|photo by Jet Liam|
This is the post-mortem of a piece I did the first Friday of September. Because I'm interested in process, I'm going to write about the process of making the piece. If that's not your thing, enjoy the pictures.
A few months ago, I had an idea that involved clouds of color in the air. I didn't have any idea for what, I just pictured throwing something in the air that would make a colored cloud. I figured flour would make a cloud like that and asked on Facebook if anyone had any ideas for coloring flour.
I should say, I had no idea at the time that there is an Indian holiday that uses just that sort of thing. Holi. Had I known that, I might have just asked an Indian friend or two about it, but in any case, it was an Indian grad school classmate, Shikha, who answered with a link for making colored flour. Indeed, had I known this was an actual thing, I would have just conducted my own web search for instructions. There are, I've learned, several pages with this information out there.
So, anyway, that just sat in my brain for a few months and gestated. Then, the movers and planners of Continuum announced a night of three-hour, durational performances, which is one of my favorite forms of performance art. I went to brainstorming and came back to this vague colored flour notion. What resulted was Flouring/Flowering
This was the initial idea: I'd stand under a slowly dripping water hose. Around me would be pans (or whatever) of colored flour. The audience would be invited to toss the flour into the air over me. Hopefully, the water on me would cause some of it so stick as it fell, so that the cloud of flour would then color me.
It would fall in line with a lot of my work, which is a celebration of body, of being incarnate. It would also test my comfort zones, as I knew I had to be (at least) mostly unclothed for this. I seldom am in public with so much as my shirt unbuttoned very far. I also knew part of this was also dealing with my hirsuteness. In general, I'm not ashamed of my hairiness, nor do I dislike it. I simply know that some people find it on the "ew" side of life, particularly in this age of shave, waxing or otherwise "manscaping."
I don't manscape. I think life is too short for all that.
Anyway, I figured the water and settling flour would highlight my hairiness as well. Something for the bear admirers out there, maybe.
The first thing I learned was that making colored flour, while not difficult, is time consuming, I should have started coloring my flour at least two weeks earlier. I also found that it doesn't want to pulverize back into a find powder so easily. My blender did an okay job, but after sifting, I still have a few cups of colored flour that is the consistency of sand.
But the most important part is the time consuming piece. I knew that I would not possibly have enough colored flour to put out for random people to toss. I tried to find an assistant who might ration theflour as the evening went on, but no assistant ever materialized, so that a little more was available at the start of each hour. I was concerned that someone would think it would be funny if they dumped it all in the first half hour and then what would I do for the next two and a half hours?
So being distrustful of humanity in general and a bit of a control freak in particular, I decided I would just toss the flour in the air myself. That way I could make sure I rationed the supply to stretch through the whole three hours.
Also, when I went to scout the warehouse where the event was held, I really liked this nonfunctioning elevator car. While there was a source for water not too far off, there wasn't an obvious way for it to drain without having regrettable consequences. The warehouse was un-air conditioned and in September in Houston, that meant I would be making plenty of my own water. So I ditched the dripping water hose notion and decided that anything that stuck to me would be sticking to my sweat.
That's two changes from the original concept, for those who wish to keep track.
I did agonize over what to wear---an unusual emotion for me. I toyed briefly with the notion of going ahead and wearing jeans and a t-shirt, but that seemed to obscure some of the point of the piece. flour accumulating in the creases of clothes might have been interesting, but not as clearly a celebration of my middle-aged body, in all it's beauty and flaws.
I thought I had a tan, full-bottom dance belt. For those of you who don't know what a dance belt is, it's a bit like a jock strap that male dancers wear. Most fit somewhat like a g-string, but there are those with full bottoms, making them something like aggressively supportive briefs. Anyway, I thought maybe that would work for the piece. Except I couldn't find it. The tan dance belt that I did find left more of my lower cheeks hanging out than I was willing to let hang out.
Now, a word about nudity. I'm not against it. I'm even willing to be nude in the right circumstance. I also know that whenever I, personally, see nudity in a performance piece, it can really overwhelm the whole thing and the piece becomes about the nudity. I'd just seen a video of a dance piece by a famous and respected choreographer and there was a section with nudity. While I got what he was after with this section, I have to admit that the nudity was distracting. If I wasn't convinced I would not be nude before, that convinced me.
I admit, I had the converse discussion within my own brain: If all I'm wearing is something like briefs, does that become really obvious and does the piece then become about the one piece of clothing I'm wearing? Maybe.
What really cinched that I would wear something was that I really don't feel like I have a life where I can appear in public fully nude with random strangers taking pictures of me. I've been an artist model a few times, so in a controlled situation like that, it isn't a worry to me. But for better or worse, I do have a day job to worry about and a few relationships that are probably strained enough by what I did wear.
So for better or worse, I wore some athletic boxer-brief type things I found at Academy. They're form-fitting and didn't have a fly, so they seemed like a good choice. And they were. I feel like they allowed me whatever safety such minimal modesty allows while also keeping the shape of my body in focus (and confirming well enough that I am a cis-gendered male). As a bonus, they were super comfortable! I believe I hit on the right balance with these.
In coloring the flour, I decided that I'd stick to the primary colors---red, blue, and yellow. After I started making these colors, I realized something---mix those colors together, and you get black. Despite knowing this, I had pictured having a rainbow of colors on me. As you can see in the pictures, that didn't happen, the black did. So if I were to do this again, I'd stay away from full spectrum and just do maybe three colors from a narrower portion of the spectrum (blue, green, yellow or red, yellow, orange or maybe even blue, purple, red) but not a combo that will create black. It was still kind of interesting anyway, I think, but the black mud look was not part of the original concept. And had I realized this before I had colored a whole lot of flour, this would have been another change.
At the last minute, I also realized, hey, white is a color. So, to extend the life of my flour supply, I added white, uncolored (or bleached, as the package says) flour to the mix.
Over all, I'm really happy with the event. I felt the flour caking on my lips and other places. When no one was watching I pulled wads of black paste from under my arms. It took 48 hours---and a whole lotta eye drops---for my vision to return to normal (mostly, I saw halos around lights for a while). It wasn't what you would call comfortable. And yet it all felt right. I had some good, positive feedback from people, and while I'll take some of what I learned and alter it if I ever do this again, I have no regrets about this iteration of the piece.
Oh, and the smartest thing I did? I laid down a small lap blanket on the floor of the elevator. Did that ever make clean-up easier!
Now, for a smattering of photos from various sources:
|photo by Craig ArrMutt|
|phot by Craig ArrMutt|
|photo by Alex Barber|
|photo by Alex Barber|
|photo by Jet Liam|
|photo by Jet Liam|
|photo by Jet Liam|
|photo by Dean Liscum|