I cried in the museum (Museum der Moderne- Salzburg, AU) today.
Maybe it's that I have a little cold, or that I lost another audition or that I spent 10 minutes high up on a mountain side watching a feather that was adrift in the sunlit breeze but not falling endlessly before it got pulled out of view and I was all ‘that feather is just like us. Benevolence keeps it from crashing, but it’s powerless to direct itself.’ I might just be spending way too much time alone. Sooooo much time for existential pondering.
But I was watching Charlotte Moorman’s 1982 performance of Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece. (Cut Piece, 1965, where Yoko Ono sits and the audience is invited (allowed?) to cut pieces of her clothing off, choosing how much or how little of her to expose. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYJ3dPwa2tI) Cut Piece is powerful and at first it was hard for me to accept why Moorman “stole” it from Ono. But Moorman, like Ono, like me, is a woman and not just a woman but also a woman who gave her body and her life to art.
Moorman performed Cut Piece hundreds of times but this particular time was in her home for a private party of invited guests. It was performed 3 years after having lost one breast to cancer and a few days before a mastectomy on the other. Moorman was holding the vulnerability of a woman- our objectified bodies, the vulnerability of an artist in the middle of their career-the way a work we repeat grows with us with each eye that sees it to shift over time, the vulnerability of a body disfigured by disease, and the vulnerability of a human facing mortality- a woman on her way to death giving a gift (a performance)/soliciting a gift (an audience) to/from her friends. Almost a funeral before death. A way to look back over one’s professional, personal and physical life. A way of acknowledging the gifts the body gives us and the joys the body will take with it when it goes.
Many of Moorman’s friends would cut away a piece of her dress (a piece of her soul/her creative legacy/ a souvenir of a human, admired and loved) and than they would give her a kiss. She just sat and allowed and received.
I do not support the myth that to be an artist is to be any more of a martyr than other professions, but this is the martyrdom of which I am personally acquainted. Particularly the art of the body with it’s unique blend of responses; genuine artistic respect, sexual objectification, suspicious envy, moral shaming, naïve confusion.
The art of the body with it’s inseparability from it’s creator, If I am the subject, the medium and the creator of my work and you do not like my work does it not logically follow that you do not like me? The art of the body with it’s exhaustion and it’s breaking and it’s tendency to whittle us down. (Calling to mind viewing Michael Sailstorfe’s installation in the Boros Collection in Berlin of a tree slowly wearing away from years of scraping on the floor. Our viewing is the motivation for it’s destruction. At the beginning of the exhibit it was green and leafy and now we have watched for years and it is brown and dry. In watching we are complicit in it’s destruction. Without our watching it has no purpose. Our eyes give it life as well as death. So it is with artist’s that use their body as their medium. We are here to be seen. Being seen wears us away, your eyes are like water over rock. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NGwPa3z8zU)
And finally, The Art of the Body with the way it disappears when we do. When we die. The art dies. More than that when we age, the works of the past either evolve into something new (a death and rebirth) or they die completely. More than that maybe as we age, you turn your eyes from us to other faces and than what are we but left to rot?
We give you art and you give us eyes. We give you our existence and you give us a reason to exist.
But that wasn’t all I thought about watching Moorman’s Cut Piece. I thought about the arc of a life and the peculiar nature of the arc of a life as an artist. A life when many people that do not know us well enough to know the superficial nature of our days will know not only our public triumphs but also the private heartbreaks, failures, disappointments through our work. What a thing to live a life in public. If your body is public property (as all art should be) and your body is eaten by cancer, than your art- OUR art has been eaten by a cancer. We all have these storms through which we steer our lives but how curious to have it all framed by the way it changes the product we produce.
Finally I just thought how beautiful it is to allow space to invite your community to come and pay homage to you (and to collect their souvenirs) as you go into battle with a killing disease. I want to pay homage to my people before they die, to their face. I want my people to pay homage to me.
I love you. Let’s keep making art. Let’s keep making space. Let’s keep looking at each other. Thank you. xo
Please forgive the quality of the photos they were taken on the sly while the security guard was in the other room telling some one else not to take photos.
(Art lives because we see it. A no photo policy of an object of art is counterproductive)