Baking Muffins in the Nude and Holding Hands with Monkeys: The Power of being SEEN

My friend, Maria Glanz, has a lovely show called See Me Naked.  I remember when the idea for the show struck her. We were touring the Fringe, each in one woman shows that weren’t drawing a lot of attention. There were a bunch of us gathered… at a bar or a coffee shop… and Marie said she was going to write a show called See Me Naked “That’ll draw them in! Or NOT,” she joked. It did draw them in. Still does. The show she created is one of the most powerful, personal, beautiful evenings of theatre and true communication that you will find. If you ever get the chance to see it — GO. Seriously.

Pam held in her own gaze...
Pam held in her own gaze…

This week, I was lolly-gagging on F-Book ~ as I am wont to do ~ and … Beauty struck. In the form of two videos. About… seeing… and being seen.

The first video is from Marina Abramović’s show called The Artist is Present (Moma 2010). I thank you, David Evans, for drawing my eye to it.

Some quick background…
Marina Abramović is a Serbian performance artist, based in New York. She has been performing since the 70s.

In ’76, she met the West German performance artist Uwe Laysiepen, who went by the single name Ulay. They began an intense creative collaboration and an equally intense love story.

In 1988, when they felt it was time to end their relationship, they did it in a spectacular way. A huge way. And a very private way. Abramović started at the Yellow Sea. Ulay started in the Gobi Desert. They both walked 2500 KM along the Great Wall of China, met in the middle, and said good-bye.

Wikipedia says,

Abramović conceived this walk in a dream, and it provided what she thought was an appropriate, romantic ending to a relationship full of mysticism, energy and attraction. She later described the process: ‘We needed a certain form of ending, after this huge distance walking towards each other. It is very human. It is in a way more dramatic, more like a film ending … Because in the end you are really alone, whatever you do.’

They hadn’t seen each other since that parting.

In 2010, Abramović performed The Artist Is Present at her MoMa retrospective. She shared a minute of silence with each stranger who sat in front of her.

Ulay arrived without her knowing and this is what happened.

Watching this video made me weep, of course. It is so absolutely wonderful.

It also brought back an incredibly visceral memory of a similar performance at The Ontario College of Art (now OCAD University) in the way back of the early 90s. I was in my 20s. I had friends who were studying Performance Art at OCA. I think it was a Final Presentation day of some sort.

I don’t really remember most of the performances. I remember snippets of a story that had to do with a bunch of shoes. It feels like a dream. The whole day/night feels like a dream. Performance Art does that to me.

But I digress…

The performance (oh and even now I am so tempted to write that as “performance”)… that is back with me this week is… this guy… was it a guy? Or a gal? Truth is I can’t remember that either. I remember that the room was small and crowded and that it felt like the THING took forEVER.

It was a rather simple “show”. Basically, the performer came around to each of us, cupped our faces and stared into our eyes. All of us. One at a time.

I was insanely uncomfortable.
I was hot and sweaty and not overly fond of being of touched.
I also had a strange… tic… back then. In the time I like to call “BT” (Back Then = Before Therapy)
I didn’t really look people in the eye, BT. Friends tell me that I sort of … stared at their foreheads. I totally thought I was looking them in the eye, but truth is, I rarely met anyone’s gaze directly.

I could go on about this. Pull on a million threads here… but… this isn’t about all of that.

So. Yeah. Here’s this GUY (I think), going around the room, grabbing people’s faces and staring deep into their souls.

Screw that, right?

I thought it was incredibly lame. But I would never SAY that.
See, I was in Theatre School which, as we all know, made me incredibly cool.
But, let’s face it…  everyone knows that performance artists are the EPITOME of cool and so…

I sat there and stared into the person’s eyes.
Then…. I slipped away into the night.

I needed a shower.
I may have puked.

I thought that “performance” was so stupid. I couldn’t believe this was someone’s final project. For a MARK.  What the hell?

I needed a bloody drink.

I saw a lot of performance art in my 20s.
Truth is… I found most of the shows incomprehensible.
They made my head ache and my body itch.

Looking back, I realize that the ones that made me itch might have been the best ones. At least I felt something. The eye staring guy might have been THRILLED to know that his performance piece made me puke. OUTSTANDING work!

At the time… I would go to these shows and I would sit and think… “What’s the point? What is the POINT?”

It was like they were…. ALMOST saying something, ALMOST showing me something, but I just couldn’t … grasp it.

My brain went into overdrive looking for… the point, the narrative line I suppose. I so desperately wanted to know what it was these artists were trying to share with me. I was too embarrassed to confess my uncoolness… my thickness… my idiocy. I heard the stuff people said to people who dared to voice… uncertainty…. “Don’t analyze so much. Just let it flow over you. It’s an EXPERIENCE.”

Fuck that.

All I knew was that these “performances” made no freaking sense to me and my only response was to go home and bake muffins in the nude. Muffins made sense. And I liked being nude. That made sense too. As long as I was alone.  Just me and my fresh baked muffins.  Yeah. That was just peachy.

OK. So. That first… staring thing drove me bats. Right?
I thought it was lame. Right?
Stupid even. Right?
And I was too insecure to actually SAY that to anyone or talk about the piece with anyone. I internalized my creeping skin and headaches about it and all other pieces of performance art as… “It’s me. I’m just too stupid to get it.” Right? Right?

but Wrong.
I’m not stupid. Not by a long shot.

And you know what?
That piece wasn’t stupid either.
Whatever else I “think” about it ~ I flippin’ REMEMBER it.
And I can even get worked up about it all these years later.
So… I must say,

Good on you, Man (or Woman).

You are indeed an artiste.

You have entered into my psyche and taken up residence.

I do believe that is A+ work.

However… I would like to add that I personally prefer Marina’s way of doing it. She doesn’t TOUCH anyone. They come to her. There is a table between them. It feels scary… but safer. It feels like… I might step up and do it… NOW. I might just be groovy enough and strong enough and curious enough.


The second video that blew my mind and cracked my heart open this week was offered up by one of my fierce and lovely Rough Writers, Lia Pas.

It’s a trailer for the movie The Holy See by Godfrey Reggio. I’ll post it at the close of this long and rambling post.

But first… a little more about me.

The second Soul Gaze of my life happened in Laos. Well, I think it was Laos. Or Vietnam. Or Cambodia. It was definitely in South East Asia.

I was travelling with my Raggedy Man (M). It was our first trip together.

We came upon ~ a zoo of sorts.
The country, the town, the zoo itself are all hazy.

The encounter is crystalline.

There were 2 monkeys in a cage. Not a tiny awful cage. But not a large enclosure. A cage. OK. Yes. A tiny awful cage, as all cages are. One monkey was tiny and cute. The other monkey was big and old and greying.

I hunkered down to say hello and probably take a picture of that cute little baby monkey.

The young monkey reached out and snatched at my glasses.

Before I could respond, the older monkey came over, scolded the young monkey and chased him away. Then she (or he), stuck her hand out between the bars and reached for me.

I thought she was looking for food, but she wasn’t.

She just seemed to want my hand.

I gave it to her.

She held it in both of hers and turned it over. She ran her fingers across my palm. Then… she just held my hand.

She settled back on her haunches and looked at me … in the face.

I looked back.

We sat there, apparently, for over 10 minutes.
I didn’t realize it was that long until M told me, later.
I didn’t realize that people gathered and took our picture.
I just sat there. Holding her hand and her gaze.
There was such sadness and yet such… hope.

I don’t have the words to explain it or to even really tell you what happened inside of me in those minutes.

I was still.

I believe it was the stillest I have ever been in my life thus far.

That 10 minutes flashed by in an instant.
That 10 minutes lasted an eternity.
It was extraordinary.

It still is.
I can feel it now. That calm. Her soft hand holding mine and those eyes, so deep and dark and… writing this, I realize that she heals me still. Right now.

Here’s the beautiful and moving clip from The Holy See…

Go well, friends.

And as always…
Go easy ~ p

PS – I also found this cool interview today if you feel like reading some more:

And here’s See Me Naked on Facebook!

4 Comments on “Baking Muffins in the Nude and Holding Hands with Monkeys: The Power of being SEEN

  1. Pam,
    Most of the time, I completely agree with you re: performance art. In fact, most art of modern times. Perhaps it’s my engineering background–if nothing else, art is about communication…”this is the idea I have that I am trying to transmit to you.” Now, it’s incredibly easy to lampoon most performance art–meat dresses and rolling around stage in chocolate syrup and ‘toys’–at taxpayer expense. But you are correct: the most meaningful art is the stuff you remember years later.

    I used to run cross country as a teen (no, really! stop laughing and pointing to my paunch), and we were running through one of those outdoor museums set a wooded area. We rounded the corner and came upon a silver ear set at ground level. At the time, it was the funniest thing I ever saw.

    I cannot get it out of my head. And I totally get it.

    The worst thing that a art viewer can do when viewing art (of any kind, including novels) is to so completely forget it that even upon viewing it again, they still don’t get it. That’s more an indictment of the artist than the viewer. I know I might be off the wall–but if I need to read some long tract on the whichness of the why about a piece, then the artist has failed. Unless it’s specifically a piece for the similarly erudite. Then it’s just a circle-jerk.

    Ever look into a mirror and get that “I” moment? Mine go something like this: I know there’s some kind of deathless thing behind these eyes, and right now it’s wearing a body called ‘Bill’. It’s mostly oblivious to it’s own nature, until it mesmerizes itself in a mirror.

    The two artists, the one who gazed and the one who sat with you, are doing the same thing: forcing the deathless thing (OK, soul) inside you to regard their soul. Suddenly, it’s two souls, looking at each other, in a way completely different than two people looking at each other. THAT is why it’s so unnerving and so memorable.

    Thanks, Pam, for a great visual. I mean the artists, not nude muffin baking (although that’s a nice visual, too)

    • Hey Bill
      Thanks for popping over and taking time to write such a lovely, thought filled comment.

      I love the story about the silver ear. I can so see it.

      And I also love the concept of the … me behind the eyes…. in all of us. So true.

      I so treasure those moments when I somehow ACCESS that… soul reality. It is in those moments that I can giggle at … all the antics of this body called Pam. Carrying around so many… fears, doubts, insecurities. It is in those moments that I find that STILLNESS I mentioned in the post.

      I dig it.

      Go easy, my friend.
      I hope the scribbling is going well.

  2. That thing of ‘everyone else knows what’s going on here, what this is about, and I’m the only one too dumb or out-of-it to get it’ is sort of the model of social interaction for me. I don’t know that I’d go to art for more of it. On the other hand, I don’t want art that tells me what to think, either. Hm.

    • Hullo Barbara!
      Thanks for popping in.

      Your lovely comment made me giggle and think. The best kind of comment, I say 😉

      I think that part of what I have learned is that it’s OK to have my response – whatever it is. I may not… shout my response from the rooftops, but HOPEFULLY I no longer think that I’m just STUPID if I don’t seem to “get” something. Or if I just think it is…. not as amazing as the rest of the crowd may be saying.

      I might even have the guts now to talk about it with a friend and admit that I just don’t SEE what the crowd seems to be loving. Maybe get into a discussion about it. Whereas in the old days I would probably nod my head and go, “Ahhhh, Bach….” (MASH reference)

      Hmm… maybe I have learned to trust my own responses a bit more.

      That said, I also know that I respond to things differently depending on .. my day, my mood, and so on. So I am often willing to give things a second chance or another look. Like my rethinking of that night at OCA. Still gives me the heebies, but… it did get to me and stick with me so… I guess it “worked”

      Best of all are the things that I just LOVE ~whole heart~ on the first viewing (or read) and that thankfully have stood the test of time. Like books or movies that I fell in love with so long ago and still return to.

      To Kill a Mockingbird
      Harold and Maude
      To Esme with Love and Squalor
      People You’d Trust Your Life To

      The keepers.

      I yearn for more keepers.

      go easy ~p

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Starting Over

Because there's never enough time to do it right the first time but there's always enough time to do it over

Ailish Sinclair

Stories and photos from Scotland

Cathy Standiford

Historical fiction, poetry, essays

Keeping the Dream

The Healing Journey and Covert Abuse

Starting Over

Because there's never enough time to do it right the first time but there's always enough time to do it over

Ailish Sinclair

Stories and photos from Scotland

Cathy Standiford

Historical fiction, poetry, essays

Keeping the Dream

The Healing Journey and Covert Abuse

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