This Great Society - Arts



"Box” Performance Art by Brian Rush   "Box” Performance Art by Brian Rush
"Box” Performance Art by Brian Rush   "Box” Performance Art by Brian Rush   "Box” Performance Art by Brian Rush


Brian Rush: Box

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“I decided you weren’t real but I’ve changed my mind.”
That’s what an elderly woman says to me as I stand still on the White Rock pier with my head inside an elongated cardboard box. I have been standing here for over an hour and no one has yet inserted his or her head in the hole opposite mine, as I was hoping. 
               Because we are on a pier, the lady who changed her mind about my reality, like everyone else, walked past me twice, giving her occasion to rethink what was one of the more bizarre reactions to what, for most people, was probably a bizarre encounter. 
               Most people didn’t talk to me, and judging by what little I could see out the other hole, didn’t even acknowledge the box-headed person sharing their pier. 

The box is an absurdity.
As I carry the box back to my car—“Excuse me! I gotta ask you, was that some sort of experiment?”
               “You might call it that.”
               “When I passed you the first time I told myself I should go in but I said, ‘Nah, I’ll for sure go in on the way back though.’ Then on the way back I was sure I was gonna do it but I didn’t!”

The box is an invitation.
After an hour and a half, two pairs of blue jeans and New Balance walking shoes slow their pace to ask, “Are we supposed to ask you something?”
               I don’t respond. I want them to put their heads in the box.
               “Are we supposed to do something?” It’s a middle-aged woman. “Are we supposed to tickle you?” Ducking, she sees the hole. “Oh!” She comes in. She is the only one to do so in White Rock.

The box is a mystery.
Done as a series of interventions for Live Biennale 09, I don the box three more times: once at Richmond Centre Mall and twice at the downtown branch of the Vancouver Public Library.
               Inside Richmond Centre, near an entrance, no one comes into the box. A janitor, with genuine concern asks if I’m alright; a child kneeling at the gumball machine catches my eye through the hole in the bottom of the box and initiates a staring contest; and two teenage girls, keeping their distance, question my sanity. I tell them I have some questions and ask them how a vacuum cleaner works. They don’t know.
                I use questions—some mundane, some bizarre, some uncomfortable—to short-circuit the typically safe but stultifying pleasantries of initial face-to-face contact. I ask questions that demand thought: If you were to tell me your life story which parts would you leave out? What’s the best thing that could happen inside this box? What does good art do? Name five bad men. What’s one thing only you can teach me today?

The box is a world.
When someone inserts their head into the box they are accepting, if only for a few minutes, the unknown parameters of a miniature, alternate world. This mundane item, the cardboard box, reframes a face-to-face encounter in a way that rewards their risk and encourages intimacy.
               After I welcome someone to the box and ask a few questions, which are never the same set twice, my guest in the box becomes a collaborator, helping determine the direction of our temporary reality. 
               In our shared dark space, where faces are barely visible at this time of day—it’s evening outside the library—one young lady tells me of her recent divorce and leads me through a meditative breathing exercise. Another extracts her head after 15 minutes discussing storytelling, and exhorts the handful of spectators to give the box a try.

The box is exclusion.
For most, the box remains an absurd living sculpture. Unwilling or unable to enter, they, at best, only hear of someone else’s experience inside, second-hand.
                During one of my stays outside the library I catch sight of a fitted leather jacket circling me every few minutes for over an hour. I don’t know whether she happens to be waiting for someone or if she is lingering solely on account of the box, but, whatever the case, she seems to be intensely interested. She never speaks and I never see her face. She circles slowly and a single bell attached to her purse jingles ominously with every step. I think of her as my silent interrogator. 
                In the box I share many questions with briefly intimate strangers but I cannot share my interrogator’s questions. I can only guess. Perhaps, I think, she is trying, like the elderly lady, to know if I am real.



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