Living blocks from Ground Zero since 2004, I’ve never been a fan of the September 11 tribute overload with its countless ceremonies, blocked streets, morbidly curious tourists and nutty 9/11 Truthers. This year, I spent 9/11 watching visual and performance artist Hunter Reynolds in a 9/11 tribute Mummification performance, which was an intensely powerful experience.
Staged in Tribeca Park, My 911 Mummification Performance featured Reynolds along with Douglas Allan, Jim Fletcher and Jason Bradford, who turned Reynolds into a mummy using cellophane and several rolls of variously colored fluorescent tape. Known for his Mummification performances, Reynolds’s performances normally reference the HIV/AIDS epidemic since Reynolds has been living with HIV/AIDS since 1984.
Like the other Mummification performances, My 911 Mummification Performance came from a personal 9/11 memory. In short, on September 10, 2001, Reynolds picked up a German man at the West Village gay bar Boots and Saddle. The next morning, after going home together, the German man said he wanted to go to breakfast at “Windows on the World” and Reynolds joined him. Before they reached “Windows on the World,” Reynolds showed the German man the view outside the PATH train escalators just as the first plane hit the north tower. Watching the burning hole and the people falling to their deaths, they decided to walk uptown to Tribeca Park, where they witnessed the towers collapsing.
My 911 Mummification Performance proved the power of 9/11 memorials or artistic tributes, presenting a complexity of imagery and meaning that most of the official memorials do not. I was seriously moved by the performance and so, this post will be slightly unusual for me as there will be little snark or sarcasm.
Two other performers began by wrapping Reynolds in cellophane, surrounded by a half-circle of flowers and fern leaves.
After they were done with the cellophane, Reynolds was wrapped in fluorescent packing tape, creating a visually striking striped casing around Reynolds’s body. Only his right arm was exposed, which one of the performers massaged off and on during the two hour performance.
The one real humorous moment was brought by a group of London police officers who wandered through the park after the 9/11 ceremony. Creating a surreal environment with their presence, the London bobbies cracked tons of jokes about the “Mummy man” and being stuck to Reynolds after this photograph.
Completely covered in packing tape, Reynolds recalled many possible images from (obviously) a mummy to a body bag to even the Abu Ghraib torture victims with the covered face and exposed arm. With only miniscule holes for his nose and his mouth, it seemed that Reynolds could barely breath, solidifying the potential torture imagery.
Eventually, the other performers asked random men in the crowd if they could assist laying Reynolds out on the ground. Signifying the masses helping the individual, the image of strangers helping the performance was powerful and brought a sense of community that happened directly after 9/11.
While he was on the ground, the audience was told to write on Reynolds’s body using markers. As one of the first to go up to write, the sensation of writing on a live-man’s chest was incredible. Soon everyone else joined in, writing their 9/11 stories or thoughts. Many different people penned their thoughts on Reynolds.
After everyone had a chance to write something on Reynolds, he was cut out, which involved a lengthy, careful use of the scissors. Playing with the notion of rebirth and renewal, Reynolds emerged from the Mummification wrapping.
After the wrapping was taken off, Reynolds stood and performed a slow dancer-like movement on his four sides. Then, he collapsed on the ground only to eventually stand up and be embraced by his fellow performers and friends.
An emotional performance, My 911 Mummification Performance was what a memorial should be — thoughtful, complex, moving and, in the end, positive. This performance was honestly the only 9/11 tribute that I’ve been able to not only feel but stomach at all. Celebrating both tragedy and rebirth, Reynolds’s performance will remain in my memory.