A gallery downtown had an exhibit last week called, “But is it Art?” that played on the post-modern dilemma (or maybe not even a dilemma but just a question any regular person asks when viewing art these days) of what is considered art. Is it art if you could do it yourself in 5 minutes? If your kid could? What about if your dog could?
I didn’t see the exhibit because I was held captive by a powerful sinus infection, but yesterday I saw an exhibit that I feel like could be an extension of that one.
“Present Tension” was a series of “somatic studies” that you complete with a partner–either a stranger or someone you brought with you. Of course I chose to do it with a stranger–for both logistical ease of not having to convince someone to go with me and also for the element of curiosity. The stranger and I entered a small room with 3 different “studies,” and were left alone after being assured by the artist that there were no hidden cameras. (I hadn’t thought about that possibility until it was brought up. So were there hidden cameras and this was really an experiment to see what people do when they’re told they’re not being watched?)
The first somatic study involved listening to each other’s heart beats through a stethoscope. I imagine this may have been an intimate experience if you were there with a lover or at least someone you’ve known for more than 3 minutes.
The next one asked participants to stare into each other’s eyes for 4 minutes. (Possibly inspired by the end of Arthur Aron’s 36 question test that everyone knows about after that NY Times “Modern Love” column this year?) We lasted a minute and a half, and we talked through most of it. Again, this may have been a different experience with a not-quite-so stranger.
Finally, the last study was to trace a line with a marker on a transparent board that was the same as the other person’s. I basically just followed what the other girl did.
At the end, we were asked to leave our thoughts for the artist, and we both came to the conclusion that it may have been more meaningful if there were more tasks before we were told to stare at each other for what would have felt like an eternity. With both of us being shy, it just felt uncomfortable. Or hey, even a few get-to-know-you first-date interview questions that I typically hate would have helped–something to draw us together so that we felt like we were on the same team instead of just 2 random people shut in a small room together. I assume that was the point, to make us feel a connection with someone who we normally wouldn’t have, but I didn’t feel it.
Though to be perfectly honest, that could just be because I knew my partner didn’t feel it. Personally, I wanted to ask her to be friends (another shy, yet adventurous New Yorker to drag to these wacky events!) but I felt that would be an invasion of her privacy when all she wanted to do was come to a weird art exhibit on a Sunday morning.
Oh well. I guess I’ll never know if I missed my opportunity. But if you want to be friends and get dragged to these wacky events, let me know.