Hello. It’s me.
I am art critic Magdalene Aubergine. I witness art, I write about art, and I am a moving, melding brain in a woman’s body. And now that you know me, I will begin.
Last week, I encountered one of the most provocative works I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. “Park Scene” rescued me. I had just left New York after the curatorial staff at the Museum of Modern art seemed not to grasp the dynamism of my performance art piece, where I attempted to teach myself to do a handstand in the museum lobby. Law enforcement did not comment on the artistic merits of the piece, but took issue with my “unauthorized presence in the building,” and my “yelling.”
After the incident, I remind myself of the purity of art that is truly made by and for humans. I just drove—no GPS, no cell phone, no brakes. Because I chose not to purchase the concept known as “gasoline” from one of the many soulless oil conglomerates posted along the road, my journey ended in western Ohio. Soon, I found myself in a small public park, ignorant then, that my whole worldview was about to change.
I sat on a park bench for a moment, waiting to be recognized immediately, as I so often am in public places. But no one asked for my autograph (one horizontal line), nor called me the zeitgeist. In fact, everyone simply ignored me. There was no logical explanation until I realized that I had stumbled, ignorantly, but perfectly, into a performance art piece, the performers intent on maintaining separation between me, the witness, and their work.
An array of scenes unfolded before me, quite obviously critiquing the notions of “play” and “leisure.” The people, the artists, could not have disappeared more convincingly into their roles as park-goers.
First, a game of pick-up basketball. The court was their canvas, and they the paint. The performers were adolescents, and I watched with fascination as a fight broke out between them. I dared not intervene when a child fell and requested medical attention, unsure whether I was meant to participate.
To my other side: a ritual of years. The performed children’s birthday party, taking place in the picnic area. The realness of the work was astounding—the performers could not have looked more like children. What was most exciting was the interactive aspect. When I wandered over, so that I might better observe the scene, the artists engaged with me directly. They asked me “who I knew there,” and “which child was mine.” I decided to participate, per their invitation, and interact with their scene, sticking my hand into the cake and eating the portion from my bare hand, freeing myself of all inhibitions as they undoubtedly intended.
“Park Scene” mirrored life most effectively in its uneven rhythms and seeming lack of connection between different events. Not seconds after I ate my portion of cake, a dog sprinted past the party. Pursued by one of the work’s most impressive characters, “Steve,” the dog shifted the focus of the scene from the party to itself in an instant. Steve shouted for help with a desperation I hadn’t seen on stage before, and the other partygoers, conveying genuine surprise, rushed to help pursue the dog.
But “Park Scene” was so much more than just a thrill ride. As night descended, I was the only one there, left to ponder what I had just seen. “Park Scene” restored my faith in performance art, and my faith in the human condition. Renewed, I returned to the city on foot over the next week, ready to begin again.