2nd Aktion for a Dying Book Biz on the Verge of Bankruptcy: A Report
I [Lisa] staged an Aktion on Wednesday January 5th, 2011 – becoming a ghostly, bandaged entity in white, roaming the streets of Manhattan in a costume created by a psychotic Austrian artist who died 42 years ago after taking one too many risks.
10:00 a.m. The Metamorphosis, Le Petite Chandelier, President Street, 3rd Avenue, Brooklyn
I stared at myself in the mirror and watched my face disappear beneath the white gauze wrappings. I was turning into a sculpture at the hands of costume designer and stylist Peggy Milak. She’d studied photographs by Rudi Schwarzkogler (1940-1969), whose dreamlike work I was now reenacting. Intent, blonde, with eyes rimmed in kohl, Peggy’s former task was just to make me into a redhead. This morning, her true talents shone; she pulled my hair taut, like the anorexic ballerina in Black Swan, and made me into a living copy of a 1965 work by Rudi. Now and then, Peggy sprayed me with glue. It stank of chemicals. From behind my veil, I tried to read the label on the spray can. Harmful and flammable. Oh! “Anything for art,” she said, dryly. Within 90 minutes, I’d been drastically transformed.
11:30 a.m. As the Creature emerged, I named her Felicia, after a friend of mine who died of a heroin overdose in Vienna in 1978 at age 15. If she were alive, what would she think? My eyes, mouth and nose were obscured by gauze; it occurred to me that, among other logistical glitches, I wouldn’t be able to eat.
“Can you see?” Peggy asked. Nope. I shut my eyes while she made two tiny slits in my mask. The original costume – constructed by one of the most mysterious radical artists who ever lived – had no such niceties. His Creature was blind, deaf and dumb. An hour and a half in, I’d abandoned the Aktionists’ extreme purity. I realized why Rudi – practical if crazy – had confined his Creature indoors, never leaving his apartment. It would bump into things!
I stared at myself through my ineffective slits. My head looked otherworldly and disturbing, yet weirdly beautiful, if I do say so, with its long neck and elegant line. Who knew? Without any features left, a new part of me came to light: it was regal. I resembled the majestic sculpted head of Nefertiti on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Admiring the costume, Peggy and the stylists surrounded me. “Oh, wow,” said Peggy. “You look so great and scary. I feel like you’re becoming…”
What? None of us knew. I began the 2nd Aktion with nothing more than questions scribbled in a notebook. Here is a sample from my list:
What is the difference between a writer and an artist?
What is the difference between art and advertising?
Am I doing this “to publicize” my novel, as a reporter said? If so, does that make it cheesy and stupid? If not, then why am I doing it?
What does it mean to get recognition?
What does it mean to be invisible?
What does it mean not to have a voice?
What is it to be revealed after being concealed?