A few weeks ago I went to Chelsea to see Robert Melee’s show at Andrew Kreps Gallery. As I was enjoying the way the gallery space seemed to unexpectedly take a turn, shifting me into a room with what looked like the back side of stadium seats, I spotted a woman who captivated me.
Sometimes I just want to stare at a person for no particular reason. It may be because there’s something fascinating about the way they look; she was one of those people. As I went to sign the guest book, I noticed three letters: MPA. Someone had mentioned that name to me before… I thought…I couldn’t remember…I was sure of it though….
As I walked out of the gallery, she was standing out on the street. It was cloudy, and it seemed like she was staring out at the sky, and I got really nervous suddenly but then I just blurted out, “Are you MPA?” and she said, “yes.” I introduced myself, and said that she had been mentioned to me by someone but I couldn’t remember how at the moment and after that initial awkwardness, she told me she had a show right around the corner at Leo Koenig and told me that it was organized by Alhena Katsof and Dean Daderko. Dean!
(I have my own great experience with Dean. In 2004 he was doing Parlour Projects, a powerful little gallery right from his living room in Brooklyn, and he included my sculpture Kissing President Bush in a show called Republican Like Me. The show also included Sharon Hayes, William Pope L., Cary Moyer and a whole bunch of other great artists whose company I was amazed to be included among, having just graduated from school a month earlier. On the subway, a day after the show opened, I saw someone reading the New York Times. Blown-up on the front cover of the Arts section was a picture of a sculpture that looked exactly like mine. I got so depressed that someone had made the exact same piece as I did, that when I got off the subway, I almost didn’t answer my phone when I heard it ringing….but when I did answer it, it was Dean saying, “Rachel get the paper, your sculpture is on the cover of the Arts Section!”).
So after I went to MPA’s show at Leo Koenig I realized that she was staring at the sky. She was trying to decide whether or not there was enough sun for her to do her performance, which involved directing light with a mirror onto a plaster cast of her father’s fist. This is the ongoing portion of her show: MPA goes to the gallery on sunny days, and directs the light onto the fist.
Here’s some of what MPA wrote in an email to me about her experience during the opening performance:
Sept 15th. 6-8:30p. I stood with my eyes closed in the gallery next to a glass shelf holding a plaster caste of my father’s fist for 2 and half hours. I wore the jeans I wear everyday and white ribbed tanktop. I remained still. When I began, the gallery was quiet, then some whispering, and then grew loud with commotion with people. From my position, I went in and out of my body. I meditated, thought about the fist, thought about power. Sometimes I felt the audience/crowd colouring me in. I felt rendered by their presence, and although my eyes were closed, I knew their looking. I knew when someone was close or when there was space. Occasionally, a familiar laugh or voice would bring me back into the room to listen more literally. I composed an audio picture.
At 8p, one of the curators whispered into my ear that it was 8. I continued to stand and intended to keep standing. The room was noisy and full. A silence grew. A silence that asked me to open my eyes. That is how I felt. The silence was a request. I felt a very strong energy. A focus. And this energy met my stationary, still body and had me open my eyes. A calling.
I opened my eyes to a room full of staring people. My eyes didn’t quite work, and my mouth was parched. I remember blinking. Almost loudly. I looked at everyone in the room. I turned my head and looked into the eyes of each person looking at me. Some eyes were wet. One person was crying.
Whether purposely or not, MPA’s show coincided with the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.
No matter how hard I try to forget about this holiday, I always know it’s happening, because my mother calls all week to make sure I’ve found a place to go. Which I find odd, or troubling, that one holiday creates so much anxiety. Why not other days? Does my soul need saving? Do I need to atone? Would I feel different about the holiday if it wasn’t connected to my mom’s incessent phone calls?
For years, I have actively tried to resist it. I know full well that it is Yom Kippur, and I am aware on the actual day, hour by hour, that today is Yom Kippur.
But what I’ve come to realize is that I just have to observe it because it is a part of me. And I don’t mean “observe” like observe the holiday, but to literally observe, watch, pay attention. I’ve come to appreciate that this day–no matter what I think about the religion and the issues I have with all religions–this day has made its way very fully into my psyche, and I can choose whether or not to fast or if I want to go to synagogue. Regardless, I will have a day which is fully and completely reflective and that is what I think is the essence of Yom Kippur.
MPA’s piece seems to be embedded in a similar kind of a struggle: against upbringing, tradition, the force of a system weighing on your psyche. The more I think about angling around it, trying to bend the light to hit it, trying to struggle with it, that’s when I see this thing is a fist.
In an email exchange with MPA she told me she had been at the Wall Street demonstrations. This makes sense to me. People are beginning to develop the direction it will go in, but right now, it’s just a force.
Later, I emailed Dean to tell him that I met MPA, and Dean wrote back to tell me that he is now a Curator at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH). Dean is one of those people who creates communities wherever he goes, and those communities seem to live on and shoot off sparks, like the one that drew me to MPA.