In a brown turtleneck, half-sewn up and drawn over her face, black pants and beige saddle shoes, she sang to herself, audible but muffled within the sweater, starting and stopping in a pattern that seems to reflect the pace of her circling... Songs themselves—or rather song fragments—appeared to change every hour, and a flesh-colored egg timer, is reset each hour. Brown leather belts were periodically shed from the artist’s body. Her feet were just slightly red and raw. Not just as evidence or refuse, but as an invitation.
Eleven-thousand square feet. It was a small, dark blue cloth with four colored, blinking LED lights fabricated into it diagonally that he held up for us to see. Changing the microphone position activates a change of pitch and harmony. He climbs the rungs joining the stringers and sits at the top step with his back to us, looking out over the avenue, the metro tracks, the turnpike. Leather belts. There were several strewn along the ground, all seemingly the same make and style. Their prone appearance came across a little threateningly. Like whips. Dipping the mic on the blanket over the amplifier grill causes feedback. The tape is on again and the mic is covered with a cloth. “Why can't I find a job?”
The performance began with a coin toss. The first pile of fresh materials diminished and the more disheveled collection of the ‘performed upon’ grew. Several actions fell apart before they were finished, adding to the refreshingly unserious quality already implicit in the work’s structure. The faculty for quick mental leaps—the ability to quickly size up the materials and produce an action that referenced what came before. A kind of chain letter or game of telephone stretched across the weeks between artists.
A word pulled apart, doesn’t fall to the ground but rather it seems, becomes a score. These fragments all contain information, even dormant information that is simply waiting to be reconfigured and used again. Their actions become the “thing”, scrubbing, replacing, hiding. They work together to disassemble the relics of other works before storing them so that the work can begin again. Up high where window ledges can conceal objects.
A train goes by, heading inbound. Commuters walk by with groceries. The light begins to change from day to dark. Someone leans on their horn. And then someone else does. There is a hum. The electricity of the room is louder than everything else...except the train going by outbound. Joggers. A bus. Another inbound train. An alarm.
Byrd shuts it off and sits up. He looks at us, has some water, looks out the window.
The truth is, whatever we are handed from the previous generation—from the previous inhabitant of a space—is ours to interpret or reuse or reject as we see fit. Sometimes the question isn't so much what to do with what has accumulated in a place, but why. Why choose to do one thing with it over another? Or who? Who are you addressing with the choice you make when you begin responding to what you have found?
The title here is a big clue. It puts the brakes on the entire curatorial project—protests against its (familiar) agenda to acquire, to collect.
To the window, Byrd sings. No words at first and then a spiritual “Let's go Down to the River and Pray”, begins to emerge from the high, open sound. And stops abruptly.
Byrd's bed is a tie. Or a dress. No, a tie I think, striped and giant-sized. It is heavily reinforced with metal grommets underneath and he begins to load it with the objects that the space has collected... acquired over the past six weeks. His action in the space is to collect and pile the objects on the tie, dragging it with its increased weight from one end of the (long) gallery's longest side to the other.
He makes 50 stops on this journey, singing while he drags, pausing and interacting with many of the objects as he adds them to his pile, and then continuing to drag and sing.
Byrd's voice is full and beautiful. We follow him, all of us in the crowd. Stopping when he stops singing, moving when he sings. He's like the pied piper.
I have an itemized list of everything he adds to the pile, but I won't share it. Suffice it to say that there is indeed enough stuff. Certain things evoke certain responses from him: All fabric is folded, even if it has to be unfolded first in order to be folded. Tape is partially torn free of it's reel. Glass bowls and bottles are ground or tapped together. Shoes are clapped together. Salt is shaken in a circle. Belts are slapped in the air like whips. The choreography of this seems invented on the spot but ritualistic at the same time. Meant to invoke someone or something...
Byrd's voice rings out. He is sweating, the pile is heavy and increasingly harder to drag.
At the last stop, a music stand under an inadvertent spotlight, his singing peters in and out through each verse. I know we are being invited to sing along but no one does.
Byrd removes his shirt and folds it, drinks water, wipes sweat from his brow.
I turn my back on him for a while and look back out through the window at the other end of the gallery, where he started.
It's dark now. Cars sparkle through waving trees. The Citgo Sign, Boston's most quintessential object, goes through it's typical routine.
I hear a slam behind me but count to ten before turning around.
When I turn, Byrd is on the floor, as in the beginning, head resting on the tie-knot pillow. Breathing heavily.
The trace elements that remain as this process takes place are our feelings and thoughts. We are sculpted by an onslaught of information, moved, repulsed; but most often, simply overwhelmed. Here, everything is catalogued and reset.
A ladder was propped up and climbed rung over rung, straddled, and descended again. We process material goods rapid-fire, altering their nature briefly through use and quickly discarding them. A knife, two apples, two onions, an inflatable tire, a bottle of wine, beer, two glasses, a ladder, white plates, black plastic bags, tissues, a music stand, sheets of paper, a dozen eggs, a cabbage, two cardboard boxes, a bucket of water, a saw, a shovel, two sawhorses, a mop, a bell, small plastic figurines, saran wrap.
Should it or could it have played the sound in the grooves? It didn't. Was being in the largeness of this space shortening the perception of time? I was thinking about them later and it reminded me of a friend who, on what to us appears to be an unfathomable impulse, went out to the porch to smoke a cigarette and then hung himself with his belt. Ground the audience into real time.
Her movement intermittently broken by pausing, lying down, or other small gestures, at a pace neither hurried nor deliberately slow. A pitcher and glass of water, from which the artist drank as needed; a lightbulb; and a hammer. The ‘roving eye’ made its way into the action again. This felt at once like an instruction to the performers who will come after, and also a sort of holistic charm on the space.