Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Guest Writer: Bill Floyd

Performance Art

The uptown critics finally take notice after my piece in the Tribeca loft, the one involving the John Doe’s remains and the forty lab rats, which I titled Winston Smith Redux. The cops take notice, too, of course, so I toss my cell phone in the Hudson and start crashing on the couches of various sycophants. Subsequent pieces are more guerilla in nature: the jettisoning of tissue and fluids from the skyscraper over Broadway; the flotilla of candlewaxed skulls bobbing ashore near Battery Park. Spectators are briefly engaged, but I realize with a sinking heart that it’s mostly just curiosity they’re experiencing, even the rhapsodizing bloggers and hipsters who pretend to be moved.

What I want is for them to feel, to react.

So tonight, for my ultimate performance, the audience is strictly by-invite only: the spear’s tip of the avant garde all congregated in a carefully scouted cite across the river in Jersey City. The building is an abandoned detainment facility, scheduled for demolition within weeks; the room is separated into a gallery and a holding cell. I sit facing them from behind dull but impenetrable bars as they file into the anteroom, until they’re all gathered pensively within and my assistants have sealed the exits as they’ve been instructed to do.

Initially I simply stare at them, taking their measure. Of course they can't stand this and within minutes they're calling me names, trying to provoke me. At my side is a table that has been covered with a velvet drop cloth. I remove the cloth and don the gas mask and some of them understand immediately and begin to bang on the doors. Once my mask is secure I turn the knob on the tank beneath the table. The gas is in no way odorless and within a few breaths they all know what's coming. Voices once taunting and jaded go high and hysterical. While some of them trample their fellows, it is much worse to witness the few who try to help each other. The doors won’t budge and they begin to slide to the floor and writhe in place as their oxygen-starved blood bursts internal dams and their skin turns blue. I impassively watch them fall, but for perhaps the first time in my entire life my pulse rate increases just a little.

The cops will ask why I did it and I’ll tell them, with clenched fist and locked jaw, my face still creased from the mask’s straps, “I made them feel something pure and genuine this time, didn’t I?” My own voice sounds high and strange now. Knowing all along that it was never about the audience at all.

© William Floyd 2010

Bill Floyd is a writer from North Carolina who is feeling his way around the on-line world of micro-fiction. He blogs occasionally at Six Sentences.

10 comments:

  1. wow! erm... will have to come back & read again but certainly has an impact. the relationship between artist & critic is always muddy, but here ...!

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  2. These pretentious performance artists ... Horribly well-described piece this Bill, 'my face still creased from the mask’s straps' a detail of genius.

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  3. this is art for arts sake- and artfully crafted Bill

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  4. I wish I had a dollar for every time I had to don a facemask on a submarine in a drill. I could retire to the North Pole with Paul. This is some vivid imagination at work here, Bill. Fun to read when it is so well written. Syrup.

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  5. Said it before and I'll say it again: you write crazy better than anybody. So many sociopaths actually think of themselves as artists, and you capture that with finesse and insight. This is fantastic.

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  6. OMG That's it you're not coming to any of or parties. Great write.

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  7. Ah, I always knew that line between artsy and crazy was razor thin.

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  8. Bill F, your prose is always so clearly and elegantly constructed, that I belive you could make a kindergarten roll call into something worth reading. Here you had an astonishingly more interesting subject. I am fasinated by the degree of your protagonist's artistic detachment, and the dissappointment it ultimately brings. I wish very much for an imagination like yours.

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  9. Floyd, you've outdone yourself. I'm fond of saying, "There are no original ideas," but I'll be damned if you haven't rewired my brain. This is art by keystrokes.

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  10. This story still floors me a month after posting and having read it five times. The coolness with which the artist delivers his explication is absolutely chilling. Suddenly all the times I've said, "I don't get this," about an artist's work come back to me. I know writers often explain that they write "because I have to, and not for appreciation," but now I'm looking at some performers in a new light. Bill Floyd has dared to speak of the unspeakable, and given it plausibility, and this is one I will keep coming back to.

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