There will be blood

March 29th, 2010

“Hi! Performance,” an evening of performance art at Autobody Fine Art, March 26th, 2010  

Scottie Hall and Jay Thomas: “p(art)ners in crime present BISECT”  

Words that heal

Words that heal

The stage was set with an altar bearing a hand-printed sign reading: “Words Scar. We ask you to offer two words, one which wounds, and one which you find healing, uplifting, or empowering.” Kneeling on the heart-shaped rug before it, I wrote out two words on separate index cards. To wound: “bitch.” To heal: “sweetie.” I then placed each card in one of two silver bowls, along with a dozen or so others.  

Scottie Hall and Jay Thomas emerged from a back room and walked somberly to the stage. Thomas was completely naked, his body shaved. Hall wore only white, gauzy material wrapped around her body like a loose shroud. Thomas stood on a white mat, facing the audience. Hall, who is a professional piercer, proceeded to pierce his nipple. This was just a warm up.  


Scottie Hall and Jay Thomas

One by one, Hall picked words from the two silver bowls and alternately wrote them on Thomas’ body or scratched them deeply into his skin with a 22 gauge needle. Thomas grimaced in understandable pain, while the blood began to trickle down his chest and stomach. It was so shocking to witness that it took a few rounds before it became clear exactly what was happening: The words that wound were in marker. It was the words that heal which were being carved into his flesh. 

Like Saint Veronica mopping the sweat from the brow of Christ, Hall would periodically dab at the blood with her garment. This continued for 45 minutes. Near the end Thomas appeared serene, but very pale and sweating slightly. He seemed to be going into shock, twitching occasionally like the Yellow Man lobotomized by a bullet in “Blue Velvet.” What was keeping him on his feet?

I myself have had four body pierces, not counting my ears, and an equal number of tattoos. I’ve given blood fifteen times. But at one point watching this performance I felt faint and had to go into the other room for some water. What made me feel ill was watching the word “sweetie” being carved into his arm. My word. He was Christ suffering for my sins. He was being hurt because of me. It reminded me of a story in which a Prince recalls how much worse it was to see a servant–his whipping boy–beaten in his stead. I mentioned to another spectator the feeling of horror, guilt, and betrayal at having a word I provided to heal being used to hurt. She replied, “It’s like child abuse, where they tell you something is supposed to feel good but it hurts you.” Clearly this performance touched a nerve with many in the audience. 



When the cache of index cards was finally exhausted, Hall asked if anyone else had words for them. I slowly shook my head, silently beseeching them to stop. One woman came forward with only a hurting word, “lies,” in an attempt to appease Hall without harming Thomas. Hall asked again for more words. It occurred to me that this was a rhetorical question. “Who among you will cast the first stone?” She was challenging us to re-evaluate our use of these words after the graphic demonstration of their power. 

When Hall was done, Thomas slowly cleaned himself with a towel and a bowl of water. The hurtful words–“bitch,” “fag”–came right off, leaving no trace. Although the blood washed away, the healing words–“sweetie,” “love”–remained visible on his skin. As the sign on the altar had concluded, “Please reimagine with us a relationship between body and language such that harmful words quickly fade while love carves the deepest traces.”  

Finally, Thomas faced us, smiled slightly, and said, “Thank you for your words.” A woman in the audience answered, “Thank you for wearing them.” He replied, “It’s my honor.” 


Noah Krell, “Easy-Bake Fun-Time Fort”

While nothing quite matched the intensity of “Bisect,” it wasn’t the only performance that evening: A guy in drag lip-synched while Flamenco dancing. Another guy televised his pushing food through the navel of a prosthetic belly. I didn’t get it. Sorry. To be honest, I also initially scoffed at Noah Krell’s “Easy-Bake Fun-Time Fort” and rejected it out of hand.

Surrounded by his photos–part of Autobody’s “Seeing is Forgetting” exhibit–Krell built a couch fort, as most of us did as children. He invited participants to enter one at a time. Once inside he would chat for a minute or two, give you a cupcake, and send you on your way. One woman described Noah in his tightie whities while licking vegan frosting off her fingers. I did not crawl into his couch fort.

I asked one man who did go in what happened in there. He answered, “he was my mother.” I saw the flash of emotion on his face and for a moment I thought he was going to cry. If I had been brave enough to participate in this “playfully complicated interaction underneath the dining-room table,” and not completely spent emotionally after “Bisect,” I may have had an opportunity for further reflection and growth.

Michael Singman-Aste
Postdiluvian Photo

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3 responses to “There will be blood”

  1. Mom says:

    Unbelievable. So powerful. I would not have been able to watch after a while. Mom

  2. Jay Thomas says:

    This is Jay from the performance. I can’t tell you how much your review and beautiful photographs mean to me. I had no idea what it looked/felt like from the audience’s perspective. Thank you so much.

  3. […] Michael.  There Will Be Blood.  Postdiluvian Photo, […]

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