I went down to MoMA today to see one of my favorite people slumber peacefully in a glass box.The performance art piece (titled The Maybe), featuring Tilda Swinton as the sleeper, is thought-provoking -- though maybe not in the way it one might expect.
The Maybe has become popular primarily through word of mouth from those who happened upon the exhibit by chance, then tweeted or blogged about it. And now, it's all over Twitter (check out #themaybe or #MoMA). Although people have various reactions to Tilda sleeping in public -- some are embarrassed for her, some are impressed, while others are just plain puzzled by the whole idea -- everyone seems to have something to say about the exhibition.
Interestingly, there has been no published schedule posted, no artist's statement or museum statement made, and no public profile or images issued regarding this piece.
Maybe that's why it's called The Maybe . . . because no one knows for sure when Tilda will be preforming her sleeping beauty act at MoMA until the day of the actual performance. This random unscheduled schedule keeps everyone on their toes, and makes for an intriguing publicity choice. I like that!
However, this is not the first time this work has been seen. The first installation was held in 1995 at The Serpentine Gallery in London where it attracted 22,000 visitors and received a Turner Prize nomination. Apparently, Tilda's been trying to get The Maybe at the MoMA since 2005, and now it's finally here . . . or is it? Well, today it was, anyway.
For me, the piece is fascinating in many ways. First, I like that it gives fans a unique way to be closer to a Star then they would be in most other situations, while it provides Tilda with a certain amount of protection and separation with the glass box. And everyone was so respectful as the watched her doze.
Still, sleeping is our most vulnerable state as humans. We are not conscious of our surroundings and, therefore, we are not on guard . . . this is why we don't sleep when we are afraid or anxious. So I think it takes a tremendous amount of trust and confidence (in yourself, others and the world around you) to allow oneself to be this vulnerable in public. Perhaps there is also something about "sleeping in glass houses and not throwing stones" that brings out Tilda's very human side through this piece.
On a visceral level, I found The Maybe provocative. The mattress in the box is not long enough for Tilda to stretch out, there are no air-holes drilled into the glass, and the pillow doesn't look soft or comfortable. These things made me wonder what it would be like to be inside such a box all day long. I found myself cringing with discomfort as I thought more about it.
I wondered: Does it get stuffy in there? Would I feel stifled by the lack of air movement? Would I feel claustrophobic in the limited space where I could hardly move? Would I stay up all night the night before just so I'd be able to sleep through a seven hour performance without opening my eyes, or getting up for the bathroom? Would I be exceptionally conscious of how much I drank before I went inside the box to avoid having a full bladder when I was trapped inside? Or would I wear a diaper for the sake of art? Then I thought . . . perhaps it would be easier if i took a downer before I performed the sleeping act . . . or would that be cheating?
I'm not sure these are the thought-provoking or inspirational ideas that were intended by this art form, but I did overhear several other viewers discussing these issues as they watched Tilda sleep. It's hard to watch someone else without imaging yourself in their shoes. Perhaps that is one of the gifts of seeing this unusual work of art -- weather intended or not, this seems like a good thing to walk away with.
So I'm wishing sweet dreams to all those sleepers out there. Please, let your imaginations carry you to beautiful art . . . especially you my friend, Tilda. May you have much success, and rest, with this work . . . The Maybe!