“Hiraeth Heartbeet” was a twelve-hour-long durational public performance presented in Kyiv, Ukraine as part of the Carbonarium International Performance Festival. My paternal ancestors left what was then known as Kiev in 1902 after a series of devastating pogroms. My great-grandfather always said that if any Liftig ever returned to Russia (Ukraine was then part of Russia) we would be immediately arrested and sent to Siberia. My father, who recalled my great-grandfather flipping out when he heard that my dad was studying Russian, passed down this story to me. (This was also the man who famously exclaimed “Jewish Boys Don’t Run Track!” when my father brought home a trophy for the long jump.)
The morning of the performance, I went to the Bessarabsky Market (which was built around the same time that my family left) and purchased twelve beets, just plucked from Ukrainian soil. The performance was divided into twelve movements, each taking an hour and each involving the very slow peeling of a beet. Over the course of the twelve hours, my hands became stained red / purple from beet juice, darkening over the duration of the performance until they were the color of a deep bruise. This was a silent piece though on several occasions I answered the inquiries of very curious and perplexed viewers. Ukraine, still only recently independent, has not seen much public performance art. I tried to strike a balance between maintaining my performance face / stare / stance and informing passersby who seemed enthusiastic but confused. The last hour of the performance took place in Maidan Nezalezhnosti square, the recent site of historic protests and civil disobedience.
Of course performing in public often provokes interesting reactions. One older woman was very disturbed that I was leaving small pieces of beet peel along the sidewalk and chewed me out in Ukrainian. Through a translator, I understood that she was so incensed that she went to get the cops. All of a sudden I remembered my great-grandfather and reader, I BEET it out of there as fast as I could.