One day last week I sat down to gather my pile of promotional material and my thoughts in order to write my weekly arts column when all of a sudden my fan stopped fanning and my computer went kaput. “Perfect!” I bemoaned and started bitching about the humidity, my puny bedroom air-conditioner (which presumably caused the outage) and my absent boyfriend who typically deals with anything electrical. When I finally accepted the fact that said boyfriend was in
As neighbors flocked to the street to find comfort in numbers I dug into my earthquake preparedness kit (formerly known as the Y2K kit), found my wind-up solar radio (impressive, right?) and learned from LaDona at KoGo of all stations that the power outage could last for hours, perhaps even days. This was my first thought: “But tonight’s Big Brother eviction night! How can this happen?” Subsequent thoughts went like this: “I better find a flashlight because it’s going to get dark soon” and “I should cook things in the fridge that might spoil”, this followed by a whole lot of media fueled alarmism involving looters and terrorism, fear and mayhem.
I found my flashlight, organized my animals, ate my fajitas and fell onto my sofa for the duration. I was dripping with sweat and immediately bored. Clearly, sitting with my own thoughts as time ticked by was not enough for me. I needed to check an email – right now! I needed to surf the internet or just sit at my computer doing anything while the TV chattered away in the background. I was an addict experiencing a kind of cold turkey, flop sweat and all, a profoundly uncomfortable response to stopped stimulation no different than someone suddenly doing without cigarettes or heroin or Oprah.
This is when art began to enter my consciousness. Just an hour earlier I had been rifling through a stack of postcards promoting numerous upcoming exhibitions, each card illustrated by an image aiming to re-present the world anew. All day I had been casually scrolling through press releases, most of them promising a “reality-altering”, “one-of-a-kind” performance in music and dance. Yesterday I spent the whole day in my own studio trying to make work that explained human experience in a way that might cause people to stop for just a moment and wonder.
All of those artistic efforts suddenly seemed so derivative and overly familiar compared to simply sitting alone with myself undisturbed as the sky went dark and the canyon behind my house became a lush green well of microscopic sound. Unlike a vacation, a day at the spa or a retreat “the great San Diego blackout” felt like art because it came about so suddenly; it wasn’t a product or an experience that was purchased and therefore braced for. Like any effective art last week’s inexplicable 12-hour power outage punctured my routine. Once surprise and irritation and my “cold turkey” spasms had settled down the prospect of nothing and no end in sight made me feel something, it messed with my expectations.
Birdsong and sunsets are hardly radical inquiries in our contemporary and often cynical (art) world but these simple phenomena and so many other mundane happenings were suddenly rendered profound because I was forced to notice them again. The overlooked and the banal turned into art right before my eyes. For example, a small cast of neighbors ranging from the scrappy 8 year old boy next (on the north side) to a toothless eighty year old veteran (On the south side) wandered back and forth in front of my lunar xero-scape yard repeating the same synchronous yet unrehearsed words: “Did your power go out?” “Did your power go out?” This was performance art as intriguing as anything I’d seen in a theater for $50.
Across the street a large, close knit family began laughing in unison, marveling at the strange shapes thrown by the novelty of several candles lit one by one inside their tiny wooden home. For them this was play and adventure but mostly light yet for me the spectacle was theatre, a real time abstraction, shadowy shapes flickering and falling from one image into another behind thin white cloth. Even entering the inky darkness of my house when the sky outside was still light enough to read caused me to notice something that electricity had previously masked. My pupils pulsed as they jumped from shadow to shadow, all of them true but unfamiliar. It was a moment of darkness that added many more colors to my palette.
I went to bed at 8P.M. and slept for eleven hours, something I might not have allowed myself in a reality that expects some semblance of prime time entertainment on the back end of a daytime 9-5. Despite the wet stick of humidity that basted me through the night when I woke up I wasn’t sure whether I wanted my computer to come back to life or not because frankly I wasn’t ready to turn the art of living off.