Art as Confession

Last night, just before I turned off my computer, I caught an email from Pegi, a performance artist friend of mine. She’s curating a show in December and a few of the artists have had to drop out for various reasons. She was wondering if I could step in.

The show is called “12/12/12” — 12 artists performing for 12 hours from 12 noon to 12 midnight on 12 December 2012. I said “yes” right away because I don’t like to pass up an opportunity to perform, but went to bed thinking about what I could possibly do for 12 hours.

Overnight an idea formed and when I woke up this morning I thought, “Quicken.” I’m the daughter of a bookkeeper and like nothing more than filling in my day-to-day expenses in my electronic Quicken ledger, categorizing them, and running reports once in a while to ruminate over money in and money out. I often consider how much of my life story is in this ledger, a kind of diary or a memory book. Who needs photos or souvenirs when you can just scroll through the check register to see those debits detailing a long night out on the town or trip into the woods? Ah, the memories.

How does this become a performance piece? My first thought is a storytelling room based on the reading of 12 months’ worth of Quicken entries. I would read through the list and when something piqued my interest or that of the audience (the composition of which would be constantly changing over the long haul of the day), I would tell a story about it. Throw in some props and songs and maybe even a food I bought or prepared that month, and I think we have a project. What could possibly go wrong?

The devil, as they say, is in the details and my Quicken ledger has them in spades. Can I really share this much about my life? Other people’s business is wrapped up in mine — can I tell my story without telling theirs? What is good enough cover for them? Or for me?

Here’s the answer: If I do this show, I’m going to lie sometimes. I’ll just put that out there right now. I’m going to tell all the truth, but I’ll tell it slant. I’m going to “live truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” And allow the audience to “trace the implication of things,” based on some words, my tone of voice, my body language, my emotional presence.

How much to tell about ourselves and how much truth? This is a constant dilemma for writers and artists of all sorts. We need to be gentle with ourselves and especially with others, but we do need to find ways to tell our true stories.

I think all art is confession, if you’re doing it right. If you’re doing it right, your truth is on you when you walk onto the stage, as clearly read as a check register.

September 24, 2012 Blog Posts