Friday, September 12, 2003

Eiko and Koma: 

Wednesday night, the opening night of PICA’s TBA festival, was a sunny evening, warm after days of rain. I got to Jamison Square early for a good seat. A good seat was on the ground. So I hunkered down. The sunset was a beautiful gold on the Pearl Court Building, while below, just beyond my outstretched legs and the klieg lights, in the fountain--which was to be the temporary stage for this evening’s performance--tech workers stapled a covering to a rectangular platform.
I’ve been reading Rumi all week and so I’ve been a little spacey, looking at the world in a particular way, looking for signs you might say, what it means to be human, what is illusion, what is real. I mean you can’t read Rumi and not think about these things. Then sitting there in Jamison Square I got to thinking about performance art and what makes performance art performance art and what is time based art anyway? And how is time based art any different than life really?
If there’s anything that marks our humanity in particular it’s that we know we are coming to an end sooner or later and what is that?
Time based.

Now as I am writing this I feel like Carrie What’s Her Name from Sex And The City, in one of her more pensive moods, alone in her Upper West Side apartment with her closet full of a half million dollars worth of shoes, taking a bite out her red delicious apple as she writes her award winning column, on her computer, posing the poignant question--writing out this very sentence:
Aren’t we all in a sense living in time based art?
Maybe that’s the whole point of Rumi is that we are all here for a little while on a temporary stage to strut and fret for awhile, and who knows maybe somebody can make some sense out of all of this.
Which is art.

So the sun is setting and I’m thinking all these things, and I look at the watch on the guy next to me and it says seven o’clock.
I’m always getting the time for stuff wrong, and again I was wrong and I think the performance is at seven o’clock.
So now when I look up at the guy stapling away on the temporary stage, I go OK. I got it. They’re trying to pull a fast one on me. The guys working on the stage aren’t workers at all, they’re performers, and it’s only me, me and Rumi, who have noticed.
Rumi says we are the mirror as well as the face in it, doesn’t he?
So I really get into the movements of the guy with the staple gun, and I’m wondering what it means and I study the guy’s movement and how he’s pounding in the staples.
Really, it was brilliant stapling.
The guy finished and if you were there that night you’ll probably remember me. I was the guy standing and applauding, yelling Bravo! Brava! While everyone else in the audience was arranging their blankets.

The sun was completely set by seven-thirty. Man it’s already that time of year isn’t it?
What enfolded in front of my eyes next was truly something beautiful.
Eiko the female and Koma the male.
To the guy on the street I’d say, well there’s these two people see and they’re hearts are broken and their bodies are bent because life just does that to you. But these people have a particular reason for being so bent and broken hearted. They’re paying homage to the World Trade Center and what happened there two years ago on this very day. So they’re covered in white dust and they can barely move. They both have yellow chrysanthemums in their hair, and the chrysanthemums signify what is still left of them after such a devastation that can be beautiful.
They really don’t do anything, Eiko and Koma, they just drag themselves around in a puddle of water, sometimes shaking their fists at the sky. They don’t make a sound. They can’t. It’s amazing they can breathe with all the suffering they’ve experienced. In the brochure they call it delicious movement but to me the movement is not delicious. The movement is sour and bitter and brings tears to your eyes and makes your throat choke. The movement makes your joints ache and fills your heart up with despair.
I mean it’s heavy stuff. You’d never see anything like this on TV. Even HBO.
All the while this man and this woman grieve and wretch and suffer, the world keeps going on. The water in the waterfall keeps turning on and filling up the stage, and then turning off and the water gets sucked down, then the water on, then turning off. On and off on off again and again. Up and down up and down the water the way you flush a toilet.
Life goes on.
Or maybe it’s the timer switch.
Eiko and Koma, the man and the woman, finally do manage to find each other. First off they just eat each other’s chrysanthemums, then they float around a while, try and stab each other. Then they kiss each other, or try to. Then at the end, they embrace, and hold on to each other and stagger out of the fountain.
Me, I’m not clapping because I’m not sure if the performance is over and I’ve already made a fool of myself once tonight. Then people start clapping and I clap too, but all the while I’m thinking should you really clap at something like this? Shouldn’t we rend around garments and tear our hair?
Now I’m feeling like Carrie What’s-Her-Name again writing those pithy questions.
But really, after the performance, I am low and lonely. Left sitting there in the night wind, my breath in my chest. Full of sensation and delicacy. Rumi calls it The Friend—The Friend is when a moment opens up for you and you suddenly feel the beauty that is always around you. And I think really the only thing different between performance art and life is that performance art makes you sit through it.
Walking back to my car, a young man, pierced and tattooed, just he and I on the street. He can’t stand it any longer and suddenly he turns to me and he says: You know this part of town is such a sham. All this bullshit expensive sterile housing.
And then he says: That what we just saw makes it all worth it, don’t it?
Saw what? I said.
That stuff they did in the fountain for PICA, he said, You know, the performance art.
Makes you feel good that there’s stuff like that out in the world, he said, And that it came to Portland, don’t it?
I had to agree.
The trouble was, though, I’d lost my car.
When I finally found my car—it was on one of those empty streets with rows and rows of buildings that look alike that are artist lofts for artists with lots and lots of shoes.
Time Based Artists.
Anyway, in my car there was the Rumi book. I flipped open the page and found this:
Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.
Don’t try to see through the distances.
That’s not for human beings.
Move within,
But don’t move
The way
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened.
Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

Tom Spanbauer

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