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Tuesday, October 6, 2015





Art is my medicine and antidote to my pain. Little did I know that my early LYING IN CHICKEN BED performances were really death practices and chances to feel as  if dead although  I rationalized the performance and said that I was practicing meditation and not being on view to rescue the love and attention I needed in life but could only receive in faux death.
The DEAD CHICKEN/LIVE ANGEL (LYING IN CHICKEN BED) performances lasted for years and although I thought that I was dead to life and love, the first real death that visited my art/life was the murder of my ex-husband Mitchell Payne. It was an unspeakable event and I wrote, refused/was unable to speak , chanted the writing at a memorial service at UCSD, sing-songing grief and imitating the Zen training I was receiving at  the time. My slow, sonorous,  Gregorianesque and Asian-like sonic recall of the trauma was relieved by a still video image of my close-up face stuck with acupuncture needles. The only way I could share my pain was to become pain.

My study of Hindu theology and culture became the impetus for my second video on death, BENARES.  I was teaching at  UT,Austin and received a grant to go East  to document Hindu nursing homes and the burning ghats. Death, so secret, so hidden, so plastic, so covered, so conservatively hidden in America, had made me curious about the ways that the truth is shared so openly, honestly, transparently and publically in India. India, the country of extremes , allowed and encouraged me to boat down the Ganges and pass the floating corpse of a woman with one breast missing, and a few minutes later, there.... a floating infant. Face up, beautiful in it's bloatedness.  Hers? Or were they just passing in the sacred waters as if related?
India said, it's ok to look, to see, to stare, to observe, for we are all nothing and everything and there are so many of us and we are surviving/living and then dying. No taboos here like in your country. Come and watch the bodies being carried through the streets, covered by a clean, shining saffron cloth. Come and chant NAM RAM SATYA HAI with us. We won't stop you . Come and watch us burn dead bodies and more bodies and more bodies freed into MOKSHA, liberation, because they have died in our best city, BENARES, the city of final enlightenment. For to die here is to win the big prize...... never to return, never to reincarnate! No problem. No coming back.
My experience in Benares was like graduate school for the  death phobic/curious. Graduate school for the infantilized Catholic nice girl, coddled into inauthenticity, graduate school for the neurotic wanting to die but couching it in an inordinate interest in death!

At around the same time, I wrote a "scholarly" anthropological paper that researched death customs in over a dozen  different cultures, surprised that their rituals and mourning practices echoed some of my past performances. But then again, ritual minds think alike!
Writing and adding photos to my lecture (almost pre-computer) became my still fear of death remedy of choice and I presented this "lecture" which helped me understand impermanence as I accompanied my mother who endured as life, not art, radiation burns, chemo and a Halloweenesque torture in an AMA hospital.
In 2014, video editor, Tobe Carey and I translated the written lecture into text-film and it is now titled: LIVING ART/DYING ART. I perform as an angel who blesses audience members while showing this film, so that it becomes a relationship, an interactive/communal understanding of life's greatest mystery, death. We need shoulders to lean on and shiva/others to sit with. Food and talking ...... optional.

From 1998-2004, I took care of my father in upstate NY. We began making a video together before he was unjustly and carelessly injured in PT and sustained a hemorrhagic stroke. After that I was left holding the camera and I hid behind it for safety, for comfort, for relief, filming his eating, assisted walking, pill taking, his daily one hour abstract expressionistic drawings, his last breath. This film is life and personal and secret and not art and I only share it when I am present to perform/sing 7 of my parents favorite songs from the 30's & 40's. DAD ART is a video functioning as mourning and not an art commodity. Some things we just cant buy or give away.

5. NOW
I might not make art of my death. I might just die. I wonder if anyone-human will be there to film?


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