Escaping the Object of Art, 2000

In September 2000, I took part in Coal By Any Other Name: The Search for Good Taste, an exhibition by Stephan Dillemuth shown at American Fine Arts, Co., in New York. Dillemuth invited participants to present performances on different stages he built in the gallery. I contributed two performances: an escape act and a spiritual seance. Both were developed based on my interest in the history of Harry Houdini as a pre-cinematic performer. At the end of his career, Houdini devoted his performances to revealing fraudulent spiritualists, performing live before an audience the same tricks the mediums used during their seances.

For my first performance, I invited Matthew Thurber to develop with me a series of songs and improvise a naive seance in the gallery. The second performance involved inviting the audience up on stage to tie me up. The bulk of the performance was taken up by this group effort at tying me up; I escaped in under a minute. In preparation for the piece, I had asked friends and acquaintances to tie me up so that I could practice escaping. It was interesting for me to see how they reacted: whether they seriously attempted to tie me up so I could not escape or whether they just loosely wrapped me in ropes.

These aspects of the work—the dialogue between viewer and preformer, masochism and trust—soon overshadowed my original research into Houdini.

For more on this project, see Stephan Dillemuth's web site: