Marina Abramović and Ulay have a performance piece called Rest Energy in which a drawn bow pointed directly at Marina’s heart is tautly held by both Marina and Ulay’s opposing body weight. Marina is holding the back and grip while Ulay is holding the drawn bowstring and arrow. (You can watch it online; trigger warning: anxiety, threat of violence; viewer discretion advised.) During the live performance, a microphone is placed over of their hearts so that the audience can hear their accelerated heartbeats and feel the tension building. The piece speaks to the trust, commitment, and vulnerability involved in relationships as well as the palpable tension that comes with any reconciliation process (truth-telling versus nostalgia, justice versus forgiveness, our understandings of God’s justice versus God’s mercy, for example). It is an amazing piece of performance art that has haunted me since I was first introduced to it in seminary (thanks Professor Brittain).
However, I have grown disturbed by the violent image of relationships depicted in this piece, where one side (Marina with an arrow pointed at her heart) is more vulnerable and at greater risk than the other side (Ulay, who is holding the arrow). Maybe I am uncomfortable with it because it shows the tension between my beliefs and my lived experience. A follower of Jesus, I believe we are all equal and that we all equally need to make ourselves vulnerable to being broken-hearted in the process of reconciliation with each other and with creation. When fully reconciled in our relationships, we are both Marina and Ulay, one body with many members. (Think Paul’s letter to the Corinthians; if one member is the body is at risk, the whole body is at risk.) Yet stolen sisters (missing and murdered Indigenous women), the unsatisfactory living conditions on reserves, the living legacy of trauma caused by centuries of colonization — and the fact that many settlers are able to disengage from these realities — proves that we, as citizens of Canada, are far from reconciled with each other.
Perhaps I am uncomfortable with the violence because it points too clearly to my own heartache that many people in Canada do not understand that the struggles for justice and equality facing people who are Indigenous are part of their own struggles. It is uncomfortable, of course. As a church, we have the opportunity to model a different sort of relationship, not based on our individual experiences of inequality or injustice but on our belief that we are deeply interconnected.
-Alydia Smith, Program Coordinator, Worship, Music, and Spirituality. This article originally appeared in Gathering magazine, Lent/Easter 2017.