The artist insisted there be no announcement made nor notification given. No time of performance revealed. Only the loosest parameters had been leaked to the public: At many times both diurnal and nocturnal a performance will take place in the sculpture garden/café courtyard of the Museum of Modern Art. The series of unscheduled performances will be spaced out over the course of several months, starting now at the end of February and running through May. Museum hours will be extended on select days during the run of the series to make possible nighttime viewing. The performances, which will be close variations on a fixed but undisclosed program, may or may not involve human performers. The artist, it has been made clear, is human and is named Christian L’Anjou who may or may not be familiar to art viewers. The performances, which have been hinted at in their description as ‘choreographed’, will not follow a consistent schedule. Though irregular in frequency, it will happen at least once every other day and very likely more often. It will last between five and twenty minutes.
You would have to get lucky to see it. The amount of time you choose to spend hanging out, waiting, looking for it in the courtyard would be directly proportional to your desire to catch its occurrence. You’ll have to be alert to even recognize that you were seeing it.
I got lucky. I don’t know if it was the first staging, but I must have caught among the first in the series this past Thursday around 1 o’clock in the afternoon. I hesitate to describe the event because so much of it depends upon being unprepared, not knowing what to look for or what will transpire or even who or what will be performing. So read no further if you are planning on trying to see it for yourself. And good luck. Everything up to this point has been available public knowledge.
On Thursday, February 23, it was sunny, highs near sixty. The museum’s courtyard was characteristically populated with visitors and tourists, full enough but not packed. There was room to move or spread out. I moved. I walked around the patches of ground cover and rectangular pools with gurgling fountainheads. I walked around the patio’s black wire chairs and tables and people sitting at half of them. I walked around some sculpture and the barren winter trees. I stopped and, in retrospect, can say that I wondered vaguely about the quantity and unusual variety of insects among the branches.
Then it happened. Slowly, like the coalescing chaos and rumbling sound storm that opens Beethoven’s 9th. The insects, hundreds if not thousands of them dispersed throughout the courtyard, began to spontaneously convene. There were dragonflies, moths, butterflies, wasps, bees, bumblebees, hornets, flies, winged beetles, gnats, locusts, and ladybugs. It became increasingly clear as the horde took shape that this was the performance. The swarming multitude came together over the still reflecting pool, gathering in number and density over the short course of a minute until the fluid mass formed a floating column of buzzing energy. The levitating mass maintained its cylindrical shape though every part of it was in constant motion. Reflected in the still water below, it doubled into a supernatural rod penetrating the earth; a seething tower of spectacular pandemonium. It was at once breathtaking and terrifying. A miraculous kind of phenomenon fit for the Old Testament or end of days. The mass of tourists and art patrons were appropriately dumbstruck, iPhones in hand.
Christian L’Anjou, Moth to flame, 2011; Courtesy of the artist
After hovering in columnar position for five minutes, the swarm shape-shifted into a large sphere floating some eight feet off the ground. Peering up, you could see that the frenzied ball of bugs circulated and orbited around its center, folding over itself and turning inside out just to stay in shape in motion. I felt but a moth to its flame. Stingers tumbled over antennae which swished past shiny black abdomens with beating veined wings in a suspended explosion of winged hive life. Flashes of yellow, blue, white, and orange punctuated the heaving darkness when a butterfly swung around. The black cloud impossibly cut straight edges and sharp corners as it filled out into a pyramidal volume, lingering there mere moments before bursting apart. And then it was over. The swarm broke up and drifted apart just as, seemingly, spontaneously as it had come together. The energy diffused. The buzz echoed. Some god’s shadow lifted and fluttered off in choreographed flight patterns, back to the trees’ barren branches or higher.
Needless to say, I am definitely flying back in May and camping out at night to see the swarm illuminated by glowing fireflies. And then I might happily die.
I do not know how Christian L’Anjou did this magical thing, which better even than art can legitimately be called sorcery. I do know, from recent research, that there have been huge strides in the field of Cy-bugs in which cyborg insects are genetically engineered and biologically enhanced with mechanical probes and machine parts that are hooked up to the creature’s nervous system which are then remote-controlled with wireless stimulators. No joke. Look it up. The still fledgling Cy-bug technology has all sorts of implications, mostly enormously sinister in the hands of the military. But its incredible application, as an astonishing, unannounced performance in the courtyard of MoMA gives some hope that the inevitable push of progress that will swallow us whole may have eruptions of beauty as well.
Christian L’Anjou, Self-portrait with bees, 2011; Courtesy of the artist
L’Anjou must be an expert in the fringe Cy-bug field or worked closely with the two top-secret laboratories experimenting in this way to have pulled off such a feat. It is hard to speak with much certainty about L’Anjou because suspicions suggest it is the alias of another artist or scientist. Still, L’Anjou is not entirely without a past. He has, under that name, orchestrated a similar performance manipulating the behaviors of insects. According to witness reports and the artist’s own statements, he invited a select group of audience members to meet at a designated time in a designated parking lot in Tallahassee. There they found a half-naked man (presumably the artist, though there is no firm confirmation) in nothing but a denim button-up shirt and hat standing still on the asphalt. Those who endured the half hour of boredom during which nothing much happened were rewarded with a crazy, undoubtedly mind-boggling sight as five or six enormous swarms of honeybees simultaneously descended on the parking lot and converged on the man’s body, completely covering his clothing and flesh with a thick, undulating carpet of buzzing drones. Title: Self-Portrait with Bees.
—Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer and Jeff Hassay
(Image at top: Christian L’Anjou, Lightning Bugs, 2012; Courtesy of the artist)