“That’s an artist?” asks a puzzled group of children near the corner of West Elder and Vine streets.
It’s one spot where NIC Kay, a gender nonconforming performance artist, chose to momentarily cease their brisk stride to perform one in a series of pained and decelerated contemporary dance progressions.
This combination of acute promenades and constrained dynamism is at the heart of PUSHIT! [an exercise in getting well soon]. A work of urban performance art, Kay — along with a photographer, videographer and a party of less than two-dozen followers — walked from the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Jefferson Avenue in Clifton to downtown’s Contemporary Art Center.
Strung to Kay's neck was a cluster of white balloons — with a lone disco ball balloon atop — that foundered in accordance to the afternoon wind and Kay's own movements.
In one moment, their non-traditional public choreography unfolded outside The Mad Frog in Corryville, where Kay performed a series of terse pulsations that coordinated with the bar's emanating house music; later they haltingly collapsed to the ground before sluggishly posing like an anguished chalk outline at the intersection of Vine and Mulberry streets.
Since their route remained undisclosed until just before Friday’s performance, Kay had little in the way of conventional spectators during their trek. Instead, they turned the heads of countless streetwalkers and made the obscured faces behind car windows do double and triple takes while speeding past.
“I feel empowered. Hey, what’s that thing around her neck? What’s that mean?” says one man who Kay expeditiously walked past.
“What’s this about? I’ve seen you walking all down the street,” says another.
It felt as though the performative aspect of PUSHIT!’s walking portion came not from Kay’s own spectacle, but from the omnipresent discombobulation that their presence brought to our city’s streets. Everyone within eyesight was forced to reckon with their existence.
Kay's first utterance didn’t come until they reached the CAC; primordial grunts escaped their lips, which synched with a throbbing soundtrack inside.
There, they performed a conspicuously constricted routine soundtracked to something redolent of a DJ Shadow trap beat, with hard 808s and thumping bass underscoring a spooky and repetitive vocal sample.
After making their way downstairs into CAC's basement, Kay disappeared around a corner, where a door could be heard closing — leaving their audience to decide when the performance had ended.