LOS ANGELES — I was apprehensive about attending Sarah Lucas’s performance piece “One Thousand Eggs: For Women” at the Hammer Museum last Friday. Presented as a part of her upcoming retrospective, Au Naturel, the performance, as the title might suggest, consists of a thousand eggs. To make the work, Lucas invited participants to throw, hurl, chuck, pitch, fling, volley, and otherwise break every last egg on an enormous wall in the gallery specifically treated for this purpose. Though the act of egg throwing never occurred to me as anything other than a Halloween prank or an arcane expression of disapproval, within this context, the act of destroying a thousand eggs took on an entirely new and somewhat personal meaning.
The egg, after all, has long been a symbol of female fertility, even before humans had any conception of how, well, conception, works. The ancient Egyptians believed the sun god Ra was hatched from a primordial egg. Likewise, the egg symbolized the ancient Babylonian goddess of war and sexual love, Ishtar, who, after hatching in the heavens, fell into the Euphrates. Even Easter egg hunts that seem to be devoid of any sense whatsoever have their origins in pagan symbols of fertility.
Since science drew a very literal line between eggs and fertility, politicians (particularly male ones) have erected (pun intended) institutions that bar women from controlling their own eggs, a hydra that has reared its many hideous heads again as of late. With this in mind and as a recently pregnant woman, I felt like “One Thousand Eggs” was dangerously positioned on the precipice of a dark undertone that I wasn’t sure I wanted to engage in.
However, I seemed to be alone in my apprehension as a group of about 80 participants, mostly women, assembled in the atrium. An air of jovial camaraderie pervaded the din of conversation as we waited.
When the gallery doors opened, the crowd lined up dutifully, a little like soldiers, behind two folding tables covered with 500 eggs each. In the meantime, Will Ferrell, whose family are ardent supporters of the arts, made an entrance dressed as a Heidi-esque figure accompanied by a group of teenage boys in phallus costumes. The invitation had requested that men either dress as women or as male reproductive organs, but such a parade made more of spectacle than was perhaps expected and the whole crowd broke ranks to photograph the penile pageant.
The hubbub subsided once Lucas started explaining her vision, requesting we do our best to cover the entire monolithic wall, that we take our time, allow others to take their turn tossing, and not throw too many eggs in a row at once. With a ceremonial air, Lucas handed several choice eggs out to select participants. For a moment, it all seemed like a high-minded exercise.
Then the egg throwing began.
Participants grabbed several eggs at a time, positioning themselves in strategic locations in an attempt to reach the canvas’ far corners. The penis costume-clad teenagers in particular took a rapid-fire approach in center stage.
The eggs splattered on impact, making more of a thud than a crack against the hallow sheetrock wall. At times, so many eggs were thrown in such quick succession that it sounded like the irregular beat of a drum. Those that ventured too close during these particularly ferocious bombardments were splattered with ricocheting yoke and white, if not the shrapnel of shells. It was, in short, a ruckus, an affair filled with gleeful destruction.
But this wasn’t entirely a bad thing.
I threw an egg. Amid the half dozen or so that went flying at the same time as mine, its impact was a little lost. But I did feel a degree of satisfaction as the bright yellow yoke slid down the last bit of white wall I had managed to hit. What I found satisfying, liberating even, was this small act of rebellious aggression that made a sound and a mark. You’re not supposed to throw eggs, women are not supposed to express anger, and we sure as hell aren’t supposed to make a mess. Yet by the end, that’s exactly what we had done. We’d made a huge mess. Shattered egg shells littered the gallery floor and the wet yokes, still in motion, glittered beneath the gallery lights.
Still, I had mixed impressions looking at the finished piece. On the one hand, the work stood as a testament to female anger and our collective power to both create and destroy, sometimes in the same stroke. On the other, the performance also functioned as a much needed avenue for catharsis, as Lucas commented in an interview afterwards, “you can let a lot out. It is a liberating thing and I don’t think women are letting it out.”
But on my very long drive back home, I realized this ambiguity in meaning, this resistance to conclusion, is the strength of “One Thousand Eggs.”
After an equal amount of time on planet earth, women are just now able to start demanding the same knowledge about their bodies as their male counterparts, and with that knowledge, the same level of control over their bodies. This is becoming all the more apparent and all the more relevant to me as I search for answers about the daily changes my body is going through as it grows a life inside of me.
There is no map for this new path of discovery that we all find ourselves on and no grammatical matrix in which to express the frustrations, setbacks, awe, and astonishment that we will undoubtedly encounter along the way. Inevitably, in this new landscape, the language and modes with which we attempt to express ourselves will be incomplete and flawed, as is “One Thousand Eggs.”
But the attempt is the thing, even those that fall short of our aspirations, since nothing worth doing is done without making a mess. And if nothing else, “One Thousand Eggs” is one beautiful mess.
Sarah Lucas: Au Naturel opens at the Hammer Museum (10899 Wilshire Blvd, Westwood, Los Angeles) on June 9 and continues through September 1.
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