Sarah Michelson: October2018/\

By

Katelyn Farstad

October 2018/\ reminded me an incredible amount of the Maria Lassnig painting of a completely naked woman threatening to shoot herself in the head and also pointing a gun out at the viewer. The painting is called You or Me (Du oder Ich) from 2005. Why this was an interesting parallel to me is that in relation to the other two Michelson pieces I have seen, October 2018/\ was the most intimate, the capacity was set to 50 people, and took place in the “Cargill lounge”- which is an intermediary space in the museum where the two sides connect. It felt much more confrontational for this reason. The space where the piece took place is normally a lobby of loitering. This shift to take a much more sight specific approach to the work was very refreshing in comparison to the other, higher set production and physically more intense Michelson pieces I had seen. The only other Michelson pieces I have seen, both also at The Walker, are Devotion and tournamento. The view we were forced to take in October 2018/\ was facing the massive windows in the lobby, looking out over the hill. The hill appeared to me in this instance as a sort of shrill Hieronymus Bosch painting, lemons strayed about, and the name “RALPH” spelled out in seven feet letters. A moment to focus on the distance.
In October 2018/\ Michelson utilized this lounge area, the outside hill, the freight elevator, and the patron elevator. This gesture made me so aware of the building I was in, and of the vaguely uncomfortable per formative space that occurs when what is determined as the “stage” becomes more blurred. In this performance Michelson was wearing pants that said “NO NO NO NO” all over them. This again reminded me of Lassnig’s painting and how that painting depicts both open antagonisms and a sense of deep self-criticality. An intentional negation of presupposed expectations for artistic production. There were very visceral audio aspects, which were of course vocally delivered by Michelson, which I know only from my other two experiences of her work that this is a common thread. I love how she uses the voice as an interruption of space in a way to engage the viewer that is extremely beautiful and also grating. Some phrases that stuck out to me from October 2018/\ were:
“This is the shape of my sadness”
“Why”
“Because I am a dancer”
“Goodbye! Hungry! Console!”
The last three commands are things Michelson gutturally shouted to the cats. The cats, you might be wondering, were two hairy chested shirtless human beings with cat masks and cat paws wearing khakis that responded to Michelson’s beck and call. They were the only other performers in the piece save for when Michelson would engage with an audience member. Michelson entered the piece through the buildings patron elevator. You hear horns being honked inside the elevator and when it opens Michelson is inside, squeezing two horns shaped like Rhinos. Then there is minimal interaction with the crowd watching as she crawls through people and then she enters the more “staged” space, honks different horns and shouts more, knocks over a bunch of cushions and ends by leaving the building, streaking, and stealing the A from RALPH and disappearing into the edges of the visual stage set, outside the building and didn’t come back for a bow. I am resisting attempting to describe the actual “dancing” because I am not a dancer. I did not interpret the piece on those terms. I do understand though that energy is everything and that it can never be destroyed, only transformed.
As I went to all three performances, it was interesting to see how it shifted slightly over the run. It got more levity over the three performances, less sad, and more humorous. For example, at one point Michelson directly references the curator, looks right at him and says “Sorry Bither” during the performance, which was hilarious. I thought it was so smart because she was being constructivist and deconstructivist all at the same time, weaving her own structure and destroying it simultaneously. There seemed to be a lot of grief in this piece. Grief operates in such a way that you want to be able to be needing to be consoled one moment, and the next you couldn’t want the person touching you to stop touching you more. The gag reflex of forced emotional transportation. What I came to understand is that this diversity of interpretations of Michelson’s work speaks to the simple fact that Michelson’s work is extremely difficult to pin down and that is why it is so successful. It has a tunnel vision of hope but also it is like shoving a phone book through a keyhole. The interest that the piece holds for itself stands the calm strength of hurt, though my understanding of it is quickly sinking like trying to remember, or worse yet, describe a dream. Our collective deep embarrassment surmounts and gives birth to our adult selves. And when you loose something, really loose it, or loose someone, really loose them, there is no proper way to go about dealing with it. But the point is that something is being really dealt with here, and we get to bear witness. Time is fucked, and these instants are so seamless. You have to cope however necessary and I am grateful to Michelson for being obviously in tune with that desire to share a seamless transmission of emotional intelligence and honesty.
The work is hyper focused and intense but also feels as if it could fall apart at any moment. Vibrating. Genuine seeing is a conscious process. Sharing that imaginative unconscious seeing. Dance cannot be broken down; it is like watching a flower bloom at night. It follows a trail while blazing it. It is blended and fluid. This type of work I believe aids in the somatic healing of our somatic isolates. If you can see someone embody a world you know nothing about, it gives you hope that your own life, or experiences, can also be founded around a deep understanding of personal psychological and emotional dialoguing through physical movement. Dance strikes the balance of the constant interface of ego while wiping the sphere of influence clear. Acknowledging those that made you who you are, but not remaining beholden to their aesthetic tropes.
It is a major accomplishment to remain abstract while also dealing with the autobiographical. The piece is working within a space of creative potential, rest, rage, and play. In this way, autobiographical practices are able to explore one’s self and engage one’s audience without shooting anyone’s foot but maybe putting it in some mouths. This piece made me think about how for an artist or creatively dedicated human, there is a life-long struggle to be both united and independent, a struggle to mitigate the stress produced from trying to put your life’s energy on the line all the while coping with the death of your loved ones, or the loss of a job, or the loss of will in whatever way, and ultimately preparing yourself to stop existing one day.
The fact that Michelson presented such a complex and brave piece packed into a half hour performance in my opinion is an incredible display of the super nova strength and intensity that this world needs. Show me how you feel, don’t tell me how you feel. In this crafted adult sphere of seriousness that can be contemporary art, I am so glad someone like Sarah Michelson exists to make work that really does put something very special on the line. It is inspiration to give your sadness space, and a shape, and that grief is a messy process of re-birth and for Christ’s sake she is funny and people are afraid to be funny. I appreciate this piece of art immensely. She did a piece in the galleries too, and it was also completely incredible. But that was not supposed to be documented at all and I respect that so I’m not even going to tell you about it. You had to be there.

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