Urban Scrawl—006—Waiting for God? Oh!
I spend a lot of time waiting—standing on sidewalks, sitting on benches that are far too close to the curb, because I get around the city by bus. Even when in motion, in transit, it’s still a waiting and watching game, something not so much empty as absorptive; not so much passive as receptive. I like to read; in fact I look forward to being forced to wait for the next thing, the arrival at my destination, largely because that relatively unplugged travel-time is the only time I can count on having the opportunity to actually read a real book. At home it’s too tempting to be working on something—and there is always something. On the bus, there’s nothing to do; the choice of book is an important part of the preparations for the journey. And in the meantime, with or without being an open book or having one in my lap, I can look forward to learning something new about my fellow humans.
Yes, I’ve learned a lot about Los Angeles riding the bus. Practical things like street names, neighborhoods, and demographics; personal insights that can only result from having time to think and that particular mental clarity that comes from forward motion; and more esoteric things such as finding that waiting can be its own reward; that having no expectation, and no attachment to a specific outcome beyond, perhaps, the safe arrival at your station, the end of a scene as measured in time rather than the accuracy of the itinerary, or reaching the other end of the unraveled rope. It’s a metaphor for life, of course, like everything, and for art, too, like most things. It teaches me to let go, like an exercise in relinquishing control, the better to realize and embrace that being (or attempting to be) in control of people and events is an illusion in general, and not all it’s cracked up to be anyway.
So I was already pondering about my bus-riding as a kind of durational performance series—not exactly without an audience, and always full of meaning, especially if like me, you happen to have an obsessive compulsion to read “the signs” and find the hidden patterns in unplanned events. And people love hearing about what “happened to me” on board—sometimes you get to watch strangers meet and fall in love, sometimes there’s a fight, or the most amazing outfit, or accent, or aroma. You get on the bus, and you just have to see what happens. It’s a bit like surfing maybe, or bird-watching, or meditating; but it’s physical, active, sometimes frantic, and never still. Patience is demanded but not expected. A sense of humor helps. So yeah, it’s kind of like performance art.
I’ve been hanging out at Rachel Rosenthal’s a lot lately, where in her role as director of her experimental theatre ensemble at Espace DbD she seems primarily to wait and see what happens on-stage. She sets up basic circumstances, and, along with the audience and the performers themselves, waits to see what happens. Last weekend as part of the Perform Now events in Chinatown, Micol Hebron sat on the floor of Jancar Gallery from 5-12pm, in a piece called Navel Gazing, during at least part of which she sat on the floor and looked at her vagina in a handheld mirror. Audience members were invited to join her, or not. Discussions raged, sometimes compassionate and funny, sometimes honest and personal, sometimes contentious and even volatile. At one point while I was there (on the ring of chairs for viewers, not on the floor cushions, sorry) the talk turned to ideas of taboo, and just what Micol was getting at with all this private stuff going on in public, and she said, “I wanted to see what would happen.”
And starting this week over at Frumkin Gallery in the Santa Monica Airport Studios, Doni Silver Simons presents August, an installation and days-long performance event that keys to the poetic, formal possibilities of simply marking time; a circumstantial set-up by a painter whose work
commemorates and invites us to witness something that is just about to happen.