At a firm and slow pace, Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz quietly and commandingly walks through the semi-circle formed audience that sits on the floor of gallery. Raimundi-Ortiz and her assistants, Kaitlyn Helene Sass & Diandra Miller, are dressed in wigs and exaggerated makeup as they enter the main space of the Defibrillator. One of the assistants carries her zebra-striped train of her red corset and silver-bodied skirt, each embellished with black trim. Raimundi-Ortiz holds an empty silver tray. The group of three turns, in order to make its way to the red upholstered thrown with white trim and gold baroque motifs. The throne sits on a two-step platform.
One of Raimundi-Ortiz’s assistants takes her hand and helps her into the seat of her throne. She crosses her legs, places her tray on her lap, and gazes into the audience as if expecting something in return. Next to the throne is a bell and a pedestal draped loosely in white fabric. Sitting atop of the pedestal is a set of three additional silver trays. Soon, an audience member walks from the back of the room to the foot of the platform and places an empty, half-crushed beer can on her silver tray. Her assistants blankly gaze into the audience as more people approach the platform of the throne with empty cups, pop bottles and juice boxes, receipts, glassine bags, and deflated balloons.
Some of the audience members shyly walk toward her, and others walk more proudly. A few smile as they drop their trash on her tray and a single man bows before he turns to walk away. After the first tray is filled with trash, Raimundi-Ortiz gives a knowing look to her assistant. Her assistant then carries the tray to the feet of the audience members in the first row. As the performance continues, the trays increase in size and soon a trash bag full of garbage is dumped on a single tray, with some of the trash being dumped on Raimundi-Ortiz, herself. As she reaches her second-to-last tray, one audience member slowly drops a few coins. The clinking sounds the coins make as they drop starkly contrast the otherwise silent room. When Raimundi-Ortiz reaches the last tray, the performance reaches a dramatic climax as she rises to her feet, holding a few sheets of paper. She reads her statement as a proclamation to break free of a man whose love forced her to take on undesired roles in order to appease his own sense of manhood.
In her artist statement for the piece, Raimundi-Ortiz states: “Bargain Basement Sovereign was born from an argument with a former lover. A nasty one, where I was bashed while being called his Queen… I responded… I’m your Bargain Basement Sovereign … I rule for Less…. the relationship ended, but the idea haunted me… the lack of accountability to those you regard the highest in your life. Parents. Siblings. Lovers. Those are the ones we usually dump most of our trash on… with impunity… because we can. Big Love allows room for forgiveness of vile, sometimes inexplicably cruel dumping… mainly because we are spared the fallout.” Here, Raimundi-Ortiz seems to use the phrase “Big Love” to describe the one-sided nature of compensating for another’s insecurities in an attempt to provide a semblance of a functional relationship. Raimundi-Ortiz illustrates this juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane in her use of beautifully delicate silver trays and trash. Not only this, she also commands the audience to recognize the implications of their own “Big Love.” In presenting the audience with their trash after they dumped it on her, Raimundi-Ortiz exposes the audience’s own dumping habits. Near the end of her proclamation, she commandingly states, “My words are my minutes.” And with that, Raimundi-Ortiz applauds herself as the Bargain Basement Sovereign.
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.