Faye Driscoll is a choreographer by trade, but with “Come On In”—currently on view through January 15 at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA)—she ventures into the realm of exhibitions. This interactive art installation has arrived in Portland by way of prior stints at the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis and On the Boards in Seattle, and it is Driscoll’s first solo exhibition. “Come On In” features a cluster of six white, illuminated beds (five singles and one double) with corresponding headsets, where visitors are invited to recline and listen to various audio tracks. While the exhibition seems like a significant departure from her previous body of performance works, this quiet installation renders Driscoll’s vying for connection to audiences—something which is also apparent in much of her past choreography.
In reflecting on Driscoll’s trajectory as an artist, I realized that I had become an unwitting follower over the past 10 years. I have seen much of her choreography in New York City, in venues such as The Joyce Theater, The Invisible Dog, and Abrons Art Center. These performances often balanced virile theatrics—sweaty, charismatic, absurdist bodies—with poignant tender themes. As shallow as it sounds, I kept coming back to Driscoll’s performances because I knew that I would always be entertained by them. Her work reached my heart through it’s wild antics that catered to my attention span, but it was never so violent or eviscerating that it violated my trust as an audience member.
In other words, Driscoll did not push my boundaries that did not need pushing.
And so it happened that when I first encountered her sparse exhibition at PICA, I could not shake the sense that this was quite a different experience than I had become accustomed to from Driscoll—perhaps she was offering up an installation in lieu of a performance in order to accommodate COVID-19 safety. If so, the new parameters, sterile and medicalized though they might be, allowed certain aspects of her work to become foregrounded, aspects that I had sensed but never been able to name…
One thing became clear: Faye Driscoll wants your body. And she wants mine too. I know, because she told me so.
Each of the beds that comprise “Come On In” has its own built-in sound station with a recording of one of Driscoll’s Guided Choreographies for the Living and the Dead, a series of six-to-eight-minute audio tracks that are akin to guided meditations. The beds are backlit by a wall of moody light that pours down from above. Ambient sounds—like layers of metallic objects hitting other metallic objects—fill the space in a score sourced and adapted from one of Driscoll’s other recent works. From a distance, the whole scene looks and sounds as if straight out of science fiction, complete with bodies reclined in stasis.
I laid down, put on the available headphones, and pushed the funny black button at the head of one of the beds to begin my first of Driscoll’s Guided Choreographies. I listened to her speak to me. She recited a formula that she would repeat throughout the various recordings:
She began by conjuring vulnerability. “Close your eyes,” she said. “Imagine you are in the arms of someone who just can’t get enough of you.” She lulled sweet words, like “my angel,” “my baby,” or “my dove.” She occasionally suggested that I “soften” myself or some part of myself. Her manner of speaking draws on the recognizable tropes of the coercive director, dance teacher, and yoga instructor guiding their students toward transcendence. Her tone asks for surrender to this sensitized state, reminding me that vulnerability alway comes at the risk of unexpected injury, microaggression, and other forms of harm.
Driscoll plays up these dynamics and subverts them with a variety of tactics across the different sound-beds. Sometimes she speaks in sexual innuendos, saying things like “Come inside your mouth.” These kinds of instructions made me question what was happening and where my own boundaries lay with this person who was not even present. We ventured into a visceral cybernetic relationship with technology. She invited me to feel facial recognition software caressing my face, to sense my mechanical leg-wheels, and to come forth over the bright oracle of my phone.
She told me I had spent decades mirroring and being mirrored and proceeded to call me an “infinity-fucking-mirror,” all of which felt like a surprisingly fair assessment from someone who knows nothing of me.
At times though it seemed that Driscoll had skipped a stage in her creative process. Instead of offering up the usual chorus of dancing bodies on stage in exchange for my attention, she decided to put my body on a bed and her voice in my ear. She distilled the violence of certain tropes (the coercive director) and entirely removed others (the spectacle) so that we could get down to brass tax. “I want your body,” she said. “Extend it to me.” Is this what she has wanted all along?
She offered herself up as well, “Take my personality,” she said. “Take me.”
In one of her Guided Choreographies, subtitled Recycled Bitch, she told me to imagine I was a just born baby who was falling—falling back, as if into my many mothers, and fathers, and siblings and ancestors. She shortly followed that up with a suggestion that I “relax into the infinity of interrelation queering my hereness,” which was just too much for me to process at the moment.
But after I got home, I began reflecting on the last time I saw Driscoll’s choreographic work, back in 2017, as part of the Time-Based Art Festival in Portland. I remember that night vividly because one of the performers announced that Driscoll was not able to be there due to the passing of her mother. I began to think about grief and how the act of grieving involves grappling with the simultaneity of that which is gone and that which never leaves.
I imagined falling back into the embrace of my beloved ancestor who was lost to the pandemic. I have often seen her resemblance in my own face in the mirror. Perhaps this inescapable continuation is what Driscoll meant when she said that I am her “recycled and recycling bitch.” Maybe she was inviting me into that infinity of interrelation, a vast ephemera of bodies and incalculable ways that beingness might exist.
“Come on In” is on view at PICA through January 15th. The tickets are timed entry and priced on a sliding scale from $0-$20. Please see PICA’s website for more information on opening hours, accessibility, and ticket reservation links.