My Heart is Like an Artichoke: A Performance Art Piece, Fall 2002
From Abstract to Performance
As first year students in the fine arts graduate program at the University of Pennsylvania, (formerly GSFA, now Weitzman School of Design) we were required to put on an exhibit in the Charles Addams Gallery within the first two or three weeks of arriving. At this point, and for the last five years, I had been composing large abstract paintings. But something happened when I arrived at Penn. More specifically, something happened when I arrived at the Morgan building, which is where my studio was located. I won’t get into it now but as the year progressed I uncovered some interesting historical facts about that building that may have had a kind of otherworldly influence on the grad students, including myself.
Because of my sudden lack of direction when I arrived, I did not feel comfortable about showing the abstract work that I had been presently working on. And although we could show work from undergrad, I did not want to, rather I was being guided elsewhere.
I had done some performance art in undergraduate, but those performances felt inauthentic, without much substance (I was still trying to find my voice)–I realized at some point that I was not going to head into the direction of Abramovic or Acconci. The idea of performing at the Penn group exhibit did not cross my mind until a few days before we were supposed to put up the show.
The Anxiety of Aging
At that point, and as is often the case, music ruled my life. I was mesmerized by a song called Artichoke by Cibo Matto. I was also thinking a great deal about marriage and my fears about tying the proverbial knot. My partner and I were already together (although that year he stayed behind in Vermont while I was in Philadelphia––a very rough year for me. I used to drive up to Vermont as frequently as once a month to see him--that's 17 hours round trip). By this point in our relationship, despite it being relatively fresh, I already knew I was going to marry him (in fact, I knew I would marry him at the onset of our first date). But I was scared about getting married. I had already been married once and well, that crashed and burned (more on that later in the Love Letters segment).
This performance is about the anxiety of aging in a culture that values youth and beauty. The performance is about undergoing a purification process before wrestling the dress form for the wedding dress. The performance is fraught with imperfection. In spite of performing "cleansing" ritual, I remain as imperfect and tattered as the vintage wedding dress. The Hugo Boss advertisement is the idealized man torn out of a magazine. Symbolically, the advertisement represented an impossible fantasy. The shards of glass that encircle the advertisement, are warning signals making my relationship to him dangerous and distant.
It Inevitably Always Goes Back to Hans
In hindsight, I was feeling Hans.I had inexplicably carried that Hugo Boss advertisement for many years. I would later learn (which was an unknown fact to me then) that Hugo Boss is a German company and that it had actually designed the Wehrmacht uniforms during World War 2. Hans fought in the Luftwaffe during that time, sporting a Hugo Boss uniform.
When I look back at my most memorable moments, there are always signs and synchronicities taking place that inevitably bring me back to Hans, our connection to Germany and our undying bond that
Artichoke by Cibo Matto (poor audio quality–not as ghostly as it should sound).