Everyday Performance Art

I’ve been taking tai chi classes for just over two years.  Not really because I care about my health, or clearing my mind, or learning how to defend myself.  I go simply because I like being at the classes.  My teacher is probably the most graceful person I have ever encountered and it’s as disheartening as it is inspiring to see him turn the act of walking, the act of punching, the act of standing perfectly still into poetry.  He once explained to my class that we must be more determined if we want to attain grace: we must think even about how we raise a glass of water to our lips and resolve to do it beautifully.  So it’s not surprising that everything about his person, his studio and his classes seems always to be evolving into something more lovely than it was the week before.

I am particularly fascinated by his studio.  When I first started studying with him, he had just moved into the space and it was mostly empty.  He has regularly added plants and furniture, but the studio has been transformed by smaller changes as well.  From week to week, a small stone will be moved from a plant stand to a table.  Or a hanging decoration will be moved from one spot on the wall to another.  These movements never leave the marks of clumsiness – they always feel entirely intentional.  Since I can’t say for sure whose hand is doing the moving, the room has started to feel alive in its own right, as if it’s growing and changing from week to week.

I think of my tai chi studio as the best kind of performance art: the work of someone who is constantly working towards a more perfect beauty, whether anyone is noticing or not.  This is somebody who lives his life as an artist, constantly creating out of the raw materials set before him.

I was poking around MoMA’s website and I stumbled upon this video documenting the installation of a recent show, Song Dong’s “Waste Not.”  The show displayed all the hoarded trash and contents of the artist’s mother’s house.  It makes artistic sense of [the destructive act of] obsessive collecting.  But this video takes the art even further into the realm of performance.  The mundane work of mounting a show as complicated as this one makes for compelling video.  If we could all see our lives through the distance of time-lapsed moving pictures, maybe we could better comprehend the exquisite performance art of the everyday.


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