Leaky Bucket: Avery Lawrence at the Contemporary Arts Center

Asher Kaplan looks at the dark humor in Avery Lawrence’s performances in “‘A Building with a View’: Experiments in Anarchitecture.”

Avery Lawrence’s Bucket Time, 2016, at the Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans. Courtesy the artist.

In Bucket Time, Avery Lawrence’s weekly performance at the Contemporary Arts Center, the artist speaks and sings while doing a headstand with his head inside a white plastic bucket. A small hole cut into the front of the bucket reveals Lawrence’s disembodied, upside-down mouth, which takes on a strangely separate character from the rest of Lawrence’s body as it delivers a speech somewhere between prose poem and guided meditation. Lawrence leads the audience through breathing exercises while he bounces between tongue-in-cheek aphorisms (“We can’t think too hard or we’ll lose it. So, inhale with the air. And let it sit. Feeeeeeel it occupy your fleshy meat palace.”) and a catalogue of references—to the Kardashian family, Yves Klein, elitism in the art world, environmental degradation, the 2010 worker suicides at Foxconn City in China, and Bill Murray’s performance as a man stuck in time in the 1993 cult classic Groundhog Day.

The current, juried exhibition at the Contemporary Art Center, “‘A Building With a View’: Experiments in Anarchitecture,” takes the work and writings of Gordon Matta-Clark from the 1970s as its starting point. The hole in Lawrence’s leaky bucket loosely recalls Matta-Clark’s notable series of “building cuts,” in which he removed large slices from the walls and floors of abandoned buildings, drawing attention to negative space—the voids and dividers in both architecture and society. Lawrence’s Bucket Time, while on a much different scale, also plays on the thin barriers between public and private life. It points to the difficulty of making meaning in an increasingly incoherent world. Sensitive to the flood of information and violence in the American collective consciousness, Lawrence’s upside-down intervention offers the audience a reflection on the absurdity of normal life.

While Bucket Time channels darkness and anxiety, it’s also full of play: At one show, I saw a toddler in the audience eagerly clap along to a beatbox-and-loop-pedal rendition of Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe.” The work’s comedic energy, and Lawrence’s invitation to the audience to synchronize breathing gives the show an intimate, communal feeling. In his own words near the beginning of the fifteen-minute performance, “Look at us in here now. We are lucky. We are sociality. We have each other, if only for a little bit.”

Editor's Note

Performances of Avery Lawrence’s Bucket Time take place every Saturday at 3 pm through October 1, 2016, as part of “‘A Building With A View’: Experiments in Anarchitecture” at the Contemporary Arts Center (900 Camp Street) in New Orleans.