By George Kevin Jordan, AFRO Staff Writer
Two provocative performance pieces occurred just around the corner from each other in downtown D.C. this past week but the distance between them expands far beyond their geographic proximities.
“Ivanka Vacuuming” presented by CulturalDC at Flashpoint Gallery, 916 G Street NW, and “FED” at Carroll Square Gallery, 975 F Street, curated by Gia Harewood and Jarvis DuBois are both jaw dropping works. They both invoke reactions from their audiences, but seen together they weave a very interesting story about women, race and power in America.
As part of their 20th Anniversary season, CulturalDC commissioned Jennifer Rubell’s latest work to the District. “Ivanka Vacuuming” swirled into town amid a tsunami of press, backlash and chatter from everyone from legacy press to the first daughter herself whose likeness the work resembles.
The premise is simple enough. A model/actress/artist (I am not quite sure what to call her in the role) is dressed in a frilly dress and vacuums a red carpet for two hours. In front of the coordinated rug is a mound of bread crumbs by which the audience is encourage to throw bits onto the carpet for our version of Ivanka to vacuum.
What seemed so easy at first, to grab some crumbs and toss them on the floor for this woman to vacuum, became much harder to do as I got closer. I sprinkled a glob of crumbs as close to the edge as possible, careful to avoid eye contact. I felt ashamed to throw things down at this woman, even though I entered into the show expecting myself to enjoy the process. I felt encumbered by my Black experience and didn’t want to force anyone to clean up after me.
I eased to the back of the crowd and watched others, who had no problem lobbing the crumbs at the floor or Ivanka.
In the press release the artist explained the experience this way:
“Here is what’s complicated: we enjoy throwing the crumbs for Ivanka to vacuum. That is the icky truth at the center of the work. It’s funny, it’s pleasurable, it makes us feel powerful, and we want to do it more,” notes Rubell. “We like having the power to elicit a specific and certain response. Also, we know she’ll keep vacuuming whether we do it or not, so it’s not really our fault, right?”
The work is powerful in that is doesn’t allow the audience to carry just one emotion. However this emotion is further complicated when you walk down the street to the Carroll Square Gallery and witness Yacine Tilala Fall’s “FED” solo performance.
The performance unpacks issues of consumption and the work that is intertwined with everything we do. During the performance, a 70 pound steel spoon is curved over the artist’s back while a mix of oat and honey milk is poured into the bowl of the utensil. The audience is then handed tiny cups in which to dip out the substance and drink.
At one point during the show there was still an excess amount of liquid in the spoon and one audience member grabbed a pitcher and drained most of the substance out. The crowds cheered the act. By the shows end some people were in tears.
The gravity of the moment – this Black woman carrying the burden for the group and the need for us, the audience, to collectively assist her did not go unnoticed. Especially when juxtaposed with Ivanka, and the merriment in which some people felt throwing crumbs for her to clean. Both were sobering meditations on how we see ourselves as the collective when broached with two provocative scenarios, one a guilty pleasure, another a horrific reminder of how Black women are constantly carrying our load.
Ivanka will keep vacuuming until Feb. 17. The artist will provide a talk back on the “FED” exhibit from 4-6 p.m. March 9 with a final performance from 4-6 p.m. April 28. Both performances and exhibitions are free and open to the public.