Marina Abramović, “Rhythm 0,” 1974
Marina Abramović is best known for her performance pieces, in which she tries to explore what is possible for an artist to do in the name of art. Her best known piece was the recent “The Artist Is Present,” in which she sat motionless for 736.5 hours over the course of three months, inviting visitors to sit opposite her and make eye contact for as long as they wanted. So many people began spontaneously crying across from her that blogs and Facebook groups were set up for those people.
Her bravest piece, however, is my favorite. This piece was primarily a trust exercise, in which she told viewers she would not move for six hours no matter what they did to her. She placed 72 objects one could use in pleasing or destructive ways, ranging from flowers and a feather boa to a knife and a loaded pistol, on a table near her and invited the viewers to use them on her however they wanted.
Initially, Abramović said, viewers were peaceful and timid, but it escalated to violence quickly. “The experience I learned was that … if you leave decision to the public, you can be killed… I felt really violated: they cut my clothes, stuck rose thorns in my stomach, one person aimed the gun at my head, and another took it away. It created an aggressive atmosphere. After exactly 6 hours, as planned, I stood up and started walking toward the public. Everyone ran away, escaping an actual confrontation.”
This piece revealed something terrible about humanity, similar to what Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment or Stanley Milgram’s Obedience Experiment, both of which also proved how readily people will harm one another under unusual circumstances.
This performance showed just how easy it is to dehumanize a person who doesn’t fight back, and is particularly powerful because it defies what we think we know about ourselves. I’m certain that no one reading this believes the people around him/her capable of doing such things to another human being, but this performance proves otherwise.
Edit: Several commenters have pointed out that I’ve overlooked an important variable here: gender. They are right; I imagine that a lot of the dehumanization inherent in this performance is related to the gender of the artist. I am sure that people would have reacted differently to an utterly non-responsive male than they did to Abramović.
I was trying to come up with something witty or funny to say,
so that I might see a flash of teeth accompanied
by that shine in your eyes that only comes when you are truly happy.
Instead, I felt liquid like, hot, bubbling three things that,
just to be clear, you didn’t laugh at,
“I Lub Owe.”
I know what it sounds like and how you must think that it means something,
that’s not so witty or funny and might make you run away
or cry, or maybe act irrationally because we aren’t ready. But, really,
I just stubbed my toe while trying to make a joke about—
I don’t even remember now. I just hope that you believe me.
Ah, and now I can’t stop blushing.
Why are you standing there so silent? Just tell me what you’re thinking.
Maybe I was going to mock reality television.
Or, say something sort of sexist because that would be inappropriate
and I always say something politically incorrect when I am nervous.
You can interrupt me anytime now. I ramble when I am nervous, also.
Hey, did you happen to notice the weather? It’s been rather chilly.
Have you read that recently released book about the power of introverts?
Or, seen that new film with the poor French subtitles?
Listened to that one amazing album by insert recognizable queer artist?
Oh, I like that shirt on you. I meant to tell you earlier. Is it new? It looks new.
Either way, it brings out the color of your eyes. (Fuck, why did I just say that?).
(What a horrible line it sounds like. He’s going to think that I’m so ridiculous.
Look at his body language. Is he backing away now? Am I still speaking?
I guess he’s just staring at my body. Does he find me attractive?
Does he think I am beautiful or cute or sexy? Why can’t all three go together?
I should say something witty or kind of funny…
so that he might think I’m intelligent or smart or something.)
Do you want to grab a drink sometime this weekend?
I mean, no pressure. I did just say “I Love You.” (stop laughing at this bad joke.
Why did I just make that bad joke! Wait, he’s laughing, too.)
How awkward would it have been if you just took me seriously?
I realized how weird that was for a minute. Anyway, I’ll talk to you this weekend.
(There’s no way I could ever Love him. Especially not after that. I wonder if he likes me? I think that I could like him. Maybe I could Love him. Maybe we should talk about it. Maybe he talks to other people about it, and how he could never Love me.
I should have told him to call me, so that I wouldn’t have to be the first to text him. I should have not tried to make a joke about it. Why do I care if he thinks I’m attractive. Or smart, or funny. Either way, he makes me smile.
He just looked back and smiled.)
(I think I really like him, too.)
When we were together it was like
my fingers were made of giant ice cubes,
pounding constantly changing, lettered tiles,
trying to impression in some kind of sculpture on paper.
Or, fog had crept into my mind
and I was always lost in white clouds, billowing
out each ear so I also could not hear,
then attempt to capture what I couldn’t see.
Some people have called this “writer’s block”
and sold books on how to overcome it,
which I find to be ironic.
And, sometimes I stand in the self-help section to see what other
people are most worried about in their own lives.
I hate that you still find a way to get ahold of me.
That you still have a hold on some piece of me.
That some part of who I am still belongs somehow to you.
That you are still around, that you still come around.
That you know my favorite place to buy a cup of coffee,
or that I play with missing jewelry when I’m nervous,
and can refer to our past like it is something still in existence.
This time must be different, because my mind is racing
and my fingers are tiny toy trains carrying heavy cargo,
winning the uphill battle for a journey my heart is well-prepared.
I would most likely still sleep against your swelling chest,
listening—with envy—at your quickly, speeding heart beat,
trying to calm the butterflies gnawing on my intestines.
Whoever said these winged things were gorgeous creatures?
And, why do so many women wear their anger underneath tilted smiles?
I’d like to offer up this proposal: will you take a trip with me up the West Coast?
We can rent a car, and drive for hours, stopping when we most desire.
We can turn around when we are bored or lonely or start to hate each other.
We can make out in empty, happy hour restrooms or never kiss again,
as long as we still are learning how to Love one another. As long as
we can still find a way to love each other.
If you’d like to we can plan it far ahead of time, or go this weekend.
I’m open to your suggestions.
When we were together it was like you were my only partner,
but I will call this A Poem for my Most Recent Lovers.
Or, maybe I will never give it a title, because none of them ever gave us a fair title.
And, who really gives a fuck about a title?
I guess I did.
Reasons Why I Can’t Love You:
If I did, just to be clear,
I might want to make you a mixed tape.
One of those ones where I use the color of your eyes,
green, to design the insert for the cassette case
and that I hold outside your window after
scouring thrift stores for a flasher’s jacket.
Or, I might write a small clue that leads to a bigger trail,
that takes you into a getaway vehicle of your fantasy,
where you arrive at some overdone picnic setting, candles lit,
and I remembered to make all of your favorite foods.
I may take the time to write you some lame poem,
that I scrawl onto oversize presentation board,
and ring your doorbell when you first wake up,
so that your words are secured without caffeine just enough to read each line,
and when you smile I would finally relax.
Maybe I would even kiss that scar where you scraped
your knee when you fell out of the tree at age nine,
and pretend to love bad 80’s pop music—
even though I am still not that gay. Or, wear the scarf you knitted
even though wool makes me itch.
I would probably forget every anniversary, but always remember to bring
you flowers or other small presents for no reason at all.
And, kiss your cheeks when you start crying because
neither of us really ever cries. Or, collect your tears in tiny, labeled jars
so that I can have physical traces of everything that matters to you.
If I were to fall in Love with you,
I would most likely laugh a lot and get nervous,
complain that my stomach felt upset for reasons I didn’t understand,
and blush at your lewd suggestions even if we had already fucked.
Which, we most likely would have.
And, I would probably be terrified to meet your friends,
which would surprise you. Then, excited to meet your family,
and then terrified again after you explained how much it all meant to you.
I might even do some things to make you angry so you might love me less
and when you explain it didn’t work, I’d wonder if making you
another mixed tape for your now growing collection would be enough.
Eventually we would begin to look a little bit like each other,
and spend so much time together that our friends might wonder if that
trip we took resulted in some kind of unlikely crash
that lead to our imminent deaths. This would be the only explanation.
When we finally resurface after our first fight,
our loved ones become relieved to see us until they realize that all we
want to talk about is how wrong and horrible the other person is.
We may even bring up the things that we once found adorable
but now drives us so crazy—like how you floss at the dinner table
and how I always have to make sure the camera is tilted just right.
I may call you one night when I am incredibly intoxicated,
and tell you how in Love with you I am.
Which you will remind me of with a cheshire cat grin the entire next day.
Secretly, I might realize its time to break up or move on or just run.
(not) Because, I am no longer in Love. And, you love me too much.
“If You Forget Me” — Pablo Neruda
What if men were photographed the way women typically are?
it would be super hot, that’s what
If We Were to Take a Ride to the Beach:
It would be late at night, around 1 a.m. and I would
call you when I got to your apartment in a rental car,
a really shitty one that smelled like urine, or puke, or possibly semen.
And, you would say how nice it is to not have to take the bus.
When we got to the beach, we’d take off all of our clothing,
and run into the water until it hit our stomachs, knocking our breath out.
Then, we’d realize it is far too cold and the only movie that
ever told us the truth about water at night was Titanic.
We won’t mention this to each other because neither of us wants to
admit that it’s one of our first thoughts. And,
we will rush into our clothing, covered in sand, and wondering
if certain parts of our bodies are being watched by the other.
Once we are fully clothed, we will sit side-by-side on the sand,
as long as its not too windy, and start talking about
everything. Except, I’ll secretly hope that you don’t bring up
the weather, sports, and music;
not because I don’t like those things. When you do bring up music, I’ll
secretly be disappointed, and you’ll try to impress me
even though you’ll just be affirming my initial understanding
of your emotional depth and the way you wish to be perceived.
After several hours, and a few less inches between us,
my head might rest against your chest, and you might tell me
how you felt the first time we kissed, hoping that I’ll kiss you.
And, when I do, we might both be deciding whether or not
having sex on a beach is worth the months of finding sand
all over the apartments we will then both also be remembering the warmth of, which neither one of us will mention.
Unless, you make me nervous and then I will be annoyed with myself for bringing up the weather.
When we finally decide to leave, the sun will be coming up, and I might
ask if you would prefer to grab a cup of coffee,
or I’ll take you to your apartment and one of us might mention
how “I hope I can see you again sometime.” Or, “that was lovely.”
After the necessary arrangements, we will both get into bed alone.
And, most likely sleep for several hours. The next day, I’ll feel nervous
about whether or not you really like me, or if I’ll hear from you.
I’ll go between really wanting you and having no interest at all.
Then, when I do finally talk to you or see you, you look a little different. The kind of different I will file away somewhere but it won’t matter until we have our first fight.
I’ll remember the time the water hit my stomach.
And, how all my breath was knocked out. And, I might
note that it’s not too cold but I feel it anyways.
If it is Only About One Thing Then
I have closed my eyes
and listened to the sound of repetition,
to the way he says and drums play.
And waited for hours, in compliance with what was expected,
without hearing a single sound.
I have closed my eyes
and tried to transcend the tradition
of mindless, clouded thought.
Or, ring on that other hand,
the emptying of what books have said means nothing.
It is not that I disagree,
with those books,
it’s just that, in them, I see only an interpretation
that has never worked for me.
Although, many have published it without review.
I have closed my eyes
and gone on a vacation
where the sun didn’t shine,
and Walt Disney never brought magic to.
Where I had made empty, book bidding,
a spot for societal culture to build.
And, knowing that, I would never be able to avoid it.
So, it’s no surprise,
that when I closed my eyes
eventually the world asked me what I was doing;
pushed its desire for marriage on my body.
I still can’t tell if I preferred it to be a dream.
I have closed my eyes
and still can’t see the darkness
that others find behind blue painted lids and long lashes,
but—why—when I have strapped on the apron?
If it weren’t for the movies
than I might be afraid of all of this.
I have closed my eyes
and, finally, words as my compass—
stories as my path—
I am beginning to read the journey;
although stunted, resistant, unsure.
Eyes closed, I am comforted by fortune cookies and motivational posters
that imprint my memories from when I was a child.
And, when, we sat hunched over take-out won-tons
you puckered your lips for
the photograph of my generation.
And, I fell out of Love.
Eyes closed, I have tried to understand why one might settle
and contemplated cats as a pet.
And, when in front of the mirror I stood naked,
the way my body might look wrinkled.
I can’t remember if I saw lines that form out of a laugh.
Eyes closed, my fingers trace the outline of the bodies
that once pressed up against mine.
Although long forgotten.
And, I orgasm without restriction, even though
we aren’t supposed to say or do such things.
That’s not that no one does it.
In secret, and all over the news,
the way our bodies lock with another’s
and sweaty, thrashing. Alone.
I kiss women in the rain,
against the protests from billion dollar corporations.
And, still, eyes are closed.
As if the world is content with ignoring
everything they are content to discuss in ignorance.
I am happy, they are distracted by legality,
as if the whole point is something we have yet to know.
And, now, I can spend days in your arms without anyone saying a word.
Can you feel my bones shake against your freckled skin?
I am stranded, strangled, holding on by a rope
so thin that the horizon blushes hues through
stained, darkened, and grainy strands.
I picture the rough hands of older generations weaving baskets,
and kiss your toes that fit into hard, black boots.
I don’t care that you imagine half-glass-full inventions
on which a child might understand burning his hand.
I imagine rain falling against my book collection, stripping the souls
of all those writers who I admire.
I dream they come in mobs, knocking at my door, and demanding I repair broken words.
I push the ink into tiny crevices, spread it out, and add bleach
upon which I will continue to mop sunshined perfection into my tiled floor.
I am nothing; no one and nowhere.
Soothed and combusting into a silent, fractured soul that is alone,
and freed by this:
the pathetic notion that we can survive without another.
Coffee tastes like paste. I eat it
out of plastic containers and forget to compost
the gritty, brown texture that has started to stain my fingertips.
I must cry. I must allow myself to feel.
Will I still be strong? Will I still be independent?
I am told by thousands of strangers who I am because I reveal a fraction of my self.
Have they started to know?
Anger is a secondary emotion and sometimes you forget.
I scream into pillows, play indie music, and drink PBR in the park.
I dream of laying down on cracked pavement, and watching
the sneakers of strangers skip over my fragile, naked remains.
If I left this place, would you find me? If I said, “I love you,”
would you still stand half-erect in my entry-way and cook frozen pizza
after I threw up in your shower,
crying against a country that won’t let my people ring-finger my nationwide?
You should know, I like that it sounds dirty when you read that line aloud.
I have been told that
I am going through a phase,
making a choice that will
negatively affect my life; the life of those around me.
They have asked me about my God—
that must not exist—
and my clothing,
that wasn’t designed for my gender.
They have slung insults to try and break me:
fag, dyke, slut, whore, cunt.
They have bullied, neglected, taunted, murdered,
and led my people to kill themselves—
gun to head, blade to wrist, rope to throat,
and that time I swallowed the bottle of pills, staring down on the streets below.
But, I know that I would rather
feel lonely every day of my life,
and cry into soft pillows, where the sweet scent of her hair
climbs up to my nostrils,
kissing away any attempt to deny to myself who I am.
And, I would rather be a fag, a dyke,
dive bar slutty, sometimes a whore.
I love the way her cunt feels against my lips.
No love is illegal, just ignored;
a whisper pushed aside, an excuse for anger and denial.
We are fighting.
What they don’t realize is that—
if they had just left it alone,
we might have let it go.
But they dug heels of religion into our path,
and claimed rights that belong to no one.
They have dragged our brothers to pieces,
and told our sisters that their sexual desires are merely fetish.
They have excused pronouns, claimed rights,
and taught children to justify actions of guilt and shame.
Your perception is no more my identity
than a stack of labels, gun-pointed,
ready to deem worth to a choice—that I—
never got to make.
Because I am: The Female Body
Because I am:
Big. Curvy. Flesh on bones, and inhabiting space. Because my thighs touch, and my stomach glows white and full.
They have said:
She is fat. She is ugly. She is unattractive. She is disgusting. She is overweight, unsightly, hideous, unworthy, pudgy, plump, stout, large, chubby, portly, flabby, paunchy, potbellied, beer-bellied, meaty, of ample proportions, heavyset; obese, corpulent, fleshy, gross; plus-sized, big-boned, tubby, roly-poly, well-upholstered, beefy, porky, blubbery, chunky.
Because of them:
I am aware of the way my body fits into spaces. I constantly measure my proportions against those of the similar sex. I have analyzed fashion magazines, popular culture, and the way we discuss the female, feminine, other women;
THE WAY WE, LADIES, DISCUSS OUR BODIES.
I struggle with confidence and overcompensate. I am well aware that people watch what I eat, pretending to love the taste of a green leaf versus a French fry. I try on clothes in private, avoid showing skin-fat-stretch marks-cellulite. I would keep the lights off during sex.
Because I am:
A woman. I forgot what it means to be who I really am. I forgot that the plump, v-deep, roundness of a large bosom is what feeds my people. I forgot the way a Grecian goddess could demand an entire audience to stare intently into an artist’s rendering of her ample buttocks and soft, fleshy physique, caressing cushions where lover’s laid in the broad day light of green meadows.
I forgot to question what really matters. And, listened too intently to a world that tries to tell us what is beautiful, sexy, seductive, desirable, alluring, toothsome, sensual, sultry, slinky, provocative, tempting, tantalizing; nubile, voluptuous, luscious, lush, hot, beddable, foxy, cute.
I forgot because they said women should be:
erotic, sexually explicit, arousing, exciting, stimulating, hot, titillating, racy, naughty, risqué.
I am no longer forgetful. Because I am.
There is something about a woman that
I have never noticed
in a man.
At first, I thought,
it was the slight dip
where lower torso meets the top of the hip,
as she lays eclipsed—my half moon—
in sheets that allow heavy air to fill where our mouths
slightly touch warm breath.
Then again, I realized,
it might be how a woman relaxes against hard walls,
so soft in comparison,
puckering evening lips into
bursts about art, feminism, a fight.
Batting long eyelashes against strong winds.
The way she says: we’ve got it all.
And, strong role-models that traded
in their skirts for a part that was not scripted.
Long ago, I believed that I might have a choice
in how my fingers grasp zipper,
and knees go weak,
my body betrayed into a melted, wetness between legs.
I believed that the labels others glued, stapled, and taped to my body,
the partners I had, the sex I chose, the lovers I held close,
determined my identity.
Now I wouldn’t trade this path for
a million things that others might deem more worthwhile.
There is something about women that men,
the physical anatomy of a man,
does not do for me,
that has only to do with the physical anatomy of being
And, I am well aware of how that thought
betrays all things we want to correct in our movement.
And how, often times, dichotomies bestow an amount
of chaos that I do not approve of,
setting grays into harsh black and white tones
that, if it was something I could do, I’d erase.
The thing is, I don’t want to, and am not sure a pronoun,
the he or she of bathroom stall complexes,
would change any of it.
I was feeling really:
well, bored with the lesbian scene.
If that’s what one would call it.
The scene of:
this is it, here we go again, it’s all the same.
These girls in:
skinny jeans, kicking around names of sex worker celebrities,
sighing in contempt at or of something.
They have it all.
If you consider all: a trust fund, stolen food, name brands.
The V word:
vegan, vanity, Versailles, and vagina.
A-list, a list. Of what?
I could lose my mind and fit in better,
or grow hair in places, sing karaoke,
drink tequila from a full bottle of Corona.
I think religion was invented out of hate,
or somewhere on that fine line of love,
scattering remains onto uncertain genders, sexuality,
kissing strangers in the bathroom at the only bar where:
we fuck better than heterosexuals.
Queer is a word that fits like:
a blonde wig on boy, tight skirt slams his ass,
he carries his lean frame down a runway of
rampant head-shaved, porcelain butches,
lip synching to a popular culture that I read about online.
You should see the way she drove the U-Haul up the stairs,
into my red hallway, hugging curves, rubbing inside walls with silicone,
and trying to frustrate my liberation with needle points pro-commitment.
Its the “I Want” culture that I can’t belly flop foolishly into.
Its the concept of individuality, of homosexuality, of all-it-is really.
I could care less, except when I don’t,
and when I fall in love, and when the world humps my back at 5 a.m.,
because it can’t sleep and is in the mood, if you know what I mean.
Ode to the Hipster
Slouchy knit cap,
You—bow-tied and snappity-snapping.
Sailor, I want that suit.
Boots; those pleathered feet.
This is the ode to:
ode to the hipster.
Valencia; she crawls over my pursed lips. Bowler hat. Big bangs.
Threw a party for that sweater.
My trust-funded, untrustworthy, baby.
Boxed-wine, dined on Indian.
Flannel wrapped her body,
underneath a handlebar mustache.
You heard me—I whisper:
“this is. This is the ‘Ode to
I said: cuff those pants, bitch!
My lady friend.
Pabst Blue-ribboned kisses.
I want her—head buzzed, rolling
80’s slang off that Tang-orange tongue.
A miss or a mister?
Ode to the hipster.
He said, today, for the first time,
as I was walking away, my back turned,
words thrown into the wind, slapping my ears,
while I thrust fingers against black eye liner,
smudging wet crusted, beaded, and fading with the day’s work.
Chainsaws slicing into trees, these roots scream “Timber”
swirling into the voices of men, cutting down where a knife carved in,
and initially blaring out old 80’s love ballads on VH1.
You sounded like: a swarm of bees when he kicked,
soccer ball flying and running our bare feet down to the pond,
praying because I forgot about the leeches.
He said, today, for the first time
and I was already leaving, blushing hues of sadness,
imagining red lava flowing from my inner volcano,
and those eyes that didn’t meet mine are blue,
which he probably hates the color of.
I came home to the smell of fresh baked cookies, and tinsel on my ceiling,
these pandora stations rocking away my clearance rack comforter while
forgetting to take off my pair of red sticker boots.
He came home to an empty studio, bare-boned but inventing the shade of prosperity,
eating out of plastic take-out containers, in the body he gave himself while
trying to prove he’s not the place where he began.
Lamps buzzing through the constant change of desktop screen savers,
flashing bulbs burning and flickering along time-worn hallways,
and the whips cracking against skin, rag riding clean against black boot.
You sounded like: the moans of a slave during her first beating, as he grins,
and ties adorn this neck, creating a masculinity to no longer
ask for your permission and writing my words into hidden spaces that resemble lies.
On the one hand: I think you are a acting like a child.
On the other: I’m hoping you will tell the truth and come around.
New Tattoos; always a pleasure ;)