project image
Josh Vettivelu

first performed on June 8, 2013
Black Box Theater at Artisphere for SUPERNOVA Performance Art Festival, Rosslyn, VA
performed once in 2013


Brooklyn, NY / Vancouver, Canada


I want to, through an abstracted movement, tackle the simple surface of a smile, especially in relation to the political pragmatism and conservatism of queer culture in North America. The image of the smile is beautiful at first glance, but it can also be a mask to cover something else. It is a facial expression that can be taken on its superficial level, but it can also be a comment on trying to sustain a pleasing image to the public in order to be accepted and tolerated from a distance.

In “Shut Up and Smile,” a continuation of a series of smile performances that I started in 2011, I hold a smile in front of a camera for as long as I can, then project the video on a wall and interact with it by nailing the smile shut. For this performance, I projected a smile video on a drywall, then hammered nails that were attached to a string that is then affixed to an elaborate handmade costume that I wore. Simultaneously, a collection of popular songs about smiles acted as the score for the performance. Here is a brief outline of my movements (approximately 30 minutes):

– Enter dark space with wall projection on.

– Walk in front of the projection and stare at the video while donning a translucent blue costume that has a long train made up of strings with nails tied at the end.

– Start picking up nails from the dress and begin nailing the outline of the smile until all nails are hammered to the wall. Start destroying part of the wall/face. Costume is now attached to the smile, connecting the body to the wall to the image of self.

– Begin pulling away from the projection. The tension of the pull will rip the costume away from the body, leaving the costume still attached to the wall and looking like an empty shell.

– Once fully detached, walk away. The piece then becomes a sculptural residue of the performance and the projection of the face is now destroyed/wounded.

This gesture of a pleased expression is broken down literally and figuratively. The aesthetic of the smile is explored through the conflation of endurance, video and performance. The smile represents this push on universality in queer politics, and the endurance and the breaking down of the smile through performance is a form of critique.