Quiet filled the room as Andrea Gordon walked in, dropped her robe, and took her position inside the corner constructed out of wood and paper sitting in the middle of the gallery. Her body, covered in black circles formed by a "breast stamp" blended with the similarly stamped corner that contained a self-portrait, also covered in the black circles, crouching on the side. Her flesh and a small square mirror were the only things standing out against the black and white environment.
The audience gathered around, some squatting or sitting and everyone went silent, waiting for the performance to begin as she knelt in the corner, her back to the audience, staring at her self-portrait. The audience waited for the music or the signal that the performance was to begin; some sort of movement to release the pressure of anxiety as they waited. What the audience didn't realize was that the performance had started. After two minutes she moves into a new position. The audience gets ready for something to happen and she settles into the new arrangement. Two minutes later she does it again. This is the performance. This staring into the corner, moving and holding still again is the act. After three or four positions the audience looses all hope of something exciting happening and they gradually begin to wander off. The dedicated viewers sit to the end though. Through roughly half an hour of repositioning (with the mirror the last few times) they watch; maybe some hoping for something dramatic. But at the end, her alarm clock beeps, she puts on her robe and walks out the door. That's it folks. You get what you paid for, and admission was free.
I was asked later if I had stayed for the whole piece. Is that all she did, hold the different poses? Is that all she did? Is that all she did? Yes, that is all she did. But it was so much.
With her simple movements in the constructed environment, Gordon layered meanings so thick it is difficult to plow through them all. She references Greek mythology and the story of Narcissus by looking longingly at her portrait and reflection in the mirror while at the same time speaking about vanity, self-examination, and sexual desire.
As she stared at the portrait there was a feeling that she wanted to be the portrait. She wanted to be what it was, who she was at the time of its making, or the feelings the portrait represents. But, as the performance progressed, it seems she pulled away from the portrait, tried to face away from it, ashamed and downcast. There was a feeling of inadequacy that seemed to come over her. She pressed herself against the containing walls, looking trapped and helpless, with this thing she desires and despises. She left ample time for these emotions to develop, hit you full force and then subside, only to become more powerful by the fact that they weren't going away. (Two minutes is quite a long time when you are watching a still body in complete silence.)
When Gordon finally "found" the mirror towards the end, the audience is brought back to the first emotions of longing and desire. It seems that she has found the real, present self reflected in the mirror and has fallen in love with the image. She stares into the mirror with the gaze of a person viewing their lover. Like Narcissus, she seems infatuated with her reflection and hesitant to put it down. Is this vanity, or an attempt to understand one's self?
While discussing the subject of understanding one's self, we can't miss the questions Gordon poses about the nature of self and our relation to the outside world, all that is not-self; how we are affected by our environment and how it affects us. The interesting thing to me is the question of which influences the other more? Gordon seemed to blend into the environment because the pattern on her body matched the pattern on the environment. It looks as if her surroundings imposed themselves on her. But the environment was stamped with a replica of her breast, and so it could not have existed like it did without her presence. In a way she is representing society, social circles, personal relationships, and the overall circular structure of human relations. Things are codependent in these situations. No man or woman is an island to him or herself.
As the audience watched, Gordon held her poses, muscles shaking. Towards the end of the performance you could tell her body was tiring. With the silence and minimal movement, every twitch of muscle became extremely important. It stressed the discomfort of her bodily contortions, the discomfort of the audience, and the uncomfortable emotions staged throughout the performance.
The clock beeped and Gordon rose to leave and the audience remained silent. Some stunned by the power of the performance, others not sure if it was complete. As she slipped back into her robe and out the door the audience heaved a sigh of relief and began to applaud. Whether or not she had intended the audience to sit and watch, they had and had experienced anxiety as she forced them to "wait for something to happen." Some left completely satisfied that that was it, others questioning themselves and their relation to their environments. And I say, if you get what you paid for, she should have charged.