OK, so fasting while writing exams is a really dumb-ass idea! Try waking at 3am so you can squeeze in 30 minutes of studying before rushing off to work. Then working until midday and rushing off to Durban to write the exam at 14.30. This all surviving on only a mug of tomato soup, a couple of Pro-vita biscuits and two naartjies! To say the exam went badly is to say the very least! Irritable, light-headed and woozy are not very conducive to focus and clarity of thought, and quite frankly suck when you are trying to write an art history theory paper on popular culture, in particular Pop Art! But I survived my self-induced dumb-assery and the exam is done, and bar some major nastiness I am almost certain I have passed! Third year art theory done and dusted!
Let me return to the fasting though, because I am pretty certain it is this that you will be wondering about. OK, so why am I fasting? Well, in a few days time I will be presenting my performance art piece called Gaze, in a public gallery before an audience, for my third year practical exam mark. “Nervous?” you may ask. OH YES! “Stressed?” HELL, YEAH! But I am mostly excited… “terrifiedly” excited! This is a huge, quite probably, life-changing event for me, and though it has been extremely challenging, things are all coming together now, falling into place. OK, so sorry, so the fasting: well, firstly, I was inspired by The Artist is Present, the docu-film about Marina Abramovic and her recent show at the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art). If you have not seen it I most certainly recommend you get hold of this documentary. The woman is awe-inspiring, her story fascinating, her presence overwhelming. Watching her processes regarding performance I realized that for her it begins long before she even presents anything to the audience/viewer. It is largely about mental preparation, about getting your mind in the right place.
Most performance art, and most definitely the performances of the second-wave feminist artists I have focused on, consists of rituals which are used to challenge and provoke. Viewers are asked to question their own definitions of art, society and its norms, and not always in a comfortable or pleasant manner. After watching and studying Abramovic’s processes I resolved to get myself into that place where it needs to be. Abramovic said of the audience:
“The audience is like a dog. They can feel immediately that you are afraid, that you are insecure, that you’re not in the right state of mind – and they just leave…”
On the evening of 20th November 2012 I will enclose myself within a small space with an audience, and expose myself to their gaze. It will be an extremely intimate experience for both the audience and me, and it is imperative that I am able to get myself into the right state of mind so that by sheer force of will I am able to make myself totally oblivious of that same audience, as well as the photographer and the videographer. Any hint of fear, embarrassment or nervousness and the performance will fail. I cannot acknowledge their presence. One technique performance artists utilize to become insular, oblivious, is that of creating a ritual. So the performance piece becomes that of performing a ritual. A ritual is: the body of ceremonies or rites used in a place of worship, or the body of ceremonies used by a fraternal organization. Generally there is a book of rites or ceremonial forms that are adhered to and followed. The performance of such acts however need not be religious or enforced by a group such as a club or organization. All it requires is a detailed method of procedure faithfully or regularly followed: therefore household chores can become a morning ritual. This state or condition is characterized by the presence of this established procedure or routine; actions associated with or performed according to a rite or ritual, and/or being part of an established routine: for example, a ritual glass of milk before bed.
What I observed in the Abramovic documentary is that she begins to clear her mind long before the event of her performance as well as physically preparing her body. She begins establishing the ritual before the performance so that the instant she is inserts herself into the “art space” the world falls away and she becomes the artist. An observation many of her friends and associates make in the documentary is that Marina is always performing, she does not stop, in other words one cannot tell where her life begins and her performance ends. To me that is not odd, true artists’ lives are part of their art and vice versa, they are indistinguishable, one and the same. It is the same for me.
In truth my ritual began 4 months ago, back in Los Angeles, in the aftermath of my ruin and destruction by one I loved the most (see past posts). When your live has spun disastrously out of control instinctively you search for things in it you can control and you focus on those things. For me it was a regime of tough exercise, and yes, it was a ritual. It is a ritual which I have maintained and further entrenched, and in fact, expanded on within my life back in South Africa. Three weeks prior to my opening night I added fasting to my ritual of exercise, this in an effort to purify my body and clear my mind. By fasting I do not mean starving, people often associate the two, and this is not the purpose of fasting.
Although fasting can and does consist of abstaining from food, drink, sleep or sex to focus on a period of spiritual growth, specifically, one denies something of the flesh to glorify God, enhance our spirit, and go deeper in our spiritual life. Certain civilizations fasted before they made important decisions or if they sought enlightenment (Native Americans for one). Fasting and prayer are often linked together as is evident in all the major religions. However, too often, the focus of fasting is on the lack of food. In fact, the purpose of fasting is to take our eyes off the things of this world and instead focus on God or our inner beings or the Creative force “out there”, Nature, if you will. What I resolved to do was cut out things toxic: alcohol, fried foods, sweets, salty snacks, bread etc. Truthfully this was not much of a change in my normal diet, just a little more severe. As I have mentioned I am a vegetarian and have been since I was 21, and that in effect is a form of fasting.
As a young boy I was always dealing with moral conflict within myself regarding consuming meat. Being a fanatical animal lover this went totally against what I believed was right. But I grew up in a society where it was considered manly and healthy to consume huge amounts of flesh, daily, at every meal! Top of the food chain mentality and all that! As I grew older I took more and more control of my diet, steering away from the consumption of meat. Two events occurred, however, which finally strengthened my resolve: one, I saw cattle being slaughtered, and two, a band called The Smiths released a song called, Meat is Murder. OK, first, the cattle slaughtering- thing: It was during my first year Varsity at Edgewood College and we went on a history excursion up to Zululand to visit all the battle sites of the British, Boer and Zulu wars. We stopped off at the historical site of King Shaka’s kraal (compound) where it just so happened they were expecting the visit of the incumbent king and were slaughtering cattle. Horrible, horrible, horrible, those poor, poor creatures. I couldn’t eat meat after that. This event and the resultant resolve was reinforced by hearing the song by The Smiths. It opens with the buzzing of slaughterhouse saws and the pitiful lowing of cattle and is followed by the most powerful of lyrics, in my opinion it is a powerful, meaningful, classic song; a rarity in these modern times. You cannot listen to it without it touching you, affecting you.
Meat Is Murder
Heifer whines could be human cries
closer comes the screaming knife
this beautiful creature must die
this beautiful creature must die
a death for no reason
and death for no reason is MURDER
and the flesh you so fancifully fry
is not succulent, tasty or nice
it is death for no reason
and death for no reason is MURDER
and the calf that you carve with a smile
and the turkey you festively slice
do you know how animals die?
kitchen aromas aren’t very homely
it’s not “comforting”, “cheery” or “kind”
it’s sizzling blood and the unholy stench
it’s not “natural”, “normal” or kind
the flesh you so fancifully fry
the meat in your mouth
as you savour the flavour
NO, NO, NO, IT’S MURDER
NO, NO, NO, IT’S MURDER
who hears when animals cry?
Twenty-plus years on, and I am still not a flesh eater, and that takes some doing in our society, I am proud to say! I recommend it as a life choice; it will change you in the most profound ways. The world is a bad place filled with bad people and it is easy to become despondent and feel helpless. This is one way you can make a difference. It is far easier then you think, it just takes discipline, the change of your mindset and substitution of one ritual with another: the sacrifice is now yours not some poor animals.