It appears that there is a new genre of entertainment known as “Performance Art.” I know, I know. Performance Art is not new. In the old days, it involved scripts written by men in which naked women uttered philosophical lines about existentialism or the ritual transfer of immateriality. Performance Art had titles like “Meat Joy” and “Exploding Plastic Inevitable.” Most of this happened in the 60s and 70s because you had to be high to sit through it. Or at least that’s my theory.
But it is the 21st century, and we are all relatively sober, and the deep void of nothingness just doesn’t excite the way it used to.
Enter Performance Art of the 21st century where crazy people swallow dye and then vomit it all over people who want to be noticed. Or maybe it’s people who want to be noticed who swallow dye and crazy people who allow themselves to be vomited on. Anyhoo …
When Lady Gaga got vomited on recently, everyone was all excited about this new turn in Performance Art. But really. If this is performance art, then Lady Gaga is merely a follower of those cutting edge performers at my alma mater, St. Sebastain the Martyr, where Performance Art was a regular activity, especially during cold and flu season.
Imagine if you will a hot, steamy room, the smell of damp wool uniforms, Sister Mary Bernard reading out the week’s spelling list, when suddenly the tell-tale splat of someone’s lunch hits the floor. Desks squeak across the linoleum to a chorus of squeals. You turn around, the scent of sickness already filling the air to see Stanley Smith surrounded by a sea of vomit.
“I don’t feel well,” he says in a tone that lets you know only half his lunch is on the floor. Good old Stanley. He delivered his line with panache despite illness.
And if Stanley’s performance doesn’t make you think of “Exploding Plastic Inevitable,” you are a hopeless rube.
But the show must go on, er, I mean class must go on.
Stanley is quickly hustled off to the nurse’s office, and the janitor is called for. By now, the whole class and Sister are gagging as the smell clings to the humid air and our damp uniforms and who knows what else. The janitor strides in, a hero in blue khaki, and tosses red sawdust over Stanley’s Performance Art, thereby adding his own touches to an already shocking piece of drama.
And you really feel it, the way Performance Art should be felt, in the pit of your stomach: The pull of sweaty sickness, the release brought by Maintenance Man and red sawdust , the crack of Sister’s stick across the desk as she demands our attention. The smell withers away, but it is hard to concentrate on the everyday when you are sitting inches away from Performance Art.
Maybe that’s the purpose of 21st century performance art, to be an unwelcome reminder of the Nature of our Being. Maybe Lady Gaga is inspired by her grade school experiences. And maybe Stanley Smith joined the existential movement. I hope it’s the latter.