Back in 1995, Cornelia Parker (whose work I like a lot) had an exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery titled “The Maybe”. Here’s what the Tate says about that exhibition.

The Maybe, an exhibition made in collaboration with the actress Tilda Swinton (b. 1960) in 1995 (London, Serpentine Gal.) focused on the impressions that one has when confronted with the belongings of famous people. Parker selected curiosities from various museums, including Turner’s watercolour box, Queen Victoria’s stockings and Sigmund Freud’s blanket, in order to elicit free associations from the beholder. Swinton was herself on display, asleep in another glass case. Parker’s aim was not merely to question the power of relics, but also to create a mental route that triggers unexpected associations.

Eighteen-ish years later, Tilda Swinton has revived “The Maybe”, except this time, it’s an individual work and it’s credited to her alone.

Tilda Swinton, in a vitrine, with a pair of spectacles and a carafe of water, pretending to be asleep. And in fitful slumber, if the images are to be believed. Swinton will show up some six times over the course of the year (I think) and sleep throughout the day in the glass box, which will be placed at different locations in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The things people have to do for their art.

It’s apparently taken seven years to get this “project” to the MoMA. This is the latest triumph for Chief Curator Klaus Biesenbach, who organised Marina Abramovic’s The Artist Is Present and is quite a champion of performance art. The point of the piece is “uncertainty”, said someone from the MoMA in some article about “The Maybe”, while clarifying that the actress only tells the museum on the day of her appearance that she’ll be showing up.

You could compare Swinton’s “The Maybe” to the Parker-Swinton joint effort. You could also possibly think of this piece in the context of Tracy Emin’s bed. You may be reminded of St. Francis Xavier and his supposedly incorruptible body (which has been cut into parts to display in various religious spots) in its glass casket in Goa. If you’re so inclined, you might wonder what, if anything, is Swinton being paid for showing up and pretending to be asleep in these cash-strapped times. Those less arty-fartily inclined, you might recall the glass coffin in which Snow White’s dead body was kept or the Grimm brothers’ story titled “The Glass Coffin” or be reminded of the oxygen chamber in which Michael Jackson was rumoured to have slept/lived in an effort to look younger (or something like that). Me, I’d like to hand it over to the wonderful Vivian Leigh.



When I wrote that Swinton performed “The Maybe” as part of Parker’s show, I didn’t mean that Swinton’s stolen the idea or something. It was just done in collaboration with Parker.

13 thoughts on “Good Night and Good Luck

    • She’s superb. Loved her in Constantine. In fact, she was the only decent part of Constantine. I think I’ve liked her in every film I’ve seen of hers. Plus, she wore a kaftan to an awards’ show (Oscars, I think it was). Score! But sleeping as performance art? Not entirely convinced by that.

      • come on now, Constantine had many good parts. Even though initially the anti-smoking message shoved into my face ruined the movie for me, subsequent watches have been highly enjoyable once I mentally blocked out that social service message. Lucifer was delightfully camp (also the dubious dr. in minority report), rachel weiz was fun. My beloved Keanu, who also looks wonderfully androgynous in most movies. I mean the only hetrosexual looking person in this movie was R. Weiz. Another pro for the movie in my opinion.

        (Funnily enough my Chrome spellchecker is flagging the word ‘hetrosexual’ apparently hasn’t heard of it.)

        Back to tilda – Also great as the white witch in Narnia. She is so beautiful. I could look at her forever, which is why this performance is rather perfect. I also like the clear undiluted voyeuristic aspect of it.

        Being a person who thrives on E News like its real news, it makes perfect sense to have her celebrity encased in a glass box in the museum. I also like that the museum has no pre-planning, That she just shows up. Its a nice additional detail. if everyone knew when and where she’d be sleeping some of the charm and uncertainty would be lost. Its rare that I am wholeheartedly behind performance art, since they are usually idiotic and vastly self indulgent, but the self indulgence here seems to be the point of it

        Is the original artist the one who filmed David Beckham sleeping? or is that similar but unrelated.

  1. Scritch, you’re on your own with Constantine’s “good” parts. No, I don’t think Cornelia Parker has anything to do with the Beckhams, sleeping or awake. As for performance art, I completely agree that a lot of it is self-indulgent. I just don’t think this one becomes any better because the artist *might* be self-aware about this self-indulgence. The charm of it escapes me and I don’t entirely understand the point. This just seems weird and lazy, both for the museum and the artist. I guess I’m also a bit paranoid about cashing in on the appeal of star actors smacks of what happens in India with Bollywood actors — they’re dragged in for their ability to attract attention into any and every space. Soon enough, it’s more about celebrity than the art or the intention or anything else. Best case scenario: I hope Swinton and Biesenbach giggle about it as much as the viewers seem to in the photos.

    Also, as much as I love the idea of a flaming gay diva of a spellchecker in Chrome, the reason it’s wagging its finger at you is that the spelling is “heterosexual”. 😀

    • I would argue that nearly all performance art is lazy to some degree. It is easier to put on a weird latex suit and prance about a gallery chucking paint with a sheet of paper typed up with some art bollocks than take time to make something someone wants to look at.

      Or sit in a room naked and draw scribbles – (emin).
      Or give birth live in a museum (that woman in NYC).

      All of it is lazy even though it probably involves lots of management type meetings, reams of proposals and buckets of admin to get the idea through to completion. And while I admire people able to do admin, I do also think in terms of art work, the entire genre is lazy.

      But thats the nature of the beast, and the only thing relevant is if its boring. (which it might be after a while, but then so are Andy Warhol films, but all 8 hours were played in the southbank and were watched by some nutter)

      I also think who is in the box counts as does their agenda. I don’t think Tilda would be boring.

      Chrome didn’t even want to tell me the correct spelling. I’m sure its flaming and biased.

      • Oh come on. That’s gross generalisation about performance art. Someone may totally want to look at someone in a weird latex suit. Enough people wanted to sit in front of Marina A. Entirely disagree with you about laziness, but that’s ok. I’m feeling entirely too lazy to actually write out my argument.

        “I also think who is in the box counts as does their agenda. I don’t think Tilda would be boring.”

        That’s precisely my problem with this work of art. (I’m so proud of having resisted the urge to put “work of art” in quotes in that sentence.) It’s all about Swinton and her persona, rather than the idea/concept/content of the piece.

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