Thursday, March 28, 2013

Tilda Swinton's Most Current Performance Is Definitely a Maybe

I heard a joke recently about an agnostic who upon dying finds himself at the pearly gates where he meets St. Peter standing there. "Well," says the agnostic. "Do I get to go in?" Peter replies, "I'm not sure."

This little story came to mind as I read the reviews of Tilda Swinton's current performance as art, or art performance, or maybe an artsy conceptual piece involving performace called The Maybe. Maybe you've heard about it. It's a 2013 show at the Museum of Modern Art  (MoMA) in New York.

Essentially, The Maybe is a reprise of a similar performance she did in 1995 at London's Serpentine Gallery, and then again later in Rome at the Museo Barracco. Evidently there is a large glass box that looks like a large aquarium with a mattress, pillow and some drinking water. On certain days she will show up unannounced and while away the hours inside the glass cage. I assume that spectators who are lucky enough to see her will take away meaning from this encounter/experience, though a certain amount of meaning can be extracted from looking at the box when it is empty is well, I am sure.

The Maybe has no schedule, no artist statement as regards it's aims or importance or what the heck it's about. The glass box will also be moved to random locations around the MoMA so if you saw it March 25 and want to see it again, you'll have to find it somewhere else next time. Good luck, as it may or may not be there.

My first thoughts about The Maybe went like this.
1. Why not give the sleeping space to a homeless person?
This was before I saw the size of the aquarium-display case. To force a homeless person into that space would be deemed something on the order of cruel and unusual punishment. There would most certainly be lawsuits.

2. Is The Maybe making a statement about celebrity?
The Scottish actress Tilda Swinton is a superstar for sure, has been stellar in a number of great films. She plays an amazing White Witch in the Narnia films, and is equally icy in Michael Clayton. My guess about the performance piece was taken for a loop when I saw that it was conceived and performed almost two decades ago, long before her superstar status. But then, when I notice how much her appearance corresponds with the superceleb David Bowie, it makes me think that maybe it's a statement about celebrity after all. It might be even more interesting if on one or two of the occasions it really was David Bowie in the box instead of Swinton.

Actually, my next line of inquiry has to do with how the whole thing came to be in the first place. I suppose Swinton's agent submitted a proposal. The MoMA reviewed it and said, "Ah, this is one way to keep the museum stocked with visitors." Or maybe her Rome show got rave reviews and the MoMA had to bring her to the Big Apple so American audience could get their measure of aesthetic pleasure from the experience.

What is the ultimate aim of this performance? Is The Maybe an effort to convert people who are agnostic in their beliefs about modern art to become believers? I'm not sure.

Is it a modern concept or post-modern? Maybe.

Is it a serious work of art? Could be.

Are you sure? Maybe.

What if the work were performed in an office building? That could be interesting. Would it be art if it were performed in a subway terminal? What if smaller towns had boxes like these where they hire big-name celebrities to show up unannounced and without explanation to spend a day sleeping, on display? Maybe we can get one in Duluth. What if we just made the glass box with mattress and pillow and announced that a super-big-name celebrity was going to show up unannounced sometime in the coming year? 

Then again, maybe not.

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