Arts Desk

Jeffry Cudlin Plots a Slow, Dangerous Crawl Through Rosslyn

Performance artist and Washington City Paper contributor Jeffry Cudlin moved to Arlington in 1995 and lived there for four years. The first time he set foot in Rosslyn, he got completely lost while putting up fliers for his band. He eventually realized it was futile—no one was walking around the barren corporate wasteland at 8 p.m. on a weeknight.

Even after Cudlin moved to D.C.—he now lives in Petworth—his then-job as a curator at Arlington Arts Center forced him to make the commute back to the area. “Rosslyn continues to haunt my dreams,” he says.

In the '90s, Cudlin probably didn't picture that odd little hamlet of parking garages and high-rises becoming the venue for one of his most daring works of performance art, but the neighborhood's poor urban planning—hatched in the 1960s—is what inspired it. Beginning at 9 a.m. on June 7, Cudlin and two other artists will initiate a performance piece in which they crawl on their bellies, dragging themselves along the streets and sidewalks of Rosslyn, moving at a snail's pace for eight hours. The work, "Rosslyn Redpoint," is a part of the Rosslyn BID-sponsored, Pink Line Project-produced performance art festival, Supernova, that officially starts that day.

“My impression [of Rosslyn] has always been this strange chaotic terrain. It’s as if bits of sidewalk and street just suddenly collided and there was a sudden upheaval,” says Cudlin, who's now a teacher at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. “I feel like I’m always walking uphill. There are these weird geographical features and tunnels. It doesn’t seem like where ordinary human locomotion will suffice.” For the performance, Cudlin isn't undergoing any endurance training, really—but he thinks past experiences with things like body waxing and triathlons should suffice.

He'll be joined by Caitlin Tucker and Maggie Schneider, both MFA candidates at MICA. Schneider is the only one on the team with climbing experience, although the gravity-related risks of scaling rocks won’t apply in this case, since they'll mostly be flat on the ground. Instead, the group will face sunburn, dehydration, and the very real danger of foot and car traffic. As both a safety measure and for additional showmanship, they'll be flanked throughout the day by a small group of people in safety vests holding stop signs. The safety crew, Cudlin says, is mostly made of up students who "know my crazy is a good crazy."

The route begins in Georgetown, heading across the Key Bridge, an area where Cudlin says he’s been almost hit by vehicles—crossing on two legs with the crosswalk light. The team will traverse the Sky Bridge, make their way through a “strange, dispiriting gray parking garage,” head from the Marriott across Lee Highway, and maneuver themselves down a metal staircase . "That’s probably the first place we’re going to get injured," he says.

If they time it right, the performers will arrive at North Lynn just in time for the height of lunch hour. Their final destination is Freedom Park.

The logistical hurdles of this trek seem, well, numerous, but Cudlin says it’s “better to apologize later than ask questions first.” Most of the route is in public space, but there are a couple sections that may not be open to them. They'll find out when they get there. “Do I have permits to go where I’m going? No,” he says. “I’m assuming that we’ll be given a wide berth.”

For inspiration, Cudlin says he looked to the work of William Pope.L, best known for his legendary “Great White Way” piece, in which the artist dressed up as Superman and, elbow over elbow, dragged his way down the 22-mile stretch of New York City's Broadway. He strapped a skateboard to his back so he could roll through street crossings. Pope.L’s project took nine years to finish. “That was in response to racism. Ours is in response to bad planning," says Cudlin. "The developers want to promote Rosslyn as a place to live and not just work, but there are a lot of infrastructure challenges that go into that. You can’t just have a lot of fabulous parties and ignore the fact that it sucks to cross the street."

When he began his career as a painter, Cudlin said his art was sort of the opposite of what he does now. He spent long hours working to fill his canvas with art that “would resist criticism” and “stand mutely on a wall.” Eventually, he "wanted something messier, where someone could have a strongly negative reaction.” In 2010, Cudlin mounted his piece, "By Request," which he touted as the "ideal Washington art exhibition," drawn from collected polling data from D.C. collectors, critics, and curators. The Christopher Guest-like joke was that every piece, by a variety of artists, was an image of himself.

The potential for mortification and public awkwardness, Cudlin says, "is sort of a drug, once you discover it. You keep coming back to it because it scares you. I really believe the risk of failure is important. You set up these situations to look like a fool."

But Cudlin says he probably won't concern himself too much with people's reactions while he's crawling on the ground. "At a certain point I’m just lost in this shitty task I’ve appointed for myself."

The original version of this blog post misidentified the name of Maryland Institute College of Art. It has been corrected.

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