In the mid to late 19th century, the fear of being buried alive grew so widespread and keen that dozens of inventors developed coffins equipped with bells, alarms, air holes, and even ladders, in case the undeceased should wake from his deathlike sleep determined to ascend. But at the climax of PRAXIS’s live art piece Forget Me Not: A New Economy Mass, audience members will find themselves gently sealed in a bell-less pine casket and the resulting sensation is, well, cozy.
Husband-and-wife performance team PRAXIS (Delia Bajo and Brainard Carey) literally makes an art of rituals of comfort. As part of 2002’s Whitney Biennial, they offered hugs, Band-Aids, and ritual foot washing to exhibit-goers. In the first part of Forget Me Not, entitled “Tools for Living,” they repeat several of these activities. PRAXIS divides the upstairs theater of P.S.122 into a warren of little rooms. Bajo and Carey first offer hugs; their assistants ply spectators with chocolate, cheek-to-cheek dancing, and whispered reminiscences of snug recreations such as sledding, drinking hot chocolate, or listening to jazz records with a favorite grandmother.
In the second section, “Tools for Dying,” a series of video sequences and stills flickers on a screen as Carey (and later Bajo) relate the death of his mother from pancreatic cancer. Devoid of heroic measures or miraculous recoveries, the tale reveals mother, son, and daughter-in-law clumsily and generously coming to terms with her dying. The projected images aren’t terribly interesting; nor is the language in which Carey and Bajo offer their narration, but the unabashed pathos of their project is hypnotic, easily transcending the mundane and the cutesy. We might all hope for such a tender interment.