Partner in Crime
It is only around the corner, but we are nervous just the same. I usually don’t involve him in my trash-picking, but I need the car and a partner in crime. There is an entry to the side of the bullring and if you cut through there you can see a graded dirt ramp that leads into the main stage of the carnage. I regularly walk this way to take our daughter to preschool and to collect broken pieces of tile. I covet two ornate dining chairs, set up in conversation over a milk crate, a dirty mattress strewn close by. These things sit roasting in the sun down the slope and nearer to the bolted arena gates. It's someone’s hang-out and the place where, a few times a year, they lead young bulls into the arena, a thirsty crowd waiting in the gallery above. I want the chairs. I want them to make art with or to fix up and use in the house. The varnish long since stripped by the elements, they are a yellowed dog-bone beige, and the ochre-colored pleather seat covering is puckered by brass tacks. You can see torn sackcloth and distended rusty springs splurging out from below.
I dance with my conscience for a few weeks.
Although they were surely third or fourth-hand garbage, their placement tells me they were appointed specifically to this clandestine spot, designated for smoking weed or sipping whisky while conversing with a pal in cahoots. Wouldn't I be disappointed if someone pillaged my secret hideaway? As the weeks pass, I study the positioning of the four objects to see that they remain inanimate, undisturbed. This, plus the stains on the mattress which hint at debauchery I don't want to look at, justifies my plan to steal them in the dark of night. In broad daylight I have no shame in grabbing trash off the side of the road or in climbing into a dumpster to get some fodder for my studio tinkering. Yet, I decide these two chairs must be spirited away after dusk, to be exalted in my studio and to put an end to someone else's secret meetings.
Although the heist takes less than ten minutes, my husband is nervous, asking why I put him up to driving the getaway car. I say, "Don't worry. Just back in, stay here and I'll throw 'em into the trunk." I figure I am owed this small act after being left a million times in an illegally parked car. Buckled into the passenger seat, I would crane my head around on the lookout for police and get increasingly agitated by the ascending noise of the blinking red hazard light. Close up, I find my chairs are rickety, not safe to sit on, and hopelessly peppered with woodworm.
It would be nearly ten years and four or five house moves before I up-cycle the seats to be included in a sculptural installation. 'The Cape Act' is what I called the show. This is translated from La Suerte de Capote and what they call the matador's first attack on the bull, launched once the bull's stamina has been studied. The bullfighter dances around to see how the beast reacts to his fuchsia and yellow satin cape, to pick up on any blind spots or any corner of the arena the bovine might favor. In my show, the chairs would play the role of both judge and jury in a short performance where I play the matador and the bull. I wore a reversible cape I fashioned out of a bedsheet drenched in old house paint and decorated with seven hundred and fifty price tags. I dipped these tickets in the yellow and pink paint and then stitched them on, one at a time, puncturing the hide with a tapestry needle threaded with red and white butcher's twine. I spent a lot of time filling the boreholes in the chairs with wood putty and shoring up the legs with L-brackets, glue, and tiny wood screws. I left the upholstery guts spilling out from underneath. Cutting my preparations close to the day of the opening event, I clumsily painted each seat with a figure, one male and the other female, both in a posture like they had fallen from the sky.
A different husband helped me load them into the back of our car and drive them across the island to be set down in a patch of dirt only a few kilometers away from where I had stolen them in the first place. It was awkward. The exhibit, the performing, the metaphors, all of it. I remember one woman asking me how I painted the chairs and when I explained, she said, "Wouldn't it have been easier to paint them first and then stretch the canvas on the seat cushion?" I didn't have a response for this. A friend of mine filmed the performance. I have watched it only once or twice and have not performed publicly since. I was dabbling, exploring the perimeters of my self-expression, I told myself at first. Performance art is too painful, I decided later, especially with a lesioned spine like mine.
Clouding over these perfectly good reasons is the damp cringe I feel when I think of the grainy film captured that night, in a garden lit by paper lamps.
I don't even know or care so much if my performance was any good, it's the last thirty seconds I can't bear to watch. I realize I am not ready to tell this story. It is one of an unresolved conversation between predator and prey. A broken marriage I wanted no audience for. I watch myself choke at the end of the show, quickly bowing to the audience then turning to walk away and disappear down the garden path into the darkness. I completely forgot to thank the man who volunteered at the last minute to improvise a soundtrack for me on the cajón percussion box. I met him the day before while setting up with the owner of the property, also unthanked, who worked for days to clear the ground for my installation. This guilt over shirking such acts of kindness is dwelled upon. Meanwhile, the two vacant seats remain in my linen closet, one stacked atop the other like a yin-yang symbol.