Go window-shopping along the sidewalks of Little Havana this weekend, and what might you see? Pastelitos baked to flaky perfection, spiritual self-help paperbacks and Castro conspiracy hardcovers, plastic Catholic saints next to black Santería candles, stylish guayaberas and Panama hats, big-screen TVs tuned to Telemundo, dude lying in bed.
Wait a minute. Backtrack. Will someone really be snoozing in a storefront window? You bet your "Bring Back Elian" placard he will. His name is José Reyes, and no, he's not crazy. Well, not exactly. He's just an artist delving into the delightfully weird world of the avant-garde.
This Friday at 8:00 p.m. Reyes sets up living quarters in the window at lab6, an experimental art studio that sticks out in the neighborhood like one of Picasso's Cubist kissers in a crowd of conventional faces. The envelope-pushing conceptual artist is stocking a small refrigerator with food, and he's not coming out until Sunday night. What will happen in the six-by-ten-foot space over the course of three days is anybody's guess, but it'll all be on display for everybody to enjoy. "I just want people to actually keep coming back to see what happens, to see it evolving, like a novela." Reyes explains. "I want them to come back the next day and say, 'Oh my God, this guy's still in the window.' And the next day: 'Jesus Christ, he's still in the window!'"
Reyes calls his performance piece A Better Way of Life. The theme is one that runs through much of his work and that springs from the angst produced by his regular job as the art director of an advertising firm. By presenting himself as a living commodity, he wants people to realize they're trapped in consumer culture. Bound up with the warning against runaway capitalism is a distrust of technology, and so Reyes isn't portraying himself as just any old mannequin, but a robotic one. He'll be decorated with knobs, wires, and assorted high-tech thingamajigs, none of which actually work. He also plans to spend time sitting at a computer pretending to be busy. "The equipment is all pseudofunctional," he says. "It's like a Seventies Star Trek episode, where everything looks fake but it's supposed to look fake."
The appearance of the space will be hokey, but it also will be striking, creating what Reyes hopes is a "mesmerizing crystal ball-like effect." It will be bathed in a stark orange light that matches the jumpsuit he'll wear underneath his android façade. If the electric orange isn't bright enough, a waxy sheen, reminiscent of melted American cheese, will cover everything. The walls, furniture, parts of Reyes himself, and even the food in the fridge all will be, in keeping with the consumerism theme, "packaged" with wax.
So just what is Reyes going to do in his postmodern bubble, besides playing on his fake computer, peeling wax from his food, and relaxing on what he calls his "sleeping apparatus?" Well, he's still trying to figure out that part. "With this kind of performance, you're going through it just as much as the audience," he says. "No one knows what's going to happen next." He does know, though, that the one thing he wants to avoid at all cost is leaving the space, which will present certain hazards. Reyes, who is diabetic, worries that his diet of wax-covered snacks -- chosen more for aesthetic than nutritional value -- could make him ill. Another concern is that the constant orange glow could make him anxious. "Performance art is always some kind of endurance test," he says. "You are submitting your body to the artwork."
Submitting your body indeed: No showers for three excruciating days! And though Reyes says he will dash out to take quick bathroom breaks as needed, he will "try to keep them to a minimum." By weekend's end Reyes may learn firsthand the meaning of the adage "Art is long; life is short."