Gabrielle Civil

GABRIELLE CIVIL is a black feminist performance artist, poet, and writer, originally from Detroit MI. She has premiered fifty original performance art works, most recently with Wild Beauty at Velocity in Seattle (2020). Her performance memoirs include Swallow the Fish (2017), Experiments in Joy (2019) and (ghost gestures) performance writing (2021). A 2019 Rema Hort Mann LA Emerging Artist, she teaches creative writing and critical studies at the California Institute of the Arts. The aim of her work is to open up space.

               Photo credit: Dennie Eagleson

The Spring Tour

                                           (how to retrace what was never preserved)
(The stage)
I’m so sorry I’m late—oh dear, I can tell you’ve been waiting.
I’m new. I’m new. So gather round.
Yes, now, don’t be shy.
We are on a schedule. Yes, Yes.
The work is fragile—so no cameras allowed.
But you’ll need your valuables.
Wait does everyone have them? Or as many of them as you can?
Okay—let’s go now. Please follow me.
(The gallery)
Welcome to the Spring Tour!
As I mentioned, you are my first group with this work.
The work changes, of course, so every group is the first group.
And I am always new.
[She consults her notes. She clears her throat.]
What a great pleasure it is for me to take you
on this expansive exhibit of the great artist.
Before we begin, here are some things you should know:
1) She was born as a surprise to herself and everyone else.
2) Despite an allergy to snow, she lived in Minnesota
for a large part of her early adulthood.
3) There her addiction to audience participation
got her into a number of serious scrapes.
4) As you can tell by the work, in winter, she often felt like giving up.
5) Major Influences were Yoko Ono, Ruby Dee, her mother
            and the theme song to Fame.
           [She bursts into song.]
           Fame! I’m gonna live forever. . . I’m gonna learn how to fly. Hiiiiiigh!
           [She recovers. She clears her throat.]
6) Recently, we’ve learned that almost all of her planets were lined up in
the sixth and seventh houses—you know, work, community and relationships.
7) She owed money on her income taxes every year until she declared she was a
poet and a performance artist and then the government considered that money
contaminated counterfeit.
         [She spits.]
The feeling was mutual.
8) At the end of winter, she found creative ways to combat disembodiment.
9) She went for long periods without being touched.
        [She pauses. She holds, unholds her breath.]
10) The bathrooms are out that door in the hallway on the left.
If you get lost, follow the circle back to the beginning.
Any Questions? Let’s move on.
(The front foyer)
Now hold out your hands.
This was one of her first patented holographic machines.
Here she combined her interest in fancy handbags from Amsterdam
with science and the work of Cuban-American artist Félix González Torres.
[She consults her notes again.]
According to my notes, here’s how it works.
[She passes around a drawstring bag.]
Take the holographic spark and put it in your mouth.
Close your eyes. Let the machine work.
Isn’t that a beauty?
(The hall of wonders)
[She turns off the lights in the hall.]
Here’s a piece of video. Let’s watch it for a minute.
It’s called the future.
[A video plays of her romping in the snow.
She finds a yellow sled. She walks toward the river.
She takes off her coat to reveal bright yellow garments.
She picks up a bouquet of flowers covered in plastic.
She removes the plastic.
She throws the yellow flowers into the river.
The video ends.
She turns off the flashlight and turns back on the lights.]
Next is a classically inspired work.
Its shape is drawn from a CARYATID.
[She stands on a folding chair
holds a plastic jug of water on her head.
She stands still there for a while.
She speaks out while standing still.]
The great artist never went to Greece—but
she did look through a book of photos by Lorna Simpson.
(“they asked her to tell what happened,
only to discount her memory”)
Ah! If only she could take snapshots of the world
as it was instead of how she wanted it to be.
[She pulls the jug down, places it to her mouth, tilts back her head
and drinks it in fierce gulps. She steps down, places the jug on the chair
and looks at it with the group.]
This piece is called Admiration.
[She walks a few steps to find a SNOWGLOBE.]
This piece is called Memory.
[She shakes and turns the machine.
A tinny version of “The Locomotion” plays.
Many are with her. Many with her are still.]
Does anyone here have an environmental illness?
According to my notes, this has been a very controversial piece.
This piece is called: I wandered lonely as a cloud.
[She sprays PERFUME.]
We see the influence of Yoko Ono and the ladies
at the cosmetic counter consulted in time of winter blues.
Some say it’s about consumerism and mass production . . .
But I think it’s about skin and reconciliation with loneliness.
Others have commented on the appropriated title
from William Wordsworth—A DEAD WHITE MAN.
Could it be irony? Or simple statement of fact?
I wandered lonely as a cloud.
Shhh. Let me tell you a secret. In a conversation—
over G&Ts and a mirror one night, the artist told me
instead it was about a warm towel on a lawn in Detroit,
seeing wisps in the shape of gold chains and catfish tails,
an isolation of green. Fresh a r o m a s of the season!
[She has become excited and has to calm herself down.]
(threshold back to the stage)
[She is very serious.]
This last piece has been called many names.
Stop and Seek.
TOUCH PIECE TWO (after Yoko).
I like to call it Hold.
Although some have deemed it indulgent—
a breach of personal and artistic space—
the great artist swears her intent is no less
than to welcome the possibility of spring.
The work has been known to treat
the ache of social alienation.
To experience it, an open secret,
come now each of you into my arms.
[She takes them, each and every one, into her arms.]
Thank you for visiting the Museum.
Performer’s Note: The “Spring Tour,” was first performed at “The Promise of Green: Resilience, Resistance and the Coming Season” performance event, curated by Ellen Marie Hinchcliffe at the Center for Independent Artists, Minneapolis, MN, March 2006. It was performed only once and the text has never been circulated. In the era of confinement/ chrysalis under COVID-19, the dream of its collective convening, sensory exploration and touch beckons me every day . . .