TDR: The Drama Review 45.1 (2001) 59-67
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Sleeping with Cake
and other affairs of the heart
In a volume beyond its means, the modest black CD player pumps out "I can't fight this feeling any longer, I guess I'm still afraid to let it show..." The glitter ball turns, dazzling in the red light. Five men and women, charmingly dressed in glittering sequins, shimmering tulle, and polished shoes are seated and smiling. They shift position, swing their legs, and giggle with awkwardness. In earnest anticipation they wait. As the sparkling invitation behind them reads, they are: "Available for Dancing."
Available for Dancing, as performed at the April 2000 "Uncommon Senses" conference in Montreal, reflects my recent interest in engaging the nonvisual senses and in using everyday materials and activities in my performances. 1 It represents a continuation along a line of inquiry into the multiple sources and flavors and textures of that feeling explored so often in pop songs: love. As the nervous sweat under my "charmingly dressed" armpits that evening attested, I have committed myself to crossing some fine social boundaries (not to mention [End Page 59] some powerful personal limits as well) in order to learn more about love, to win some love, and to spread some love around when I can. In much of my recent work, I've been seeking out love in unlikely places. Short of looking under rocks (although maybe there is something to that), I've been mining for love in the smallest gestures, in objects, in rituals, and in strangers. Because of the obvious connections of food to love, I also make much use of food in my performances and actions. So when I have a chance, I speak to the role of food, of cooking, of feeding, and of eating in my works, and how, in the end, love has always got something to do with it.
I began my interest in performance and love with a public work in the spring of 1999 called Doing It for Love at a derelict rooming house in Montreal. In this piece, I set up in one of the smelly, abandoned-looking rooms and did two things: I told jokes continuously (dirty jokes, Clinton jokes, lawyer jokes, gynecologist jokes--I even took requests), and I served homemade pie and other freshly baked goods to visitors passing through the room. In this work I was thinking about the ways I perform as an artist to achieve one ultimate goal, and that perhaps, perhaps, any other motivation for art-making--like transformation, communication, improving the world, all that--runs a distant second to this goal: winning admiration, affection, and earning some semblance of love. In this piece I wanted to go all out. I wanted to seem funny, attractive, endearing, generous, and sweet-as-pie. I tried as hard as I could to encourage the visitors passing through the room to like me. And as an exchange that might be visually documented and accumulated, I asked willing visitors to please write their "compliments and thoughtful reflections" on the walls surrounding me. With me trying so desperately hard, with everyone's paper plates and pie residue all over the floors, and the graffiti-covered walls all around me (including, of course, some unsolicited, yet thoughtfully reflective, insults), the scene, as you can imagine, took on a very pathetic, abject quality. As I became overwhelmed and tired from this joke-telling and pie-serving marathon, punch lines got confused, whole tortes got spilled, and smiles stretched across my face with increasing pain. The harder and longer I fought to earn some love, the messier and nastier the scene became. It was an unforgettable learning experience that, in a way, launched a series of works continuing this search for love and its necessarily messy accompaniments.
As you might gather from the start, my materials and strategies come very much from everyday life. It's important to me that my work have a very immediate accessible level, and that in fact I...