Last weekend, I took up the vanguard of #YOLO culture and beat the shit out of my friend, while force-feeding her raw intestines, spitting wine in her eyes, and waterboarding her in a pail of goopy milk. For art. For my friend Irina Makarova’s performance art, specifically.
It wasn’t until a few days after I’d glibly agreed to assist her that I started to re-think my decision to publically play a character straight out of Saw VII: The Dominatrix of Doom. But it was too late: a large gallery in Tribeca had already agreed to host it. The intestines, I was told, were on their way.
I wanted to back out. I couldn’t.
So I comforted myself with the idea that I was merely an assistant — and that my lack of creative control meant I was absolved of culpability if the art kids curled their lips and declared it to be stupid.
When people asked me what the work was “about,” I deferred the task to my friend. “It’s her piece, she should explain it herself,” I murmured, while shifting into the role of a critic and offering my own analysis (“Maybe it has something to do with that whole épater le bourgeoisie thing … but between us, I think it’s about her relationships with men.”).
But obviously, inwardly, I was terrified about embarrassing myself. I knew that I possessed a degree of agency — enough to ruin everything if I slipped on a stray fish eyeball. (Or, worse, if I started giggling.)
When the evening finally rolled by, I dug up three of the vilest BDSM videos I could find to carefully study the movements and demeanors of the (always flabby, always male) aggressors. Then I bit into an Adderall, and jumped into my first foray into the weird world of over-the-top torture porn performance art in the school of Marina Abramović.
Two minutes before the lights dimmed, my friend grabbed me and hissed, “OMG Richard Kern is here!!” This confused me immensely and put me into a freewheeling thought spiral: Why is underground filmmaker, writer, and photographer Richard Kern here? Why is he interested in seeing me straddle a girl and pistol-whip her with pig organs? Gross. I reeeeally do not want to be part of Kern’s weird fantasy.
Does he wish we were naked? Does he wish I had bigger tits? How do my tits look right now, anyway? Is he “into” this stuff, like, sexually?
Would he be here if we were both men?
Does him being here make this show more “important,” somehow?
I barely had enough time to process his facial expressions before my friend took her position on the floor. That was my cue to start my onslaught of slapping, kicking, and hair-pulling while she whimpered in a fetal position.
We’d practiced how to spit wine in her face without getting it into her eyes. But, while taking a swig from the bottle she’d left against the wall, I was seized by a terrifying paranoia: What if someone puts this on World Star Hip Hop? And files it as “stupid art girls in massive cat fight” under one of their notorious montages of ridiculous brawls?
I accidentally spat wine into her eyes. And then, without really thinking about it, I did it in her face again. For the hell of it.
The room was dead silent, save for a continuous loop of drone music playing. I imagined people from the audience slouching over beers later that night, interpreting the projectile of my spit.
They are going to compare this to Abramović and Chris Burden … probably in the same eye roll. And maybe sprinkle in some commentary on Antonin Artaud and the guilty pleasure of watching someone suffer.
I moved on, as if in a trance, to the climax: a stinking bucket that contained an unholy combination of fish heads, pig intestines, and minced beef.
As I brutishly shoved her head into the bucket, I heard someone groan loudly. But what did it mean? Are they grossed out or were they already desensitized and growing bored? Is everyone noticing how badly I need to retouch my hair job?
Luckily, I had just one more thing left to do: sprinkle gold dust on my friend’s nearly unrecognizable body. As I walked in circles — careful not to slip on the entrails at my feet — I felt the Adderall shards twisting in my empty stomach. I was very tired. I worried, are my nails going to smell like pig intestines tomorrow?
And just like that, the spectacle was over.