first appeared on Notes on Looking in October 2012.
I wanted to write more about this. I had intended to apply so many words to this experience in the hopes that they would provide more context. I had hoped that a dense, academic text with quotes and footnotes could amplify the richness of this experience. I had hoped that it would translate it, somehow. Round it out so that it could be better understood, or something. But I have been struggling and failing to produce that kind of writing. What would I be writing for? Validation? Reinforcement and acceptance? I had imagined that whatever I would write could also serve as some sort of apology. An apology to my family, for instance, for creating an even bigger wall between us. An apology to past lovers and romantic interests for breaking their hearts and for eventually, forgetting all about them. I wanted to write more about this, I really did. But sometimes, all that we have is already enough. And sometimes, if we should be so lucky, it is more than enough. It's everything.
And for the record, I will never apologize for falling in love.
EJ Hill and Collin Pressler
The proposed work will place EJ Hill and Collin Pressler in a public, building-front window
space with high foot traffic. Both men will be clothed in white cotton boxer-briefs and tshirts. The space will be furnished with a twin-size bed fitted with white sheets, two pillows fitted with white pillow cases, and a white blanket. During the course of the 24 hour performance, both men will engage the theme of intimacy through talking, kissing, embracing and resting together in the space. The artists will present themselves at the curious intersection of public and private space in a way that validates and celebrates the beauty and naturalism of male intimacy.
Exactly one week ago, I laid in bed for 24 continuous hours with a man that I had only met twice before. The first time being in March of this year, when I traveled back to Chicago for an exhibition. At the opening, we shook hands, exchanged a couple of "nice to meet you's" and then went our separate ways. There were no fireworks, no explosions, no slowing of time or skipping of heartbeats. Just a hello. And then a goodbye. The second time we met was a little different. Again, I traveled back to Chicago, but this time, it was not for work or any other professional obligations. It was to recharge. Hit the reset button, and try again. My cousin had just passed away, I had just ended my first year of grad school, and I simply needed to get the hell out of Dodge (Los Angeles). I needed to be in a place that was familiar, and where mood, behavior, and general tendency is regulated by the falling of leaves, the icing of roads, and the shedding of clothes. Needless to say, it was summer, and everyone in Chicago was feeling just fine. However, on this particular trip, I had prepared no one for my visit—didn't tell anyone I was coming. I just sort of showed up with the hopes that someone would put me up for a few days. A place for a temporary wanderer, homesick for his home away from home. Fortunately for me, the year before I moved from Chicago back home to Los Angeles, I met a group of friends that created home wherever they went. This was the group that I sought out as soon as my plane landed. I found them all at my mentor, collaborator, and best friend, Matt Austin's apartment in Pilsen. I arrived at the front door, just as they were walking back from the corner store. And that's when I met him for the second time. It was on this day that Collin Pressler's magnetism pulled at something deep within me. As I remember it, he was just as surprised to see me as I was to see him. I had anticipated seeing the rest of the group, but not him. Neither one of us expected to see the other but we were both very pleasantly surprised. The next three days were a mix of grief due to familial loss, elation by friendly reunions, and the anxieties associated with falling in love (again).
I had returned to Los Angeles, altered and reconditioned—restarted. Mission: accomplished. Collin and I maintained contact via text messages, late-night phone conversations, and Skype sessions for the rest of the summer. Even during my travels through Austria and Germany for the month of August, we were able to keep the emailing semi-consistent. In spite of sharing beds and whispers with a couple of other summer romances both in Los Angeles and Vienna, there was still one in Chicago that held the reigns of my heart. I could never say this to him at the time, for I risked applying too much pressure, risked prematurely pushing him away. (My fear of unrequitedness is a rather paralyzing one). As a defense mechanism, I maintained a certain level of emotional and psychological distance that correlated our physical distance. I remained fearful and rational. Honest, but cautious. Ultimately, safe.
Plans to return to Chicago for October were already in the works. Earlier this year, my former professors Adam Brooks and Mat Wilson (otherwise known as the collaborative duo, Industry of the Ordinary) invited me to present a new performance work for their mid-career survey, Sic Transit Gloria Mundi at the Chicago Cultural Center. With the exhibition fast approaching and still having no idea as to what form the work was going to take, I asked Collin if he would like to collaborate on developing a piece with me. He said yes, and we went from there. So while much of our late night summer conversations were filled with butterflies in the gut and smiles from ear to ear, we also maintained a very formal and professional relationship. Poetics waxed while business talked.
About a week before I was to fly to Chicago, I received a call from Mat Wilson informing me that our piece was being censored. With those words, he had just dropped a ton of bricks in my stomach. Our piece was being censored? Although, I was never able to directly speak to the higher-ups who held the power to pull strings and plugs, and although I never heard any language that exclusively expressed personal attitudes, the general sentiment was pretty clear. Someone, somewhere was so put off by the idea of two men in bed, they would do anything to prevent it from being publicly presented. I was shocked and hurt at first, but during the week of the back-and-forth with institutional powers (we eventually got the "green light"), it began to make a little more sense. After all, this piece was never intended for the sterile white cube. This was not for audiences in closed circles to ponder or disregard while drinking free wine over cracker plates. This was always, first and foremost, about being publicly visible. It was intended for an oftentimes hostile public. A public that believes they have license to determine how others should live and love, be it in public or private spaces. This was for an audience that has conditioned so many people to be fearful and shameful of their natural inclinations. An audience that has driven 15 year old boys and girls to hang themselves in their bedroom closets because they have been convinced that the world simply does not have enough room for them. Above all else, this was for those very boys and girls who might not make it to 16. This was an unapologetic declaration. A promise that yes, there is room. There is enough room for all of us. And where there isn't, we will make room.
What began as a creative endeavor, an artistic action, quickly became a highly personal and political gesture. Art reflecting life, reflecting art. (And the boundaries between the two continue to dissolve). The 24 hours spent lying in bed in that window were exhausting, painful, blissful and perfect. The range of responses was overwhelming. We received hateful spews through the window, aggressive lectures, and demands to stop it immediately. But for every one of those types of reactions, there was quadruple the amount of positive responses. But the sole interaction that has forever burned itself in my memory is when a woman no older than 35 years old came to the window. At this point, I was still somewhat hesitant to make eye contact with passersby, but when I heard the woman speak, I had to look up. It was at this very moment that I knew exactly why we committed to making this work. She was looking at a small toddler in her arms and she was speaking baby-talk. "Say hiiii," she said, while looking at who I believed was her son. "Look at thaaat! Say hiiii!" Collin's back was facing the window at that point. The only words that I could muster were, "Collin, turn around. You need to see this." The small boy smiled and waved "hi." The two of us looked at the two of them. All of us smiling, because in those few seconds, we were able to imagine a future where the sight of two men in bed, let alone an interracial male pair, would not be cause for uproar and outrage. Not even cause for celebration, but simply something to regard as customary. Something so everyday. Something so unbelievably ordinary.