On Thursday, I was a poet. A poet who supported herself by waiting tables at Applebee’s and whose love for Jay-Z was rivaled only by an obsession with Public Enemy. I came from Indiana, where my grandparents still live, on a farm. I had a sister who was always setting me up on blind dates and always with terrible men. Men who didn’t ride bikes. Who only drove. Who voted Republican.
On Thursday, that’s one of several characters I became in Mariano Pensotti’s theatrical installation Sometimes I Think, I Can See You
, part of PICA’s Time-Based Art Festival
. For the work, two writers are set up with laptops in a public place, making notes about those around them. Their text—straightforward observations, lyrical ruminations, outrageous imaginings—is immediately projected onto screens, for all to read. When I stopped by, one of the writers opted for a more abstract, almost poetic style:
she’s thinking about performing
featuring her bicycle
The other writer, meanwhile, developed an extensive story about me; an unfolding by turns fascinating and invasive. As the details mounted, I was met by competing desires: an urge to let the story unfurl, to see what other whimsical absurdity the writer would imagine about me, and the wish to correct all the ludicrous falsehoods and assert the truth. But I wasn’t waiting for a blind date! I might be a writer, but I’m not a poet! I don’t have a sister! I’ve never even been to Indiana!
I wondered: Were those around me taking the writer’s words as truth? Did they really think I enjoyed working at Lloyd Center? Another line appeared on the screen: They do have a Hot Topic. I glanced down at my outfit. Did I look like I shopped at Hot Topic? And there is the LA Fitness. She loves the gym. She does the Stairmaster for a couple hours, blasting out to Jay-Z and Public Enemy.
As my own biography developed, I began to wonder about the stories of those around me. I considered approaching them. “Do you really work for an environmental nonprofit?” I’d ask. “Are you really from Seattle?”
The woman on the bike is really hoping the woman doesn’t ask her if she’s registered to vote.
She doesn’t feel like being polite.
I didn’t? But what if I did? I didn’t know anymore. I froze—what if the woman collecting signatures did approach me? Would I want to prove the writer’s story true? Or would I want to contradict it, to demonstrate model civility?
When she didn’t approach me, I felt relieved. And when the writer moved onto another subject, I experienced another sense of relief—I wasn’t being observed any longer. But then, just as quickly, came a distinct sense of sadness—I wasn’t being observed any longer.