Singer Willow Smith Is a Performance Artist Now—and She’s Locking Herself Inside a Box at MOCA Los Angeles for 24 Hours

Smith is collaborating with creative partner Tyler Cole for the performance, which is intended to raise awareness about mental health.

Willow Smith. Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images.
Willow Smith. Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images.

Willow Smith, the 19-year-old singer, actor, and music producer who made her debut as as a pint-sized phenom, will spend 24 hours locked in a box at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

The performance isn’t commissioned by MOCA. Instead, the museum is renting out its Geffen Contemporary building to Willow, who will be enclosed in a 20-foot chamber along with her creative partner, Tyler Cole, beginning at 9 p.m. Wednesday evening, through Thursday night.

The duo will act out eight stages of anxiety: paranoia, rage, sadness, numbness, euphoria, strong interest, compassion, and acceptance, allotting three hours per stage. The idea came to the duo while they were recording their new album, fittingly titled The Anxiety.

Willow has spoken openly about her struggles with anxiety, and told the LA Times that the sudden death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter earlier this year “was really a knife in the heart.” She stressed that her MOCA performance was not a publicity stunt, but was meant to raise awareness.

“This is real, this is for a cause,” she said.

Visitors will be allowed to peer into the performance cube for 15 minutes at a time. Afterwards, they can continue to watch via a livestream in a separate room, which will also contain books and other materials on mental health.

Even though MOCA is just playing host (the event isn’t listed on the museum’s website, and requests for details were forwarded to Smith’s team), the installation has echoes of earlier durational actions at museums.

The queen of endurance performance, Marina Abramović, lived without food for 12 days in her 2003 piece The House With the Ocean View. And in his MFA thesis work from April 1971, Chris Burden shut himself in a locker for five days straight, jerryrigging a five-gallon jug of water to keep himself hydrated.

And then there was the time Tilda Swinton went full Sleeping Beauty by laying in a glass chamber at MoMA for visitors to ogle her in 2013.

For their piece, Cole and Smith will be allowed bathroom and sleep breaks in intervals of no more than two minutes at a time, but Smith said they wouldn’t be talking to one another.

“We might grunt or scream—it’s going to get very primal,” she said.


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