This article is about something that happened before Thanksgiving break.
Right now, it is fairly difficult for me to take my mind back to such a time, before I feasted in a celebration of excess and resisted the corporately-constructed consumptive temptations of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. These past two weeks have seemed like the sad cold leftovers of fall semester, as I use my limited mental energy to cling to the relevance of my coursework and yeah, finals.
Either way, I’m happy and I’m managing. And thus, I have mustered up the time to write this, which I still think is very relevant in this period of the semester that seems so critical, yet so weirdly unnecessary (why did we have break, only to come back for two weeks, and have break again?).
Way back in November, a large mysterious sign appeared in Usdan, covered in trash. It appeared to be an advertisement for a fraternity of sorts, namely Delta Lambda Pu or DLP for short. Apart from a single email, the advertisement contained no information about the frat.
After some subsequent passive information-gathering, I found out that the project was the conception of ESQUE. It was to be a project in collaboration with performance artist Tessa Wills that would last three weeks and would, through workshops and a final performance piece, look to challenge notions of frats and waste. In a press release, Trouve Ivo ‘16, of ESQUE, said about the project:
Frat communities hold so much social power and often create social spaces that warrant abhorrent social practices like sexual assault and violence. With Wills’ guidance, our goal is to do something subversive with the frat structure, potentially forging a parodic way of belonging for marginalized students. In our mission statement, we wrote that we’ve ‘risen from the sewage pipes of Wesleyan’s defunct fraternities’. And the message there is that what we plan on doing as a community is not valued by your average fraternity. It isn’t even valued by our society as a whole. We’re playing with taking on the title of fraternity as one that is given value, and using it to explore what is un-valuable.
ESQUE also welcomed to the project other collaborators interested in environmental justice and re-imagining notions about waste and our immediate environment. Together with ESQUE, Wesleyan Fossil Fuel Divest put together a public art project, called “What If Your Neighborhood Was Killing You?”
The project opened the weekend that Tessa Wills came to campus on November 20th to perform her piece, After Paquerette. The campaign asked of those in our community “Why is it okay for you to expect a livable environment while others are deliberately denied it?” In asking this question, three pieces were created and displayed, one in Olin, one in Exley, and one in Usdan, that overlayed instances of environmental catastrophe onto familiar scenes on our campus. The campaign looked to continue education efforts on environmental racism and to disrupt our thinking about campus space.
Rushing members of DLP were given the opportunity to speak with Tessa Wills before she came to campus. Nick Yeager ‘19 was one of these members and said that it was great “to hear her really radical and thought-provoking ideas and metaphors that she connected to her art and the way that she tried to interact with those ideas.”
As it has been many-a-week since, you may have heard about After Paquerette. If you didn’t, please read on.
On the night of Friday, November 20th 2015, around 30 or so people gathered in the WestCo cafe to witness and participate in Wills’s piece. The cafe was dimly lit, with an empty stage centered in the middle of the space. Around the stage were pillows, couches, and bean bag chairs for audience members to sit. Shortly after everyone sat down, the lights went out and an ominous tune began playing.
Soon, a monologue, recorded by Wills, accompanied the music. The monologue invited the audience members to socially remove themselves from the room, commit to silence, and to waste an hour of their time. As the monologue was playing, a silhouette appeared in the corner of the room. The silhouette appeared to be humanoid, but with a large round fixture about much of the torso. This was Wills, beginning her migration to the stage. As she walked to the stage, the monologue began to explain what role the audience might play in the performance. There would be a microphone on the ground at the foot of the stage. The microphone would be electronically connected to a butt plug that Wills would be using during the performance. Audience members would, if so compelled, speak their thoughts and desires into the microphone, which would transmit a vibrational signal to the butt plug. But neither the audience nor Wills would be able to hear what was said.
When Tessa Wills reached the stage and was brought into the spotlight, I could see that the round fixture in the silhouette was a flower-like shroud of some sort. As she stepped onto the stage, the monologue ended, with the music still playing. There was a long period of about 20 minutes with no audience participation. Slowly, people began to crawl up to the microphone and speak into it. This continued for around an hour, until the performance ended.
After the performance, Wills participated in a Q&A with the audience. When asked about how she felt while on stage, she said that the experience was somewhat hallucinatory, evoking visual as well as physical responses. An audience member stated that they felt that the experience of being in the room was somewhat meditative. Wills also further stressed some thematic ideas about the piece, saying that we, as college students, are under enormous pressure to produce and she encouraged us to rethink conceptions of wasted time.
Members of DLP participated in workshops with Wills after the performance, where they discussed it, its themes, and tried to develop more of these ideas regarding waste, production, and spaces. I was not a member of DLP and unfortunately was not able to attend one of these workshops.
But this performance was definitely one of the most memorable events I have attended at Wesleyan. It was boundary-pushing, no doubt, but also thought-provoking. A conception of waste that centered around the wasting of time seemed very convenient to me for a producer-centered culture, valuing production while conveniently passing over human waste arising from it. After Paquerette, to me, brought this socially-convenient ignorance of human waste to the body by “plugging” our primary waste-creator, which is actually quite radical to most. Many hold their anus sacred and are quite disturbed at the possibility of its perturbation. They value their waste-creator and consider it socially unacceptable to confront their waste, whether in their mind or in conversation. Similarly, we might consider it socially unacceptable to resist our sacred drive to be productive and actually consider the possibility of “wasting” time.
Anyways, I have clearly RSVPed to the invitation to “waste” time, as I am (1) posting this a month late, (2) writing this instead of studying for finals, and (3) generally not giving a fuck. I hope this article has been a time waste, and hopefully a de-stressor for you this finals week.