Alya Albert, 19, is an alumnus of our In the Making teen arts program and a second-year Cross-Museum Collective member. On Sunday May 19, she and the other CMC teens, under the guidance of artist Ryan McNamara, created a series of in-gallery performances and provocations at MoMA PS1. In the following post, Alya describes the feelings and fears she experienced getting ready for her big performance art debut. —Calder Zwicky, Associate Educator of Teen and Community Programs
I’ve been doing this for over two years now and I have never in my time as a MoMA Teen been as panic-stricken as I was this past Sunday. We were 12 kids crowded around in a pre-performance huddle in our “green room” at MoMA PS1: our teachers Mark Epstein and Matthew Evans giving us a pep talk, artist Ryan McNamara holding our hands, and for the first time ever at MoMA I thought, there’s no way I can do this. And then it was go time.
The first time I met performance artist Ryan McNamara he asked if we were all artists. We gave the signature shrug and mumble that can be found in any teen art class. “Kind of.” “I want to be.” “Not really.” The next time we met with him we presented our original ideas for our debut at PS1. We had each created an intervention plan to be performed in the museum. Our goal was to intervene with a visitor’s experience, using our own bodies and minimal props. So of course Otis decided to serve homemade sausages on a silver platter in the bathroom, obviously Julia knew she would shave her legs in a bathing suit on the entry steps, and John was clearly going to realize his dream of a urinal-side Britney Spears sing-along.
This should not be taken lightly. Just the chance to perform at MoMA PS1 is insane, but Bianca pushed it even further and tied herself up in electrical cords and laid on the hallway floor for an hour as museumgoers assembled around her, taking pictures and interpreting her piece. She told me afterwards that she had to close her eyes because the feeling of being tied up and stared at was too intense. Christian, who had stripped down to his underwear and socks, screaming and dancing, surprised us all with his bravery and fervor.
I had decided that I would walk around the museum barefoot and, without notice, hold hands with visitors. So there we were leaving the conference room, each of us going our separate way, and all I could think of was how sweaty my hands where. I walked slowly through the galleries, at first to ensure I would not vomit on an Ansel Adams photograph, but eventually and naturally a slow glide became part of my performance. It took me five minutes of fierce inner dialogue to rally the courage to quietly approach a stranger and take her hand.
Her name was Rajeed and she did hold my hand. We chatted as we walked to the end of a long hall where I thanked her and we unclasped. As soon as our fingers touched the barrier was broken for me, I saw the force fields around each stranger dissolve and just like that the fear was gone. I went on to hold between 30 and 40 hands in that hour. Very few were like Rajeed. The first rejection stung, but I soon grew excited when I saw an empty hand dangling by an unknowing visitor’s side. I would swoop in and hope for a smile, or, if I was lucky, a conversation, but even with the brush-offs, each hand was a connection. I think the concentration of intimacy in just a few square inches of our hands was humbling for both the stranger and for me, that I did not want to stop; it was so lovely, and all I could do was smile.
I was not alone in this. My piece gave me the unique ability to walk around the whole museum and see all of my friends immersed in their brilliant work. Katy, who had recreated her bedroom in a corner near an elevator, never once lifted her head from her book; after all, she was alone in her room. Stephanie devotedly applied makeup to her face for an entire hour as visitors came within inches of her. Skylar handed out red balloons filled with only one exhale, in the stairwell, encouraging people to “take a breath.” I could hear John belting out Britney as I passed the second-floor bathroom, and Zoe’s camera clicking as she boldly and blatantly snapped pictures of visitors. We had taken over the museum absolutely and unapologetically.
When our hour was up and we receded back into the conference room, the energy of success was unmistakable. Ryan told us we were undoubtedly artists and we believe him. What started out as another fun project from the Cross-Museum Collective, culminated in a practice of guts and glory. As I said, I’ve done a quite a few projects with MoMA Teens and have worked with several artists, but on Sunday with Ryan things were different. Ryan gave us this incredible freedom and confidence to conceptualize and execute a new facet of our creativity. The thing is that he never doubted us, leaving our own doubt to melt away under his influence. So when it was go time and Ryan, Mark, and Matthew led us out into the wilds of MoMA PS1, we performed our hearts out and didn’t look back. My name is Alya Albert and I’m a performance artist.
The Cross-Museum Collective is a free 16-week program, created in conjunction between MoMA and MoMA PS1, and open to all alumni of our In the Making teen art courses. More info on Summer 2013 In the Making courses can be found at MoMA.org/MoMAteens. Special thanks to everyone at MoMA PS1, Ryan McNamara, Matthew Evans, Mark Joshua Epstein, and especially the 2013 Cross-Museum Collective: Betzy, Alya, Otis, John, Christian, Stephanie, Bianca, Julia, Zoe, Emily, Skylar, and Katy!