The performance artist is dying. He arrives at the speaking engagement with the help of a care assistant, though he makes it to the podium on his own. The performance artist is young.
“He can’t be much older than thirty,” she says, leaning into her friend.
In a room that is neither a classroom nor a lecture hall, she sits with her friend and a good many artsy types in plastic folding chairs. There are books circulating among them, books about the performance artist and his early work in the theatre and later in public spaces. She knows nothing about this man, and unlike her friend, doesn’t care for lectures about art. The books contain many photographs. He looks like a guy who has slept with a lot of women.
“I’ll be disappointed if my tragic end doesn’t double the publications,” the performance artist says without a microphone. “Promise me you’ll spread rumors of some truly delirious final hours?”
She is first surprised and later disappointed that the performance artist doesn’t talk much about himself. He talks mainly about presence, and what he means she isn’t sure, but it has to do with moving beyond metaphors. He quotes philosophers she’s unfamiliar with. He uses the word dematerialize a lot. And when his arms grow tired of their first-class gesticulating, the performance artist opens the floor up for questions. “Should we open the floor up for questions?” he says and looks at her not roundabout, but squarely.
She doesn’t have a question, or she doesn’t have the kind of question people will be expecting. She flips through a book and now he is looking up at her from her lap. Should she ask how his early work in the theatre prepared him for his later work in public spaces? She doesn’t believe it but it’s true – you can feel someone’s gaze, which is not so different from the heat of sunlight, only less so, only not heat. She turns more pages. Should she ask what he’s doing with that gaze of his, which she’s too timid to return, which makes her body want to be near his? Should she ask if his body wants to be near hers or if his body just wants to live or if there’s a difference?
Walking to the car with her friend, she isn’t listening. The book is in her purse now. She took it and it’s true – it was too easy. Her friend is saying things like, “Can you believe the woman in the back who asked for his number?” and then, “I do wonder how he’s going to pull this whole thing off.” They’re getting into the car and she’s not listening or speaking. She leaves the seatbelt hanging by her side and doesn’t say anything about next week when she will find the address of the performance artist online and take a cab to his house. When with all the artlessness his not-heat has inspired, she will lay her body down next to his and whisper, “You breathe. I’ll breathe near you.”
Photo by Seth Sawyers