michael j. morris

Cuddle (Purple) 2010
6 May, 2010, 5:06 pm
Filed under: art | Tags: , , , , , ,

I am finally finding the time to write a bit about my experience performing a piece entitled “Cuddle” (in homage to the piece by the same name that was originated by the Love Art Laboratory) in a group show entitled Breakups R Tough at U.Turn Art Space in Cincinnati. The piece was performed at the opening reception for the show on 3 April 2010.

The basic premise of the piece was the installation of a mattress in the gallery on which I would cuddle with visitors to the gallery the evening of the reception. The mattress was installed in small space in the front end of the gallery. We also hung a shear curtain to add a bit more of a remove for the bed space. The bed was dressed with organic purple sheets, throw pillows, and a patchwork coverlet. Small lamps from IKEA added an intimacy to the little “room.”

I had my anxieties that participating in the piece would not be attractive to the Cincinnati audience who visit the gallery, but earlier in the day I made my piece with that possibility. It seemed to me that there would be just as much of a statement/revelation/contribution to the show in a single person sitting alone in a bed for the duration of the evening. However, this is not how the piece worked itself out. The first hour was rather slow, with only one visitor to me bed. She stuck her head in the curtain and asked if she could come in. I asked if she wanted to cuddle, and she said no, that was a bit too much for her, but could we just sit and talk. And we did, for seven minutes (part of the construction for the piece was a timer, allowing for seven minutes to cuddle; when the timer went off, the time was up. It was a built in series of “breakups;” but it seemed perfect to me . . . because I have serious doubts surrounding the permanence of any human relationships, it seems to me a forgone conclusion that relationships end. The built in breakups seemed to acknowledge this, and opened a beautiful space in which to engage and appreciate connections with people with the foreknowledge that the connection will pass). She told me that being physical was not part of the way that she experienced or showed love. She told me that she was decidedly Irish Catholic and had felt for a long time that she was “supposed to” relate to people in her life in a certain way. Now, she was learning to practice what made her comfortable. When the seven minutes were up, she asked if she could give me a hug. It was a perfect start to the evening.

Throughout the course of the evening, I cuddled with six people on their own, two couples, and two three-ways (with me they became four-ways). All of the visitors came to cuddle on their own volition: part of the piece was that if I was not cuddling with anyone at the moment, patrons could feel free to come inside; it was they who had to initiate.

The demographics for the people who came to cuddle ranged from young women to middle aged women; the five men with whom I cuddled all seemed to be within their 20s.

I did not always follow the rules. Eric Falck (Autumn Quartet, etc.) drove down from Columbus to see the show/piece, and because of our history, I think we cuddled well over 20 minutes. I broke the rules, but that’s part of what we do, part of the rapport we’ve established (especially in Autumn Quartet, the rules and when/how we break them). It was poignant . . . because it seemed to illustrate the “theme” of the show most readily. Breakups are tough. Separation and the act of separating, the decision to say, “It’s time for you to go,” can be impossible sometimes. It was consistently impossible to ask him to leave when yet another seven minutes were up. There was to much familiarity, especially after a bout of relative distance. He bit me, leaving a mark similar to the marks he left on me from Autumn Quartet. It was a fascinating recontextualization of that physical rapport with one another, now on display in an art gallery behind a shear purple curtain. Cuddling with him was easily the most physical of the evening.

It was a very tender piece. I generally attempted to let the tone be set by the person I was with, and most decided to talk. The conversations ranged from literature to social justice to cooking, relationships and breakups and honesty and plans for the future, art, sex, and death. Only in one session did we not talk. Two young men cuddled with me in the middle of them. After negotiating who would be/face where (I ended up facing one, the other spooning behind me), we were just quiet. When the timer went off, one of the boys said, “It was really relaxing, to just . . . not have to do anything, to try . . .” I think he articulated something I felt pervaded most of the encounters, that of realizing ease, comfort, even something like love, just in the fleeting embraces.

Patricia Murphy and Michael J. Morris in "Cuddle (Purple)" 2010

Eric Falck and Michael J. Morris in "Cuddle (Purple)" 2010

Between the times at which I was cuddling, I knitted or journaled. Earlier that day I had come across a book by Sark (I think it was The Bodacious Book of Succulence: Daring to Live Your Succulent Wild Life) from which I derived little mantras that I silently repeated to myself throughout the evening. Examples included: “Come together,” “Keep surprise close at hand,” “Be willing to live between right and wrong,” “Wake up to love,” “Love imperfectly” (a very important one) . . .

“Please surrender to love. Let love past all your armor.”

“Let love flow past all the flood gates”

“Float in the arms of love.”

“Turn your face towards love and find the dancing part of your heart.”

“Welcome the dark parts of love and the deep, unknown layers. Let them speak too.”

“Swim in the swirl of love.”

“Love with all your faucets on.”

I also kept repeating to myself “Open all chakras,” which was on a bumper sticker given to me by one of my former yoga students. It was a mantra for staying open and available for whoever was going to get in bed with me next.

There were moments, especially during the first hour, in which there was an almost carnival sense to being in the show, as if to say: “Step right up! Come and see the single male homosexual, here on display for your viewing pleasure! Step right up!” People would walk up, read the description of the piece on lavender paper on the wall, look at me, then walk off. There was an unexpected element of the grotesque, in being something on display.

View of gallery from inside bed+curtain installation

At the end of the night, I turned the lamps off, crawled out of bed, and left my knitting on the bed. This was how the installation remained for the remainder of the show during April, the empty bed, the pillows and sheets tracing the former presence/current absence of the former occupant(s).

This is a piece I hope to reproduce again at some point. Keep it in my repertoire (always acknowledging that it is in complete homage to Love Art Lab’s original piece), and continue to subvert popular cultural perceptions of interpersonal acquaintance and intimacy, engage in public physical promiscuity, and reinvent socially authorized physical behaviors, while also celebrating the body as central to identity and expressions of love in non-traditional forms. This piece is so simple but resonates with me as so very political.

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