Performanssifiesta, Pispala Contemporary Art Center, July 28, 2012
Description of the Performance
(E)scapegoat took place in Performanssifiesta organized by Pispalan Nykytaiteenkeskus/Hirvitalo, Tampere, Finland in June 28th 2012. The location of the performance was a small opening next to the Hirvitalo house. People were invited to come to the field by the organizer and I was already at that point pouring tar into a white bowl. While people came in to the field I made sure to take eye contact with every person and welcome in a cheery singsong kind of way. I was dressed in white tight outfit with rubber boots, chalked face and hair cone into two white curved horns. When people were relatively settled I went around the crowd and gave everyone their own black brush using the same sales pitch kind of attitude and voice. Returning to the centre I took the bowl from the table, held it in front of me on shoulder height and asked people to paint me with the tar in it.
The reaction was instant. People grabbed the brushes and covered me with tar. In the beginning the mood was happy and I smiled and chatted with people. Quite fast it did start to change. People were very vindictive from the start. The crowd took great care that there was a lot of tar in my hair, ears, face and that my genitals areas were emphasized. After a while some people did start to voice concerns but they did go on tarring me anyway in the same fashion. I was quiet but still taking eye contact with the crowd until my hands couldn’t physically take the weight of the bowl and I had to let it drop.
I moved to another part of the field where I crouched down to start a fire. I did it in hasty fashion and it only took few minutes before I had a beginning of a fire. I kept on feeding the fire attempting a fake smile and rubbing my thighs. When the fire was big enough I started stripping and feeding my tarred clothes to the fire until I was completely naked. I even took my glasses off and threw them away. When completely naked I took a kitchen knife from the table and attempted to hack of the horns. As in the end they seemed irremovable I threw the knife away and left the field in fury.
Scapegoats are part of Jewish tradition and their function was to absorb the sins or the diseases of the villagers and take it to the woods. This tradition evolved forward but this basic idea did stay on. All the evil thoughts, past actions and words would be absorbed away by touch and taken by the creature elsewhere. Without the tarnishing past there is a new beginning and possibility for better actions or at least better self esteem.
Having worked in several associations and NGO’s and listened and witnessed to stories of harassment, the mechanism of group functions started to tickle me again. This time I didn’t have to worry about the existence of social glue as it was evidently pestering and persecuting of one individual until that individual leaves the group ( or the job ) and is discredited. It would be easy to say that all the people involved are just evil or just scared for their jobs but when met most of this people are normally empathetic. Something in the group dynamic makes them ignore the empathy and take what is said about the person as more real than their own interactive experience. We all have annoying traits but in these situations anything that is annoying about the person is magnified. The person smells bad or is always late or is too punctual to fault. There is nothing really that the person has done right. All the previous engagements with the person are discredited. The black and white reality of the gossip starts to colour all the interactions with the person and it is extremely hard to not be sucked in by this reality if you are in a daily interaction with the group.
There is no way I can declare innocence here and say that I have always stayed away from this kind of actions but I can say that I do not understand this mechanism and so I wanted to see how it would work in a performance. I deliberately did use very archetype gestures, symbols and colours to make them as recognizable as possible for the participants.