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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Southern Hospitality

My regularly scheduled writing this week was interrupted by a weekend trip to Harrodsburg, Kentucky for a gorgeous fall wedding. Dazzling foliage, model Hilfiger-esque children scampering about in warm layers, pumpkin muffins, and charming lawn games like croquet and horseshoes -- you get the picture. The groom (now husband) is my boyfriend's college buddy, and we had the unexpected fortune to run into the newlyweds in Queenstown, New Zealand earlier this year while on vacation.

After an 8-hour drive from Chicago, we welcomed the generous flow of bourbon served at the historic Woodford Reserve. Following a tour and raucous cocktail reception there, we then checked into the idyllic Shaker Village inn, the former enclave of a religious sect known for, well, shaking during ecstatic bouts of worship and their strict vows of celibacy (didn't help membership numbers much). The village features a cluster of 19th century cottages with tidy and rustic decor, public buildings such as an art gallery, and animals trundling over the rolling hills.

Having traveled through about 40 states in the US of A, I am always bowled over by the hospitality of Southerners. People from the midwest are friendly and genuine, but the level of service and unabashed attempts to make you dance, feel welcome and right at home can't be beat in the south. Where do they go for training to disarm the brusque and paranoid attitudes we city-slickers show up with?

Although not specifically art-related, my interactions this weekend made me think about the social functions and effects of art. Art is almost always an invitation, and the degree of hospitality dispensed from the artist varies with every decision: the opaqueness of subject matter, the level of risk involved for the viewer, how it's installed, and the amount of information provided. My most difficult performance piece to date, 24 Hour Embrace, began as a literal invitation to a stranger on Craigslist to hold me for an entire day to experience an intense kind of intimacy together.

While speaking to people from different walks of life this weekend, I was moved by the stories they shared that created an instant bond. One woman in particular approached me to ask about my boyfriend and I, the only visibly gay male couple in attendance for the traditional service. It turns out that she and her partner (also female) met over 14 years ago and were brought together by tragedy, but have persevered through very difficult circumstances and judgmental loved ones. I admire her openness in seeking me out and wanting to connect through similar experiences. There is something about her very simple gesture that is often missing in art -- a generosity on the part of the artist, open communication, and a willingness to be vulnerable rather than mysterious.





1 comment:

  1. That's what I love about the South. In my town people will give you the shirts off their backs. Even if they might be unwashed and bear the name tag "Bubba." :)

    24 Hour Embrace was a work I almost overlooked as I'm always seeing people do odd stuff to get in Guinness. When I really thought about it though I had to wrestle with a surprising amount of ideas. Hugs that count, hugs that don't count. Hugs I hate like the typical "step ladder" hug I find uncomfortable. It's that wide stance hug typical between straight guys where the waist has to stay as fair as possible from the other. It's as if the belt buckles touch everyone goes to hell. That made me ponder human contact in general. Why a massage knock me out in under a minute. Here I always thought massage therapists were Vulcans.

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