Christina Animashaun, Visual Arts
“My Gray Life: Performing for the Spectator”
Since the rise of performance art in the 1960s, artists began to use their bodies as a medium to transmit cultural commentary, creative expression, and sequential narrative. In the documentation of those performances the artists often took the main focus, overlooking an essential entity that is crucial to existence of performance as a whole. This past year, I executed a piece utilizing my body in order to critically analyze audience spectatorship and participation in Baltimore City, Washington D.C., New York and Philadelphia. After painting my skin gray and wearing only black and white clothing, I walked in these cities as a pedestrian with a sound recorder embedded on my person and with a photographer taking pictures of my interactions. Though these works sought to challenge the focus often kept on the performing artist, this project highlighted the inseparable dynamics of the artist and witness and the wide range of artistic interpretation held by spectators of performance. Photographs of the performances and video response to the overall performance experience can be viewed on my web site: My Gray Life.
This work was funded through an Undergraduate Research Award from the UMBC Office of Undergraduate Education.
How did you find your mentor for year research, scholarship, or artistic project?
My freshman year I took Introduction to Art and Media Studies, taught by Professor Mark Durant. It was one of the best classes I had ever taken at UMBC because he thoroughly revealed the relationship between art objects and their reception in the media which enriched my studies in visual arts and media and communications. When I began to contemplate my own project, I knew that I wanted Professor Durant’s furthered guidance and knowledge.
How did you know this was the project you wanted to do?
The idea to walk in public as a different color had been sweltering in my head for a long time. I had done a similar piece for my Linehan Artists Scholars Seminar, and wanted to further expand coloring my body and using myself as an art object. I think what finally pushed me to do performance was when I read a discussion post on myUMBC about a student who had performed an artistic piece on an elevator which received a lot of commentary. What particularly struck me were variety of interactions the individuals critiqued the piece. Some people came very close and interpreted the piece very differently than the artists intent while others did not see the piece at all yet judged the work based on what others had to say. I wanted my performance to fully challenge how the audience interacts with a performance. We are often comfortable watching spectacles online or on television, but I want to explore what spectators would do when they can no longer rely on being distant from a performance.
Is this your first independent artistic project?
This is my first artistic performance grounded in research. I have done performance art on a small scale once before. My freshmen year, I took a Linehan Scholars Artist seminar required that every student had to conduct an art piece in an unusual space on campus. My project, which was a precursor to my current one and involved covering my body in gray body paint, wearing only black white clothes and being tied to a chair in the commons for several hours while people walked in and out of the building.
Do you get course credit for this work?
This project is also the focus of my Senior Projects class, a capstone seminar for Visual Arts majors, and will be displayed in the Center of Art, Design, and Visual Culture’s Senior Exit Exhibition which will open in May.
How did you hear about the Undergraduate Research Award (URA) program?
I actually started considered the award the summer before junior year working as an Orientation Peer Advisor. Prospective students have a session with a faculty member on their academic expectations at UMBC. Working that summer, I was fortunate enough to attend Dr. Carolyn Forestiere’s lectures where she highly encouraged new students to participate in research. I was far from a new student at that time, but her words really stuck with me. She presented the possibilities for research to be infinite and limitless no matter what area of academia you studied. After talking to her at the end of her lectures, I began to investigate the process of applying for the award and eventually began to research my project proposal.
What academic background did you have before you applied for the URA?
At the time I had applied for the URA, I was starting my junior year as a double major in Media and Communication studies and Visual Arts with a concentration in Photography.
Was the application difficult to do?
The application was certainly thorough. I began my literary summary by checking out an arm full of books from the library to start and began to read about performance art and media spectatorship. Preparing a proposal required me to be well read, concise, and challenged me to make sure that my project was clear to the members of the committee.
How much did your mentor help you with the application?
Professor Durant was a great help to my proposal. He is a walking encyclopedia of artists and performers and was able to give a lot of references. As I began to present him with my project he was not afraid to question and challenge my approach in order to make sure I could clearly convey my intent and execution for my performances.
What has been the hardest part about your research?
Getting out there and performing was a great challenge. The first time I performed, I was scared to leave my hotel in New York and begin interacting with people before I just forced myself to take my first steps outside. With time I became more comfortable with walking through the streets and even in some stores, but I always felt the pressure of looking different from everyone else even though I was performing. Putting myself out there in this way required me to confront my own vulnerability and safety. I will never quite get used to it, but my experiences throughout the process have been invaluable.
What was the most unexpected thing?
In every city I was asked out on a date at least once while covered in and gray body paint and performing. I, respectfully, declined all offers.
What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research?
Look into it as soon as you can. I was very lucky to have been given the opportunity to be told about research almost every day working as an orientation peer advisor. This academic community thrives on works that break traditional expectations of what is expected of an academician, which of both the challenge and excitement of doing research at UMBC. We are not a research institution because some people are out there doing research. It is a research institution because everybody has the opportunity to do research in any discipline.