kaon na > installation > NECKFACE, performance installation, 2002-04.

intro/context (see below)


Two eleven-year-old boys ascend the Brooklyn Bridge to find "traffic howling in cages at their feet, the grey clotted sky clinging to the bridge's veins, Manhattan's dinosaur spine rotating into view as they mounted the great curve above the river." That same flood of aggressive energy swirling through Jonathan Lethem's novel The Fortress of Solitude engulfed me the first time I climbed the roof of a Brooklyn apartment building. From that panoramic vantage point, the Manhattan skyline rushed at me from all sides, shrinking me, jolting me awake. Within the hour I had signed for a studio in that building.

My time in that apartment, in that building, in this city, has been a period of dramatic personal change. It is marked by several seminal crossings: from suburb to city, from community to isolation, from student to professional. Such drastic change often makes me feel as if I am being consumed by that spinal Manhattanite dinosaur-- or, at least, makes me feel so alien in my own skin that being chewed up would almost come as a relief.

(But if it were up to me, I think I'd rather be devoured by a supersize version of something that I eat. If a giant, beheaded, de-feathered chicken snatched me up from the street and ate me, that would be a pretty worthy death.)

Being swallowed by a monster into a dark stomach-tomb is a common initiatory ordeal in many of the world's ancient tribal myths. The anthropologist Mircea Eliade emphasizes that initiation is one of the few rituals where participants regard death as positive-- more than a dark tomb, death becomes the womb of transformation. Initiates die a symbolic death, and in the process, they transform ignorance into enlightenment.

NeckFace is a new media + performance installation that uses larval-poultry video, 3D animation, interactive sound, and sensor-triggered kinetic sculptures. At different times in the process of conceiving and preparing it, NeckFace has been a device for mistreatment; at other times, NeckFace has been a device for renewal. It is my (probably quixotic) aim that NeckFace, as an art piece, ultimately becomes more neutral: a device to observe how cycles of mistreatment and generosity deepen and distort a personal understanding of isolation and instability. Nevertheless, as neutral as I would like this piece to remain, there is the veiled hope that NeckFace may formalize the anxiety of my recent transitory experiences into a meaningful transformation, imbued with the ache of loss and perhaps even the spirit of regeneration.

Though NeckFace draws from ancient practice, it is grounded in the discomfort (and sometimes even disappointment) of dealing with the mind and body in contemporary society: Nabokov's "itch of being" or Schjeldahl's "existential gawkiness." This discomfort, made most acute in times of rapid change, is especially relevant to my generation, who came of age in the explosion of personal computers, high divorce rates, and a latchkey lifestyle. Constant transition is much more of a norm for this generation than for its parents: jobs, partners, and geography are increasingly fluid and changeable. In the midst of personal transformation that is cocooned in an age of such rapid cultural transformation, the use of seemingly esoteric ritual becomes more prescient. Uncertainty becomes a little easier to live with if it can be grounded in a more certain historical context. The "itch of being" can be borne only if it is absorbed into all somatic existence-- its absurdity, its trauma, its miracles.