A community of feeling
MKNZ and Erin Frost ‘go on take everything’ red velvet cake, frosting, 2015
Written by Steven Dolan
“It seems that we started with a deficit. And by the time we got to the show, we were in this major state of abundance, of surplus, which thematically tied into the show. You actually can take everything. We don’t need it anymore.”
MKNZ, Erin Frost, Leigh Riibe, and Sierra Stinson are spread out in the living room of Sierra’s apartment. MKNZ is describing the journey that culminated in the show “go on take everything,” marking the 5th anniversary of Vignettes. In a short expanse of time, the four artists and friends each found themselves left by their partners in the homes they shared. Over the course of these heartbreaks, the four women grew closer, further cultivating a nurturing web of relationships that gave birth to an interweaving of art practice.
Speaking with the artists, it’s clear that the emotional turmoil they experienced individually and cared for collectively, comes secondary to the new love and relationality that emerged. The show is more about their reverence for healing and the bounty that followed than about the pain they endured.
Leigh Riibe ‘Flammable’ Printed Matchbooks, 2015
The evening of the show, guests were greeted by a wall of Erin’s lipstick prints (“i want to lose them”) and other offerings, such as the red velvet cake by Erin and MKNZ that shared the show’s title and a pile of printed matchbooks by Leigh Riibe (“Flammable”). These pieces, composed of multiples that invited taking, constituting offerings of abundance. In giving freely to each other, the artists are equipped to share the loved they’ve reaped.
Wearing a wooden milkmaid’s yoke with two 45-pound salt blocks hanging from either side, MKNZ occupied the apartment’s bedroom, deprived of vision and most of her hearing. For the active two hours of the durational performance, she carried the weight of the salt blocks. Those that attended the show were invited to provide MKNZ aid by lifting the salt blocks in pairs, requiring the careful cooperation of those that stepped up. Anything less would offset her balance. Titled “The Inherent Codependency of the Heaving Heart,” the performance illustrates the kind of collective care taking that occurs in times of grief.
MKNZ ‘The Inherent Codependency of the Heaving Heart’ performance, 120 minutes, 2015
“It’s reminiscent to me of when you have a friend that’s really suffering and is kind of unreachable, in a dead-to-the-world sort of state,” MKNZ explained. “It takes a collaborative effort to care for that person. It can’t be one person’s job alone.”
Participants came in waves, gingerly taking up the weight, engaging in the tender ritual. A ring of viewers dotted the walls, observing the act, but also enveloping the performance in a network of symbiotic support and affirming energy.
The performance was not only a gesture of trust extended to MKNZ’s anonymous supporters, but also one of generosity. Individual identity was not relevant to this relation. Instead, it was predicated on the sheer fact of their shared existence. The burden of love is relevant to all of us, but it is up to us to answer its call.
Leigh Riibe ‘Letters to Leslie 1991-1997 (age 10-15), telephone, audio recordings, 2015
Tucked away in the bathroom sat a red telephone, with the words “I LOVE YOU” standing in the place of a number. When one answers, they hear Leigh Riibe reading letters she wrote to her sister Leslie from 1991-1997, between the ages of 10 and 15. Leslie kept these, gifting Leigh a binder of her side of their correspondence for her 30th birthday.
“My sister has always been the person that has seen me throughout my life,” Leigh said. “She’s been the one that listened to me when nobody else would fucking listen to me and pay attention to me when nobody else would pay attention to me.”
The letters detail everything from suburban ennui and adolescent existentialism (“I figured out today that I have no life.”) to appropriately dated cultural moments (“My neck? I can’t hold it up without it starting to vibrate because it’s so sore from headbanging to Nirvana’s Nevermind.”).
The Christmas lists alone illustrate a depth that culture rarely allows girls. Requests are at times endearingly specific (“Stuffed animal that has to do with snowy weather, such as a seal or Lamonts 1992 Christmas bear,” “Pink cat eye sunglasses with jewels in the corners at Hot Topic”), absurd (“Breakfast in bed for the rest of my life”), and brutally honest (“Don’t get rid of Stella, Clarence, Morris, or Stubby”—Leigh’s pets).
For as much humor as there is, one also hears Leigh’s despair. Demands to write back are a constant, suggesting an aching isolation. A particularly heavy letter sees Leigh predicting the death of a friend whose drug use has left her feeling helpless. Her narration of the past teems with feeling. She occasionally laughs, she invokes the gravity of adolescent anger and effervescent girlhood, and sometimes her voice quivers. In delving into these wounds and whatever other emotional remnants the letters mark for her, Leigh harvests an emotional abundance that is not tied to a specific time, for through the process, she is creating a future.
“I think the overarching theme for the show for myself was healing,” Leigh noted. “Talking and interacting with that time of my life without judgement and playfully was really healing.”
Erin Frost ‘that which has been your delight’ video still, 2015
Originally exhibited at Out of Sight, Erin’s “that which has been your delight” reaches a new intensity in conversation with her cohorts and the context of the show. Before the video’s creation, the death of a friend and her first love coincided within weeks. Having bought herself flowers after the first loss, she sat contemplating using the petals after the second, only to have them fall into her hand, sparking the piece that followed. One night swimming by moonlight, a friend, Adam Boehmer, put forth the phrase “making space for pleasure,” which became Erin’s mantra. “It just held me,” she explained.
The video begins with Erin face down on a bed of black fabric in a confrontational moment of grief. What follows is a sensuous exploration of feminine codes . We see a closeup of her sliding her arm through a sleeve of sheer, embroidered fabric and then slowly lifting the hem of her dress. Her hands dig into a visual field of flour. Milk glides down her nude body. Flowers are a near constant, even receiving their own milk bath.
What is achieved is not the masking of grief, but a cathartic moment of grief harnessed as pleasure. Erin taps these icons of femininity, articulating their potency and giving weight to beauty. She embodies a vision of emotional fecundity, illustrating the possibility of new life. Our culture teaches us to grieve quietly and conveniently, but her process rebukes that notion, instead choosing exhibitionism. Erin has no shame about her grief, nor her femininity, purveying and transforming these ideas as sources of power and strength.
“I think that when you’re feeling stripped when you lose things, you are faced with that power in yourself,” Erin suggested. “Everything falls away.”
Sierra Stinson ‘Two Vessels (Fill me up / Pour me out)’ 2 Channel Video still, 2015
In the kitchen, Sierra’s 2-channel video, “Two Vessels (Fill Me Up / Pour Me Out)” plays on a continuous loop. With a directness and simplicity, the video points at an essential emotional sensibility: one that not only externalizes or “pours,” but that also simultaneously internalizes or “absorbs.” One side of the video piece shows an amber-toned sponge taking in a steady drip, while the other demonstrates the mouth of a carafe pouring water. The shots are framed to focus on the actions, not the entirety of the objects themselves, nor the environment they exist in. In doing this, Sierra emphasizes a humble gesture that evokes clarity: perhaps it can be that simple to love and be loved.
“We are all vessels. I had that idea the week after I went through my breakup,” Sierra said. “I was like, oh, I’ve been this cup pouring out, pouring out, pouring out, to the point that I can’t do it anymore. And then I was like, I need to be the sponge. I want to be that. At first it was a negative outlook in ways, and then as I worked on it, I realized we can be both vessels always.”
It is through the realization of vulnerability and an active channel of loving that an emotional system as this can function and nurture the wellspring of love that we give and receive, the piece asserts.
As an exercise in vulnerability and an intersection of relation and creation, “go on take everything” realizes a radical form of artistic practice. It is often the case that patriarchal culture privileges a stoic approach to creation (and being in general) and a pointed separation between artist and work. Within this value system, transparent emotionalism, especially coming from feminine sources, is considered frivolous. Allowing oneself to be vulnerable is in direct defiance with a culture that would rather us remain isolated, navigating the world through dispassionate power moves, in lieu of a more considerate relation. The project of “go on take everything” envisages community as the space we create when we allow ourselves to care for and with others. In tandem, emotion, whether it inhabits typified avenues of relation or not, creates a community of feeling. Whatever social parameters exist, this field of being is indestructible. We need only open ourselves to its infinitudes.
EXPORTED: MKNZ in Vienna
VIENNA, AN EXEMPLARY CASE OF LOVE WITHOUT RESPITE
In times of performance, during its gestation, its realization, and its aftermath, everything seems fated: every circumstance, every choice, every unanticipated generosity, and surely every setback. Performance creates an extended experience of coincidence; a prolonged sense of the present, achieved through fits of bravery and willingness to suffer– or, perhaps more specifically, a desire to reap suffering’s benefits.
Derrick Ryan Claude Mitchell (‘Ryan’), director of the theatre company, Saint Genet (which many of my dearest friends, lovers, and colleagues have been involved with over the years), invited me to fly out to Vienna to collaborate with him on the 72 hour performance, An Exemplary Case of Love without Respite. I would join him each day at dawn and at dusk for a ritual involving wine, honey, leaching, bleeding, tattooing, and gold-leafing. The time between these two rituals was filled with a 30km procession, completed by Ryan, with consuming devotion, each day.
My role in these 72 hours involved descending onto the ‘stage’ of a stark, candlelit factory in Traiskirchen, Austria and, in the evening, the small, white-walled, Charim Gallierie in downtown Vienna. The stage of each location was indicated by a rectangular layer of slowly deteriorating sod, filled with the sounds of peeping chicks and the heartbreaking compositions of Brian Lawlor, executed by a trio of strings and keyboard. I would remove my shirt and shoes and walk slowly to my mark, while Ryan finished a bottle of red wine; thinned blood streaming from his wrist around the body of a fat, throbbing leach. I would walk to a neatly folded nurse’s gown (starched, linen white, dating back to 1940s Austria, and sourced by Patrizia Ruthensteiner, who was responsible for the creation of a striking pussy willow mask, worn by Ryan during each procession). Upon approaching the gown, I would wait to be carefully dressed by Patrizia. Each day a new gown, each gown soiled by blood, dirt and honey. On my knees, I would assemble a tray of materials to tattoo Ryan, freehand and without machine. I would wait at my station, while he struggled to undress; drunk, sleep deprived, sore, and sticky with sweat and honey. He would make his way to lie at my knees, belly up, trembling (especially in the mornings, when the factory was chilled and damp). Over 6 sessions, I completed a tattoo on the right side of his ribcage, content unknown to everyone but me. During each tattoo, a stream of honey poured over Ryan’s face, into his mouth, ear, and nostrils, sometimes choking him, causing him to gag and writhe. His bleeding arm would clutch and stain my thigh during the process. At the end, I would decorate his face in gold leaf and pussy willow buds, then rise, undress, and leave the stage.
I am an untrained performer. I have a limited, novice education in performance art and tremendous stage fright. But I am compelled by a brief feeling of freedom I experience in the throes of performance. For me, this is a kind of freedom derived from the hungry and inescapable energy of a crowd. Historically, I have created performance works that involve a significant amount of physical discomfort, or some display of strength and stamina, to distract me from my apprehension. This is the first role in which those elements have been absent. Of course, my task involved emotional endurance and conscious effort to proceed while a person I care for suffered at my lap. This moral compromise, for me, was thoroughly premeditated and acceptable- no, necessary, for Ryan and I to get nearer to understanding the concepts we had been exploring; for us to begin to name our actions; to respect the collaborators, the audience, and the sanctity of each passing ritual. It became obvious, as each of the six sessions passed, how crucial it was that they were all completed.
Photo: Ethan Folk
On my way from the airport, my first day in Vienna, my driver told me the city is built like a snail, with districts spiraling from its center. The streets in our neighborhood were littered with smoky, dark cafes and Turkish markets. I’d be staying at Mo.ë, a contemporary art space converted from an old warehouse, with a small residency area in the upstairs unit.
Each morning at 3:30am, we’d get coffee at Liman, a big cafe and kebab near Mo.ë, and wait for a van to take us to the factory in Traiskirchen for the dawn performance. We would return to Liman around 8am, for Turkish breakfast: a pool of honey with a pat of butter floating on top, sliced cucumber and tomato, a pile of olives, cheeses and hummus. The table got sliced loaves of white bread to sop it all up. Coffee with milk and a pack of Parisienne Milds. One ritual to come down from another.
Vienna is profoundly Catholic; everything is closed on Sundays, even grocery stores. And perhaps it is the pervasiveness of Catholicism that inadvertently encourages Vienna’s debaucherous and gritty underbelly of legal prostitution and unrestrained indulgence of cigarettes and libation. The moral makeup of a society is not hierarchical but circular. Good and Evil are a pendulum, a mirror; they require each other to survive; to be named. They are, at best, units of measure, creating sprawls of grey area for the rest of us to operate within. Perhaps Vienna’s perceived familiarity with this duality makes her a natural host for the work of Saint Genet; certainly for our recent performance.
There is a moment during a performance when failure clings to the air around you. It is stiff, unsympathetic and evident to everyone in the room. In my experience, it is in these moments when fear is replaced by a total, immovable obligation. Not an obligation to succeed, per se; success is uninteresting and unimportant, but an obligation to rise to the occasion, to be as present as possible, to turn inside out. Failure or success, you do it with your whole heart.
My principal role in this performance (born out of a shared desire between Ryan and myself) was to come up with the content and location of this tattoo without any input or direction from Ryan. It was to remain an uncertainty until the end of the final day.
This wasn’t the first time I engaged in a performance involving an unknown tattoo.
In April of 2013, my forearm was tattooed by my then girlfriend and collaborator, Taylor Pinton, while I simultaneously shouldered the weight of a large wall that leaned precariously over her body. The imagery of the tattoo was determined by Taylor in advance, and was not seen by me until the performance concluded.
Somewhere in the midst of the 72 hours of An Exemplary Case of Love without Respite, I thought about Taylor. Specifically, the look on her face after we exited our performance space, and before I looked down at the new tattoo on my forearm. Tears were welling in her eyes and she trembled anxiously over my imminent reaction to the new mark on my body; the mark she’d determined for me. My new tattoo read, darling if you want me to, a Prince lyric and a prophetic notion that has been slowly unfurling its significance ever since.
I loved it immediately.
When I remembered that look on her face, I recognized my immediate future. I knew that at the end of these 72 hours, I would stand in a bathroom with Ryan, waiting for him look at the new mark on his ribs. It felt right, felt fated, to know that I would have to experience this place of immense vulnerability that I had asked Taylor to occupy two years ago.
That relationship died abruptly and sometimes I feel that its carcass still lingers; acrid, rotten, never picked apart or swallowed up by the earth. Its bones never dried out and bleached into some tidy keepsake of the past. So when I have little revelations about that relationship, they feel particularly affecting. They bring me a little closer to resolve.
Photos: Courtney Howell
Ryan’s new tattoo reads, “LOVE ME OR KILL ME, BROTHER”, a line from the 17th century play ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore, by John Ford. The play is centered on the incestuous and passionate relationship between a brother and sister. There is a scene in the play, when Giovanni (the brother) confesses his love and desire to his sister, Annabella, with the expectation that she will reject the indecency of his admission. She, instead, kneels before him and says, “Love me or kill me, brother”, to which he replies with great potency, “Love me or kill me, sister”. With this vow, they seal their fate. They proceed to love one another shamelessly, and without regard to the contempt in which they are held by society. And this passion brings them to a hasty and gruesome death. Near the end of the play, Annabella is faced with her executioner, and instead of pleading for her life, she sings defiantly of a love worth dying for; of her passion for her brother. In his book, The Theatre and its Double, Antonin Artaud refers to this moment as “an exemplary case of love without respite”.
Photos: Ethan Folk, MKNZ
I am writing from Reykjavik, Iceland – my final stop before heading back home to Seattle.
I am here to visit my best friend, Morgan, who moved here a year ago to make a home with her husband (and newly dear friend of mine), Sindri. They have graciously taken me in and shown me kindness in my exhausted state.
The air here is cold and sulfuric. The wind beats my face red, but I am serene. This landscape begs me to surrender and I oblige. The color of the country is muted, with mountains jutting out of fields like raw onyx. There are vast plains of craggy, black, volcanic matter, made still by the cold, and preserved in a lacquer of snow. The architecture of Reykjavik is modest and built to endure; homes made of concrete and painted aluminum roofs. Window sills decorated with sun bathing cats and porcelain tchotchkes. I’ve been eating smoked salmon every morning and making big, starchy dinners: spaghetti and marinara, white bean and kale soup, potatoes and sauerkraut.
Trying to come back to myself.
Morgan reflects onto me everything tender and capable about my nature and I try to absorb what I can of these affirmations while I’m here.
After all this exploration of grief and sorrow, and harrowing persistence of love through trials of transgression, I am left with an intermittent feeling of unfamiliarity.
But I am humbled by this new territory of vulnerability that I charted with my collaborators in Vienna. I am heavy with gratitude for all of it.
love & gore
Lindsey Apodaca and MKNZ
May 6, 2011
“In my limited experience with love, there is a thin line drawn
between fervor and aggression. A focused, ardent examination
of your love (whatever it may be) will undoubtedly lead you to gross particulars.”