A Performance Artist Is Staging a Month-Long Sleep-In at a New York Gallery—Or Is He?
Adam Himebauch's piece is allegedly about "mortality, entombment, sacrifice."
Adam Himebauch’s ears are burning. With his eyes closed, he sneaks a smile as I question Francesca Pessarelli of Ceysson & Bénétière in New York about his performance. He’s in it, meditating while laying down on a white slab with his head on a small pillow—a position he is expected to maintain for over a month. The piece is about “mortality, entombment, sacrifice”—supposedly.
Except, that would take serious discipline and focus. Which I guess a painter would be required to have. But something still feels off and I can’t shake the feeling. I start to wonder: can’t he just go home at night to sleep in his bed? The gallery does close, after all.
But the performance, part of the show “Never Ever Land,” is being livestreamed throughout the duration on YouTube. People would see him get up and leave. Still, wouldn’t he have to go off-camera to use the restroom? Looking closer, I notice a can of seltzer sitting on the platform with Himebauch, sweat dripping down its side as if he had to rush into position when hearing the gallery door buzz.
“Is he really expected to lie here the whole time?” I asked Pessarelli. She looks a little caught off guard and unsure of how to respond. After a brief glance at Himebauch, who remains in character, she begins to talk. (Spoiler alert: By continuing to read this story, you are ruinning the surprise of Himebauch’s piece.)
“The way the exhibition was communicated publicly, mainly through Adam’s social media… is that people are expecting a performance to be occurring throughout the duration of the exhibition, which is the truth,” Pessarelli responded slowly. “The more direct expectation that people are coming in with is to publicly see him lying here on the platform throughout the show, 24/7. It’s the moment they come in and their expectations aren’t met when the performance is actually effectively happening.”
It turns out, I had caught Himebauch lying on the slab one of the few times throughout the performance he is actually expected to do so. The rest of the time, he will not be at the gallery, but carrying on with his life elsewhere and popping in every now and then to keep up the illusion. The livestream was pre-recorded a few days before the show opened using various camera angles, and filmed throughout the day to allow for changes in light.
People would come in and interact with him in different ways and Pessarelli would pretend to sleep, among other scripted interactions. It’s a fairly short loop, only a couple of hours long. An eagle-eyed viewer might be able to tell that there’s only one camera in the room of the gallery despite multiple camera angles appearing on the screen.
“It wouldn’t be too difficult to tell that it is a loop. And you can see the windows, so if the weather is not quite the same, you know…,” Pessarelli said. She noted that the gallery and its workers, as well as friends of Himebauch, may inadvertently ruin the surprise by posting photos of him while he’s supposed to be meditating.
Buried in its write-up about the show, the gallery dropped clear clues into what is going on, such as noting that “Does it even matter if Adam is really here?” Pessarelli said all one would have to do is read the exhibition text and they would be 90 percent there already. Plus, the meditation slab has a QR code that when scanned, will reveal a livestream where viewers would see the artist “meditating,” even if he were not in the room, a clear reveal.
“The intention is not to lie to people or maliciously trick them. The intention is to play on the habits we all have,” she said. “The orchestrators are not any better or smarter than the spectators who come in. We consume media in the same way. We’re just puppeteering or leveraging our shared relationship with information and the media.”
Himebauch, born in 1983, first made a splash in the New York art scene in 2011 under the cheeky moniker “Hanksy.” But his most recent success is due to his long-running performance project, Back to the Future, which saw him craft the faux persona of an established artist who had found fame in the 1970s. The extensive project culminated in the 2022 solo exhibition at Trotter & Sholer, titled “Retrospective” and an accompanying Taschen book. “Blurring the lines between fact and fabrication is a very interesting thing as I believe we’re all playing roles whether we know it or not,” he said in an Instagram post announcing the book.
Pessarelli said that Himbauch’s latest performance could trigger some spectators into a “defensive reaction” after feeling tricked, which Himebauch and his team accepts. But there is precedent for such a performance by artists who have come before Himebauch, such as 4’33”, composer John Cage’s suite of silence.
But one thing that didn’t quite sit with me as I was talking to Pessarelli was the justification of the trickery as playful, while discussing one of the most serious issues facing the news industry—media illiteracy and the false presentation of fact.
“It’s easier to think about serious things when you interject humor into it,” Pessarelli responded on Himebauch’s behalf when pressed. Later, Himebauch said in an emailed statement through Pessarelli that “it’s the jesters and comedians who have historically been able to get away with telling the truth.”
Vita Kari, another performance artist, attended the show with me and said they found it inspirational how Himebauch played with the illusion of reality in his work, particularly the digital integration of the livestream into the performance.
“Obsessed. It was really different than what I thought it was going to be,” they said. “I thought it was going to be like a resilience training piece, but it was more of a ‘what am I really looking at’ piece. And way more playful than I thought.”
“Adam Himebauch: Never Ever Land” is on view at Ceysson & Bénétière, 956 Madison Ave #2F, New York, through March 16.
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