My work tells a story that involves a two-man saw, bricks made of solid paint, body swapping, a Donald Judd casket, and Meg Ryan. I created the first iteration of Meg / Sydney / Alec in 2012. The performance includes the use of a two-man saw, a casket mimicking Donald Judd's stacked sculptures, a magician's table used during the iconic illusions of sawing a woman in half, and the movie Prelude to a Kiss, an earnest depiction of body swapping. My work interrogates how the body is read, controlled, displayed, and consumed. This interrogation traverses pop culture, fine art, and labor. The body is not depicted but implied. What gender is this body, how old, how wealthy, how able, how healthy, how other? These questions are attached to hierarchies and rules that mean power for some over others.
In 1920 when Selbit invented the very first iteration of ‘sawing a woman through’ Selbit stepped back from his illusion and realized that male magicians working with male assistants, the standard at the time, would not do. A woman was needed to perform the task. Why is it that only when we are about to performatively desecrate a body, must that body be a female body, and not only a female body, but a female body on display? This illusion holds a unique place in the history of magic as being the first to set a new standard, the female magicians assistant. Have we always wanted to destroy who we desire? Can I use this violence to another end?
In Meg / Sydney / Alec, the female body is removed from this illusion, and replaced with a solid mass of paint. This paint mass is created in the gallery over the course of three months, the labor is witnessed, there is no illusion, only solid paint bricks bonded together with more and more paint until whole. This form is cast inside the Donald Judd casket, (modeled after his stacked sculptures, a symbol of masculine modernism). The scene is set, the performance that follows involves the work of two or more individuals entering the space in jumpsuits, welding the six foot long two-man saw, and sawing the solid paint mass in half, rolling the magicians tables apart, and continuing to segment the paint mass into roughly two inch slices. These segments are then displayed against the wall, or on the interior of walls, at various heights, but often along the floor. Later they will be reconfigured into various forms
I have absorbed pop culture in large doses, like many growing up in the 80s. Yet when I’m watching movies like Prelude to a Kiss, I’m looking as a queer person desperately searching for queerness in the world — something that could show me possibilities and allow for my own existence. As Vito Russo writes in his ground breaking text, The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies, “American society has willfully deleted the fact of homosexual behavior from its mind, laundering things as they come along, in order to maintain a more comfortable illusion. The censors removed it; the critics said, "Well, look! It isn't there"; and anyone who still saw it was labeled a pervert” It is with this fact in mind that I both believe in the power of the subversive and I want it to turn up the volume on the subversive. And so I edit. Editing is used as a tool to level hierarchies, unearth these subversive queer narratives, and infiltrate exclusionary spaces, such as art history, the labor market, interpersonal dynamics, who is valued, what are we allowed.
As I Frankenstein this body back together. My editing tools include the obvious and archaic. An antique two-man saw is used to segment a solid mass of paint. X-ACTO knives are used as often as paint brushes. Dialogue is spoken and modulated through animated paint bricks, ungendered and without a stable form. Through these methods art history is reinterpreted through a inclusive queer, and often messy, lens.
Meg Ryan, Sydney Walker, and Alec Baldwin are the actors playing the main characters in the 1995 movie Prelude to a Kiss. Written first as a play in 1990, Craig Lucas created what I believe to be one of the most subversively queer screenplay ever produced, so subversive, no one really seems to notice. Disguised as a seemingly heteronormative romance, the story abruptly turns into an earnest body swap between Meg Ryan, the young bride, and Sydney Walker, an older man nearing the end of his life. What follows is an earnest exploration into that the body brings to identity for these two individuals and their partner. The movies theme song is not, but should be Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush.
This song speaks to my motivations. She sings:
And if I only could
I'd make a deal with God
And I'd get him to swap our places
It is revealed that the sort of magic that allowed for Meg and Sydney to swap bodies was born of a mutual admiration for what the other individual body allowed for. As it goes for Meg and Sydney, so it also goes for the art objects in my work. Paint is pushed as much toward what we think sculpture should provide, and sculpture is pushed toward painting. Or it might be more accurate to say, there is a disregard for what is painting and what is sculpture — used as a metaphor for how to discuss and disrupt other absurd binaries.
I care about your heart, I care that you are made whole after you are dissected by the stories we were told. Like Kate Bush sings:
“Tell me, we both matter, don’t we?” —