SiteWorks: San Francisco performance 1969-85

La Mamelle Arts Center, 3rd Floor, 70 12th Street at Market

Barbara Smith, Ordinary Life, Part Two (12th March 1977)



It begins with my friends Nancy Buchanan, Nancy Angelo and Karen Neubert coming in with me from the rear of the space and passing out the scripts flirtatiously to the men and ignoring the women seated there. Each of the 150 scripts had a different image of myself Xeroxed on the cover, but the same story within. On tape, I ask the audience to go with me into a neutral time-space where simultaneity is the rule and out of which we can emerge the same – but different. Then I read on tape the entire script they have been handed while I go to the centre of the space with my arms full of large scrolls. The women exit. I “stake out a territory “ by taping huge photographic images of my face, my hands in my lap and my full seated figure on the walls around me. They are big and unwieldy and I get more and more anxious. As time goes by I begin impatiently to remove my clothes bit by but until I am in a slip. Earlier my three friends had emerged in white slips and covered with white gauzey veils. They act as invisible psychic presences, silently helpful, being ignored, being ordered about in my rush to complete my task. I feel my hysteria and try to help. I add large strips of paper torn from a roll on which I scrawl even more events and information from the experience of these intervening days. The women try to slow me down, to comfort me. At last I can do no more and frantic with despair and grief I stand in their midst and fall wailing to the ground. While two of them bind me in their veils like a cocoon, a third calls upon the names of women artists, an invocation to protect me (sic) sense of territory, both physical and psychic, while I am withdrawn. Their names are written around the floor between me and the audience. My friends rock me in their arms like a baby until I relax. Then they rise up to disengage a circle of rainbow-coloured filmy sashes hung above us and lit from the centre. Pulling these down one by one they begin to decorate me and each other with garlands until there are no more left and we leave the room the same – but different. The tape goes on for the next 3-4 minutes, ending with “What would you say if I was no longer afraid?” (Smith 1978: 13)