Open-mouthed Fountain Kiss
Arriving at The High Line, I plop down on the tiny grassy knoll. I lament at the number of tourists. Always. My fellow New Yorkers, this city will never be ours.
Why are these tourists clustering near my chosen grassy spot? Why am I photobombing an unusual amount? What is this laughter?
The drinking fountain has been replaced by an open-mouthed bust. Water ejects from the parted lips in an arch. People wait in impromptu tourist lines to snap a pick of themselves “drinking from the fountain.” The photos are predictable.
I realize three things about this participatory art piece.
1- Surprise. The bust looks feminine with long hair and a cardigan. The hair and features also suggest a primarily caucasian person. The head is seductively tilted to one side.
2- It is too tall for roughly 50% of the drinkers. I watch a parched 50-something woman walk away clearly pissed she can’t reach it for an easy drink.
3- The drinkers keep an almost standardized distance from the lips. I have estimated this distance to be approximately 6 inches. A few provocative drinkers venture closer. Everyone laughs when they do.
This statue must have been made by some white male artist, I conclude. I look at the info placard. OMG, shocker, I was right.
I don’t know this Ryan Gander personally. I briefly googled him. I’m sure he has some amaaazing artist statement he can pull out of his ass for this piece. This is what I hope he has to say.
Dear Art Connoisseurs and Impossibly Awkward Tourists,
I have used this statue of my wife in such a vulnerable and intimate pose to illustrate how women are viewed as perpetually approachable sexual commodities. I have invited you, the drinker, to lap the life-giving waters from the lips of my lover.
I have invited you into an intimate space that, as a man, I have been taught by society is my earned privilege. Men have battled through years of soul-death in this imperialist patriarchy and we are told that one of the many rewards is the love and acceptance of a good woman. I am inviting not only males to this intimacy performance, but also those of the female experience. I am encouraging you to participate in taking back the power. When you inhabit the space of the man you get the power of the man and you, too, can participate in the games of patriarchy.
Women’s bodies and emotions are endlessly the objects of consumption, control and judgement by our society. By opening this space to all of you, I am illustrating how we are led to believe we can evaluate the beings and actions of women in this world and participate in their lives.
I have also made this installation slightly taller than the average height to drive home the presence of the male, ableist gaze. Most highly valued and publicly displayed art is created by white, male, able-bodied artists. I wanted to create another piece to add to this massive collection.
I know many of you will approach this statue from a safe distance. You will most likely opt to let the water sloppily fall across your chin and clothing rather than get too close. I understand your Puritanical sensibilities, but this is a participatory piece. In order to fully recreate the intimate violence women survive daily, you need to give a full on mouth kiss. Do not let your inhibitions stop you from assaulting the willing victim so often portrayed in popular culture (that I now use my wife to portray). Make-out with this bust as if you were a parched lost soul finding your way back from the socially oppressed desert. Please, we want you to do it.
I would like to see someone make out with this bust if only to know that some people in this world live free from the awkwardness of the tourists. I simply filled up my water bottle as I couldn’t comfortably reach the mouth.