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That's certainly been true of Ellsworth's work.
In the early 1990s, she made large paintings around the idea of the female body.
"I was using myself as a subject in photo shoots and then exaggerating or re-presenting myself as an extreme, larger version. The images were of women that were really big and sort of busting out of their clothing, as if they could have been women from Toulouse Lautrec or a backstage Degas dancer who was overweight trying to squeeze into her tutu."
She recalls using the paint in a very thick way as if it were flesh, and thinking that it wasn't really getting at the personal issues revolving around weight, eating and self-image, that preoccupied her. "If I'm talking about a fat waist and a rubber-tire stomach, then why not show it and pinch it and expose it. Why not really make it an explicit part of my art."
In one three-hour piece with a collaborator in a burned-out building in New Jersey, Ellsworth sucked the cream fillings out of Hostess snowballs.
"It was sort of a ritual about foods that I wasn't allowed to eat as a kid. I sucked the cream filling out and then stuffed the cake part of this Hostess snowball down the leg of my fishnet stocking and tap-danced on a mirror."
Gravity and Hostess snowballs being what they are, her leg got larger and more cumbersome to maneuver the more she ate and danced.
She figures she downed about 100 snowballs. And not the freshest ones, either. To cut costs, she purchased day- and week-old varieties. "I wanted to get the cheapest ones possible. But it didn't really matter. In these kinds of performances, the action becomes a kind of meditative activity that really does send your mind somewhere else. After a while, it wasn't about the taste any more. My mouth started to feel completely different. It kind of went numb."
While Ellsworth was chowing down, her collaborator was in a room across the stage, separated by a wall, performing her own ritual.
Says Ellsworth, "We couldn't see each other, but the audience could see both of us. She had her hair done up in a Geisha 'do and had an electric pencil sharpener strapped inside of it. She was sharpening chopsticks on top of her head and then stabbing them hari-kari style in her dress."
"While all of that was going on, she was also rolling up and sucking on the red paper sleeves of the chopsticks, and then spitting them out, to kind of make them look like firecrackers going off. After three hours, her mouth was totally red and her dress was full of quills."
The point--for those who need one--is to subject every moment to intense self-examination. "You could be brushing your teeth or combing your hair or maybe washing your hands. But the thing is to be in that moment," says Ellsworth.
Looking beyond Bull, LAP will sponsor a workshop April 16 through 18 featuring the renowned performance artist Rachel Rosenthal and her company. And next fall, Ellsworth plans to present a yet-to-be-determined performance at a yet-to-be-named location. In the meantime, Bull is the show that must go on . . . and on . . . and on. . . .
Contact Edward Lebow at his online address: email@example.com
Bull will be performed from noon to midnight on March 26 at the Icehouse, 429 West Jackson. Admission is free, but seating is limited. Call for reservations, 965-9438. For more information about Live Art Platform (LAP), visit online at: LiveArtAZ@aol.com