[ This post is a finalists from the Artblog + The St. Claire’s 2016 New Art Writing Challenge Contest. Thanks to all those who participated, and thanks to our jurors–Cara Ober, Meredith Sellers, and Paddy Johnson–who picked the winners. ]
Janine Antoni’s performance “Ally” at the Fabric Workshop and Museum
On the First Friday of July, I went to the Ally exhibition at the Fabric Workshop and Museum to watch Janine Antoni perform “Paper Dance.” A month later I had the most surreal dream:
Antoni gave birth to me and ripped me to shreds. I was made of paper, a paper baby. I wanted her to eat me; instead, she left me in a pile in the corner of the gallery.
The dream returned me to the site of the performance, not as spectator but as performer. In letting my eyes sit on Antoni, I touch her. She pulls on the paper and tears the corners of my mouth. I am the paper her body undulates on. She spreads herself across me as she dresses and undresses herself in me, urgently pressing me to her breasts then anxiously tearing me away from them, stuffing me in her mouth ecstatically then spitting me out angrily, cradling me in her surrogate womb then clawing me out, pressing me to her lips then bidding me goodbye, as I sit in a pile of other such used paper, watching her leave me—leaving me with only the folds and rips on my crumpling skin and the memory of her bare flowing form in my eyes.
I clasp the blanket given to me and other spectators at the beginning of the performance, knowing that it won’t fold and crush itself in my fists like the paper I watch her dance on. I know but I try it anyway, and the fabric falls limp, softly kissing away the traces of the gesture I try to leave on it as I follow Antoni’s hands. I wrap myself in the blanket, trying to feel the coarseness of the paper she drags across her skin, through the smoothness of the blanket resting on mine. It is not enough for me to register her movements with my eyes, to leave them to the ravages of my memory. I must index them with her. If I am denied the paper she sculpts herself in then I must become that paper. (Spectators are not allowed to touch or take away the paper that accumulates after the performance; they are to sit in the gallery as unreachable relics.)
A sculpture, a drawing, an abandoned performing partner—the tearings and mouldings, the fistfuls and armfuls of paper are all these things. Paper Dance is not sculpture, not drawing, not performance but poesis. A poesis of bodies.
Nishat Hossain is a BA candidate at Haverford College majoring in Visual Studies. Her experimental films have been exhibited nationally and internationally.