Artist Vanessa Place wants you to confess for The Lawyer Is Present

Robert Ransick
As part of Vanessa Place's exhibition The Lawyer Is Present, opening this Friday, April 12, at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, the Los Angeles-based writer, attorney and artist wants you to confess. For the piece, which plays off Marina Abramović's The Artist Is Present, Place will be collecting and taping confessions from members of the audience hidden behind a mirror over the weekend. Then on Sunday, April 14, she will perform the confessions with identifying information removed. (Or participants may pay her hourly rate of $105 per hour, the state-set rate for representing indigent felons on appeal in California, to keep them completely confidential.)

In advance of this multi-faceted exhibition and performance, Place spoke with Westword about the idea of confession and what it means to experience guilt -- even when there is no reason or cause for that guilt.

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From The Lawyer Is Present.
Westword: The Lawyer Is Present is an interactive exhibition. Can you explain a little more about it?

First of all, this piece is a little bit of a play off of Marina Abramović's The Artist Is Present. Obviously, in her piece the focal point is the artist sitting across the table from the audience member and communicating silently. In one way, it kind of reverts the gaze in art; instead of the audience member looking at the art object, in some ways, it's looking back. Also, it's about a kind of communication, or at least a sense of silent communication between art object/artist and the audience.

The interesting thing that she's doing is she is collapsing that distinction -- which she does in a lot of her work -- between the object and the artist. The artist is the object.

In The Lawyer Is Present, what's happening is that the artist/art object doesn't actually exist at all. There is no communication between me and the work and the audience -- what I've done, or what I'm doing, is creating a platform for the audience to look at itself. So whatever they say to me either ends up going away -- it doesn't exist anymore -- if they pay to keep it confidential, or it will be transcribed and I will perform it publicly, with certain things -- specific identifying information, names and things like that -- redacted.

Instead of it being about the gaze, it's about the voice. But my voice doesn't come into play -- it's only the audience member's voice. It's them saying indirectly what they may not want to say directly, publicly.

My response to the Abramović piece was, but that's very romantic. It's still this idea that the artist is a special creature. I think this (The Artist Is Present ) is saying, you know what? This is just you. My argument would be, all art is just you. You bring something to it, or you don't. You're stuck with yourself and all of your secrets.

So in this way, when the audience chooses to share information with you inside the museum, is there a confessional of some kind? What does that look like? Are they hidden away?

I'll be in a mirrored enclosure -- people on the outside will see themselves. The enclosure will be at a height that if they wanted to look over, they could. But they would have to make a decision to do that. A lot of my work has a (possibility of) temptation -- but there is always a choice to make. Everything you choose to do, in one way or another, implicates you. In one way or another, you choose to collaborate in your own guilt, so to speak.

If you want to see who's confessing, you have to make the decision to look over the top. You can't do it easily, but at the same time, no one is prohibiting you from doing it. If you want to publicly confess something, you certainly can. Again, you can make a decision -- it's sort of the responsibility of the individual audience member. By the same token, in much of what I'm doing, my idea is to, in some ways, serve as a conduit.

The old idea of a confession was, it was either private and you would confess to a priest or lawyer or someone like that, and it would go away. It was completely confidential. Or it was public -- you would stand at the crossroads, like Crime and Punishment. You'd stand at the crossroads and you confess your sins to the world. That's a way of atoning.

One of the things that lawyers can do is confess for people; we're mouthpieces.

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