Reflections of Performance/ Thoughts while performing, They tried to bury us proverb.
Alive at Satellite Art Show Austin | SXSW Week 2019
By Christian Cruz
Before I knew it, I was 5 min late to start my performance and a small audience of five people were waiting for me. I quickly got into the empty space within the dirt mound and sat legs crossed. The black mulch was wet and cold as I moved it onto my body. Soon, Quinn Dukes came to help me push the dirt onto me, planting me, like the flower I intended to be. The soft grunts and deep breaths from Quinn, plus the growing audience let me know her help had become part of the performance. “Mmmm dirt,” someone sitting down at the pews in front of us remarked. —“Yes, it smells good,” I added. “What about the smell of nail polish, though?” I continued while smirking. That’s when the performance started for me. Quinn was still pushing dirt over my shoulders when I whispered to her if she could do me a favor. She moved from behind me to my side. “Will you please bury these for me?” I pointed to my head scarf and gloves I had abandoned near the mound of dirt. I didn’t want her to take these items, now that I had an audience. It seemed more natural to accept Quinn as a part of my performance. She eagerly obliged and buried them into the mound. I said thank you before she walked away.
I started very excited: painted each nail on one hand, blew on my fingers, painted each nail on the other hand, blew on those fingers, looked at both hands, posed with hands on my face, and made eye contact while smiling when doing all these things, then repeated. For the most part, people were very warm. They smiled back and looked me in the eyes for the length of time I stared into them. I looked over to those entering and exiting and grew to have lots of control over the space. Every once in a while someone entering the fair, would not feel comfortable with me looking at them. They quickly moved through the space while covering their face, only giving me a small glimpse of them every other step. It was evident they simply didn’t like to make eye contact and that I made them uncomfortable because they were not comfortable with themselves. Another group of people were less shy and more annoyed. This group did not walk behind the pews like most people did but walked in between the space of the audience and myself. They walked through the space as if I didn’t exist, not just once but thrice. Each time I followed them with my sight, smiling and painting my nails. It made me think how sometimes, people decide they dislike performance art before they so much as give it a glance/chance.
The obstacles I faced I could only understand until I performed the action for the length of 2 hours. One of which was how dizzy I felt from blowing on my nails. Something that is hard to come to terms with during a durational performance is how “boring” it can be. I tried to maintain a comfortable pace and honestly, it was too fast. By the 45 minute mark (I’m guessing), I was incredibly dizzy. Along with the smell of nail polish and the lack of circulation because of the heavy soil, I was lacking the oxygen I needed to feel my best. I recognized this and began to take deep breaths and slow down my action. I substituted blowing on my nails for shaking my hands. This is when I began to be aware of the muscles on my face. And damn, were they working hard! With each smile, I made sure they were intentional. The last thing I wanted was to look fake, and fake smiling would make me look hysterical.
Layers and layers of nail polish went on my nails. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to count the layers until I was in the middle of my performance. Additionally, I had my mind full. Between the genuine smiles, slowing down my pace, deep breathing and maintaining eye contact, the last thing I wanted to do was keep track of the layers of nail polish. Because I limited the amount of time and intensity of my blowing, the nail polish never got dry. Instead of a matte finish, I created a mountain of squishy texture, made of mulch and nail polish in the shape of a gum ball candy. I truly loved painting over the long bits of root and small debris that got stuck on each nail. They were tiny sculptures. What I did not like were the strands of my hair getting caught on the nails and much worse, catching my wet nails on my lips when blowing on them. Yuck!
After what I assume would be the first hour mark, I found a good rhythm. People were coming back around to see me. I found myself only thinking of what I was doing, which in essence is a form of meditation. Quinn laughed with me, which reaffirmed my life!! Others continued to watch since the beginning, which also reaffirmed my actions. I was happy and on a stride…when I heard my baby cry!! My baby doesn’t cry much. When my baby is hungry or sleepy, my baby grunts but the crying is when my baby is more emotional. At that moment, I wanted to stop my performance. I figured the curator would understand or maybe I could blame the dizziness, or the cold wet soil in the cold room…I talked myself down. I told myself that my baby was in good hands and perhaps I was being controlling. I continued to hear the baby scream and it was hard for me to feel at ease. I wondered if the audience could see the stress and anxiety all over my face as I painted my nails. I imagined how sad my face looked and tried to get back into my performance. I was overcome with this intense guilt. What if my baby was cold? What if she was refusing to eat from the bottle and very hungry? And here I am, doing what? Working for free? I went deeper into the dark places of my mind and thought about the recent hardship my older sister was facing as I performed. Here I am “being happy” “thriving” while my older sister suffers. I wanted to stop the performance. I looked at Quinn and she gave me a big smile while pulling out her phone to capture the moment. I returned her smile and continued to work. I took some deep breaths and found my smile. I laughed and regained my center. It was nice to see some children in the audience. It brings me a sense of accomplishment to be child friendly. Once upon a time, I was not child friendly but after becoming a stepmother, it was very important to make work that I didn’t have to hide from children. One of the mothers in the audience was very happy. I can still see her brown wavy hair and smile in my head. It brought me so much warmth in an otherwise very cold situation. By that time, I had started to clench my jaw from the dropping temperature. I pushed the coldness aside and tried to think of my happy thoughts. My proudest moments including the success of the performance. The smiles reflecting back at me took me to the end of my 2 hour performance. I stood up and said, “thank you all for coming. Now where’s my baby!?” Not only did I immediately want to check in on my baby, I immediately wanted to leave. The thought of talking to anyone seemed exhausting. I felt like I had many silent conversations with everyone I made eye contact with during my performance. I was talked out!
The next day, a fellow artist of color approached me to talk with me about my performance. She was also exhibiting art and I later learned she was a performance artist among other titles. After I gave her an elevator speech of my artist statement, “thriving” “unbothered” “happy” “flowering,” she gave her interpretation. She said it reminded her of the femicide happening in Juarez. She took my gestures as a symbol for a young girl and the soil as a symbol for death. I tried to listen without rebuttal. She continued to pull me into her thought process and mentioned a “hunter” she had read about. This hunter killed the rapists of young girls at the border. And this hunter also killed the men who were killing the young girls, those who contribute to the femicide of Mexico. In that moment, it was a fascinating interpretation, but as time goes on it saddens me. Here, I wanted to create an image of a brown woman emitting joy, a woman as a flower, happy and grounded. Yet, my body is still politicized in a negative way. My body reminds someone of murder and rape. Although, my body does remind someone of redemption.
Christian Cruz (b.1989) has been creating live events professionally since 2010; ranging from solo performances to large scale group performances, site specific works incorporating installation and performance, video work, environmental theater, and political clowning. Cruz has presented works at Dfbrl8r Performance Art Gallery, stART Fair Wicker Park Fest, and Mana Contemporary among other spaces in Chicago, Experimental Action in Houston, Pittsburg's Performance Art Festival, Black Box Theater in Boston for the Arts, Dallas Contemporary, museums, and universities across Mexico City including Museo Universitario del Chopo, Centro Cultural Tlateloco, Teatro de Danza, Centro de Cultural de España and ISSTE Interfaz Acapulco. As a 1st gen. Mexican-American, she thought it was crucial to make work and live in Mexico. After finishing at Columbia College Chicago with a BA in arts administration, she dumped all her possessions and moved to Mexico City, Mexico in 2013. Under the choreography and mentorship of Anabella Pareja Robinson, she performed throughout D.F. Cruz also helped premiere a live internet-radio show named, “Foráneo” as the host and producer with the Centro de Cultura Digital of D.F. Foráneo was discontinued when Cruz got engaged and moved back to her hometown of Dallas, Texas in 2015 where she performs out of town multiple times a year. Most recently seen in New York City at Smack Mellon for Itinerant Performance Art Festival and upcoming in a video feature by Remezcla.