Gestures at U.C. Irvine, January 1986

Another excerpt from Frank’s NEA DIARY:


February 4

I think I have finally recovered from my tour of Southern California. As Paul McCarthy would say, it was amazing. It is one of the main projects I used my N.E.A. Grant for. It was a kind of thing I have dreamed about. But my dreams paled against the reality of it. Paul helped us arrange the performances in L.A., connecting us with Jack Marquette of Anti-Club and Robert Gero. But this was after months of soul debating on Paul’s part on what would be the best spaces for me.

It took months setting everything up for the trip. The trying to line up actors for the L.A. pieces. The pile of actors’ resumes melted to zero by the time we left on the trip. It was the same old story … the vulnerability, the avant-garde strangeness, and nudity proved too much for the straight actors to imagine doing. So I prepared myself to wing the performances, as I usually am forced to do.

Also just before our departure, we got a definite red tape NO from U.C. Irvine.

We arrived in L.A. to establish a beach head before going on to San Diego. We received a call from Robin McHeed. I met Robin months before as I was doing my Approach Art on Sproul Plaza at U.C. Berkeley. She will graduate this summer from U.C. Irvine. She is a stranger in a strange land at Irvine. Something clicked in Robin when I told her I was doing a tour in Southern California. It became her personal revolt against the rightist system to get this long-haired, red-helmeted, multi-colored, spastic elf with his giant portfolio of chocolate covered naked live art that the audience has a chance to play in. So when we ran into the red tape dead end, Robin turned into a one woman bulldozer. The call was informing us that she got a classroom in one day for the performance … basically she personally sponsored me. So we had an extra show on the road.

Next day, we traveled to Irvine. Robin was kind of disappointed when we rolled up in our big American car. She was expecting a Magic Bus full of wildly dressed artists. But she soon realized I was still that mischievous elf. We followed her around as she busted her buns making last minute contacts. I got more and more freaked out being on a campus which was consciously designed to discourage human contact and a sense of community … where students are identified by for which big company they will be working. I started to think no one would show up for the performance, not to mention participate, in this stronghold of the enemy. So in my mind, I started adapting “Random Gestures” so that if no one became involved, at least it would look like something was happening. To my surprise, there were students waiting outside the performance room when we arrived.

The windowless room became a dark cave with a light strobing. I lay on a table-altar surrounded by neatly dressed yuppies and young republicans. Gestures were randomly read out. Anyone could get on the table with me and do the gestures, and return to their seats when they did not want to do the gesture. At first, nobody did anything at all. But after fifteen minutes, a few timidly started doing the gestures in their seats. Slowly, one by one, people got on the table … especially after Robin broke the ice. It was a trip seeing these ultra-yuppies touching one another in intimate ways. They drank it up. The guy who I got to play music asked in the middle of the piece if he could stop playing music and join the table. Two male roommates found themselves doing things together like rubbing noses … and liking it. We had to push more tables together to make room for all the people. At one point, about 12 bodies piled onto me and slowly rocked … because they couldn’t quite let themselves rock on one another.

After the piece, Robin invited everyone to her house for chili. It gave me a good chance to hear in detail what people thought about the piece, but also to watch the effects of the piece on the people. When they first came out, they were still relating to one another, being high, being physical, being vulnerable. It took several hours for this noticeable change to wear off. It was like waking up from a dream … or coming down from a trip.

© 1986 Frank Moore

More photos from the U.C. Irvine performance:

New University Ticket (U.C. Irvine paper)
Download larger version (pdf)