TBA Series: NIC Kay's "PUSHIT! [exercise 1 in getting well soon]
When I think of art and the way in which I participate as a consumer of art, I often find myself limiting my perspective on how I engage with art for its viewing. The most physical engagement I have with art is walking around a gallery through an intentionally curated space. It is usually well lit, there are designated titles, an artist’s abstract of their collection, and it is generally relatively stationary. When I consume performance art, my physical being is also passively engaged—I sit in the middle row if there are chairs, or in the grouping of people, and the performance artist is center stage, wherein I give my focus. I am not pushed to think about my physical self beyond the question: “Am I close enough to see everything I believe I 'need' and 'want' to see?” NIC Kay’s performance literally steps outside of this passive physical engagement with their piece, “PUSHIT! [exercise 1 in getting well soon], and takes their piece into the Piedmont Neighborhood, along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, with a rather large following: their audience.
NIC Kay poses the question, “Can resistance be choreographed?” which becomes
temporally embodied by the intentional path NIC Kay makes for themselves on the city sidewalk and streets, and with Kay’s granted permission of the audience’s following. The audience was primarily white people, with around five or six people of color. As I walked with them and was present, I was immediately urged to think about the history of the neighborhood we were walking in and its history of black presence and culture to the now violently changing racial demographic due to gentrification, that I myself am a part of.
NIC Kay brings forth the physicality of racialized history, as a person with and living as a black body in the United States. Their physical presence racializes this piece immediately by the space they claim and reclaim, back and forth, towing between the presence of a black body in this particular neighborhood, in this particular time, and the audience keen on visual consumption as means to interact with Kay’s performance piece. White people, myself included, were actively creating an unspoken and sometimes softly muttered dialogue around how white people engage with black people in space, in public, on the street, and how we deem the right to the “front row” of this performance, all the while, NIC Kay engages with a liberatory practice within their piece and the urgency of self-care as “getting-well-soon.”
NIC Kay does not wait for anyone. Time and time again, black people demand the
necessary urgency from non-black people of color and white people to see value in their lives and existence. What would it mean for NIC Kay to engage in this performance and look back at their audience, wait for their audience, to catch up? Even if their physical self appropriately caught up to NIC Kay, it would not necessarily mean their mental and emotional self was with the artist, and to
suggest that they would ever get ‘there’ would be irresponsible. Again, Kay tows between the viewer/participant being given access while simultaneously being held at a distance, that may or may not be comfortable, that may or may not be mutually consented to.
If as participants we are necessitated to shift our perspectives, as NIC Kay posits a particular obsession of their’s, when it come to their performance art, what comes as a result? As a white person engaging with this piece, I was shifting between following NIC Kay, my own mental, physical, and emotional experience, what the rest of the audience was thinking and feeling, and what was ultimately being asked of me to be gleaned from their piece. In the act of following Kay I was pushed to consider how I consume black culture. I am entangled in a learned/internalized way of taking in black culture that needs to be cooperatively processed through and of white supremacy and my entitlement to black culture and black bodies as a white
In this piece I felt that I was, in a sense, policing NIC Kay. I wanted to know what they would do next, sometimes I felt they were walking too fast, I wanted to know their meaning behind the particular neighborhood their performance was taking place in—I was narrating in my head an entire dialogue about how I wanted to and ‘needed’ to consume and engage with NIC Kay’s piece that placed me right and exactly where I am—a white person following and attempting to make sense of a piece that is not about me, but what whiteness makes about me, time and time again. As I left writing this and reflecting, I do not have closure, which is in itself a process of unlearning my internalized racism. I am not reconciled, but I am pushed: pushed to