August 11, 2010 2:00-3:00
South garden of the Art Institute of Chicago (Adams and Michigan)
“Is this a political statement?”
During today’s hug I am restless. My shoes hurt. Flies bite my leg. I can’t seem to settle in.
Perhaps it’s because today’s hug is more meditative. I do not want to sit with my thoughts.
I feel bad for Sara because she can feel it every time my body shifts. I apologize. She tells me its alright, that she has a great deal of patience today. I admire this in her.
Someone comes up to me and asks me if we are making a political statement. I stumble over my response. I want to say it is political and _______. It doesn’t come to me. I trail off. I think I was going to say personal. Political and personal? I think of the feminist dictum “the personal is political.” At first this statement does not seem to resonate with our work at all. The phrase was coined by Carol Hanisch in her 1969 essay “The Personal is Political.” In the essay Hanisch makes the case that the personal problems of women are actually political problems and that there are no personal solutions, only collective actions for collective solutions.
But Hug operates in opposition to this idea, or at least reflexively. We wonder if it is possible for a personal (yet public) act to emanate outwards, inspiring change, or at least increased awareness in those around us. But I am skeptical of my own grand statements. I know that making art is not the way to change the world.
I return to the question whether or not it is political. In retrospect, the woman who approached me may have been asking if we were making a statement about gay rights. I have always known that this would be one interpretation of Hug and I don’t discredit that response. The action ultimately is apolitical. Even though we hand out materials promoting phsyical affection and healing through touch, Hug does not have a paticular message or agenda. Rather the interpretation is open. Something like a social experiment. Our hypothesis is we can create some change. My acting teacher at NYU used to always say “a drop of coffee is still coffee.” She was referring to exercises that re-create different sensory experiences in order to stimulate emotional response. These exercises were a large part of our Method Acting training. The first exercise is drinking a cup of coffee. The goal is to feel the cup, smell the coffee, and taste it even though it is not there. Even if we were not able to maintain the feeling of drinking a cup of coffee for the duration of the exercise, it was successful if we felt a drop.
Every week I am feeling drops. We must be doing something right. It feels good to hug and we continue to have positive interactions with people passing by. As for the woman who asked about our politics, she and her friends stayed for a while. They stayed and watched us and eventually came up and gave us a great big hug. It was worth it.