Arts & Culture News

The First 48: An Artist, a Box and a Catheter

Roughly a hundred people were gathered in Oak Cliff on Sunday to watch Erica Felicella emerge from her performance art piece, "Visible Shell," including one very concerned young girl. "We've house sat for her before and she's got a king-size bed," she reported to me while petting my dog. Her eyes welled up as she continued, "It's so soft. It's like laying on clouds. I bet it's so hard for her knowing that big soft bed is at home."

She relaxed when Felicella's assistants finally unscrewed the chamber's fourth wall, removed it, and guided the wobbly-legged artist out of her state of confinement. The plexiglass box resembled a dunk tank and was no larger than a phone booth, and Felicella had spent the last 48 hours -- save for a few moments to allow relief from physical illness -- inside of it.

Suck it, David Blaine.

The project was designed so that Felicella could experience and explore the range of emotions created by confinement. She did not interact while inside. She did not respond. She did not sleep. She wore a catheter. Her booth was filled with crumpled balls of colored paper that slowly climbed in height as she scribbled and tossed her mantra to the floor, adding to the sedimentary layers of stationery. Over and over again she wrote "To see myself I went inside my own shell."

Beyond the box's walls, everyone was talking about their feelings. "We've popped in and out for the last two days," said a couple standing next to me. "We really hope that she's OK." They were eager for her release; everyone there was. A powerful feeling of community united us: One of our own is stuck in that box.

What I found most interesting about the experiment is the amount of dialog it spurred. Once the box was opened, the artist encouraged everyone to take one of the pieces of paper home as a keepsake. Two young girls pressed and flattened out the papers, searching for tiny deviations in her message. "It changed!" said a red-head with a perky short haircut. "It went from 'I went inside my own shell' to 'I go inside my own shell!'" Whether Felicella, a sleep-deprived, self-reported dyslexic intended the shift in phrasing is a moot point; what we have here is an empty plot in Dallas where adults and children are discussing, exploring and dissecting an artist's message. So while Felicella's experiment was focused on her own silent self-exploration, it reflected outward.

Upon her release, Felicella was mobbed. When asked what she would do first now that she was free, she laughed and said, "Well, probably wanna take the catheter out. That's the very first thing. Then a latte and a shower." She also admitted to shedding many, many tears over the course of the two-day performance. "I was just so touched that so many of you came here to support me and this art," she said, looking out into the crowd. "I couldn't respond to you, but I saw and felt you."

Did you go see Erica Felicella's performance piece last weekend? Did you watch her live-streaming feed? What did you take from the experience? Put it in the comments.

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Jamie Laughlin
Contact: Jamie Laughlin