James T. Green is a conceptual artist, radio producer, writer, and educator from Chicago, Illinois, and now in Brooklyn, New York.

thoughts + feelings

41: T-shirts Amongst Tuxedos

My stomach was in knots, shoulders were tight, lumps enlarged in my throat. There had to be cinder-blocks in my loafers. Thursday, September 18th was the day that C’ne and I were billed to perform one of our performance art pieces in the biggest venue we’ve ever set foot in, this year’s EXPO Chicago. Needless to say, I was nervous as hell.

The piece we were to perform was “How Did You Sleep?” where we engaged in a tug of war with our teeth until bodily exhaustion. It would be the longest we would have ever performed the piece, a maximum of one hour, and I’m sure that the pizza I had hours before would not be able to stay within my stomach. Maybe it was the nerves or the potential growth that could arise from this exposure. I wasn’t sure, but I knew this was a performance that had to happen.

As we set up in the middle of one of the halls, donning our black uppers and bottoms, my comfort levels began to drop. We only performed this piece within spaces of familiar faces–those that knew our practice and had previous context rather than complete strangers. Intimidating at best.

Tuxedo-clad, wine-sipping couples surrounded the movements of our limbs paired with sheets. Some looked on peculiarly, others silently chuckling at our placement. Most ignored our presence, treating our black bodies as furniture in a mostly white audience. Our casual attire of Target t-shirts, mesh shorts, and bare feet were tugging away amongst the casual conversations of art buying, vacation destinations, and small talk. 30 minutes in (according to my own approximation of bodily exhaustion), the conversations of those around us appeared to vanish and my mind began to only filter in the positive reactions of those surrounding us–the enticed photographers, the performance engaged, and the art curious. Looking across and seeing the exhausted face of C’ne and hearing the inquisitive energy of the public was enough to push through to the hour mark. 

Afterwards, C’ne and I grabbed some hot dogs and discussed how we thought it went. She brought up a moment that I missed due to my intense focus during the piece. She told me about her own moments of discouragement during the work, mostly from hearing the discomfort of the audience, but something changed when an older woman came up to her during the performance and told her “thank you.” No context, just “thank you”.

Performance art is vulnerable. Your body becomes the art itself. There’s no hiding with yourself and optional materials out for critique. With that openness, there can be a fear that grows with every public presentation. Not everyone is going to like your shit, and that’s ok. Not everyone is going to understand your shit, and that’s ok too. If you are trying to satisfy every viewer/listener/critic of your craft, you are going to have a rough life. In the end, positivity wins. You don’t know how a small action can make someone feel better –much like the woman that told C’ne “thank you”.

Now it’s time to come up with a new artwork.

Have a great Monday and see you next week,

-James

 

What did I find interesting this week?

1) Englewood Jazz Festival: ‘untraditional’ progress on Chicago’s South Side: I have a tremendous love for Chicago’s south side and it grinds my gears when residents and visitors give it a bad rap. Here’s a piece about the progress going on in the Englewood neighborhood.

2) Interview | Molly Raskin: I really enjoyed this interview of fellow Chicago illustrator and designer, Molly Raskin.

3) The Boring Designer: A manifesto for the designer that choose the best solution even if it’s not the “flashiest”.

4) Yes We Can, But Should We?: The “maker movement” stands by the idea that if you should make it, it should exist into the world. With 3D printers and the like, it’s becoming easier to make anything to your hearts content, but this piece challenges that notion, questioning the actual utility of some things that are being brought into this world.

James T. Green