Communitylessness and Selflessness
Prelude: At the end of this story, a man stabs himself.
Ticket guy: “7 dollars please”
I didn’t feel comfortable paying 7 dollars
“I’m sorry, but you can’t go in”
If this had been a typical theatre production, music program, or even a major museum, I probably wouldn’t have fussed – I probably would have just left. But this was Silent Barn, a “community gallery” in Bushwick, and their program said ‘7 Dollars Donation’. You know, I would’ve paid it if it hadn’t been for the fact that I had quit my job to start a venture in street performance.
Me: “What if I donated an hour of my time to Silent Barn?”
Ticket guy: “Sorry – I need 7 dollars”
Some sassy chick: “You can either pay or leave. There’s an ATM right outside.”
Silent Barn was hosting an event for the Brooklyn International Performance Art Festival. Performance Art, from its 1960s and 70s roots, was an anti-art; it challenged concepts of beauty while blurring the lines between artist and viewer. In it’s heyday, you couldn’t buy or sell performance art – it was consciously anti-commerce, escaping mass packaging and thoughtless consumption. Performance art was politically and socially minded, synthesizing new ideas of community and self (read about ontological investigations of Performance in Hannah Higgins’ book, “Fluxus Experience”).
“I’ll donate 2 dollars to Silent Barn”
What? They rather accept 0 dollars than 2 dollars because it wasn’t 7 dollars? This was the exact thing that our community rallied against a few decades ago. I was forced to make a decision: would I eat dinner that night or would I watch my friends perform?
“Do you believe art should be available to everyone or to just the ones who can afford it?”
Just then, the Panoply Laboratory gang appeared. They were having a smoke break and seemed apathetic to the situation: “sorry, Baxton, it’s silent barn.”
Jon Konkol, that crazed, pompous, aggressively easygoing fellow, folded a $10 bill in my hand. I handed it back to him. He pushed the $10 back in my face.
“This is very nice but I can’t accep-“
“YOU WILL FUCKIN’ TAKE IT AND FUCKIN’ USE IT! Don’t fucking give it back to me – HOW INSULTING TO GIVE IT BACK TO ME WHEN YOU NEED IT! YOU WILL BUY THE FUCKING TICKET AND WATCH THE FUCKING SHOW”
He left me still – it was both a frightening and selfless act. Although I hardly knew him, I embraced him in gratitude and he embraced me, and it felt like authentic community.
“Are you happy? It’s gonna be ok. I gave you my beer, alright? It’s gonna be ok.”
Jon Konkol was performing on stage, speaking to the audience, but I think he was really speaking to me.
“Who wants to play the knife game?”
“Match my speed”
Jon pulled out a hunting knife and rhythmically stabbed the space between his fingers.
Geraldo took the knife, spread his fingers apart and matched the speed.
When Jon’s turn, he pulsed the knife a little faster.
Geraldo stuttered, careful not to cut off his pinky.
Jon jabbed with gentle agility.
Geraldo hesitated – couldn’t match.
Like a mad allemande, John effortlessly danced the knife between his digits – graceful, poised / ¡slice oh finger!
The performance was over.
Before Jon bandaged up and left for the night, I traced his bloodied hand on a sheet of paper. His portrait now hangs on my living room wall. I look at it often – That hand which selflessly gave 10 dollars was the same hand that mutilated itself not 12 minutes later.
Somehow, these events unfurled succinctly
in the fashion of a subversive, traditional drama – It was a true, living theatre.
And you couldn’t buy or sell tickets to it.