The question which is at the heart of the she loves me not, she loves me meditation “Do I have the capacity to trust that I am worthy of love and can be loved?” comes hand in hand with questions about how I love and am capable of loving. How do I practice this in my everyday, and how do I then take it out onto the street?
Relational practice, or the way to be with oneself and others is ethically charged, emotional, physical, spirited, and political. I am beginning to focus my attention on degrees of intimacy and vulnerability. I am particularly interested in rethinking vulnerability as the capacity to stay openhearted, without resorting to habitual offensive and defensive behaviors. Vulnerability can be considered strength in allowing the heart to be fully full and gentle, no matter what happens.
So the daisy piece is not so much a question about my sexual or cultural identity, of who I am in relation to Christopher Park in New York, and who I am at home or at the Place de la Paix, but how I am. And while the specificity is different, the resonance is the same. The people who frequent Christopher Park and the people who frequent the park in Place de la Paix, for that matter everyone, (and perhaps especially individuals who have lived for such a long time on the margins, on the edges of self-acceptance and external acceptance), share a similar pain of rejection and exclusion. And so I come back to the question of rethinking vulnerability, not as victimhood but as a strength to be present and engaged without building and reinforcing walls of protection from what is inside and out there.
By putting a frame of artistic gesture around these questions, I want to inscribe the personal and the intimate, this vulnerability into public sphere. And it is a very political agenda to inscribe this intimacy. I would really rather transcribe all this into a spectrum considering degrees of interconnectedness and intimacy between individuals and groups of people. Regardless of whether people are aware of me being an artist, regardless even whether for me I identify at that moment as an artist or simply as a person sitting with (questions of) an open heart, it is a question of ethics and ethical behavior.
We are all acting in the moment with what we carry inside, whether we are aware of it or not, or want to admit it, or not. I consider my willingness to be present with and accept who I am, even with and despite my fears, vital. We all come up against edges or limits of our own... all the time.
With the daisies, here at home and at Place de la Paix, I have understood yet again, and for the first time, that the sense of safety can only be found within. In many ways the struggle was hardest at home, because I had to sit so alone and allow for the safety to grow within myself. Realizing that there is no longer any place for me to hide from myself, I have begun to reconsider what I have long held to be true about protection and safety for myself and within the social arena. How much an internal sense of well-being is central to what bell hooks describes in her latest book all about love: new visions, as “enjoying the benefits of living and loving in community, meeting strangers without fear and extend to them the gift of openness and recognition,” is perhaps the greatest lesson of this piece. What and how would our relations be and appear if our motivations were not located in trying to protect ourselves?
The difference between everyone acting out their dailyness and artists acting out a gesture is one of naming it and naming something makes it matter. If I were to continue to pluck the daisies as I had as a child, without conscious awareness of the gesture’s capacity to connect me to others and allow me to share my concerns and theirs about the heart, the gesture would have different significance.
The day before it was just me as an individual, now I’m asking as an artist to respond to these questions on the street. So therefore I’m legitimizing my gestures above and beyond how I would have done it the day before, because now it’s inscribing in the artistic practice. And precisely that inscription into the social frame allows it then to have different agencies. And that’s precisely what the importance it is of bringing it back into another language, where is not just about me and my issues on the street. Because that frame, that bringing it into discussion about relational practice or aesthetic practice, that’s what creates the public space for this process. And this process is the public space, that’s what becomes and becomes possible.
I think of how twenty years ago, there was no such thing as a women’s shelter. Individually, women certainly had their ‘troubles’ which were kept mostly within the family, but the problem as a social issue, simply did not exist. Personal (even intimate), stories were fragmented and taken out of the larger social context, so that the forces that contribute to conjugal violence could not be seen or addressed collectively. And so all these women’s individual stories that they all lived, they still lived. But, there was no holding place within our society, as a collectivity, to take into account of all their individual stories. And it’s the same thing with what I see is happening now in terms of gestures in my work. I see the recent proliferation of artistic gestures and relational practice work as a similar desire to create a communal holding ground for individual stories as a means of inviting and providing a collective series of responses about what kind of society we want to be part of and participating in.
As an artist, I think the greatest challenge I face is to explore the terrain of and between domestic space and social agency through the current of everyday living. Both creative practice and intergenerational healing require an honest effort in communication, emotional connection, and the willingness to understand that the perspective of the other is equally as valid as one’s own. This is not easy.
There were many moments throughout the two days that I experienced as and with this sense of interconnectedness. What comes to mind now is how one guy came up to me and asked if he could bring a bunch of flowers to a women who was lying on the sidewalk across the street on St. Laurent Boulevard. He wanted however to first ask her if it was ok, and whether she would want them. So he crossed the street and asked her. She apparently said yes, and he took a bunch over. When he came back, he was beaming and said, “isn’t it amazing how women feel so wonderful when they are given flowers and how good it makes them feel.” I then offered him a bunch for himself. He turned bright red and said, “oh, no, I couldn’t take flowers for me.” He walked away.
Some hours later, after many other interactions with people, familiar to me and not, another guy came up and grabbed a bunch of flowers from one of the buckets, without so much as a hello. Before, I could even react, or think about how I would want to react or respond, the first guy, who had obviously been watching, came running over and said, “put those back, you cannot take flowers, they have to be given to you.” The tension and sense of aggression at that moment was great. I felt an almost overwhelming sense of risk and danger in the air. The second guy, who had taken the flowers, was clearly about to become even more defensive and offensive. I was flooded with feelings of violation, anxiety and fear. The moment seemed to hang forever between us. And somehow, something shifted and with each of us taking a breath and staying in the moment, the second guy turned to the first, thrust out his hand holding the daisies, and with a laugh said, “but darling, I was taking them for you.” They went back and forth offering each other the flowers and sharing laughter with us all. What was a moment of interconnectivity as potential negativity, turned into a shared sense of wholesomeness and well-being.
My personal gesture or intimate experience with she loves me not, she loves me is also a metaphor and inquiry into what kind of society I want to be living in and part of. What I am facing is not simply artistic concerns. Yes, it is profoundly about aesthetics and beauty -- a beauty that is not limited to or claimed wholesale by market value. The issues we are now individually and collectively facing (and with such acuteness), is how to intimately appreciate and gently live this very moment with all the awesome awareness of our own ephemerality, while at the same time think and provide for seven generations to come and heal the seven generations that came before us.
What is lacking in intimate relations we spill over into other spheres. Our families are our own first communities and our first model for social engagement. So what gets played out in the every-daily, in the gestures within the home are indicators of, and get magnified in, the proliferation of cultural behavior and vice versa. When there is no healing place in society, when aggression and violence are modeled as the way to resolve conflict in politics or even popular culture, our intimate relations become marked and scarred.
Compassionate behavior as a social issue is now more and more possible to talk about, where before it’s just your thing and her reaction and my response and somebody else’s desire. This requires (and reciprocally nurtures), accountability, a desire to cultivate and honor the transformative power of creative energy, a genuine sense of good will (and well-being), a willingness to for-give and a healthy dose of humility. Ethical relational behavior is not honored in a society that chooses profits over long term sustainability and winning at any cost, over equitable ‘partage’.