I have this idea of what someone who’s never lived on the West Coast thinks Seattleites get up to on a typical Tuesday. Visions of hipster tech executives swirl around in their head, and they dream of crowded rooms full of performance art with the kind of convoluted self expression attributed only to Pacific Northwest pheromones.
[lavender]: a self portrait fulfilled this vision. It encompassed all which is beautiful, yet utterly inaccessible about Seattle culture. Certainly, it was bold in its existence, but shedding the elitist pretense required to fully enjoy it was a daunting task. It was performed at Oxbow, a damp, concrete room full of twenty-something hipsters. As I entered the performance space, keyon gaskin, who wrote the piece, gave me hand-bound book with a lavender paint smear on the front, full of poetically deconstructed musings. Every poem felt distinctly as though it was conceptualized at two am—the kind of thing you’d write before passing out in bed.
The space was free from anything normally indicative of a performance: there were no chairs, there was no seating, just two lamps on the concrete floor. With the clicking of tap shoes, a performer entered the standing crowd, and began to make ramen on a hot plate in the corner of the room. It was a moment of intimacy, one which felt too personal to be watched by the abating crowd. As the performer wrapped the noodles around her head, the woman next to me let out a guilty laugh, admitting her lack of understanding of the reasoning behind this action. The audience, hand in hand with our own discomfort, flipped through measured reactions as the performer strolled through the crowd, straight faced. The performer began to take selfies with audience members: some threw up peace signs, grateful for a moment of humor to break up their discomfort.
As the show continued, two other bathrobe-clad actors joined. One held a potted plant on their head and posed as if they were a household item. Another wandered into the audience, and asked members to shine their phone flashlights on the swath of glitter inside the books handed out at the beginning, projecting the reflections on the wall. As the show continued, the actors moved independently in different parts of the space, forcing the audience to choose between either rapidly attempting to take it all in, or disconnecting altogether.
[lavender]: a self portrait, as it was performed by a cast mainly made up of people of color, enacted small moments of solitude and power in the uncertain lives of minorities. The peak of the show came as each of the performers took turns dancing to a Rihanna song blasting from a smartphone in their hands. The scene allowed the show to come to a surprisingly joyful climax, yet one which still fit with the mundanity of the performance. The props used throughout the performance: the tap shoes, potted plant, and ramen, were clustered around a lamp on the floor, as if offerings on an altar of things which had been given up.
The show ended as the phrase “refuse that which has been refused” played loudly and became increasingly distorted until it climaxed with a deafening scratch, and shut off. “I’ll take your books,” gaskin said. The crowd looked at each other—the audience was trapped together in a tender moment. The intimate moments we had been a part of for the past forty-five minutes escaped as quickly as they came, and those watching weren’t quite sure what to do next.
In the end, I’m still not sure I understand all [lavender]: a self portrait was trying to tell me. Then again, I don’t know if anyone watching alongside me did either, but maybe that was the point. I don’t know exactly what I was supposed to gain from watching someone drape ramen noodles on their head, but I do know I’m glad it exists. For all of the discomfort, awkward laughs and uncomfortable shudders it drew from its hipster-toned audience, keyon gaskin’s [lavender]: a self portrait was nothing if not uninhibited. I don’t know what I was supposed to get out of it, but I do know that I got to watch someone dancing to Rihanna in a bathrobe, and if nothing else, I’m happy.