On April 12th, as the sun began to set on the grounds of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, I stepped into a vitrine and began a five day fast. While inside I wrote a series of papers that I titled ‘My Theses on Art,’ on a Remington Rand Typewriter. These writings act as my manifestos on art and life. I constructed the vitrine out of acrylic, shat- tered glass, steel, and wood. The space was restrictive to mobility, and with temperatures in the mid 70’s the box acted like a greenhouse during the day, making it upwards of 90 degrees at times. The heat and discomfort were the most challenging aspects of this performance.
I envisioned the performance as an experience within the body alongside the relationship of the ‘other’ and the ‘self.’ Endurance, sacrifice, and interdependence are the major themes in this work. During the fast I was visible to spectators through panels of broken glass, but I was seperated from them. I felt both cut off from the world and connected to the world.
On Sunday, at sunset, at the end of the 120 hours in the box, I finally crawled out through the floor. I had asked my aunt to bring loaves of bread to share with people who would show up to see me re-enter the world. Once I got my feet underneath me we broke bread and gave all the loaves away. During the performance, even at night, I never felt privacy. I never felt like I had gone off stage. The entire time I was both sustained by others, and drained by others. It was its own aesthetic system of degradation and
5 Day Fast: A Performance by Nicholas Rivers
Excerpts from interview with Katie Kaufman
April 12 - 17, 2016
MFA Student Nicholas Rivers spent five days living in a small wooden and glass box on MCAD's campus.
KK - An interdisciplinary student, Rivers spent five days living and fasting inside a 3 x 3 x 6 ft. box of his own making to pursue his artistic and personal goals while providing a little entertainment and thought-provoking material to passersby and MCADians. The day after he stepped out of his box I got to sit down with him to talk about his experience, as well as about his artistic career overall.
NR - Robert Rauschenberg was one of my biggest influences; I really connected with his work. I was interested in how he considered -what the picture plane was, and how he approached the blur between sculpture, performance, and painting especially. I believe that my work is most gratefully influenced by the abstract expressionists and artists who were more interested in the experience of the mark making as opposed to the finished work. That’s why during my two years doing my MFA, I continue to work towards incorporating myself as a part of the medium, and incorporating my body and my experience as a part of the work itself.
So that’s kind of where this final thesis project sort of led me, which was essentially a durational endurance and performance work of art where I was encasing myself inside of my own sculptural object.
KK - Is the body a large part of your work overall?
NR - I’m really interested in phenomenology as it relates to some philosophers talking about being in existence. I believe in experience stemming from the entanglement or the connection of our body, mind, and perception. So a lot of my work explores that. 5-Day Fast was really about putting my physical body in a state of duress and endurance, and under those conditions becoming an object for the community to look at and engage with.
So the box there became an extension of myself for that period of time, and I saw the broken glass as a kind of metaphor. Like our fractured perceptions, the way that all of us speak from our own backgrounds, our family of origin. We all sort of come with our own set of judgements, assumptions, perceptions; we’re defined by our race, creed, religion, socio-economic backgrounds, and in many ways that broken glass was for me, metaphorically, a way to speak about how we all have to move through this filter between each other and how we interact. Then there’s a strong tie for me as well, to tie this into the experience in the body, by fasting and by going through a process of training beforehand, and then during it cleansing myself and only drinking water, being cramped and unable to move and unable to sleep for more than a couple hours at a time, being under those conditions I was slowly trying to move myself into this altered state of consciousness which was this strange experimental environment.
The box became this experimental environment, and when I stepped out it, it became most clearly evident that I had stepped out of a different state of consciousness, it became obvious I had experienced that when I stepped out, that’s when everything comes back. That’s when I could see everyone unfiltered. The first time I had to use steps, later that evening, I was like this is the first time I’ve had to walk up steps in five days. (Laughs)
There was a lot of gratitude that came out of that experience, just both of my own personal place of privilege, you know, for the things that I get to do as a typical middle-class white male, but also gratitude for the types of experiences that I got to have as a result of being inside of the box, and having people come up to me and ask me questions and hear what their take was on the piece.
KK - Did a lot of people come up and talk to you while you were in there?
NR - Sunday [the fifth day] was probably the quietest day inside the box, until the end. But I would say fifty to sixty groups of people would come to me and ask me questions. There were all sorts of different people. Because of the spot that I picked, there was a lot of Mia traffic, a lot of Children’s Theatre traffic; it’s kind of a throughway for people in the area. I think they saw the object as very shiny, and they would start walking toward it and then realize there was a person in it, which would pique their interest.
That was the most surprising part, how vulnerable and exposed I had to be. I knew I would be “on view,” but I didn’t think I would be as engaged with by people. That was definitely an interesting kind of piece to it.
Did you do anything to prepare for the five days?
About four weeks before, I began a series of tapers in the food I was eating and the chemicals. So, I’ve been sober since 2005, no drugs or alcohol, no nicotine, no caffeine, pulling out sugar was important, gluten and bread, dairy, and meat. Towards the end, it was essentially a paleo diet that I was on. Just nuts and fruits and vegetables, and water, lots of water.
KK - What are your closing thoughts on the experience?
NR - I think we as people forget how capable we are, and how much we really can accomplish. Selfishly, I wanted this to be an experience that pushed me and was something that I could say, “I stepped out of my normal everyday living.” Selfishly, it was about seeking something greater than seeking some sort of spiritual experience or altered awareness, but I think the reception of the piece was also that people outside of the box psychologically transferred some of that experience as well—that they were forced to question what they could do. I think that was a really valuable part of this project.
photo credit: Christopher Selleck