Back in October, I was asked to be a part of a group performance art piece, an interpretation of John Cage’s Variations III. We were given a sheet of transparent plastic with 42 circles on it. Our task was to cut out each circle, take a 11 X 8.5 inch sheet of paper, drop the circles onto the white paper, clear any circles that landed outside of the paper and also any circle that wasn’t overlapping with another circle. Then we took a photo of our “circle configuration.” Mine looked like this:
We were then supposed to distill this pattern into a “score” that would span 2 hours (including 5 minute breaks for every “event.” According to the directions, “Starting with any circle, observe the number of circles which overlap it. Make an action or actions having the corresponding number of interpenetrating variables (1+n). This done, move on to any one of the overlapping circles, again observing the number of interpenetrations, performing a suitable action or actions, and so on. Some or all of one’s obligation may be performed through ambient circumstances (environmental changes) by simply noticing or responding to them. Though no means are given for the measurement of time or space … or the specific interpretation of circles, such measurement and determination means are not necessarily excluded from the ‘interpenetrating variables.’ Some factors though not all of a given interpenetration or succession of several may be planned in advance, but leave room for the use of unforseen eventualities. Any other activities are going on at the same time.”
So, in less dense terms, 24 performers were given a space of roughly 4 feet by 6 feet, all in one big room. And we could do any activity we chose, for a length of two hours, off and on, as was guided by our circle permutation. So, basically, I had 9 circles which meant 9 events, and I tried to have each overlap “dictate” how each of the 9 events was structured. The performance was on December 1st.
I decided mine would be about doing drag. There was really nothing else that made sense. Drag has been the only form of performance art I’ve done, and I was excited to, in a way, deconstruct and leave up to chance, the way it played out.
I brought an alarm clock radio with a tape player, 100 cassettes tapes all in a display case, 9 wigs & hats, 4 skirts, 2 pants, one dress, a bunch of shirts and coats and belts and cumberbunds, 4 shoes & boots, a makeup bag, 4 “microphones,” a mirror, a blow dryer, and a hair buzzer. I think I was the performer with the most “stuff,” and over the course of 2 hours, I proceeded to make a mess of all of it, within my space. This was reminiscent of any time I would do drag. After a show, my room would be a disaster of dress-up options.
So, for each of the 9 events, I threw “circles,” onto the ground (including cds, tokens, bracelets, and mason jar rings). I then pretended to have these circle formations dictate what I wore and what tape I played. In a vague sense. It all did work out in the end – I had 9 different outfits and 9 different songs, all chosen at random. Some of those included REM – Drive, XTC – Summer’s Cauldron, Tears for Fears – Shout, and Kate Bush – Jig of Life. I didn’t know these songs by heart, so I just pretended to lip-synch. Due to the cacophony in the room though, I was the only one who could hear the clock radio anyway – I had to hold it right next to my ear!
Other peoples’ actions included baking things, bicycling, playing instruments, creating play-dough art, playing video games, reading aloud, dancing, and much more! Observers just walked among us. It was unclear whether they were supposed to engage with us or not. One guy did come up to me and ask if he could talk to me. I said, “Sure.” He said he thought earlier I had silver lipstick on and now I don’t, so what happened? I said, “Oh, that lipstick was so old it didn’t go on right. It was all clumpy. So during one of my breaks, I went to the bathroom to take it off.” “Was that part of what was supposed to happen?” “No!” And we both laughed. He asked more questions about why did you do this, why not this?
Afterward I talked to a handful of acquaintances – it felt good to be social. That guy came back up to me and said, “You know, when you put on the lipstick, you really had me convinced.” “Convinced of what? That it looked bad?” “No, that you were a woman.” “Oh, whoa, OK, so, I’m a little bit of both. As is all this stuff.” I gestured to all my clothes and junk, still strewn about. My two friends I was talking to backed me up, which felt awesome.
I think ultimately, I was going for that response, for people to be confused about what genders I was playing out or not playing out. So even though his forwardness made me uncomfortable in the moment, it was an important element, or “takeaway,” from the night.