READING THE ROOM: Watching Kate Durbin’s Cloud Nine Performance

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  1. On Thursday May 28th 2015 Kate Durbin presented her new piece, Cloud Nine, live on a New Hive page. The page itself utilizes the standard features of New Hive: images and video. At 10 O’Clock PM Eastern Standard Time, Durbin appears aglow on the screen.She is performing on a camgirl website.  Durbin wears green hair and a shirt/skirt combo printed with a pattern of US dollars. She begins to read stories of things women-identifying artists have done for money. 
  2. Comments scroll down the right side asking her to touch herself, is she wet, will she take off her shirt, what does her ass look like, is she a man or a woman.
  3. She has plenty of hecklers. Some seem to know her work and target her use of other peoples stories to gain attention for herself. Sometimes Durbin addresses them, sometimes she blocks them. Meanwhile, she repeats the question, “What have you done for money?”
  4. She takes of her shirt, she is wearing a bikini top with an areola printed on it. There is a confusion between the real and the representational self. This relationship between self and the other is marked based on “psychic assurance and political fetishization” (Peggy Phelan, Unmarked).
  5. There is a consistent violence present in the performance. This violence is revealed at once through the comments and the text Durbin reads. Tales of sexual and emotional labor continue and reiterate the violence. It is sparse. No one is smiling.
  6. After a heartfelt twenty minute report on her personal finances, a commenter says “Can I see your ass?”
  7. What does it mean for the woman to be talking into a camera, as if a cam girl,
  8. “What one can see is in every way related to what one can say” (Peggy Phelan, Unmarked)
  9. 1 hour and 43 minutes into Kate Durbin talking through Cam4, she has something to confess. She continually has to pay for the art that she does, but, she is getting paid $1000 from New Hive for this project.
  10. The more art we are able to do, the more money we must have. Most artists know this, most artists are in the “red” constantly.
  11. “One day I hope to live in a world where I don’t have to earn anything” she says.
  12. Durbin appears generous, serious, and kind.
  13. A few make fun of her “vocal fry”. As if a woman cannot or should not speak Seriously.
  14. Can a person (white-seeming Woman) make a work critiquing the Art World not in the art world?
  15. Not many seem to be on her side actively. Those watching in the venue that supported here (New Hive) cannot comment or be active participants. Instead, we are helplessly watching a stream. Those who can directly connect are those who actively found her on the Cam4 website or those who stumbled across Durbin while surfing through the cam girls on the website. The choice of audience is repeatedly critiqued by a few chatters. One tells Durbin to take her text to the Art World, where it belongs. As if the Art World is different from the Cam Girl world. As if the (largely) male audience on Cam4 is different from the (largely) male art world. As if we should keep ourselves hidden.
  16. Durbin asks for openness.
  17. As a woman-identifying artist, these are things I have always known. But, I still also know I have the privilege of being in a body (I am white and able-bodied, as Durbin also appears to be) that is historically desired and (through neo-colonial patriarchy) one that is expensive. Durbin’s body is applauded by the chatroom. She uses it to create tension. She seems to be saying “Do you see this body? Do you want it? Good.”
  18. There is nothing new here.
  19. Two hours after she begins, Durbin turns off the chatroom, the screen turns black, she leaves darkness. She leaves a conversation that I only see being repeated over and over. In the end, Durbin was bought. She created a product.
  20. The end to this piece is perhaps only found in the end of capitalism. Even if we sell art for money, and for more money, we are still part of the neo-colonial white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (to steal a phrase from bell hooks). I’m not saying Durbin’s piece wasn’t powerful.
  21. Cloud Nine presented a tension: who is paying, who is getting paid, and who is happy.
  22. There is joy in being able to sell your body.
  23. This piece was made shortly after the death of Chris Burden. In 1977, Burden aired a television “commercial” in Los Angeles titled Full Financial Disclosure. In this public financial disclosure (aired 30 times on television) Burden goes through his expenses. His gross income in 1976 was $17,100. Of that money, he spent $16,106 on television advertising, studio time, materials. That year, Burden was left with about $1,000.
  24. Do we need all artists to publicly state how much money they are (not) making?
  25. A commenter complains that Durbin isn’t very good at “reading the room”. Many are there for the body, they would like to see more of it. She is making them sad with her continued dialogue. We don’t want to watch for 2 hours and only see a butt twice. If this is revealing, it’s not revealing enough.
  26. Did I say enough about the violence inherent in language? Inherent in being seen?
  27. “Being a woman isn’t a condition so much as it’s a motivation” (Lyn Hejinian).
  28. We applaud the artist that sacrifices, we applaud the artist that dedicates their entire body. Recently I read the early correspondence of Vincent Van Gogh. He is radically dedicated to whatever task he cares about. He gets kicked out of seminary because he is too sacrificial. When he does not study for a moment, he forces himself to sleep outside in the winter. He gives away all of his clothes. He stops showering. His family stops talking to him.
  29. So, here we have a woman, placing her body outside in the winter. She is successful, but still in pain.
  30. There is an internalized absence that visual re-presentation continually tries to re-cover.  “Art is a mirror for the looker” (Phelan). Misrecognition is inevitable.
  31. Kate Durbin isn’t just letting us look at her: she is staring right back.

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