In the entrance court of the Yale Center for British Art, three monks garbed in white, heavy drapery fabric and white wig caps each carry a square plastic tub of 180 individually wrapped Twizzlers. Each methodically draws one Twizzler at a time from their tub and stoops down to place it on the ground, arranging it in a series of concentric rings to create a circular labyrinth.
Meanwhile, on the fourth floor of the center, four monks walk slowly in line through the Long Gallery. One monk leads the procession with a fistful of Twizzlers raised above her head like a torch. She halts before a statue and the group sets to work arranging Twizzlers on the floor before the artwork, some creating simple piles of candy while others form geometric figures. In unison, they freeze before the statue.
The members of this monastic procession are The Interventionists, Yale’s only undergraduate performance art group. The altars at which they pay tribute are the center’s works of art. Their offerings are Twizzlers. The entire ritual is the “The Sacred & Kitsch Museum,” a movement performance that took place yesterday between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m.
Haley Hogan ’09, a student guide at the center and creator of The Interventionists, began planning the performance in late November. She drew inspiration from installation artist Felix Gonzalez Torres, whose work features piles of gold- or silver-wrapped hard-candy that is free for exhibition-viewers to take.
In The Interventionists’ version, viewers can take home Twizzlers as miniature sculptures. The Twizzlers were chosen for their form and their place in American society as both the medicinal, sacred licorice and the mass-produced, kitschy candy.
“The Twizzlers pay homage to art,” said Hogan, “but there is a tension between that and littering and defiling.”
The kitsch and fun of the Twizzlers balances against the more serious aspects of the performance.
“In the 20th and 21st century, the museum is the modern cathedral,” student guide and Interventionist Andrew Lee ’09 said. “It attempts to fill a need for something that can’t be defined.”
In this mode of respect, The Interventionists move slowly from artwork to artwork. They walk with deliberation and spend several minutes before a piece. The entire group pauses before each artwork in varying positions of meditation, some kneeling, some standing, some laying down. After a minute of immobility, the procession continues to other paintings and sculptures and repeats the process.
“The walking really sets a tone and makes you realize the way people walk around a museum and the rules that govern that,” viewer Liana Moskovitz ’09 said.
The pace of the performance critiques the process of viewing art and the hurry of museum visitors who only read wall texts for celebrated painters or people who take photos of art to view later.
“The normal Yale student runs around on an automaton level, never really truly taking time to engage in other things,” Hogan said.
The movement performance suggests a more meditative, kinesthetic way to experience art.
“Our bodies are involved with the art,” Hogan said. “To really engage in the art, you have to be close to it. Art shouldn’t be so untouchable.”
Despite their hopes for audience members to interact with the art and take away Twizzlers, most visitors skirted around the edges of their candy formations and stayed back from the procession to watch or take pictures.
“It’s the contextualization of art objects,” said Lee. “Once it’s put into a sacred space, a Twizzler is no longer a Twizzler.”
Angus Trumble, curator of paintings and sculpture at the center, views the visitors’ distance more as a mark of respect.
“It’s amazing how they’ve taken something as insubstantial as candy, and created a space that is real,” Trumble said.
Trumble will respond to the Interventionists’ performance next Wednesday, April 9 at 6 p.m. in the center’s Docent Room.