Anthony Cobb licked a pane of glass for nearly four hours at the John Cage Music Circus in Chicago. He had placed himself, unmoving, in a turquoise cubicle amidst Dan Flavin's multicolored flourescent light exhibit . The licking was rapid, or should I say rabid, and there was a fractal streak of white saliva on the glass, a Fibonacci of spit. He held the corners of the glass from the center of his palm. About an hour into the performance, Bryan Markovitz sat down with a notebook and counted each time the tongue hit the target, in thick, black, permanent ink.
The day before, during a Howloosanation beer breakfast, I had the chance to ask him a few questions.
DM: So tell me about your project for the music circus -- what's your approach? what are you thinking internally?
A C: I think I'm still trying to figure that out, actually. But I can say that, so far, what I have been thinking about it separation. And I don't know exactly where that's going to end up, but that's what I read into it. It's something about separation to me. Ot her than that I don't have anything that's totally concrete. That's about the gist of it at this point. I have some sort of strange attraction t o working with glass right now, so this is my first time working with glass -- I have quite a few ideas I'm wil ling to explore. So I guess I'm still exploring. couldn't really say there is any deep meaning behind it. It's all about this idea of separation and I'm sure something will come out of it along the way.
DM: So when you say separation, do you mean separation between national borders, for example, or separation between people or psyches?
AC: What comes to mind immediately is on a smaller scale, so an example would be not necessarily individuals, but between people and their selves.
DM: You mean the false self and the persona, or the real self?
AC: Yeah, or maybe it's taking a step back. Maybe it's about observation. Maybe there's something about revealing one's self, also. There was a project where I ate as many onions as I could, fed to me by another performer. We didn't touch each other. I would take an onion, bite it, take an onion from their mouth, eat it.
DM: Heartburn city?
AC: No, actually I didn't get heartburn.
DM: Esophagus seared?
AC: Yeah, I experienced that.
DM: Did you get any bile or upchuck?
AC: I never threw up or anything. I surprised myself.
DM: How many onions did you eat? Where they white onions?
AC: (nodding) I think it was four onions total.
AC: Whole onions. It was about relationships. A lot of this is sort of loosely based. It's just about an idea, about presenting an idea, and an audience can take from it what it wants. That was the theme that came up and that's how we chose to present it.
DM: Right. So it's almost like improvising musicians who come to the table with a certain approach or angle but they don't know exactly what they're going to do -- it's more process-oriented.
AC: I wouldn't say it's exactly improvised -- it's definitely thought-through, although you don't necessarily know the outcome, you probably will plan for an outcome. Say, you plan to eat twenty onions, if you eat more than twenty onions and you're still standing, you might do this or that. Then you know the possibility that at some point the ending will not go at all how was expected. But at some point I wasn't thinking so clearly, so I stopped.
DM: Did you start hallucinating?
AC: No, I didn't start hallucinating, but, physically and perhaps emotionally I could not continue. I didn't get sick. At times there were waves of sickness that would come. But it didn't affect me that much, it was more about the inside of my mouth. That was the level where I just c ouldn't physically do it. For a lot of people that was hard to understand, because they said, you didn't throw up, or pass out. It didn't happen. It didn't affect me that way. But it did affect me so there was no way I could put something else in my mou th. So I just gently said, no more. No more. That was not expected at all. It did affect the way I was thinking, my emotional state. I knew how we were supposed to end the piece, but that somewhere was gone. And I could have physically performed that ending, but that was gone.
DM: What was the ending?
AC: Well, it was a simple ending. If something happened where I was ill, or my body just gave out, the performer feeding me the onions would turn, walk away, and I would follow. That simple. But that so mehow w as gone from my mind. And then that ending did happen, but there was a little addition to it.