Violence No More — The semi-‐transparent paper on the windows of the Defibrillator allows for natural light to stream into an otherwise dark gallery. A circle of unlit candles consumes a majority of the gallery floor. People walk in from the street and then sit down to form a neat outer-‐circle around the makeshift barrier. Chatter begins as the audience anticipates what the candles are for and my friend jokes of a séance that seems soon to begin. There is a distinct feeling of connectedness among the bodies in the room, right from the start. Dressed in all red, Arahmaiani commands the attention of the dark room and makes her way to the center of the circle. It’s clear that she is separate from the rest of us.
Next, Arahmaiani lies flat on the ground, face down and propels herself in a circular motion by the thrust of her foot. As she pushes herself across the floor, she forcefully blows out a hard breath that seems to provide momentum. She rises to her feet and walks to light a candle. Afterwards, she places it in the palm of an audience member’s hand. She then lies back down only to strenuously repeat the painstaking process of propelling herself across the floor. She stands up only to light another candle until the circle of candles are all burning.
The process repeats, but as it does, one can’t help but to notice Arahmaiani fighting against herself. Dead weight. She pulls her own weight around the floor and never makes it easier for herself. As she slowly inches herself closer and closer toward the candles, the pained and exhausted expression on her face becomes more and more noticeable. There seems to be an existential tension between the act of lighting the candle and blowing it out. Arahmaiani repetitively continues the sequence until the last candle is lit. Then, artfully anticlimactic, she stands and gives a quick bow and exits to the rear.
The emotionally felt performance embodied the concept of inclusiveness. As Arahmaiani handed a candle to an audience member, the makeshift barrier between audience and artist no longer existed. Instead, a circle united was formed. As she lit every candle and offered it to a chosen audience member, a tangible feeling of solidarity was produced. Aligned with her activism, Arahmaiani’s performance at the Defibrillator aimed to foster peace.
Photo by Arjuna Capulong
Megan Owoc is an arts administrator and historian. She received her B.A. in Art History from Ohio University in Athens, and an M.A. in Modern and Contemporary Art History, Theory and Criticism from the School of The Art Institute of Chicago. Her research interests lie in contemporary art, performance, and global studies. Currently, Megan works as the Studio and Office Manager for the Chicago--based artist, Dzine.