Monday, February 1, 2010

Journey to the Center of the Mirth

by Drew Martin

I still remember many of my teachers' comments from my college art program. When one instructor saw me painting with the canvas facing the ground (I was underneath it) pulling the paint towards the floor to create gooey tentacles of acrylic that hardened as multi-colored stalactites, he politely suggested I give up painting altogether and go into sculpture. Once I was in sculpture, my instructor, Ann Hamilton, often said my work was too personal to further discuss and then would move on to the next student. The reaction I remember most, however, was the condemnation by one teacher for my endangering the entire class.

We were put up to performance art, which I was not comfortable with but I came up with a project that I was quite excited about. It was about human conception and an unknown journey that climaxed in joy and celebration. I had all the students and teachers meet me one starry night with bicycles and flashlights on the edge of a wildlife reserve that bordered our campus for a zygotic quest, as determined as a lemming run. We all rode a couple miles with my lead to an area before the bluffs of the Pacific Ocean. It was elevated land with sabulous ravines that looked like mini earthquake faults, which were probably ten feet deep.

When we all arrived at a certain spot, we descended into one of the crevices where we were met by two awaiting friends who had champagne and a candlelit cake I had baked. The friends shouted "Surprise!" and everyone certainly was, but not in a good way. The elation I had hoped to elicit was greeted with annoyance. Most of the students were in particular, named Art (believe it or not), complained that he and one of the female students got their nice shoes dusty. It was probably the most awkward moment in my life.

Everyone reluctantly ate the cake and had some champagne in a bothered silence and then we rode back to our meeting point before we disbanded. The teacher said she was very upset with me. I rode back naively mystified, trying to see what was so wrong about the event. Fortunately, one student came to my rescue and said it was a great performance piece. At the end of the quarter, to my surprise, the teacher even approached me and confessed that she had thought a lot about the project and decided she really liked it.

I am not quite sure why I am posting this memory...partly to retell a humorous art school project that went horribly wrong, also to claim a minor victory in the end, but mainly to say that the art is about experimenting and playing and is not about a distant participation: to experience it we often need to surrender ourselves for a period and even get our feet a little dirty.