Being a dead weight is harder than it sounds.
That's what Brooklyn-based artist Sameer Reddy asked me to do Sunday afternoon as I submitted to a healing ritual as part of his exhibit that opened Friday at Institute 193. The exhibit is composed of a mix of spiritual and healing images and objects, some of which are interactive, like a series of boxes in which the participant is invited to deposit a regret in a dark box, a hope for the future in a clear box and a defining personal characteristic in a mirrored box.
The exhibit also comes with "performance pieces that Reddy conducts one-on-one with individuals," Institute 193 director Chase Martin wrote to me in an email last month.
During two decades covering the arts, I had never encountered one-on-one performance pieces. So I took Martin up on his offer to participate in a session.
Sunday I arrived at the gallery and met with Martin and Reddy, who explained that the piece was a healing ritual known as "prema birthing," a sort of rebirth that is supposed to help you let go of negative ideas that are dragging you down and be reborn with a new outlook.
It might sound a bit mystical and strange, but it occurred to me that Christians are in the season of Lent and just celebrated Ash Wednesday, which focuses on forgiveness and new life. The boxes actually reminded me of church rituals I have gone through involving burning regrets, and things of that sort.
Reddy explained that he came to healing rituals after an acute illness while living in Bombay and Berlin.
In Berlin, he says, he started practicing Reiki Tummo, a healing therapy geared toward channeling energy to combat everything from the lingering effects of a stomach parasite he picked up in India to depression he had suffered since he was a teen.
"I was completely healed," Reddy says. "I was a completely different person, and I decided to move back to New York and felt ready to relocate my practice there in terms of making art."
Talking about his visual art, which will be on exhibit at the North Limestone gallery through March 9, Reddy said, "The work that I make is all intended to have the possibility of catalyzing some sort of catharsis for the viewer."
Reddy acknowledges that a lot of artists seek cathartic reactions and adds, "I guess the difference is my practice is intentionally located in a metaphysical catharsis. So it's not just understanding an emotional aspect of yourself ... . I want to expand the lens to a spiritual dimension."
And his healing work became part of that.
Reddy ended up in Lexington after meeting Institute 193 founder Philip March Jones, who became interested in Reddy's work.
"Most of the artists we work with are from the Southeast," Martin says of Institute 193, which has received national recognition, including taking part in an exhibition earlier this month at New York's Outsider Art Fair. "But we also want to be a cultural resource for this community, so once or twice a year we take the opportunity to do a project with someone from outside the Southeast."
And that is why I was curled up in a fetal position — or as close to one as I can achieve — Sunday afternoon on the wood floor of the gallery. Without words, Reddy slowly unfolded me and performed some maneuvers I was unaware of (I was told to keep my eyes closed for the entire session). I was aware of taking some deep breaths, although Reddy says I had a distinct reaction to a "cord cutting" — remember, this is a birthing ritual — he performed over my stomach.
I was not aware he did that and actually drifted into a mild sleep state.
Talking afterward, I told Reddy that I felt very peaceful and relaxed, though I did not know if the session had any lasting effect on me and might not know for a while. That sort of got back to the quote on the wall at the front of the exhibit, "How will I know?" from a Whitney Houston song, one of three song quotes in the exhibit.
Houston, of course, was asking how she would know if a guy loved her. But Reddy says it refers to a more universal question of how to find truth about life, and even the session we just had.
"I don't claim to have an official explanation for any of this stuff," Reddy says. "I am very suspicious in general of official explanations. For me, it's about two people coming together with a clear and focused intention and seeing what happens."
What happened, I don't know. I was curious whether anyone had looked in on our session, which was clearly visible through the Institute 193 window facing North Lime. Reddy said no, and noted hanging a curtain was considered, but when that proved difficult it was decided the visibility of the ritual was part of its performance aspect.
I do know this: about 30 minutes into the ritual, I was much better at letting my arms be dead weights, which could be a good thing, depending how you look at it.
IF YOU GO
Sameer Reddy: Apokalypsis Now
What: Exhibit and performance by the Brooklyn-based artist.
Where: Institute 193, 193 N. Limestone
Exhibit: Through March 9. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Sat.
Performance: One-on-one healing-ritual performances through Thursday. Call (859) 749-9765 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule.
Learn more: Institute193.org, Sameerreddy.com.