When artist, and dear friend, Elaine Hullihen came to visit me in Brooklyn in the spring of ’09, she brought a disc of some of her latest artwork. On it was a video, Spoon Dance where Elaine enters a packed gallery (Gallery 425 in Kent, Ohio) wearing a set of “spoon pants” that she had constructed from hundreds of spoons and fabric that looks perfect to reupholster a mid-western couch. As she begins to dance the spoons begin to fall away to the beat of her feet hitting the floor. Hullihen began to play with the viewers almost immediately, taunting them to participate; a trait that emanates through her artwork in both performance and sculpture (ex. A Float A Flicker, and her MBA 2007 show at Kent State University). The audience had been invited and could not help but respond.
Hullihen began the dance and then one, another and another of the audience became a beat. People actively passing the spoons and encouraging the involvement of ones around them. Six minutes in you can hear the volume build and culminate to pack of howls. This was it, everything was in flux, or was it? Was it the artist’s intentions or a wardrobe malfunction? Did someone in the audience know or was this just an organic instance sparked by the artist’s stimuli? After talking with Hullihen I came to find that this moment within the performance just happened regardless of some viewers’ expectations, there were no instructions. Hullihen explains further, “Yes. Some people knew the spoons were going to fall off. Kent has a close-knit circle of artists that I bounced my ideas off prior to the performance. Some people, however, told me later that they felt bad for me when they saw my costume breaking. They were definitely surprised. Still, I feel that the spoons were picked up because some people knew about the concept from the beginning. It was a comfortable environment for most of the viewers and once they saw one person doing it then everyone was willing to join in.”
When I asked Hullihen how she felt after the performance she said, “I felt great afterwards. I think I have been striving for connection in my work. A connection between myself and others and others with each other. I felt like everyone was able to have a good time with friends and do nothing except feel the rhythm, of themselves and of the event. I would love to do this performance in a group of strangers or walking down the street and encourage people to bond together and open themselves up to rhythm and experience.”
Regardless of those who anticipated the performance, the audience instinctually felt the fluidity of the entire moment. Like a conductor, Hullihen had her timing down to a tee as she exits at exactly seven minuets. The audience’s rhythms dwindle as the work has been finished at the artist’s exit; the spectator was no longer passive, and at an almost animalistic climax of tin spoons the work became complete. As an outsider of the moment, and a viewer of the video, this work shows a break down of inhibitions as the artist and audience move together creating a moment of raw emotion.
Hullihen talks about the shift of perspectives as her eye moves away from her work and more towards her audience. She explains, “I don’t think I have felt this kind of interaction personally with my work before. I have watched from the outside as others experience my sculptures. The best example is the time I saw someone in a swing I made and he was giggling and his face was pushing through the hole in the top (it was that sleeping bag swing you could zip up and ride in.) That was the first time I saw this man and we have been friends ever since. That is it right there.” Artist Elaine Hullihen gives the audience some of the most intimate and refreshing of sentiments found rooted in her artworks: successfully releasing the audience from all society’s inhibitions.
Elaine Hullihen will exhibit at Cleveland’s Sculpture Center in January, 2011.