Performance Art

The following is an excerpt from a text I am working on for my thesis:


Blessings by Daniel Embree at Studio Soto, Boston. January 18, 2013. Photo by Michael Barber.

Blessings by Daniel Embree at Studio Soto, Boston. January 18, 2013. Photo by Michael Barber.

I sit in the chair, and the music starts. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing was my favorite hymn, and despite my skepticism, it is still hard to listen to its crescendos and not feel that familiar, uplifting warmth in my chest. That euphoric sensation is indicative of a spiritual experience, but I am not practicing the religion of my youth; I am practicing art.

When the song ends, I stand behind the chair and place my hands over the empty space where I was sitting. My goal with performance works like Blessing is to reclaim and reappropriate the gestures and symbols I have left behind. I am a gay man, cut off from the Mormon Church, but I am either unable or unwilling to abandon my heritage.

“Daniel Borden Embree, I place my hands over your head to give you a blessing…”

I am giving myself permission to be gay. I practiced the words. I worked with my peers and mentors on the concept. I was addressing power dynamics and control by responding to specific blessings I had received as a teenager and young adult in which Bishops, Patriarchs, and family members told me in no uncertain terms that I was not a homosexual and that I would marry a woman. I planned to reenact those rites, but this time I perform as both the giver and the receiver. I would affirm who I was on my own terms.

“Daniel—” After getting lost in my feelings during the hymn, this performance is suddenly more similar to the actual priesthood blessings I gave as a missionary. All the words I rehearsed go out the window and new, inspired words replace them.

“You don’t need a blessing to know that it’s okay to be happy or that it’s okay to live your life as a gay person. You’ve already given yourself permission to embrace your identity—your sexuality.”

I pause again to let the new words fill my mind:

“Daniel, you are a Mormon. And it’s okay to be a Mormon—to think of yourself as a Mormon. It’s okay to embrace that identity, too.”


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