In 1993, Elia performs a piece called I Have So Many Stitches That Sometimes I Dream That I’m Sick at Highways, a space for the dramatic arts in Santa Monica, California. Under subdued light, Elia emerged naked from a white tub filled with water. Those who were watching could not see her directly, but could see only her reflection in an enormous mirror hanging over the tub. Elia moved in the water in a calm and pleasant manner. Then she began to describe her sensations: her body is disintegrating, pieces of it are floating in the water, the water surrounding her is thickening, and she feels pain around her. “This pain,” she says, repeating the words several times while the tension and breathing increased until it became a scream, the movements uneasy and desperate, “is not my pain, it’s my great-great-grandfather’s pain, it’s my great-grandfather’s pain, it’s my grandfather’s pain, it’s my father’s pain, it’s pain from centuries and centuries ago, it’s my mother’s pain.” At the moment she said the word “mother,” she started to push and repeat phrases like “I have to get this pain out of my body,” “I have to push,” “get me out of here,” “if you don’t take this pain out of my body, I’m going to bite your ribs until they bleed, I’m going to stretch your skin until it rips apart, I’m going to crush your heart until it stops beating.” And then, she repeated to herself that she has to push. And she asked again to be taken out of there. She expressed all of these pleas while she screamed with the pain of labor. After a long and heartrending scream, calm set in, and when she managed to talk, she told herself, “I have to breathe.”
Fifteen years later, on November 14th, 2008, during the exhibition “Thrive”, featuring art made by activist women, Elia presented her piece The Long Count II. A large canvas covered with a layer of mud stretched across the wall of the DiverseWorks gallery in Houston, Texas. At the center, a bubble could be seen between the wall and the canvas, in which there was movement for a long time. The gallery was full of visitors who walked by the bubble, continuing on to other pieces, and returning to walk by the bubble without knowing what was moving inside of it. The movements were slow and intermittent. The opening of the canvas did not allow for a view into what was inside, which seemed to be living. Suddenly, an elbow timidly emerged through the opening, only to go back inside. Long minutes passed, an arm emerged, and a little more of a body was seen, some skin, but only that and nothing more. Elia wanted to experiment with the absence of the body in a performance piece, and from that impulse this piece was born. The living sculpture moved for four hours, during which Elia required a meditative state so that claustrophobia or despair would not attack her. Then, the canvas gave way, and she slowly fell. As an unplanned act, she came out and walked through the audience. Elia emerged naked, removing white and soft cloths from her body that served to cushion the fall and that she left behind like a gestational sac. One of the spectators hugged her, as if welcoming her to this world. What resulted from this test, in which she exempted the body of the person performing from the performance, was a slow birth. Of her works, The Long Count II is among those closest to the oneiric.
For Elia—because of her experience of being in the soft dark bubble for four hours and being born step by step, or the experience in the tub of painfully giving birth to herself and slowly being born—as well as for those watching, these performance pieces appeal to the contents of the subconscious. It is there that a performance might be unintentionally therapeutic. Being born, being born again as an adult, taking the act of being born and presenting it as art, creating a particular aesthetic for it and being born in a gallery, in a theater, and not in a hospital, being able to decorate and situate one’s own birth, playing at going back in time to examine the primordial wound and the inherited pains, being born now of one’s own volition and for the arts, being born without a mother and as one’s own mother, seeing oneself as the producer and as a conscious spectator of one’s own birth, returning to what happened once and must now be reproduced, and inviting people to serve as a witness to an arrival to this world, to a self-restoration, are possibilities offered by performance art. Therefore, lending a hand to and attending performance art is like lending a hand to and attending a ritual. We know only about the small differences between both quests for healing, and not about the larger ones.