“…Everyone is great in proportion to the magnitude of what he strives with.” —Søren Kierkegaard
Midnight is a boundary category between days, an equidistant space of consciousness where the history of what-was meets the potential of what-hopes-to-be; a temporal dimension where our human future perpetuates itself in continuity. I am a poor janitor from Harlem and each night as the world slumbers I, and countless other anonymous workers, perform obligatory rituals of labor: cleaning tenement hallways and banks lobbies, office buildings and backyards in a cycle of endless repetition. But tonight, something strange and wonderful is happening for me as I clean the Department of Art at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. In this quiet, academic context, right around midnight is where I discover new registers of cultural meaning that help me to transform myself from a janitor into an artist through the aesthetization of my labor.
The performance is set to 1970s soul music, together with a revolving disco ball, both metaphorical references to earlier times and identities. I proceed to spread cleaning compound over the critique room floor; but instead of using my broom in the customary manner, I begin making a series of unexplainable floor drawings. The creative use of janitoral materials at my disposal allows me to experience an inner creativity that not only transforms my subject position from maintenance worker to artist, but blurs the boundaries of labor and provides a cultural paradigm for self-transformation. It was as though Ralph Ellison was referring to me when he said, “If people were going to have a voice in their own destiny then they had to first discover ways of discarding old identities and illusion, because their enlightenment could not come until then.”
“‘Round Midnight” combines the service aesthetic with performative methodology to replicate “real world” service acts that blur boundaries between types of labor, but also between people who perform them. I am after a therapeutic or restorative value in the work that pushes us past our stations in life, toward the equalized essence of possibility.