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click opera - My life as a living sculpture
February 2010
 
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Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2006 05:34 am
My life as a living sculpture

Yesterday was my first day as a performance artist at the Whitney Museum; for the next three months I'll be freewheeling across the four floors of the Biennial, bullhorn in hand, dressed as an art ninja.



It was pretty nerve-wracking to begin with. Once, years ago, I went out in London planning to busk. I couldn't do it. I just walked around the corridors of Waterloo Station, unable to unzip the guitar case. Well, it felt like that at first. I paced the galleries in my silly costume for a while, the bullhorn dangling at my side, my heart beating quickly. Eventually I made my first "intervention" -- only to have a guard run up to me and tell me that I "couldn't use that thing in here", for all the world as if I were a cross between a member of the public using a cellphone and a terrorist. (The bullhorn would be a very big and loud cellphone, taking lack of consideration up to Alert Code orange at least.) I explained that I was part of the show, and went to make another "intervention" -- only to have the same thing happen.

A quick visit to the head of security sorted out my problem: I left with a Museum Staff pass dangling around my neck, and an announcement was sent out to all the staff: "There's an artist doing an unreliable tour guide in the galleries; he's part of the biennial, it's okay, let him do it!"

Next came the problem of tone. I started off with the smartarse tone of a tour guide addressing the public, telling them, for instance, that a big pile of metal bars wrapped in flags had been 400 bicycles stripped bare on a flyover in Lagos, the cycles' recyclers leaving only the most useless component: national flags. Or that Richard Serra's image of the Abu Ghraib torturee in the pointy-hooded black cape was in fact a shot of Hedi Slimane's new Dior Homme collection, a garment incorporating an electric heating element to keep the wearer warm during those long extra-judicial incarcerations, but that Iraqi fashion victims had complained "Hedi brought electricity to our ass before he brought it to our houses". This got a laugh, but I didn't want to become some sort of political comedian.



I also felt a bit mean telling people looking at the Daniel Johnston cartoons that Johnston actually gets these drawn by a 14 year-old in Hong Kong who's only paid $5 per drawing, and that Johnston, far from being some kind of outsider artist, is in fact an advertising man working on Madison Avenue (which happens to be the Whitney's address). Or that a slide sequence of Nan Goldin-like nudes had been made in iPhoto and iTunes, and been demoed by Steve Jobs at the last Apple Expo. In fact, I felt like someone might punch me saying these things. So as the day wore on (and no doubt as my blood sugar levels declined -- I didn't even stop for lunch) I got a bit more poetic and lyrical, sitting on the floor in the corner of rooms with more ambient washes of electronic sound in them, improvising abstract imagery in a "mesmeric" voice. I enjoyed that; it was a bit like being an improvising poet in residence, and I felt like I wasn't going against the grain of the work on display or irritating people too much.

Some of the most successful pieces were comic, though. Upstairs on the fourth floor there's a room with huge holes punched out of the walls, and for this I paraphrased a short text by Kafka: "Panthers broke into the temple and drank the holy wine. They did this year after year, until eventually they were incorporated into the ceremony..." but added "That's what's happened here too... as you can see, they were very large panthers."

It's funny how, just as every rock band tends to gravitate towards being The Velvet Underground at some point, the irresistible gravity in performance art is towards being Laurie Anderson. (This is why seeing Lou and Laurie together on the street is such a startling thing... talk about "the anxiety of influence"!) A couple of pieces I developed yesterday drifted close to Anderson's work. In one I sat in the elevator for a while, announcing a "biennials cruise" that would take rich art fans from one biennial to the next in a permanent culture vacation (an adaptation of the theme of an old Wired News piece). In another I sat halfway up the stairs, issuing department store Floor Guide information. "Fourth floor: steel toecaps, lorgnettes, mushroom cases, scent vials, idiot drool..."

The "Andersonian" piece I liked the best was a dramatic sketch addressed to people looking at Adam McEwen’s "Obituaries" (celebrities’ fictional deaths, as reported in mock-up New York Times obits): "Your cellphone is ringing. It's Nicole Kidman. "Tell them I'm not dead!" says Nicole. "But Nicole, I saw your obituary in the Times. I saw your obituary in the Times in the Whitney Biennial." Nicole Kidman hangs up."

It actually became quite lonely being a "living sculpture" all day. I felt very eccentric, isolated by some portable "fourth wall illusion". So it was nice when people occasionally broke the art shield to ask me what I was doing. I had a short chat with Wolfgang Tillmans, but the high point of the day was a long conversation I had with an elderly lady who told me all about her son's fashion boutique in the Meatpacking District, and how she remembered Orchard Street when it was "all Jewish". By telling me how lovely my accent was, she made me feel warmer, and I spread some of that warmth through the gallery for the rest of the day, taking the sharp edges off my act and talking about the art in a more sensual, consensual way.

I left the gallery at about 4, exhausted, ate some dumplings on Eldridge Street, then flaked out for six hours of jet-laggy sleep. Tomorrow is another -- weird and wonderful -- day.

39CommentReplyShare

carbon_kink
carbon_kink
Mourning Pearl
Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2006 10:42 am (UTC)

Hah, I'd like to have seen this. Unfortunately I am thousnds of miles away!



Shannen


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intergalactim
intergalactim
intergalactim
Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2006 10:43 am (UTC)

this sounds like such fun.
are you going to be available for other bienniels?

what an intense activity to be doing for 3 whole months!
are there momus groupies following you around all day yet?
i'm just imagining the unreliable narrator narrating unreliably about himself... that would probably be even more fascinating.

is the catalogue you're in a freebie at the gallery,
or the big (probably hardcover you-can-buy-it one??

( a friend came back from the last documenta complaining about having to carry around 2 and a half hardback-phonebook sized catalogues all day...)


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2006 10:49 am (UTC)

The Momus groupies at the moment are mostly elderly Jewish ladies, but I like being mothered!

The photo shows my page in the big official catalogue, which costs a bomb and weighs a ton.


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bonsai_human
Bonsai Human
Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2006 11:38 am (UTC)

You are a lucky fuck. Just being you and getting credit (money?) for it. How does that work?

I read your diary sometimes because you piss me off so much. You can take I'd personally take it as the latter.


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bonsai_human
Bonsai Human
Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2006 11:39 am (UTC)

Lj ate my comment.

You can take that as an insult or a compliment. I'd personally take it as the latter.


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mcfnord
mcfnord
shoop
Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2006 12:05 pm (UTC)

this project amuses me greatly. tomorrow you can do it some other way. what if you solicited other people's impressions first, and fed on them? it might help you not feel so alone.


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csn
csn
Nick the Monk-Rom
Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2006 12:07 pm (UTC)

Don't know what kind of dumplings you're eating, but if you're fond of them, I recommend getting to a Chinatown and finding a Shanghainese restaurant to eat some xiao long bao--they're the best and NYC is a great place for them!


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qscrisp
qscrisp
Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2006 12:14 pm (UTC)

http://ykpw.exblog.jp/1052222


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vinylboy20
vinylboy20
Rupert Pupkin
Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2006 12:40 pm (UTC)

Sounds amazing. The Daniel Johnston and Nicole Kidman bits had me guffawing. I was in the city on Wednesday and couldn't remember if you started the tours yet. Good thing I didn't go down and get disappointed.


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honeychurch
honeychurch
honeychurch
Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2006 02:27 pm (UTC)

I'm actually feeling inspired to make the trek uptown to see this - I haven't been to the Biennial in years, not since the one (2001?) that caused much of my grad school classes to be taken up by fellow classmates' complaints. It's not so much that, though, that's kept me away, as the fact that I make it up to the UES about three times a year (it's silly, but it still manages to astonish me how compartmentalized this city is).

Perhaps now people will smuggle snacks to you to stave off your lagging blood sugar.


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honeychurch
honeychurch
honeychurch
Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2006 02:48 pm (UTC)

hell, I mean 2000 or 2002, I suppose.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2006 04:06 pm (UTC)

Yes! Please do feed the animals!


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Mar. 24th, 2006 12:17 am (UTC)

cool


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svenskasfinx
NOT Greta Garbo
Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2006 02:30 pm (UTC)
weird dream..

I had a dream the other night I was in America to see my old workmates and you did some "ninja comedy" out of nowhere in a nearly abandoned, shop front.. without a window (it seemed to be the lure, as it looked as if it had a window) and you jumped out and you were so hysterical I recalled the dream was just full of laughing.

you and your "ninja art"! :P


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kojapan
sibby d.
Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2006 02:33 pm (UTC)

Wish I could come see this. I live about 7 hours away.


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bklyndispatch
bklyndispatch
in exile
Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2006 03:13 pm (UTC)

how do you feel about readers of this approaching you at the biennial?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2006 03:26 pm (UTC)

Oh, that's fine... I mean, wait till I come to the end of the piece I'm doing, obviously, before you make yourself known. But I'm happy to chat between pieces, it's welcome!


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uberdionysus
uberdionysus
Troy Swain: Black Box Miasma
Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2006 05:36 pm (UTC)

I can't wait! I'm disappointed that I didn't go to the opening, but no one can ever really look at the art at the opening anyway. (Ok. That's just my justification to myself.)

Anything you prefer? Pokeys?


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2006 03:57 pm (UTC)

Does that catalogue say "Born Nicholas Currie, 1967"? Ooh, you fibber!


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2006 04:05 pm (UTC)

They put that, then sent me the proofs to check, and I "didn't see it". It fits rather well with the theme of unreliable narration, doesn't it? Plus, I don't look a day over 39. In fact, people still regularly ask if I'm a student...


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2006 04:12 pm (UTC)

"Didn't see it" indeed! You certainly look good for your age, which I'm assuming is late forties. But lying about your age is the slippery slope to combovers, going out with girls two decades younger than yourself and... er, wait.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2006 05:30 pm (UTC)

One thing the wisdom of age has taught me is that life is always a slippery slope towards something, so it might as well be something nice.


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cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2006 06:22 pm (UTC)

I would've loved to see you do all those things rather than read about them. But I am across the ocean right now*Sniff*. Good luck for the upcoming days of hard work as an art-ninja!


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ex_mimic736
THE MMCSIS
Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2006 06:29 pm (UTC)

What a well-trained muse you have. You should start a muse obedience school for those of us with unruly muses.


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lord_whimsy
lord_whimsy
whimsy
Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2006 07:49 pm (UTC)

I was wondering how the first day was going to be for you. Are we feeling like the minotaur in the labyrinth? Marco in the great Khan's garden? Either way,it's terribly exciting to see yourself in the catalog, eh?

I have to come into town to drop off edits soon, so I'll see if I can't swing by—or perhaps I'll wait until you have exhausted your fancy on the art and must then turn to the ever-changing throng.

Some dandy candy might perk you up, but the sugar spike might just result in an awful headache. Jellyfish it is, then...


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memorybabe
memorybabe
memorybabe
Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2006 09:11 pm (UTC)

How long will you be doing this? I live in New York and would be delighted to see you... It sounds really fun.


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lord_whimsy
lord_whimsy
whimsy
Sat, Mar. 4th, 2006 07:09 am (UTC)
Jellyfish it is, then.

Here you go:


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Mar. 4th, 2006 09:06 am (UTC)
Re: Jellyfish it is, then.

I look forward to eating that soon, Whimsy! (My turn to pay.)


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lord_whimsy
lord_whimsy
whimsy
Sat, Mar. 4th, 2006 06:44 pm (UTC)
Re: Jellyfish it is, then.

I'm afraid you'll find paying for dinner to be quite impossible, Mr. Currie, as we should be feting your latest triumph (I am fully prepared to engage in a krump dance battle over the matter, if need be). Drop me a line when you're all settled in and rested. See you soon, gentle ninja.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2006 09:10 pm (UTC)

Your descriptions of the pieces are very funny indeed. Wish I could be there. Hope you will be recording some of these skits...

Richard


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amiame
amiame
amiame
Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2006 09:51 pm (UTC)

it all sounds very merry and fun. a lot of the art symbolism has gone over my head somewhat (pleb that i am), but the dumplings sound nice.


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anti_peace_riot
anti_peace_riot
Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2006 10:52 pm (UTC)

Poor Daniel Johnston! What's he ever done to you?

Seriously though, this sounds like a lot of fun. Makes me wish that I was there to see it rather than here to read it.


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d_g_m
Insert
Sat, Mar. 4th, 2006 01:17 am (UTC)

Its fun to see a display of "excessive reality" which doesn't use the more standard norm by associating it with the "post symbolic". I think it is done that way to more clearly illustrate its implications. How often do you and your audience stop to consider the worlds in which everything you say is true?


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jina___
jina
Sat, Mar. 4th, 2006 06:59 am (UTC)
Weird and Wonderful

That was one of the best things I read lately. Your life as a living sculpture! :)

you should take a picture of your comment on kafka's short text and the room .


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Mar. 4th, 2006 10:00 am (UTC)

haha. i like how you're so awfully cerebrally emotionally human. i expect it's a good thing to be confronted with when at the whitney. probably i would cry.


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Mar. 4th, 2006 05:18 pm (UTC)
don't auto format

it doesn't just 'happen' to be on madison avenue..


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Mar. 6th, 2006 09:33 pm (UTC)
Can we talk?

This all sounds genius. Never seen it done before--were you borrowing the idea, Momus? I've talked to the Whitney folks about writing this up. Can you contact me to talk (www.jeffmacintyre.com) if you seen this before they get to you? Otherwise perhaps we shall meet up there this week. Cheers, Jeff.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Mar. 24th, 2006 12:18 am (UTC)

thats cool


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Mar. 27th, 2009 07:21 am (UTC)

That tour guide must be something. Well the art are very beautifully crafted.
grand canyon helicopter tours (http://explorearizonatours.com/helicopter.php)


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