by Maia Peck (MArch '16)
Performance and mixed media installation
Air is the new commons….We all breathe air…We are the air we breathe…In The Conscience of Words, Elias Canetti declares: “To nothing is man so open as to air. He moves in it as Adam did in Paradise…Air is the last common property. It belongs to all people collectively. It is not doled out in advance, even the poorest may partake of it.” However, today not all air is equal. It is no longer pure nor free, and what is conditioned space inevitably has become conditional space. Can we subvert the air by turning its exhaust into something productive? By creating tension between the private and public domains it divides?
In the spirit of artists Marcel Duchamp and Yves Klein, You make your own bed uses a readymade air mattress and exhausted air from an outtake vent located in front of Le Corbusier’s Carpenter Center. What is typically considered waste becomes a source of comfort for the “breather,” who literally lies on his or her own bed of air. The bed, like air, has an ambivalent nature – it is the site of birth, sleep, sickness, loneliness, love, and death. It is has the potential for being a safe refuge or a place filled with danger. Installing the air mattress within the public domain not only metaphorically addresses the sense of commons in the air we all breathe, but it also accentuates the state of the “breather’s” vulnerability to the gaze and actions of passersby.
Using an air mattress and cheap materials of double-sided tape, yellow plastic covering, a wood frame, metal hardware, and a pipe, this installation would be easy to assemble and transport for occupation of other sites. Some potential locations could be the vent in front of Gund or the exhaust next to the John Harvard statue. Looking beyond Harvard’s institutional borders, this work also raises the question: what would it mean to lie on a bed of air from New York City? Or Paris? Or Beijing? As the common saying goes, “You make your own bed, now lie in it.”