Living on Art for 48 Hours

Stability tested our balance, and our relationship.

Stability is a delicately balanced 25-by-5-foot living-structure-for-two that's suspended from Lawrimore Project's ceiling. Beds and desks are on either end, with the kitchen and bathroom in the middle, and the two residents are required to balance their every move together in order to keep their temporary home stable. The creators of the piece, former Seattleite Alex Schweder (who now lives in Berlin) and NYC artist Ward Shelley, spent the first week of the exhibition living in the truss-like space. It's the second time they've bunked up in their own artwork: Their previous collaboration, Flatland, was a two-foot-wide, three-story, six-person "ant farm" (as Shelley described it), which the pair occupied (along with four other artists) for three weeks at SculptureCenter in Long Island City. Flatland's walls were closed, leaving the residents hidden and depriving audiences of any Real World experience. For this project, the artists wanted "that story to be available to the viewer," as Schweder explained during a Q&A held at the gallery. Seeking a first-hand understanding of the piece—and perhaps a stress test for my own relationship—I spent two full days aboard Stability, a boat of sorts, with my boyfriend, Peter Mumford. All artistic projects involve "negotiation" these days, and this one was no exception. Specifically, in order for Peter to agree to join me, I had to agree to play a five-crystal match of the board game Blue Moon each day we were there. After Peter and I climbed aboard, nearly right away he set the thing rocking. "Don't break the art!" I tried not to yell. Peter was testing the limits of the piece—and my patience. It's not as though you couldn't crash—Shelley had done it once, moving too quickly to Alex's side and causing Stability to hit the floor. It was his piece, he could do that; I didn't want a bashed art object on my watch. Peter's coffee cup fell and there was a mess to clean up, but that was it. Gallery owner Scott Lawrimore smiled and retreated to his office. I remembered his devilish grin as we first entered the piece. This, maybe, he expected. Learning to balance came quickly, for it was very uncomfortable to allow our living quarters to stay steeply slanted. I suggested we announce our planned movements to each other in advance, but the acoustics in the gallery weren't conducive to that. So we behaved as if we were on a boat, acting as human ballast. One moved to the center, the other would follow; one moved to the edge, and the other would mirror that. "Can we have a little balancing here?" Peter would say. He'd be cooking and I'd be answering e-mail, and I'd have to move toward the kitchen (or stop and help) to make sure dinner didn't capsize. The first night we slept head-to-head on the kitchen floor. It worked for me, but Peter refused to do it again. The space was too narrow, and he complained of the smell coming from the sink drain, a fault of the primitive plumbing. The next night he went to his sleeping platform and I tried the hammock. Every time I adjusted the bedding, half falling out of the thing, I set our boathouse a-rocking. Peter woke, telling me he was convinced there was someone in the building. There was of course someone in the building during the day, and that was Lawrimore, who played host, tech support, concierge, and janitor. He teased us, played chess with Peter, and made sure all was right in our world. There was also an outpouring of affection from friends and strangers. People stopped by to visit and to feed us, bringing homemade scones and takeout dumplings and bahn mi. Two dinners arrived one night, and we ate and drank with our guests. Wine was passed, chairs handed off of the piece for sitting. We were introduced to several new significant others. (We suggested they try Schweder's inflatable couch, Our Weight Around Us, in the other room. It operates like a miniature version of Stability, requiring careful balance to sit comfortably, an excellent test of future compatibility.) A perfect stranger brought us beer and that day's New York Times, two items which she'd seen listed on the gallery Web site's "needs" list, a feature the artists had set up to help spark audience participation. Peter and I had been squeezing ourselves into the narrow kitchen to cook and hang out, but it wasn't really designed for socializing. It was the only space we could share while keeping the floor level, but instead of facing each other comfortably, the room's shape compelled us to face outward, dangling our legs over the sides. Captive a few feet off the ground, behind a truss of two-by-fours, we couldn't get too close to our guests, so perhaps intimacies were easier to share.

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