BOX- my experience inside the box
I performed Box between the years 2013- 2016 a total of 11 performances, which was altogether a total of 60 hours inside the box . In this work I confined my body into a tightly taped box, or a locked trunk for long periods of time. I punched a hole in the cardboard box the size of a pencil, for each hour I stayed in it.I spent a total of 3 hours in the first three events, but eventually, went up six hours and to nine hours inside, in my last run on the show.
When I had the idea to perform inside a box for the first time, I thought to myself, what the hell was I thinking. Why am I interested to do this? I am a person who would usually prefer stairs over an elevator, in my nature I could lose patience rather quickly- I am a typical case of ADHD and I have serious trouble with focusing. I am hyperactive can't sit too long, it actually hurts, and I’m also highly impulsive. All this was even worse when I was a child. My inability to sit in front of a table to do my homework -it would simply revoke a feeling of nausea-- made me come across as a troublemaker. My parents, as a result, would lock me in the office room, sometime for the whole afternoon, to finish my homework, which I was never able to, and which prompted other types of more severe punishments.
I remember feeling scared and alone in that office room. But also safe or relieved, away from angry adults. Homework seemed secondary to what I was much more concern with: creating various concoctions from glue and other stuff I found in the drawers, to offer as a delicious yet poisonous soup to whoever may enter the room wanting to hurt me. So I think I developed ambiguous feelings about isolation. On the one hand it would be a trigger for anxiety, a memory of a traumatic event, but on the other hand I would seek it throughout my childhood and my adult life as a way to process and relax.
My first Box performance occurred unintentionally. I was scheduled to present one of my ‘mummification’ time based performances, titled “ The Art Of Disappearance” which was scheduled to happen at AMP in the it’s previous location, in the full of 2013, I was going to wrap my body completely with colorful elastic bandages, the type that veterinarians use to wrap injured horses, but the amazon prime delivery didn’t come. So I had to find an alternative way to disappear. It was a cardboard box, human size which I found among other recyclables in the back alley of AMP gallery that saved my act. I remember coming back to the gallery caring a cardboard box in my hand and telling Debbie The gallery owner-” this is my act for tonight”. Contained, cocoon like, I spent the next three years exploring this dark grave which turned into a nurturing womb and it all happened within the boundaries, the four walls, of this found object, a recycled prop.
Yes, this act was challenging right from the start and although I educated myself early, reading all about how Chris Borden and how preserved his urination in the same water bottle he kept with him during his 48 hours inside a locker which he performed for his theses, when I did it for the first time, I had a panic attack. I sweat so much that there was a little stream of water coming out of the sealed cardboard box I was cramped in. Overtime I learned to find pockets of air inside the box, and I learned that oxygen is distributed unevenly in space. Visitors who came in to my first show, found an empty gallery space with a cardboard box in the middle it. Some thought nothing of it and left. Some realized I was inside the box and stayed for longer, some chatted with friends leaning on the box, not knowing a person was inside. It was a free public event and my absence was in the center of it.
From inside the box, I was not able to hear what was going on in the room outside of the box. But I was very alert and sensitive to anything that touched the surface of the box. It became my outer skin-I could almost feel the warmth of a hand touching the box, on my body as if they were touching me directly. I guess it was the most similar experience I have ever had as an adult that resembled possibly the feeling of being inside the womb. At times, I had to find ways to uplift myself. I learned that getting a perspective about your situation does help a lot! It made me think and sympathize with people who had to endure isolation for the sake of survival. The first person who came to mind was my mother, who in 1962 escaped ethnic massacre, while inside a fish tank full of water and fish in the back of a truck, traveling from Syria to Lebanon, and to Israel where she lives up to this day. She was only five years old and her brother, who was older, was with her inside the tank of water. My mother doesn’t have any memories from this event. It’s her brother who remembers. Fortunately, she was too young to be able to remember.
I also one time had this memory of the story of Henry "Box" Brown which I used to tell my young preschool students during the years I worked as a teacher’s assistant. Henry Brown was a 19th-century Virginia slave who escaped to freedom at the age of 33 by arranging to have himself mailed in a wooden crate to abolitionists in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Brown was shipped in a 36x24x10 wooden trunk ( My smallest box was 38x20x18) and during the trip, which began on March 23, 1849, Brown's box was transported by wagon, railroad, steamboat, wagon again, railroad, ferry, railroad, and finally, a delivery wagon, being completed in 27 hours. That made me think about doing nine hours as pretty light work but there was something about these memories they become real for me, as if my box was a time travel machine.
As my work with the box went on, I have managed to use smaller and smaller boxes, and went down from 46x23x23in my first act to 38x20x18 in my last acts. But the bigger achievement was that the practice it self became a somatic therapy. Looking back, I see this progression, from self- absorption, to social justice- as the most important outcome of my work on Box - This recognition has informed the work that I have been doing since, and also informs my understanding of the role of empathy and art in social justice.