Performance Peace

Just weeks before the September 11 attacks on America, performance artist Jeff McMahon relocated to Tempe. "I had lived just below 14th Street in lower Manhattan for 22 years," he says, "and I'd been living here for what seemed like a few days when the attacks came. So creating a performance piece was my way of getting out of overintellectualizing what had happened, expressing some real emotion about it."

McMahon, who's working these days as a resident artist at ASU's Institute for Studies in the Arts, channeled those emotions into Heel, a solo performance that combines text, movement and imagery that, McMahon says, represent his own survivor's guilt.

The artist was also motivated by what he calls "a kind of political frustration. I felt there were a lot of people talking about loss and grief after the attacks, but no one was discussing how we were over in Afghanistan killing people in response."

McMahon's performance is accompanied by projected video that he shot himself. "But don't look for images from September 11 in the piece," he says. "The closest I come to that is some footage of a plane, but it's one that I tell the audience will never land or crash."

Heel provides a kind of commentary on what McMahon calls America's "rush to achieve closure. We don't like being upset. Americans feel sort of offended that we should have to suffer. It's odd for us to be talking about healing and closure when we're dropping bombs on people in other countries."

The title of the piece is a play on the word "heal," McMahon says. "In our rush to heal, we're overlooking the wound. You have to acknowledge that there's a problem, identify it, before you can heal it. With Heel, I go a little deeper into the wound."

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela