At 7 p.m. Friday at Ro2 Art, Erica Felicella invites you tell her all your secrets.
Imagine if you had the opportunity to leave some of your worst memories, thoughts, and actions behind. Imagine if you could clear your head and heart by passing along burdens to another vessel and just simply walk away, free and clear. Felicella is giving you that chance. With Unburden, she is opening herself up and welcoming you to tell her anything you want. Whatever you tell her is just between you two. She'll carry your burden for the rest of her life, swearing herself to secrecy no matter what the story. All you have to do is sit down, pick up the phone outside the vessel she has created--that looks reminiscent of a prison visitation room or a confessional--say what you need, and walk away.
This is the second installment of Unburden (the first was a LRTX show in the Dallas Arts District on May 31, 2014), an installation project and social experiment that falls in line with public art works of similar concepts. The most recent one, and probably the one most familiar to us, is Marina Abramovic's The Artist is Present, her retrospective show at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 2010.
For that show, Abramovic committed herself for three months to sit in the museum, without food or water, for seven and a half hours every day, gazing into the eyes of visitors who sat opposite her. Not a word was spoken. The only discussions happened after the audience left the space and in the press, with people questioning whether or not it was art.
A similar question could be raised upon just simply viewing Felicella's work: what about sitting in a chair in a public space allowing people to approach you and speak to you, makes it art?
It stems from the creation of the work, how it is consumed, and ultimately, digested in our culture. Watching how people lined up to see Abramovic's MoMa exhibit, and how they created an unofficial numbering system to structure how they would approach their time in the chair, illuminates a fascinating concept that happens when a group of people gather in one place. A sense of community is discovered and formed; they are united for a cause, and spiritually connected to each other, the artist, and the space. That connection - this discussion - is what pushes the situational experience into becoming art. The people who showed up to experience the performance believed that what they were participating in was art. For every person who believed that they were helping to promote art by sitting outside waiting to see the artist, took the performance to another level.
It's a trick debate, but ultimately - it seems - If you say it's art, and you believe it's art, then, we have art. Or I should say, we have performance art.
The decision to begin Unburden came about a year and a half ago, when Felicella was developing ideas for future performance pieces. "The inspiration comes from a root that feeds most of my work, both the mind and the body of humanity. Human emotion, containment, vulnerability, and release are words that could embody most of my ideas to date," says Felicella.
The installation is built to invoke a response as Felicella is using both herself and the participants as the subject. She is challenging our current society and how we are obsessed with the observation of others and ourselves. However, she is also taking into account that we live in a time where the display of actual emotion in our American culture is considered to be a weakness. It is her hope to connect viewers with their own emotion by using it as a motivator.
"This particular piece began from my personal experience of facing, confronting, and passing burdens in my own life. I have suffered with mental health illnesses my whole life. It is because of this I make work that conveys the expression of the inner self," says Felicella.
The work resembles religious or spiritual traditions of confession and absolution. Although Felicella says that was not her original intent. As the work has developed, she has chosen not to ignore them, but instead, to confront these underlying themes.
"I was raised in a religious home and confession was a part of my childhood, so it is likely rooted in my subconscious. I always say when dealing with the mind as a medium, anything is possible," she says. "The study and development, however, was based around two ideas. The actual, realized process and treatment of being imprisoned and the cathartic release achieved when passing the weight of our hearts unto another. I wanted the people that engage with the piece to feel my sincerity to contain what they give me, and for that I shackle myself and get locked into a cell to be their receiver."
What she is receiving are secrets. Secrets can be so many different things, but for this artist, they are the moments that visit us before we rest. They are the visitors while sitting at peace, the constant opponent. But what if she is disclosed something that is a "secret" that shouldn't be kept a secret any longer.
"I am aware of things that I may hear that I will want to release [but] I have given my word to be a container and I shall do just that," Felicella says. "If I am to speak out and share something that has been entrusted to me would be a failure of the work's intent."
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Every piece she creates comes with fears and reservations, but there are very few things that scare her. She believes in pushing herself further everyday and that desire is in full effect with this performance. "I am aware of the worst things I could hear and how they may affect me and others. I have prepared myself to keep an emotionless gaze so that the visitor will feel no judgment. The hardest part for me is to not speak and to not cry."
Pieces like Felicella's and Abramovic's The Artist is Present can directly affect the community in which it takes place. With Abramovic, one person brought together a large group of people in a test of stillness, quietness - a struggle to find peace in chaos. With Felicella's, we are seeing what the effect of carrying burdens can have. With both, we are seeing two artists completely dedicating themselves to their craft.
"I take each piece I do very seriously...my work has to be tested by my own brain and how it suffers before it is released...By the time anyone has seen the physical piece, I will have been with it for ages," Felicella says. "It is in my dreams, my counseling, and my day-to-day. It lives with me...If I am asking an intimate level of trust from another, then I owe to them to be precise and relevant."
Unburden will open at Ro2 Art Downtown Gallery at 110 North Akard St, Dallas on Friday, August 1. Doors open at 7:00 p.m. Show from 7:00-9:00 p.m.