A personal account of Sleep.
I got to the Corcoran around 3pm on Saturday, after a full few hours at DC Zinefest- leaving there, I bumped into performance artist Wilmer Wilson IV, who had just come from Corcoran- encouraging me to check it out. Once I got to Corcoran, I spent a few minutes outside watching people go in and out of the front entrance, and whether or not or how they acknowledged Chajana. But, it was so hot- so DC sweatfest that I didn’t want to stay out in the burning sun- I’d just biked from St. Stephen’s and I knew how dark and cool it would be inside. ”The Bridge” is a glass box in the front entry designed by Kashuo Bennett, to my eyes it looks an awful lot like any other glass two-door entry way, with more a practical function regarding temperature and security- but it was made specifically for Holly Bass’ performance Money Maker in connection with the end of the 30 Americans show earlier this year and evidently involves innovative design I admit to know little about.
I tried to spend time in there, below Chajana, to take it in and take some pictures, but I was in the way of people entering and exiting and quickly felt uncomfortable and kind of claustrophobic. On a bench to the left when I entered was Chajana’s husband Tony (husband, right?) We’ve meet a number of times, I think only in passing at openings. At that time, I was the only other person there in the space to see the performance. Throughout the day there were a lot of visitors for the piece itself, not just Corcoran-gallery-goers, but when I arrived it was just Tony, sitting with the performance five hours into it. He was so appreciative that I had come, really happy to see me. I felt like he wanted give me a hug but I’m awkward and was sweating so we had a very nice hand shake. I asked about how the day had been going, he was very optimistic. I had a really strong feeling of empathy for him, I had the feeling that he had been there all day and would remain- participating in the endurance of the piece in a way totally different from the artist herself. So- if the artist is present, so also is her husband, taking on the full brunt of sociability. And this interaction hit a tragic chord with me like at a hospital, or a wake. In the quiet entrance to the museum, we spoke in hushed voices about Chajana, in the glass box above us, I was compelled to smile and congratulate. The feeling was so uncanny, like- Chajana would be so happy that you came. I wonder how totally different my experience would be if I didn’t know her, or especially him. The bag-check guard, seeing me interact with him, started asking me questions when I wandered near him. The first, “what’s she doing, exactly?” and the second, timidly, was “What if she has to go to the bathroom?” Simple answer- it isn’t that hard to prepare and carefully dehydrate- 8 hours isn’t that long- but his bashfully asking me nicely articulated how he was interpreting and unpacking the piece, and formost with body-comfort and practicality. I was curious to hear about his experience of the piece, but he was only temporarily relieving the regular guard and hadn’t been there all day. I hung around him for a while. As he checked the bags of two later-middle-aged women he told them to be sure to check out the performance, gesturing to The Bridge behind them. “What performance?” they asked, “When is it?” to which he continued to gesture and say “It’s going on now, there, you can see it on your way out, too.” They had no idea what he was talking about, and went to see Diebenkorn. It seemed that most people noticed her only when they were leaving.
I went with the intention to see the Diebenkorn show as well- but got side-tracked. Sitting in the cafe area were Holly Bass, of the original bridge performance- Adrian Parsons, employed at Corcoran and of much performance notoriety, and Andrew Bucket- who had just performed for my Soapbox two days before. The cafe was closing/closed and the museum was quiet as they are wont to be. Holly talked about her experience earlier that year- during her long performance she had assistants giving her little sips of water, wiping her brow with a bandana, and re-applying her lipstick. Chajana had nothing. Because it was cold out, and Holly was moving, she said the temperature wasn’t a problem either way. Adrian told me that now it was quite hot in there, no AC, they installed a little fan, but every time the door opened the entryway heat up. I asked about sound- Adrian said that she could hear everything, everyone around her talking and all the sounds from the street. Adrian also told me about a boyscout troop running through, trying to determine whether or not she was real, and screaming, excited that she in fact was. He said someone else was convinced it was a sculpture, specifically by an artist they’d seen at another museum here- and I can’t remember if he said Duane Hanson’s Woman Eating from American Art, or the Hirshhorn’s Ron Mueck Untitled (Big Man). Point taken either way, irony of the real vs hyper-realism.
Somehow, I haven’t had a lot of discussion with anyone about the content of piece itself as much as its circumstances. It is unfortunately a little bit clear from the fact that I was so interested in all these other little things, the guard, Tony, the temperature- that the performance itself isn’t exactly engaging. So what is it?
“The 30-year-old Washington, D.C., artist … said that she initially conceived of the “piece” in response to “an objective shared by a lot of performance art: drawing as much attention as possible and trying to attract people to museums and exhibitions.’’ But she decided, “I would do the opposite. I would stop moving and just lay down. I wanted to try and be completely myself in this space that is between the institution and world, art world and real world … and the best way to be yourself completely is to go to sleep.’’ (latimes.com)
Less than a year ago, I was thinking about sleep a lot in light of discourse rooted in Occupy politics, (remember Occupy?) notions of the sleeping body being a place of resistance- and from the above quotation it seems like she is positioning herself in passive-resistance, commenting on institutional use of performance-as-spectacle, as a means for accomplishing some other end besides the value of the work itself, i.e. drawing in crowds, presenting an image of experimentation, and all without high production costs. But, she is totally operating within that at the same time by participating in this program. And, the piece was live-streamed on U-stream- so those who couldn’t attend could partake? In watching her pretend to sleep?
Much of the difficulty of it is its simplicity, the performance doesn’t immediately give a lot to talk about. Her performance consists of her presenting herself as asleep. She would move from time to time, shifting positions, but stayed rather static for the most part. She said she wanted to be completely herself in this space which is metaphorically in-between, but she actively performed “sleeping;” there isn’t anything really genuine about that.
When I first read the posted schedule for Take it to the Bridge, Chajana’s piece reminded me of Andy Warhol’s film of the same title. “Sleep (1963) is a film by Andy Warhol which consists of long take footage of John Giorno, his close friend at the time, sleeping for five hours and 20 minutes. The film was one of Warhol’s first experiments with filmmaking, and was created as an “anti-film”.” (wiki) Warhol’s work removes the sleeper from the audience through mediation of film, both pieces deal with duration but in opposite ways. Warhol’s piece emphasizes endurance on the part of the spectator, and Chajana’s pieces is really about her own discomfort and the duration that her body lays in the space. (Or, maybe the endurance of Tony staying with her.)
This isn’t the first time Chajana has performed at the Corcoran. Last year she performed Body in which she collapsed body-casts inscribed with answers from DC residents in all eight wards to the questions, “What do you most desire?” and “What have you lost?”
I’m drawn to the conflation of “Free Summer Saturdays” and the “Take It To The Bridge” program. Performance so easily functions counter to and without a commercial aspect, the visibility of the performance initiative is increased by combining it with community accessibility of the free-access incentive. Lets be real, the Corcoran probably simply gets missed a lot in favor of the abundance of free museums in DC- and this is to say nothing of the impending crisis or whatever is going on there now.
The subtlety of Sleep meant that it was often over-looked, and more often affected a low-impact impression. Her intent was to make work that was antagonistic to a generalization she found in performance art as aiming to “ [draw] as much attention as possible.” With regards to hype? She freely shared the press she received and invited friends via facebook. Maybe this subtle-resonation she sought was achieved through the nuances of audiences recognizing there was a performance in the space at all. As you leave and realize that she had been there all along, and the actualization of the piece through that moment of encounter.
Leaving, some my-age-ish museum-goers who did not notice her on their way in ask the guard, “What is she doing?” He answers, “she’s performing.”
“Can I apply for this job? I’m very good at this kind of art.”
“Saturday July 28th, Chajana denHarder will attempt to sleep in “The Bridge” a glass box suspended over the entrance of The Corcoran Gallery of Art.
Chajana denHarder’s day-long performance, Sleep, utilizes the Performance Bridge’s transparency and visibility to investigate the line between public and private rituals and to explore her own vulnerability and trust in the audience.
She states, “Often performance art tries to draw as much attention as possible. My instinct for this piece is to get quiet, to maybe go unnoticed, to try and relax, to sleep, and to not entertain in this space between inner and outer, public and institution, and art and the world. To just be: to let myself be seen in ways that I will not have conscious control over. I may or may not be able to do it.”
The Corcoran Gallery of Art
Saturday, July 28, 10-5pm
*Free including entrance to the museum
Take it to the Bridge, Performance Art Series, hosted by the Washington Project for the Arts and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, a part of the Free Summer Saturdays at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.”