One hundred scattered eggs form a rectangular stage in the courtyard of the Museum of Contemporary Art. A young man emerges from the crowd and enters the egg patch, dragging each foot before placing it between eggs. Only when he turns around does one see that his eyes are closed.
This is Entrevidas, a performance work by Anna Maria Maiolino that is being given twice as a special part of her monographic show at MOCA, on view until December 31.
In Entrevidas, Maiolino explores a perspective on the human condition; a meditation on the idea of birth, potential and the perilous fragility of life. First performed by the artist in 1981, Entrevidas on this September day is being revived by Maiolino’s grandson, Gabriel Sitchin.
From the sidelines, Maiolino watches Sitchin narrowly miss the fragile capsules, often gently grazing them and causing a domino effect. Captivated, most audience members cringe and collectively exhale, save for the gaggle of children who cry out in disappointment.
Sitchin plays off their reactions, basing decisions about where to place his foot on the sharp inhales and shouts. When he finally reaches the center of the obstacle course, he opens his eyes and begins a victory dance, darting around the eggs. In his enthusiasm, he breaks an egg. Maiolino gasps. The kids cheer.
Sitchin invites members of the audience into the egg field to dance. Together, we “walk on egg shells.” He places an egg in its entirety into his mouth, and then gestures for an audience member to take the egg, parting his lips to reveal its smooth white shell. After three rejections from people who want nothing to do with this saliva-covered egg, a fourth accepts, and tilts her head towards his as if leaning in for a kiss.
This participation actively defines the artwork and reminds me of one of the most haunting installations I have ever seen: “Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in LA) by Felix Gonzalez-Torres.
In 2013, while walking through the Art Institute of Chicago, I turned a corner and was surprised to find a large pile of candy on the floor in the corner of the gallery. A work both playful and sinister, the artist’s candy spills are an homage to his partner, Ross Laycock. Essentially a portrait of Ross suffering from AIDS, the glittering wrappers made me wonder how many people pass by without realizing this multicolored pile of candy was about death and sickness and loss and love.
His candy spills exist not only to be seen, but also to be touched, tasted, and taken. Through the viewer’s contribution, the work becomes more poignant, more personal. Whereas with Maiolino’s Entrevidas, I felt anxious, nervous and emotionally attached to the inanimate but entirely representative eggs, with Gonzalez-Torres’ demonstration of mortality I stood frozen, fighting back the urge to cry.
I asked a nearby guard how often they weigh and replenish the candy to keep the pile equal to Ross’ ideal healthy weight. Surprised that I asked, she told me they only replace the candy when the pile has completely depleted.
I took two pieces. The first I ate in the gallery with my eyes fixed on the remaining pile, determined to participate in the work’s literal and conceptual ephemerality. I’m not religious but it felt like communion, internalizing the symbolic body of a slowly dying man.
I still have the second piece of candy to remind me of this encounter, but I don’t really need the souvenir. The memory alone is strong enough.
Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ 1991 installation and Anna Maria Maiolino’s recent performance offer ways of coping with life and confronting the inevitability of death. One hundred eggs, their potential energy waiting to hatch and a pile of candy slowly consumed — through art and action immortality is within grasp.
Entrevidas, which marked the opening of the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA on September 14th, will again be performed on November 5 at 3 p.m. with Artemisa Clark.