If I were to define the highest art form as a sensorial event that is like an electrical shock to your mind and body, then Jay Erker’s “social communication experiment” on December 9th would follow the entry “Art” in my self-published dictionary. Titled The Humans are Present(s) Erker’s foray into interactive performance served as a triumphant tweak in the cosmic universe to quell any humanoid disquietude with the coming Mayan calendar ending. Part of Dutch Door’s weekly, humorous, sarcastic, critical and serious Countdown Series, Erker’s personalized and therapeutic “reading” almost left me ready to die and jump on that asteroid.
Punctual attendees stepped down into the makeshift, speakeasy space to imbibe Ivette Soler’s potent (so I was told) holiday bourbon while sitting on a quilt and a few cushions prior to our sessions with the artist who was not present. Smooth and jazzy music twinkled in the background from a record player. To the left of the doorway, a table was placed near the middle of the wall with two chairs facing each other between a large cube of clay built from grey rectangular slabs. An interrogative light intensely beamed down on the table and clay. Three blank white boards blatantly faced us with no notes or text. On another table laid a ream or two of copy paper with the directive to write a sentence to be discussed with the artist with provided pencils. Since I was thinking how my life was split between interactions with non-art public and art educated people, I thought that would be an interesting topic. Later, I added suicide not because I’m thinking about killing myself but because that’s what I immediately thought about in the bathroom after I thought about my experiences with lay people and people who know a thing or two about art.
As tension was mounting among those concerned about the whereabouts of the artist, Jay Erker purposefully but nonchalantly entered the room and immediately went to the table and sat in a chair. As if on cue the first of a string of eager participants politely took turns sitting with Jay. Between each approximately 10 or 15 minute meeting, the artist rose and alternated her position to the opposite chair. Therefore, the audience was constantly gazing at either the front or back of Jay’s or the sitters’ bodies and heads.
Thus, a remarkable and pleasing change in physical gestures and intense gazes were seen by all whom were present. The crowd that had gathered to wait their respective turn also engaged in lively conversation as the spicy, social lubricant loosened their tongues. I wondered if the cacophony distracted the artist’s focus and intensions. By the time I sat across from Jay she turned the ambient and voice noise over to me and asked me to accept it, let it in and to be in the present. After I read my sentence, she read it back to me and analyzed it’s structure and more specifically, it’s syntax for meaning. Jay logically asked me if I meant what the sequence in which I wrote the words caused her to think they meant and to respond in such a demonstrative fashion. I replied “No.” I touched the clay in a way I deemed appropriate as instructed and created a lop-sided wishbone shape.
The clay was cold and it felt clean—like a salve or antiseptic. When Jay repeated my sentence back to me, I realized how exceptionally ridiculous my words sounded. I realized I was over-thinking and not living in the present as I had told myself so many times to do in the past. I had gotten caught up in my own cesspool of emotional triggers to chance circumstances and events for which I had controlled. It was time to let go. Jay told me a personal story that may or may not have been true. She spoke of absolute joy and risk. Part clairvoyant, part psychologist, part interrogator, she broke through my mask, my barrier and this was art. We stared neutrally and gracefully into each other’s eyes for quite sometime and I felt human again. Jay looked down and stood up. We kissed on the cheek and embraced across the table like two intimate souls.
A communion of sorts had taken place and this was art. I had barely spoken and yet I had this feeling she could read my every thought, however vague they were during our discussion. When I got home I read the rest of the invitation to the experiment which poetically and figuratively described the action that would take place. I had to chuckle at my gullibility but that is the best part. “Fine to lie in quiet together” could mean lie on the ground or to tell quiet lies.For I had learned that we cling to truths as our salvations. And yet, we are lied to and psychologically manipulated everyday by so many unfriendly and toxic outlets of information that fact and fiction are no longer separate. In our small lies Jay and I told each other, we were at least being sincere and honest. No one got hurt. In fact, I was healed.
Fine to lie in quiet together,
Finer Still to join in laughing –
Underneath a silken heaven
Lying back amid the grasses
Join with friends in cheerful laughing,
Showing our white teeth together.
Am I right? Let’s lie in quiet;
Am I wrong? Let’s join in laughing
And in being aggravating,
Aggravating, loudly laughing,
Till we reach the grave together.
Shall we do this, friends, again?
Amen! and auf wiedersehn!”
Jay Erker’s The Humans are Present(s) was on display as a part of Dutch Door’s Countdown series on December 9. Dutch Door is located at 602 Moulton Street. For more on them, check out their Facebook page.