12PM-8PM January 29, 2014
As Sandrine Schaefer’s artist assistant and never having seen her work live, I was very excited to see what my mentor does for performance. We met earlier this week about expectations and responsibilities of the ACCUMULATION 2 series as a part of the Lighting Speed of the Present exhibition at Boston University’s 808 Gallery. This opportunity is a big one as an ongoing performance series featuring international artists, and I am delighted to be a part of performance history. The first event of ACCUMULATION happened at the late MEME Gallery in 2009, which featured mostly local artists. Now that this exhibition is hosted at 808 Gallery, the concept had to adhere to the gallery rules. The main concept is various artists are invited to come and interact with the exhibition. The artists have certain slots they will perform a durational piece. The main rule is whatever objects the last artist brings in must stay in the gallery. The next artist can bring in more objects, but cannot take any objects until the full cycle of artists have participated. At 808 Gallery, however, there is a no food rule and boundaries using belts were set in the immense gallery space. Sandrine Schaefer is the curator and initial artist to begin ACCUMULATION 2. The last cycle is on March 26 and an artist talk will follow.
When I arrived at about 4PM, I heard what resembled chanting and found people gravitated towards the corner of the gallery’s windows. Schaefer was wearing a large, what looked to be maroon, hand-knit sweater that was actually sewn over most of her head so that her vision was impaired and that the viewer rarely saw her face. The volume of her voice ranged from quiet to a pause to moderate singing. I thought she was praying because of her position towards the setting sun and what words I could understand was “God.” The feeling overall was eerie but playful but serious. I wondered if the song was for me or for someone else. She moved around the space in clockwise and it was funny to watch everyone follow her. I took a break from following her because her action seemed pretty simple and repetitive.
Closer to 5PM an egg timer went off and Schaefer attended to it. At this back gallery space, she had a set up of a water pitcher, glass, mini-cassettes, a recorder, a hammer, and what I would later learn were post-it notes resembling a right hand. It was at this point, I could verify that this hooded person was in fact Schaefer because she would move the sweater to her neck in order to see. After turning off the timer, Schaefer would take one of two recorders and rewind her recorded tape to the beginning. Rewinding of the tape actually took a while, probably about 5 minutes and I was nostalgic of this older technology. The sound was pleasant and higher pitched. She then inserted a new tape and began a different song. When I had arrived she was on tape 4 and moving into tape 5.
This new song seemed a bit more “poppy” and I had no idea what the song was. I took this time to read a little bit about ACCUMULATION 2 in the listed catalog for Lighting Speed of the Present. I read Schaefer’s piece on “sadhus” and the introduction. Flipping through the pages, I saw some other topics like Phillip K. Dick and more pieces about time. The timer went off again and Schaefer repeated her action of changing tapes. She took a sip of water and went about her pacing around the space. This time however around 5PM, she sat down near the entrance in silence. I watched her adjust until she was comfortable and I imagined how time changes in durational work. I wonder if her 5 hours in felt like 10 hours.
Eventually my friend who was our teaching assistant for Performance Fundamentals came and at this point, Sandrine was lying on the floor singing a different song. At this point a student from BU came and asked my friend and I she could interview us for the school paper. We agreed but immediately regretted it because she asked questions like, “how does performance work?” and “where do performance artists get their inspiration from?” These questions were difficult to answer, so I did my best to answer in a contrary manner. I actually wondered if she would interrupt Schaefer to ask her questions because I know some who are completely unfamiliar with performance can take an aggressive stance.
My friend and I left early to try and catch the performances happening at the MFA called “Onto Objects” featuring Patty Cheng and Jeffery Gibson. I ended up overbooking myself and I wish I had just been able to stay until the end of Schaefer’s performance because I didn’t see “Onto Objects” at all. Because of our prior meeting, I knew Schaefer’s process in advance. She had asked all the involved artists to send her a song that conjured feelings of comfort. All of the artist send very different pieces and Schaefer did her best to memorize the pieces prior. She would sing each song represented in the series for an hour. I thought it was a very thoughtful action that stepped out of a comfort zone of mine. I don’t utilize my voice in my performances. The gallery space is absolutely beautiful and I respect the contemporary push for various mediums of art to be represented in the gallery. I learned from Schaefer that she ended the performance by cutting off the sewn part of the sweater and maintained eye contact with the remaining audience. I believe Schaefer was trying to convey a comfortable, creative space and set it up for the other artists to follow and make use of her “accumulation.”