On Saturday afternoon, the usual crowds milled about Valencia Street on their way to get some early holiday shopping done or catch up on some work at one of the dozens of cafes. Some were in such a hurry that they didn’t notice three women covered in Hershey’s chocolate syrup in the window of Artists’ Television Access near the northwest corner of 21st and Valencia.
“They are just mannequins,” one man reassured a woman he was walking with, and the two took no further notice.
They weren’t mannequins, however. The three women were part of what artist Nathalie Brilliant likes to call a “living thing.” This one was titled “Modern Limen.”
Many might call the display a piece of performance art, but a few months ago, Brilliant started using the term “living thing” to describe her art.
“There is a long history of what performance is considered. I’m more interested in the body as being a piece of art. My pieces are more sculptural than theatrical,” she explained.
Brilliant is currently in her second and final year as a graduate student in San Francisco Art Institute’s New Genres program, which focuses on sculpture, film, body art, installation, performance, among other mediums.
For “Modern Limen,” she wanted to explore the storefront window space as a place that traditionally objectifies women.
To do this, she wanted the women to look like mannequins and make only stiff, robotic gestures when occasionally leaving their seats to walk to the window. She also had them drink tea cups full of Hershey’s chocolate syrup, which they would immediately let pour back out of their mouths. This was to challenge the societal notions of feminine propriety.
“When I thought about the window space and the action, I thought of a woman with black liquid dripping from her lips,” she later said.
She was initially going to use molasses, but it proved to be too disgusting during a rehearsal, so the group switched to the Hershey’s syrup.
The three women stayed in the window from noon to 8 p.m. As Brilliant noted, most of the passers-by seemed bewildered by the display. Some, however, were more pensive.
Sophie Burger, a theater student visiting from Frankfurt Germany, stopped to watch for a while around 5 p.m.
“I like that they are aware they are being watched but don’t mind it. They don’t seem to care very much. They are off in their own world. There is no way to really interact with them,” she said, closely studying the piece.
What do you think?