Each semester, one student from each HECUA program takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Savannah Spirov will be HECUA’s student blogger for the Art for Social Change program this spring semester. Savannah is a junior at Hamline University, majoring in Communications and minoring in Social Justice. Read on for Savannah’s account of the Art for Social Change students’ first project together.
The best way to learn about famous art is by recreating it yourself. That is exactly what my HECUA Art for Social Change classmates and I did on two recent Thursdays. Our class visited the Weisman Art Museum to workshop and perform different art performances created by incredibly well-known artists around the world. The pieces included Emma Sulkowicz’s Mattress Performance, Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present and AAA, Mierle Laderman’s Touch Sanitation, Linda Montano and Tehching Hsieh’s Rope Piece, and Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece. Using these pieces as foundations, the ten of us got an opportunity to recreate and re-perform the pieces, adding our own style and artistic flavor to the work. Students were also able to create and perform art pieces of their own.
The first Thursday was more of an opportunity to get to know the space and deem ourselves artists. We began with Emma Sulkowicz’s Mattress Performance. If you are unfamiliar with this piece, it happened back in 2014 when Emma, at the time a senior at Columbia University in New York, carried a mattress everywhere they went on campus for nine months, the entirety of their senior year. They did this as a performance art piece to make a statement about their sexual assault, which happened two years prior on campus. Our classmate, Elizabeth, chose to recreate this performance and try to feel the physical weight and burden that Emma felt for nine months. One by one, we all attempted to carry the mattress in the museum. It was heavy, it was bulky, and it was awkward. The following Thursday, Elizabeth staged an art piece of her own with the inspiration of Emma and Yoko Ono and John Lennon’s Bed-In For Peace. She used the mattress, turned it into a bed, sat in it, and invited us to write anything that came to our minds when we thought of sleep.
The next performance was Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece, performed by Cedar and Sophie. This performance was originally done in 1964. Ono sat on a stage alone and invited people to come up and cut off a piece of her clothing with scissors. The performance was over when she said it was over. We had the opportunity, as a class, to watch this reenactment two different times by two different people, and the experiences could not have been more different. The following Thursday they decided to workshop a different piece. Instead, Sophie tried out Marina Abramovic’s AAA. This piece was originally performed in 1978 with Abramovic’s then-partner, the artist Ulay, and was to signify the part of a married couple’s life where times get rough and screaming and yelling is the center of their communication.
Another piece by Marina Abramovic that was re-performed was The Artist is Present, originally performed in 2010. This was done by Gibby and myself. The first Thursday, Gibby played the role of Marina, while I played the role of Marina’s bodyguard. The following Thursday we switched roles. Although we did not perform this piece for an entire eight hours, it was still a significant amount of time to stare at someone in front of you without speaking.
Two students, Sophia and Nadia, were inspired by Mierle Laderman’s Touch Sanitation, and decided to put a twist on it. They went to service industry workplaces and asked people to tell them the worst part of their job that no one realizes. At the Weisman, they set up a display of receipts, time stamps, old work uniform shirts, dirty shoes, and other items that gave a good representation of the service industry life. They wanted to acknowledge people that work in restaurants, clothing stores, etc., because those employees are often looked down upon and treated as less than.
During lunch hour, Claire decided to take a passion of theirs, cooking, and turn it into art. It was Fluxus Food! They made everyone a salad the first week and invited us to try out different art activities that were written up on a notecard. The next week they made everyone food with ingredients that made all of the food white. One game we played was looking at several different crackers and deciding which one was the most beautiful. This was a great way to pass the lunch hour and eat some delicious and artistic food.
Finally, Hope and Olivia performed Tehching Hsieh’s Rope Piece. The first week, they took a rope that was 8 feet long and tied it around both of their bodies so they were connected at the waist. From the beginning to the end of class they were joined at the hip for a couple of hours straight. The following Thursday, they began this performance before class started and made breakfast together while connected by a rope. This was hilarious and amazing to watch happen because they quite literally had to do everything together in close proximity (without touching one another).
Our time at the Weisman Art Museum not only gave our class an opportunity to grow as students and artists ourselves but also to bond and connect on a deeper level with one another. If you are looking to check out beautiful artwork or attend local art events, check out their website and show them some support!