Today’s post comes from Annie Massa, Vassar College class of 2013, and Art Center student docent.

Yesterday I was late for English class.  I crept in quietly through the backdoor, slipped a binder and pencil out of my bag, and began taking notes as though I’d been there all along. All my efforts to be surreptitious were useless, though, as my professor stopped his lecture to ask, “Why are you covered in paint?”

I was covered in paint because I had just participated in Tow the Line, the newest piece of performance art by New York City-based contemporary artist Kate Gilmore. For three hours, I served as one of twelve women who stood in identical brown dresses, on identical brown platforms, passing eleven handmade terra cotta pots around in a clockwise circle. The pots were full to the top with canary-yellow paint that was, as Kate had reminded us in advance, “supposed to spill.”  And spill it did. Within the first few minutes, a few paint drips had daintily speckled the platforms under our feet.  Then yellow smears started appearing on our forearms and dresses.  By the end of our three-hour shift every girl’s skin was caked in paint.

This piece was interaction-based, and I knew that going in to it.  We were passing heavy urns of paint to each other, so of course we were going to have to interact. But interaction was important to Tow the Line in surprising ways.  Standing there, I didn’t just communicate with the girls on either side of me—the whole circle was communicating, too.  We communicated in our rhythm; when we were feeling tired we passed the urns more slowly, and when we recovered we picked up the pace.  We communicated with our glances when a group congregated to watch us.  And I know I communicated a pretty sheepish look to everyone else when I dropped one of the pots on the grass (fortunately it didn’t break).

Every girl also interacted with the pot she was holding.  Each pot had a different size and shape, and each was unwieldy in its own way.  We would all move our bodies and shift our weight differently to accommodate the weight of the pots we were holding.  We all bore the same weight, but handled it in different ways. Tow the Line seemed to play with the idea of individual and shared burdens.

Even though it was hard physical work, passing the heavy urns became something like a meditation after a while. Kate noticed too.  At the end of the three hours, she said that the whole thing had looked very Zen to her, adding slyly, “and that’s not usually what I go for.”

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