CARLY J BALES
“Sin Eater” derived from several concepts I was interested in: intimacy, sin, guilt, and how we engage with moral absolution within capitalism. I was also intrigued by the role of the female body as a vessel for transference in our society, historically and presently.
In “Sin Eater,” I presented myself in an installation that allowed participants to pay a small fee for me to take on their sins. I sat expectantly, holding a small container of white balls. Next to me was a small jar and handwritten sign stating, ‘I will eat your sins. $1’ When a participant payed me, I traded positions with them, sitting them down in my place, as I got down at their knees. I placed a bowl of black inky liquid in their lap. During the ritual, I maintained unbroken eye contact with the individual as I rolled a white ball in the inky substance on their laps and slowly ate the soaked object. Over the course of the night, my hands and mouth slowly blackened with a sick black-green stain—the residue of others’ sin and regret.
I originally intended to approach the piece with a distinct neutrality as sin eater. However, I found that as the durational piece continued, I was moved to engage more openly with participants in the space. I found myself eager to take on their misgivings, willing to linger in their gaze and search tenderly for the hurt, confusion, and guilt that might live within. It became an act of strange intimacy in a very public place with myself acting as part priestess, part seductress. By simply engaging the moment openly, the performance manifested catharsis in unexpected ways for each participant—sometimes tears, sometimes discomfort, and other times serene relief.
“Sin Eater” was performed once in a gallery and once in an outdoor festival. Both times, the piece found its natural ending. In the gallery, an audience member offered to eat my sins and, after doing so, took my position as sin eater for the remainder of time. During my performance outdoors, it began to pour rain. I maintained my post and continued to eat the sins of a few willing participants. An ensemble played a droning Philip Glass piece at a nearby pavilion. The music piece ended, the rain subsided, and I left the remnants of the installation in the field.