At 8 a.m. this past Sunday I and over two hundred others gathered at the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook to participate in artist Lita Albuquerque’s Spine of the Earth 2012, part of the Pacific Standard Time Performance and Public Art Festival that continues on this week. Most of us found out about the performance through a combination of friends and social media. While I briefly entertained the idea of drifting back to sleep early that same morning, I rallied, knowing that I had already promised friends to meet them there. I arrived, signed a waiver, received a red jumpsuit, had that signed and numbered by Lita Albuquerque herself, and was assigned to a group.
Lita Albuquerque is known for her installation and environmental based work. The original Spine of the Earth was created with pigmented earth in the Mojave Desert. Over twenty years later Albuquerque reimagined the piece with over two hundred red jumpsuit-ed human bodies.
That was the extent of my understanding when I arrived Sunday. My team leader elaborated that we would be walking down the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook staircase at a pace of “one one-thousand” per step, all while linked in a human train. She also encouraged us to pick a character or motivation to help us complete the performance. Another woman in our group responded, “I don’t know which character that should be: a lemming or a zombie?”
While I had received a couple e-mails during the course of the week emphasizing the physical requirements of the piece, I had passed them off as an obligatory precaution. A quick rehearsal run demonstrated just how taxing walking down stairs at a “one one-thousand” pace, all keeping time with those in front and behind me could be. Honestly, my thighs are still sore.
The actual performance required twice as much stamina. Spine of the Earth kicked off with a skydiver, who wore all red while red smoke, released from her shoes, trailed behind, creating a literal spine in the sky. The red symbolized red earth. This was emphasized in the poetic address read aloud by Albuquerque before we began our march:
THE LANDSCAPE IS LISTENING
THIS SUNDAY, JANUARY 22 OF THE YEAR 2012
CULVER CITY, CALIFORNIA
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
PAY ATTENTION TO THE FEET
YOU EXTEND FROM EARTH TO SKY
FROM INSIDE THE RED
SURROUNDED IN BLUE
ONE VERTEBRAE IN THE SPINE OF THE EARTH
Once the skydiver joined our ranks, we began our procession one-by-one down the staircase. It was hot, the back of the man in front of me was sweaty, the older woman behind me was prone to complaining, but each time I voiced our mantra “one one-thousand, two one-thousand,” I entered deeper into a meditative state. I thought about how I was connected the earth, sky, and to every single participant, linked in a human chain that forced us to respond the rhythms of those in front of and behind us.
Of course, I was regularly reacquainted with reality as the woman behind me would complain loudly and a younger guy two heads ahead of us urged her to “please shut up!” After about an hour after taking my first step, we completed our march. Now I’m ready to experience the performance as an observer—once the official documentation is released.