Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Note On : A Book About Death [21]

A week and some after the closing of A Book About Death, I'm reflective: The whole phenomenon of the show – or what should be described as an event – very closely simulated the experience of death and the dispersal of the estate.

I don't know how many of you have been through a death where family members fight over who got what when a loved one died but, the aftermath of a death – especially a familial patriarch or matriarch, causes a lot of interesting reactions in people. I saw them played out in how people are dealing with this show. It can get really emotional. I know Matthew has had at least a few responses that were very negative from participants related to the 'estate' of the cumulative corpse that was ABAD.

[By the way, ABAD is a name meaning Father in Aramaic and Arabic. So our exquisite corpse nicknamed ABAD might be thought of as a gathering together and dispersal of a Patriarch. I actually have an old Sufi friend by the name of Abad. Here are some definitions found on line...

The boy's name Abad \a-bad\ is a variant of Abbott (Old English), and the meaning of Abad is "father, priest." Or : ABAD - Arabic: Father

First name variations: Abbe, Abbot, Abba, Abbe, Abboid, Abbott. Last name origins & meanings:

1. Spanish: nickname from abad ‘priest’ (from Late Latin abbas ‘priest’, genitive abbatis, from the Aramaic word meaning ‘father’). The application is uncertain: it could be a nickname, an occupational name for the servant of a priest, or denote an (illegitimate) son of a priest. 2. Muslim: from a personal name based on Arabic ‛Abbād ‘devoted worshiper’ or ‘servant’. The banu (tribe) ‛Abbād claims descent from the ancient Lakhmid kings of al-̣Hirah. The founder of the ‛Abbadids of Seville was Muhammad bin ‛Abbād (1023"42), whose son ‛Abbād succeeded his father as chamberlain to the pretended khalif, but was soon ruling in his own right under the honorific title al-Muta‛̣did ‘petitioner for justice (from Allah)’].

The corpse, as it lay there on the gallery floor with several hundred people stooping down to gather the cards, was very much like carrion picking away at a dead body. More than one visitor commented on that to me. One lady was deeply disturbed by it. I explained that this was the whole point of the event. A gathering together from the ends of the earth of a single body into a single place and then to celebrate it as a commemoration and then let it be consumed like a Catholic communion or like the breaking of the fast at Passover. An art feast extraordinaire – a powerful art ritual.

But people clearly 'got it.' What did they get?  The whole spirit of the exhibition from the collaboration to the content to the co-ownership of the show.  For example: The number of people waiting in line outside, many of whom had to be turned away, was also extraordinary in may ways. But folks were very cool. I have been to very few openings in New York City but just imagine: There is a small, unassuming, almost invisible door that says nothing more on it than "537." On one side, a big Lucky Jeans Store, on the other side, a big Guess Jeans store (combined: Lucky Guess) The Lucky Store is having a big event trying to get people to go in the store for free drinks and food, the Guess Jeans manager is standing on the steps trying to keep the line for ABAD from blocking entrance to his store.

And the line of people waiting to get into the almost invisible art show stretches all the way to Prince Street or, in other words, about a block long - and those are LONG blocks on Broadway. Both Matthew and I went out and spent time talking to people in the crowd but eventually many had to be turned away as the time for the performances approached. I am sure there were many disappointed people although they could all come back another day for the cards.

Matthew then got everyone that were upstairs gathering cards to push all the boxes to the sides of the room and stack them so that as many people as possible could be let in for the performances which opened with my Requiem for Rubberbands and chanted by the great artist Melissa McCarthy who is actually a professional cantor. The atmosphere was electric. Everyone mulling around, talking, laughing, and diving into the card boxes. Matthew, I think, handled the event very well as the master of ceremonies. It was just cool. And then to realize later that the webcast actually worked... that was great and I heard from at least one friend – the artist participant Gary Bibb in Colorado – who experienced the entire opening and performances via the web, said that it was really exciting to be a part of it from a distance and to see people from all over the world chatting in real time and commenting on the event as it happened from as far away as Japan, Australia and all over Europe.  [Thank you Jeanne Jo for making the live webcast happen].

Sure, there could have been a number of improvements, $50,000 would have gone a long way to make it a world class event media wise but hey, for Matthew and everyone else working out of their own pockets to pull it all together around one guy's crazy idea - damn impressive! And with the wonderful participation of The Emily Harvey Foundation, Christian Xatrec (director of the EH Foundation in NYC), Deven Marinner, Phil Shinn and many others who simply walked into the space and were suddenly employed cutting apart boxes or arranging the works in a grid Matthew set up, it all came together. And all the more so that it was done on a shoestring by remote coordination and then everyone swooping in from all over the place to meet each other for the first time and pull off two evenings of fresh performances. We should all be very proud. I would say it was a landmark event.

The trick from this point forward will be to keep it alive through further exhibitions of ABAD with documentary photos, artifacts and so forth. So, let's see what some of the participants and artists come up with.  Several exhibitions are already in the works around the world.  Write your comments here...

– Cecil Touchon, Fort Worth, Texas


The Politics of Shoes said...

Thank you Cecil and Matthew. ABAD lives on in death
Peace, angryjane #414

The Politics of Shoes said...

Hello All,

I just read the most recent and emotionally moving post by Kathleen McHugh and went in search of where Matthew had mentioned negative responses by participants.

I actually must be particularly dense because it never occurred to me that the taking of the cards was in any way related to a corpse being picked over. I thought it was just another perhaps charming example of a fluxus event reaching some kind of sensible/artistically satisfying preliminary climax (a first false ending as in a musical composition). Sometimes one reads into an experience whatever one can handle at the moment.

I also assume that many of the artists that shared experiences through their art of the death of a beloved one were in some way, seeking catharsis and a way to move on from the experience by separating that experience - sending it into the world outside their inner world.

In my case, I haven't even completely dealt with the death of my father many years ago (having willfully pushed it aside for over 10 years) and didn't choose to use that in my submitted card - instead I thought more about my own death (I had pneumonia and am somewhat past the halfway point in my life) and what death means to me - my mother has also been ill and in and out of hospitals where I see some dreadful things and it makes me think of how humiliating and ugly death can be even when people are trying their best to "make you comfortable".

Perhaps the participants that were upset are still too close to the real life experience to be able to emotionally separate the cards they created from their own personal pain.


Hello Jane,

No...the "picking over the corpse" notes is not negative, but accurate and therein lies yet another layer of stuff for the symbol seekers. The negative notes came from the group page on FaceBook. Take a look at the wall there and you'll see one poster in particular who reveals his anxiousness regarding the cards, and the profit he believes they would yield. It is very interesting in retrospect... I'm curious to learn your reaction. MR

Gary A. Bibb said...

It is interesting to observe how people react to situations and opportunities.

Matthew birthed a concept for artistic expression and invited the world to participate. A private, personal invitation could have been sent to a few connected artists, but that would have limited the possibilities and the intention. Regardless of motive, each participant willfully chose to create their artwork and submit/donate it to the exhibition. Most of us were grateful for the opportunity to be a part of something greater than ourselves.

As the rippling effects of this event expand, spawning secondary exhibitions, along with continued dialog about death, loss, grief
and art, it is obvious as to the success of this collaborative effort. (Kudos and thanks to all involved.)

It actually was an opportunity to connect and commune with a diverse group of global creatives and perhaps, through the sharing of our fears, anxiety and various stages of recovery, a shared healing could occur for the artists and the audience. The power of art, which enables us to express the otherwise inexpressible, is also capable of facilitating profound transformations when given the opportunity.

There are many artists who possess refined skill and others who have unique artistic vision, but a great artist is one who opens up, bares their soul and dies to self-interest so as to enrich the lives of others.

I'm far from the goal but I continue to be reminded of the need to correct my path.
May we all strive to be great artists.

The Politics of Shoes said...

Hello Matthew and all,

Yes I believe I found the negative comments you were referring to on the facebook page.

I've been the "victim" of internet weirdness and hostility before - in fact, it made me so shocked and depressed, i almost felt suicidal and took myself off the would you believe Knitting Related LIST!!! A feeling of helplessness in the face of sheer stupidity can drive you nuts if you let yourself fall into that trap/pit. Unfortunately, I am easily susceptible which is why my nickname is angryjane.

Some people just take pleasure in making other people miserable if they can - all in the name of being "helpful" and "altruistic" or "saving people's souls" or you name it...

Sometimes it is best to turn a deaf ear if the person can not be reasoned with. There is only so many times you can bang your head against an inanimate object before your own head starts bleeding.

my 2 cents.