I think this drama is most frequently played out in and on the body, daily, with our own and others. In this show, one of the pieces is specifically about addressing and actively trying to diffuse my own body shame, so exposure comes into that. But the piece where I am actually naked is about raw explicit emotional states. I’m really interested in helping audiences and myself exercise our inter-personal connectivity muscles, and I think in some ways that can only be achieved fully when you have to deal with another person’s body and all of the sensations and triggers that being confronted with a live human brings. Since I’m becoming more enamored of availablism as a guideline and aesthetic for art-making, its clear that what is most available to me, every day, in any scenario, is my own body, so I think its a good place to start and an important site to keep working with.
Q) What is your relationship to the audience? How does it differ from theatre?
Sadie) I love them. I appreciate the work they do to bring me a reason to create a container where I can enact my highest values and fantasies in a way I don’t often prioritize just for myself. With interactive work there is always the fear that the audience will be disinterested or un-inclined to participate, but I enjoy the reality of those moments and the relationship you have created in a very short time. Its one thing to do a spectacle and have people sit in seats and they know to clap at the end regardless of whether they were moved or not. But when you are asking strangers and people who don’t necessarily want to be onstage to play and engage and trust you not to push or humiliate them in front of others- then you learn what kind of host you are; how welcoming and genuine and compassionate and gentle and seductive you have been.
Lula) We see the audience as our fellow collaborators. We change in front of them, we move with them, we might ask them to help us with a prop. In theater, actors create characters that are different from themselves and perform in front of an imaginary 4th wall between them and the audience. With performance art, there are no characters. We are playing personas or hyped up versions of ourselves. The effort is to be as present as possible in our own skin. And there is no fourth wall with performance art usually. Most performance artists like to see the eyes of the audience members they are performing with.
Q) Part of your concept is about creating a sensory experience through performance…tell me a little bit about the role of these senses in the piece.
Lula) We want to communicate the experiences we have felt of elation, depression, giddiness, and exaltation. We attempt to achieve this by moving the audience through space and taking them into different parts of the theater with different lighting, experiences, and smells. For instance, in the first piece there will be the smell of coffee in the air to wake people up.
Sadie) I’m really interested in the powerful visceral associations of smell. I’m incorporating smells into my performance work more and more and in this piece, each of the 5 installations will have its own scent that helps to hit the emotional note of the scene from a different angle. Also we are playing a lot with sensory overload/reduction: contrasting light levels, one scene that is mostly audio and tactile based.
Q) What are some ways that an average person might experiment with some of these same Fear-Love-Art issues in their own life? I see a whole lot of practical applications for your work in helping people move through blocks and tough relationships in an everyday setting. Any suggestions for a good jumping-off point?
Sadie) I find having art as a container and galvanizer really helps me go somewhere with fear and love. So I’d suggest finding ways of turning your interests into simple active practices, and those practices into little projects. Like decide that for a week at some point you are going to tell someone in detail three things you love about….yourself, your neighborhood, your mother. Or work with a partner and make a fear ladder: each person write down one fear per notecard for as many fears as you can access and then tape the cards to a long string. Hang it out a window and see how close to the ground it gets. And then burn it. Take a picture of your lovers hands every day for a month.
I think the way to develop experiments is to figure out something you want to explore or change and then make and active plan to interact with it differently, and with a different part of the body. Something that causes you to intervene on the normal dynamic you have with this thing. Something that helps you feel fun and curious and that you feel you can be accountable to. Small and repetative actions to move the topic to another realm of perspective whether it be physical, emotional, intellectual or spiritual. Personally, I’m learning a lot about maintenance, which generally I resent and don’t do. I’m finding the joyful love in flossing, sewing buttons on beloved old clothes , remembering to call far-away friends, even if just for a minute.
Lula) One thing that helped us in this collaboration was that we both have experience using Non-Violent Communication. I highly recommend this book, Non-Violent Communication by Marshall B Rosenberg.
Q) What’s your favorite mythical creature?
Sadie) Oh, man, I love so many. Mythology was very important to my young mind and development. I really like satyrs. I identify as a mermaid. Centaurs are also pretty hot. Generally I like creatures that are amalgams of something furry, something scaly and something human. It’s what I can relate to best.
NOW GO SEE THEIR SHOW!!!
*Prove You’re Not a Robot: Interactive experiments in Fear-Art-Love by Sadie Lune and Lula Mae Day
Thurs and Fri, April 8th & 9th
8pm & 9:15 pm, limit of 23 people for each showing
The Garage, 975 Howard St.@ 6th (red door)
$10-$20 sliding scale
Tickets Available @ www.brownpapertickets.com
Rachel Znerold is an artist and independent fashion designer living the good life in San Francisco, CA. www.rachelzart.com