Performance Art: Vacuming Woman

By CBramkamp Average women, creative writing Comments Off on Performance Art: Vacuming Woman

Everything can be turned into Art: tragic child hoods are turned into novels and crime is turned into films.  Those who act with vengeance and a startling idiocy turn into overnight reality TV stars.

In this cold exploitative atmosphere, what is the average  artist to do? How does one push the boundaries when there is no line left to cross?

I recommend the average artist  jump off the cutting edge, which is not only narrow and sharp, but difficult to balance on  for very long, and look instead, inward.


The Vacuuming Woman –  the Average Woman’s Performance Piece.

The beauty of this piece is its inherit inclusiveness.. This work is so Off-Off-Broadway, it’s in the living room.

The piece opens with a spotlight trained on a single woman.  She is dressed in her most comfortable leggings, the ones with the crotch mended two times, she knows she should throw them out, but Target isn’t selling this brand anymore and they don’t flatter her burgeoning thighs the way other brands do. She wears a tee shirt from a volunteer project she participated in three years ago; some of the corporate sponsors displayed on the back of the shirt have since gone out of business.

The woman is bare foot, the better to feel the mess beneath her feet.

She enters the living room, the heart of the house, the place where the family should be nurtured and loved and play games together every Thursday night, “Family Game Night” but instead consistently succumb to watching re-runs of  Jersey Shore.

The Archetypal woman sighs, as she survey’s her crumb-strewn abode. She grimaces with anguish. She furrows her brow with despair. She wonders who authorized the eating of popcorn, the making of toast, the brushing of dog.

The atmosphere is brown and dusty, the curtains are closed because the Vacuuming Woman hasn’t yet transformed into the Window Washing Woman, and isn’t likely to anytime soon.

Suddenly a new spotlight illuminates The Vacuum.

This, she thinks with naïve enthusiasm, will solve the crumb and dust problem. This promises to completely eliminate the black dog hair from the mint green couch. This, she thinks, her frown smoothing, will solve all my distress and anguish and then I can rest.

With care, she bends, feeling the stitches in the crotch of her leggings give just a little more than they should and plugs in the machine into the wall plug. The goal, the art, is to vacuum as far into the house as she can from that single plug because once the vacuuming rhythm is established, it’s too much trouble to stop, pull the plug and re-insert into a new location. Last week she had to do that and chipped a nail  prying off the baby-safe outlet cover.

With a satisfying roar the vacuum starts to life. It’s only after the vacuum starts up that she remembers she has no more bags and this one is full. Her choices at this critical juncture are: throw out the bag and replace it, necessitating a trip out to the garbage (see Garbage Walk Number 6 in the program), or emptying the bag and re-using it, thus saving a few pennies, or assuming that like any other resource, more room will be made in the bag’s interior if she just persists.  She persists.

The roar engulfs her and only a little bit of dust blows out from the back of the machine. Machine and woman become one in the pursuit of popcorn kernels, dust and that black thread that will not be swept up by the vacuum brushes. She pauses next to a trash can, leans over, feeling more give in her leggings and manually feeds the thread to the vacuum’s maw. Together they sweep over dingy carpet leaving a clean swath of back-brushed carpet pile in their wake.

The black vacuum cord whips around each corner of every room leaving a dark mark that will never come out until the women re-paints the whole house in anticipation of selling. Any corner that is not reached by the vacuum tethered to that carefully chosen single outlet is ignored. All messes are made in the middle of the floor anyway. The dog only throws up in the center of the carpet, not on the edges where at least the stains can be hidden in creative and decorative ways (see Woman And her Spot Remover in the program).

The woman pushes the roaring vacuum, the vacuum responds to her commands. The noise of the vacuum blocks out all outer disturbances so while the Vacuuming Woman is working, she can tune out all noise; the phone with solicitation calls; the door bell with solicitation demonstrations: the children soliciting for another juice box even though there’s a perfectly good pitcher of drinks in the refrigerator. The Vacuuming Woman hears nothing.

She cleans, there fore she is. The Vacuuming Woman creates a safe cocoon of purpose, focus and noise. She works carefully on the carpet in methodical back and forth movements. She switches to attachments and works over the couch; the chairs, a few swipes at the blinds. But even as she reaches the end of the power cord, even as she makes the supreme effort to move at least two chairs and actually vacuum entirely under them, we sense, as she works, that this will not last. Even the artist knows this, her innate knowledge of the futility of cleaning a carpet that is regularly abused is reflected in her avoidance of the stair treads. There is not enough dirt to justify lifting the vacuum from tread to tread. She makes difficult choices.

As she pulls the plug and rolls the vacuum with the overflowing bag to the closet, she only allows a few minutes of self-congratulation. The artist knows that this work, this piece, is a tribute to the continuing effort displayed by vacuuming women everywhere and it will not last.

We too can all sense, as we watch, that there is no end, there is just always the vacuum.

Applause comes only from the artist herself.

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