Posts Tagged "Lettie Prell"

The Performance Artist

by on Jan 1, 2013 in Short Fiction | 10 comments

by Lettie Prell On the first day, she sits there wearing a black dress that is neither provocative nor sexless. Yet visitors who flock in from the cold January streets and ascend to the atrium on MoMA’s second floor are mesmerized, for the entire space is awash in a video installation depicting various interactions between machines and flesh. The footage flashes across the walls and sweeps over the woman sitting in the chair. Some images are recognizable: beams of light illuminating eyes during exams, prostheses being fitted to amputees, a dental hygienist cleaning teeth, a kitchen cook working a meat grinder. Other clips are strange: a small device crawling up a person’s spine, thumping sharply as it goes; people sprouting electrodes; a man strapped face-down and gripping handlebars while the lower half of the table slides back and forth, stretching his torso. The bizarre imagery quickly infects the ordinary scenes until everything “seems an invasion of humans by the things they have wrought.” Or so writes the Times critic in an article that splashes across the Sunday Arts & Leisure section. The performance artist is the talented Anna Pashkin Bearfoot, the critic raptures, who charged onto the scene last year with a week-long piece where, while nude, she built a robot amid a jungle of potted plants. The current installation is slated to last a full month. The second day the crowd swells, despite a nasty frozen mix that pelts Manhattan. Today, a real machine squats eight feet from Anna, and to her right. What is that? and I don’t know are repeated many times before the crowd engages its collective intelligence: “I think it’s one of those downloading machines.” “Are you sure?” “To transfer human consciousness into a computer?” “I’m not sure.” “That would explain the shots of the meat grinder. Lose the meat.” “Yes, it is a downloading machine. I saw it in Scientific American.” “But she’s not sick.” “We don’t know that.” “They would never let her, surely, if she’s healthy.” “No law against it.” “I bet she’s going to.” “Why else would it be here?” “She’s going to use it.” “Omigod.” “She’s going to download herself here? At MoMA?” The art critic zips out a new article. On the third day, the line to get in stretches to Sixth Avenue. Today Anna is speaking, still dressed in plain New York black. Every fifteen minutes she says the same thing: “By my words you will know me. I am my true self and no other. I shed the inessential. I shed woman. I shed race. I shed age. I shed status.” On the fourth day, Anna sits in the same spot wearing a hospital gown. The line to get in curls around West 54th. The drama outside the museum overshadows the exhibit itself. Police keep a careful eye on dozens of protestors lined up across West 53rd, shouting slogans like, “It’s a lie. She will die.” And, “Only God grants eternal life.” The daytime talk shows focus on ethics, rules and regulations. Can a medical procedure even be performed at an art museum? Would visitors be required to don surgical masks? All the guest medical experts condemn the Lazarus Project for creating such a circus. By the end of the day, a MoMA spokesperson assures the public that the actual procedure will not be part of the live performance. The statement only serves to inflame interest, since it constitutes official confirmation that the artist is indeed going to download her consciousness into a computer. The nighttime talk show hosts eagerly point out the careful wording of the statement leaves open the possibility of a video installation of the procedure. No one is disappointed. On the fifth day visitors ascend to the atrium to find Anna Pashkin Bearfoot is not sitting in her place. The downloading machine has been rolled to the central position. The video shows a montage of the artist’s life. There are home videos of her as a toddler on a tricycle, and again at a birthday party, taller than the other girls though...

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