Safe in our Tribe
Terence Koh closing at Moran Bondaroff
What do you think about when you’re looking at art? Whether its conscious or not, we’ve all had that internal query: Do I get it? Or perhaps you’ve felt that delectable pride as a wave of enlightenment washes over you: I get it! That’s how our experience began last Saturday night at Terence Koh’s magical closing night for his exhibition, “Sleeping in a Beam of Sunlight.” But the feeling wouldn’t last; the night changed us. It became not about the installation’s message, but the way it choreographed us: its viewers, and shaped our entire evening.
For two months, Koh lived in Moran Bondaroff Gallery, totally removed from technology and the news. He ate vegetables from the rooftop garden and took shits in a compost toilet six-feet up in the air that dropped poop from the sky. He lit incense with partially eaten apples hanging from the ceiling. He scribbled poetry concerning his hopes and fears and taped them to the walls, while the smell of burning sage cleared our minds and purified our lungs.
In a space free of unwarranted chatter, Koh transported us into his dreams so effectively that I actually wondered if I should be there. The level of intimacy was so profound, I had to ask myself if I was even truly awake?
But the realization that I was in fact conscious came when we were invited to sit in a circle in the main space, pass around a conch shell, and share our own personal stories to the crowd of strangers. Softly illuminated by candle flame, one woman said, “I feel like we are a tribe.” There were children, mothers, students, teachers, activists, people from all over the world, but in that moment we realized, we were all connected. We may not have shared the same experiences, but we definitely shared the same emotions towards them.
My favorite story came from a 20-something guy sitting slightly outside the circle who said, “I wasn’t going to share, but then I thought, why? Fear. Fear has been holding me back in life a lot. And when I came in here tonight, I didn’t get it. But now it has all come together. It’s a safe space.”
I felt safe too. Safe enough to cry, hug and laugh with my new tribe. I don’t think any of us expected to find home that night, (let alone a delicious vegan dinner generously cooked by the staff of the gallery). With deep gratitude, we got to experience a small fraction of what Koh must’ve felt living in that space for two months. It became clear that “Sleeping in a Beam of Sunlight” was Koh’s secret way of getting people to see what is important: listening to each other, listening to our stories—and maybe not just listening to the news.