A Dallas conceptual artist presented a piece last weekend that was part performance art, part endurance test. For 48 hours, Erica Felicella sat in a see-through box on display to the world yet alone with her thoughts. We checked in on Felicella throughout the weekend for this report:
KERA Radio story:
Expanded online version:
On Friday afternoon, Felicella gave her support staff some last minute instructions before she would climb into an acrylic box about the size of a refrigerator for two solid days. Five p.m. Friday until 5 p.m. Sunday.
Six chairs circled the lawn behind the Kessler Theater in Oak Cliff, waiting for her round-the-clock handlers. A video camera would soon stream the event to the Internet.
If Felicella was nervous, she didn’t show it.
The hardest part of the performance may have been preparing for it. Felicella’s a social smoker and a major coffee drinker but gave them both up in the last month. She camped in her backyard to get used to being outside. And least fun of all, she had a catheter inserted.
Friday night, she endured a thunderstorm, drunk concertgoers tapping on her box and feelings of wanting to quit. But she focused her mind on a writing project. Over and over she wrote a single sentence on a sheet of paper, crumpled it up and threw it on the ground.
By Saturday night, the lower third of the box was full of the white, yellow and blue pages.
And passers by wondered what it was all about.
ROB SHEARER: “So is it prison? Is she in prison? I think it’s interesting to think about”
MAUREEN SHEARER: “Or are we?”
ROB SHEARER: “Or are we? Who’s the warden and who’s the prisoner?”
Rob Shearer and his mother batted the point back and forth around 9 o’clock Saturday night. He jogged by that morning and encouraged his family to check it out.
SHEARER: “I think what Erica is doing and what she’s trying to experience is beautiful and interesting and confusing. I don’t know that I understand, but it’s interesting to watch.”
He wasn’t the only one.
BARRY BINDER: “We’re trying to figure out whether or not it’s anything meaningful. It may not be. But it’s keeping us here, so that must mean something.”
That’s Barry Binder. He and Tracie Dockwell stood Saturday night discussing the project with Erika Ellis and David Oliver. They had only just met at a convenience store across the street. They all had their own theories about what it all meant, and it was enough to keep them there drinking beer and talking. For three hours.
BARRY BINDER: “Whether it’s meaningful or not … there’s something that’s happening in the middle of the neighborhood that’s drawing people to a spot to interact with each other.”
ERIKA ELLIS “And then discussing whether or not that’s the point of the whole exhibit in itself – is just drawing people together and then seeing what people do when they’re drawn to a spot. … This kind of strange experiment, whatever it might have been, drew us from across the street, and we’ve never met them before.”
So what was it all about? Felicella said she wanted to spend two days thinking and feeling with nothing to distract her. The sentence she wrote more than 1500 times?
“To see myself, I went inside my own shell.”
She hoped to inspire people to spend some time processing their own thoughts and feelings.
But that’s the thing about performance art. Meaning is usually discovered when the artist and audience intersect.
At 4:30 on Sunday afternoon, 25 people gathered to witness the end of the performance. In the next half hour, that number tripled.
At exactly 5 o’clock, two of Felicella’s minders approached, drill in hand, to free the artist from the box and the mound of crumpled paper at her feet. Applause erupted.
For someone who had just survived two days in a cramped space on a liquid diet and a few short catnaps, Felicella seemed impossibly energetic.
Friends hugged her and gave her flowers. And an impromptu news conference broke out. People wanted answers to their questions.
FELICELLA: “The thing that I want to take away from this the most is what a rockin’ community we have. I didn’t acknowledge you, but I saw everybody that was here and their families and kids and a crowd that doesn’t normally come out to galleries. They were all here through the whole project. I cried … the whole weekend. I haven’t slept, so I’m going to be really emotional… (laughs from crowd).”
What began as an exercise in thought and reflection evolved into a greater appreciation of what’s around all the time. For 48 hours, she may have been isolated.
But she was never alone.