I am a Christian. As such, I believe our corporeal being is as important as our minds and souls. I do not hold to the notion that our body is just a shell for our spirit but that one shapes the other, weaves around each other, is one identity. I can speak of having a hand, a foot, a spirit, a mind, but they are not separate from my whole person. Remove anyone and the whole is diminished.
I am a gay, cisgender, white man. All those words are important to how I move in the world, how I am perceived by others, how I’ve been socialized to act---for good and ill. I believe the Reign of God comes nearer when I am able to break free of those perceptions and hence expectations. I believe the Reign of God comes nearer when these things that have shaped me are useful for the betterment of other people’s lives.
I am a performance artist. My body is my medium. As such, I’m comfortable being in a variety of settings performing actions that may seem odd in most contexts. I’m not a shocking performance artist. I don’t use blood or other bodily excretions in my art. I’m not sure what I have to say with those things. Maybe someday I will. I do not rule it out. I feel a lot of what I might say with blood or piss has been said, often brilliantly by others. Until I find something unique to say in that fashion, I’ll try not to copy. I’m not a blood and piss sort of guy anyway.
I am a gay, cisgender, white, Christian man who is a performance artist writer and lives as part of a community of faith. As such, I do not understand my body to be my own but as part of a larger body. This also plays into my decisions about what I present as an artist. I do not censor myself because I think it will cause offense, neither do I seek to give offense. Whether going along with or against my larger body, I consider my place among them and what damage or healing I may do to them when I perform. (And I may find doing damage is the right decision, but it is a decision made carefully.)
I am a writer with a theological education. As such, God stuff is often tightly wound about what I do as a writer or performer. I am made in God’s Image and I think on this as I present my work, whether that is on the surface of the work or not. It often is not the presenting issue, but scratch the surface and eventually you’ll find the Imago Dei as driving idea.
I am a gay white male with a theological education and so I have often found myself on the edges of many communities. This is my strength and my loneliness. In the community of performance artists, I suspect I’m the repressed gay Christian who won’t show his penis. In the community of believers, I suspect I’m that suspicious performance artist person who may one day drop his pants to make a point. Neither is wrong. I’ve been an artist model and would do so again, given the right circumstance. I have nothing against nudity. But as I note above, my body is not mine alone and I consider my place in the larger body and need compelling reason to break community code. I love my community. They are worth more to me than any shock value, even if shock may have value.
I am queer wherever I go. I’m a queer Christian who is spiritually fed by abstract and expressionist art, by dance and sound art that doesn’t tell stories. I’m a queer conceptual artist in that I sometimes tell linear stories. I’m a queer gay man in that being gay is not the most important part of my identity and will assert it most loudly when I feel it is being disregarded. I’m quiet and reserved and on the edge of nearly every community I can claim. This is sometimes by choice, sometimes not, often by calling. As I often tell people when I’m asked why I write or perform: I would stop it if I could.
Artist Statement: My work concerns, broadly, compassion and its limits. My voice has been called “quiet” and “gentle,” hard sells in a world of “loud” and “rough,” but I’ve embraced the terms. I persist in the certainty that the culture needs alternatives to the shocking and violent. I do not see this as a retreat from reality but rather an effort to shape it.
Neil Ellis Orts is the author of the novella, Cary and John and sometimes makes performances as Breath & Bone/Orts Performance.