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Fist Raised!

by Jessica Santone

Bells and hollers softly vibrate from the speakers as we face a large pink triangle suspended horizontally above half the gallery space. It looks like a flag or parachute, but the texture is different – it’s latex so it stretches strangely and seems almost organic. It’s not taut, but dips in the center which gives the appearance of volume. Mary Coble enters the space in workaday clothes and begins to jump with one fist raised, its force making the flag tremble and bounce.

Mary Coble RP15 photo CV Peterson

The audio in the background is now a call and response from a group of protesters. Fist raised, up goes the triangle’s bounce, a bit more strongly now. Glitter! Secretly the pink flag is holding a pile of glitter. Fist raised! GLITTER! Fist raised! GLITTER! GLITTER! GLITTER! [Cheers from the audience.] Sweating now from the effort, Mary’s arm is coated lightly with glitter. The floor beneath the triangle is covered completely. She crawls to the floor and gathers the sparkly pieces into a loose pile, sweeping the remains of the protest/party. Then, she tosses the glitter back up and onto/into the triangle. “Trans lives matter!” comes through strongly in the speakers at this moment. Some glitter falls as it weightlessly resists the toss up. “No justice, no peace…” and a speech about Freddie Gray on the speakers. The glitter is mostly up again and Mary is punching the flag, eventually pulling a wooden box from the side of the room to help her get more height. Fist raised! Glitter! Fist raised! Glitter! “We’re here, we’re queer!”

There’s a soft thumping of the pink latex flag as it meets Mary’s fist and a soft grunting from the artist as she begins to tire and struggle. “This is what democracy looks like!” Drums beat on the recording. Glitter is everywhere again, all over the floor and Mary is sweeping up the mess once more. “We got sold out, banks got bailed out! Mic check… mic check!” Fist raised! Glitter! Fist raised! GLITTER! The effort, thirty minutes on, shows on Mary’s face. Her shirt dampens. “Hands up, don’t shoot! Hands up, don’t shoot!” The thump of the latex rhymes with the sound of rubber bullets from the speakers. The artist moves heavily, shifting the wooden blocks to the center of the floor to reach higher; she’s struggling a bit now. This doesn’t quite look like a party anymore and it’s been a good while since the audience in the room cheered. Mary starts to clean again. And then something strange happens – three women from the audience (Rebecca Weeks, Carron Little, and Maryam Taghavi) come forward and begin to help.

Mary Coble RP15 photo CV Peterson

The glitter is gathered and Mary’s work starts again. Fist raised! Glitter! Fist raised! Glitter! Wooden blocks are pushed from the side for support. Fist raised! GLITTER! Two more people join in the clean up now (Elaine Thap and Ian Whitford), making a group of six sweeping up the sparkles. Elaine Thap told me later that she felt sad watching Mary work so hard all alone and was compelled to join in the effort. “Fight back… people first!” The glitter is up again. Ian stays on to help punch the flag while the others sit back. Mary works, then rests a bit and Ian picks up the slack. Then the two jump together working in tandem elevated on the wooden blocks. Fists raised! Glitter! Fists raised! Glitter! The audio recording has ended and the beat of their fists against the triangle has replaced that sound. The audience matches their beat clapping to help make the last of the glitter fall. Fists raised! [Clap.] Glitter! Fists raised! [Clap.] Glitter! Fists raised! [Clap.] Glitter!

Glitter everywhere now, Mary cleans once more, alone this time. She works slowly, tired, and more diligently scrapes the pieces into a neat pile. The protest is over now. Of course, the work never ends – but Mary’s impromptu assistants and the clapping crowd can take it from here.

RP15 performance photo by CV Peterson
Jessica Santone is an art historian specializing in histories of contemporary performance. As of fall 2015, she will be Assistant Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art History at California State University East Bay. Her research examines how audiences play key roles in performance events, as conveyed through the documents they produce or circulate.
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