Amidst one of the largest MFA exhibitions in the country (with work by more than one hundred artists), Michal Samama’s ‘guided tour’ performance, Carry On, collects its audience near the Sullivan Galleries’ entrance and navigates the entire vast space.
A woman guides a black cart with four plastic wheels suspended on the axis of two larger steel wheels along the walls of the gallery, the smaller wheels dangling in the air as the cart teeters and sways on the larger wheel’s single axis. The object’s functional successes and failures create a peculiar conundrum: the wheels have kidnapped the cart, defeating its purpose. Unable to remain level nor bear any weight as it tilts back and forth, it can only carry itself. A tool rendered into a toy. The steel wheels seem to effortlessly cut across the cement floor, pivoting and squeaking around each turn. Amidst the crowd, the cart bears a silent announcement: ‘excuse me, coming through.’ But once the crowd has left, its metal parts squeak and sing its movements in the empty corridors. The performer is hitched to it. The cart and the body move one another. Not a duet, a trio: the body, the cart and the wheels. And as I am on this tour, walking behind and alongside, they move me.
Something soothing happens: I enter the artworks on view in the exhibition peripherally. The cart slides them into my attention, veering me into their territory. Rather than approaching them head on, the performer and the cart take me down close to each piece, sideways or circling around and under. At first seeing only the performer and the cart, I am drawn into rooms and corners, and then gradually my awareness expands to include the nearby works, sometimes appearing beside or behind me. My awareness is 360 degrees as they roll backwards together, coming upon a piece, moving along it sideways, or peering at it upside down through a crack between a pillar and a wall. It begins to feel like the performer, cart, and I are accomplishing the same task, visiting each site and working together. I notice the gap above the wall and below the ceiling, the space between pillars and walls, the ledges of windows, the grated vents on either side of the double doors, an empty corner and vacant space. The tour does not explain nor provide context for the artworks, but feels more like an invitation to observe and participate. I see and feel my relationship to the architecture and my proximity to objects, artwork and performer and all their shifting moods. It is a small and delicate sense of relief to be of the artwork rather than viewing it.
This listening, this duet, this trio engages in a non-verbal dialogue with the landscape of the gallery and all of the diverse artworks it contains. The performer, she occasionally looks at me. We find ourselves in the same position. Never lingering too long, she moves on. The task is steady. Exploring different ways to wheel the cart and the body along, coming upon each piece. And I carry on too.
This year’s MFA exhibition at the School of the Art Institute’s Sullivan Galleries featured Michal Samama’s live performance, Carry On, a ‘gallery wagon tour,’ which took place intermittently from May 11–May 13 at the Sullivan Galleries, 33 S State St, 7th Floor. Photos by Amelia Charter.