Saturday, March 1, 2008

Primary Dream









At the end of my first semester at MECA I had a final review with instructors from three different departments. One of those teachers was Ling-Wen Tsai (see Links) from the Sculpture Department. Ling-Wen told me that after hearing me speak about my work, a portfolio of prints and drawings, that it seemed like I wanted to perform my work. She encouraged me to enroll in her performance class for the next semester. The thought of performing terrified me, but after some deliberation, I signed up to take Beginning Performance in Fall '03, and I'm glad I did. It was a terrific experience! I was surprised that I wasn't nervous - this was not like performing on a stage. Participating in a performance was like being an element of a drawing, a painting, or a sculpture.
Here are some video stills from my second performance, titled Primary Dream. At the time I was also taking a sculpture class and spending many hours mixing up batches of plaster in what I call "the three bathtub" room. I knew I had to do something with those three tubs! They were old clawfoot tubs like the one we had in our first apartment in Sanford, Maine, when our kids were babies. I had several colored slides of our children in that tub and decided to project them onto white paper taped to the wall above the tubs. (I used three projectors with three different slides). I wanted my performance to be about being a mother and an artist. So, I filled the three tubs with the primary colors using water and tempera paint, and put cloth diapers in each tub, then strung a clothesline above them. Bathing babies, changing diapers, doing the wash and hanging it on the line - as a young mother these were activities that were ritual with five small children. Trying to find space and time to make art was an on-going challenge - sometimes these activities were my only art. Primary Dream spoke of all these things.
I made a row of candles in front of the tubs and turned on the three projectors. The candlelight and the light from the projectors really transformed the space. (I have to add here that those tubs, which were normally full of dirt, plaster and crap, had never been so clean! I worked like a dog to get them ready for this performance!) Wearing an all white leotard, at the start of the performance I lit the candles, then climbed into the first tub which was filled with the red paint. I stood and hung several dripping red diapers on the line, then inched my way across the back wall, leaving a trail of red on the paper behind me, and lowered myself into the yellow tub, repeating the process, then finally moved into the third tub, the blue one. After hanging the blue diapers, I climbed out of the last tub and left the room. The remainder of the performance was acted out by the colorful diapers that hung glistening and dripping in the candlelight.
The people who watched my performance did not know that anything was in the tubs, so when I stood up from the first bath dripping with red paint, they all gasped. They told me later that it was a shocking sight. I hadn't consciously thought through all the implications of getting into the red bath first, but of course it looked like like blood. The red paint implies menstruation, initiation, sexual maturity, and birth. It also symbolizes pain and experience, and baptism by fire.


Video stills from Primary Dream, performed at MECA, 2003

4 comments:

Susan Beauchemin said...

Wow! I wished I'd seen this!! Did you have music playing?---------Sue

Martha Miller said...

No, there was no music. Didn't I ever show you these pictures? I actually have the video, but it's very pixalated. That class was a hoot!

Susan Beauchemin said...

I showed this to Patience and she loved the first picture with three tubs in a row filled with different color paint---she said, "just stay with this one for awhile"

martha said...

Imagine what a BLAST a bunch of little kids would have splashing in those three paint filled tubs!!! I'm a grown-up (sometimes, anyway) and I HAD to get in those tubs! There is something so appealing about the three of them in a row, set up high on cinderblocks.