play dead; real time

Have you ever had a moment where, for no reason at all, you realize that you’re breathing? I remember, as a kid, being completely mystified by this. Then I would look at my leg, and think: kick, leg. And it would, which I found equally mystifying.

You are suddenly conscious of the action. You’re not sure how you know how to do it only that you do. Then something else distracts you and life continues.

There are many aspects of daily life that involve performance. Work performance. Sexual performance. Performance art, which I’ll get to in a minute. But other types too. For instance:

I’m in the Tate Britain, enjoying a sunny day where everyone else in jeans and coats seems to treat it with suspicion. (Turns out it rains here, a lot.) I walk along, lingering here, passing quickly there; I stop in a room dedicated to Basic Design and, on seeing a mobile by Victor Pasmore, catch myself in the act of a “hmm.”

In another room, two life-size elephants dance around each other on two separate, massive screens. Douglas Gordon’s Play Dead; Real Time doesn’t play with ideas so much as it just plays. The dual projections take up the entire space, wall to wall, floor to ceiling, forcing your gaze up, the way you’d look at an actual elephant. On-screen, the camera circles the elephant’s legs as they hold, back up, bend underneath it to lie down, feigning death.

And is that your reflection in the glassy blackness of its eye? No, it can’t be.

I sit on the floor, and in my memory, I’m completely inside the piece. I am feeling the elephant’s “bigness” just as I am inhabiting my own “smallness” – I am all aware but blissfully unaware of a spatial relationship between me and this absent other, this elephant, and the unseen camera crew, too, my invisible other body.

As I am here in the museum, I am time traveling, through feelings, back to 1994. I’m six, waiting to ride Rosy the elephant at the Santa Ana Zoo. I remember her legs the most, four gray tree trunks dusted California dirt brown, shifting restlessly. She takes up so much sky. Mom and I climb the freestanding staircase to the carpeted mats on her back. She rocks smoothly back and forth through the enclosure. Her skin is elbow rough underneath my hands.

A man-and-camera shadow impedes the projection and I’m back in my body, in the museum, on the floor.

Stand, legs, and my body walks out of the exhibition room.


Continue reading » please keep your hands and arms inside the story at all times – an interview with laurel foglia
This is part of “Radical Storytelling,” originally submitted to the SAIC Collections on 14 Dec 2013.

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