Your nuptials as performance art

Your nuptials as performance art

By ADITYA MANI JHA | | 12 September, 2015
Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman at their flash mob wedding in New Orleans, 2009.
One wonders just what will happen when Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman decide to do something perfectly mundane, like take a walk in the park, pick out groceries from the supermarket or sit around on the sofa eating Chinese takeaway: I think there is a fair chance that the world economy will collapse, pandas will become extinct and Donald Trump will be crowned the leader of the free world. Between Gaiman (award-winning author of the Sandman books) and Palmer (singer-songwriter, crowdsourcing pioneer), the artistic quotient of this marriage is high, to put it mildly. Naturally, their wedding had to be beautiful, wacky and surreal: luckily, it was all that and more. 
On Gaiman’s 50th birthday, Palmer convinced him to put on a top hat as they left their hotel room (they were on holiday in New Orleans) in search of tea, early in the morning. Two things happened, in quick succession: first, Palmer gave Gaiman the slip on a corner and reappeared quickly afterwards, dressed like a living statue in a wedding dress. Second, before Palmer reappeared, a flash mob led by singer Jason Webley surrounded Gaiman. Webley later presided over the wedding “between this man and this statue”: the whole thing was shot and photographed professionally and is now up on YouTube.
Palmer’s flash mob was just one example of the wedding as performance piece. Since then, there have been many others who have tried to execute their wedding as one would choreograph performance art, with varying degrees of success. 
Social media entrepreneur Sean Parker and singer-songwriter Alexandra Lena, for instance, found out that a stunt like this invites a fair bit of media attention. But with great attention comes fearful scrutiny, and soon Parker’s wedding was deemed to be wasteful, over-the-top and worse, not hipster enough. Ironically, the Lord of the Rings-themed wedding was prompted by the couple’s love for forests. There was a nine-ft-tall wedding cake, a leather-bound memento volume designed to look like an ancient volume, not to mention customised costumes for each of the 360-odd guests, courtesy Ngila Dickson, who was the costume designer for Peter Jackson’s LOTR movies. 
Artist Maria Yoon in the middle of her performance piece The Korean Bride.The forest site itself, in Big Sur, California, cost $4.5 million. Parker came under fire after it was discovered that he did not have the requisite permission for large scale construction on a public campground, especially one home to a number of endangered species. The couple defended themselves by saying that they were “trying to create performance art”.
It is not difficult to understand why Parker chose to frame the issue in these terms: all weddings, at some level, are a bit of a performance. In 1955, the philosopher John L. Austin introduced the concept of the “illocutionary act”, an idea that went against the grain of linguistics at that point of time. Austin said that not all utterances are merely descriptive (and hence cannot be tied down to the true/false binary); some words, spoken in a particular way, change the social reality that they are describing: they are hence “performative” words, the perfect example being a bride and a groom saying, “I do!”
When you strip the issue down to its essence, therefore, it is only a matter of finding the kind of performance that says something about you and your partner, something that you feel will be etched in your memories forever. The “ecosexual” artists and educators Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens, for example, married each other seven times in seven years, with each wedding having its own theme and purpose, based on the seven-chakra system. 
Quite a bit of Cook’s work has interesting commentaries on the way the technological boom has affected our relationship with nature: a pencil attached to a compass grows taller and taller until it is indistinguishable from a tree’s upper branches, a group of trees emerge from the ground, all of them at exactly the same angle, the geometrical precision mimicking the way a geological formation of rocks juts out of a landmass.
Others, like Korean American artist Maria Yoon, chose to build projects around the concept of the wedding-as-performance. Yoon was tired of her parents and friends asking her when she was going to be married. She wanted to make a statement about the expectations that Asian-American women face in the context of marriage. Eventually, as part of a performance piece called The Korean Bride, Yoon married in all 50 American states across nine years. Artist Kathryn Cornelius married and divorced seven times in a day, to comment upon the fickle nature of modern-day commitments. Her show was called Save the Date and in between consecutive weddings, the bride would stand still in an elevated glass cage. 
Sometimes these performances cut across cultures and age groups in their popularity. In 2009, Jill Peterson and Kevin Heinz, both 28 at the time, danced down the aisle with their friends. A combination of novelty value, the catchiness of the song (Chris Brown’s Forever) and overall infectious cheer made their wedding entrance a viral hit on YouTube. Ninety million people have watched the video so far; it even inspired one of the most watched scenes in the smash hit TV comedy The Office
On the big day, whether you’re a living statue, a ring-bearing hobbit from Middle Earth or a break-dancing pop star, what’s important is to relax, enjoy yourselves and remind your partner (and yourself) that it’s is the first day of the rest of your lives; might as well make it a fabulous performance.   

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