project image
Mollie McKinley

first performed on October 28, 2020
Public waterfall in rural Western New York
performed three times in 2020


Newburgh, New York


“Washing the Grapes (Wet for Dionysus)” was created in response to new rituals of survival and care that have emerged in the pandemic. Performed at a waterfall in rural upstate New York, the work serves as a poetic antidote to the ableist structures that have made the pandemic traumatic for at-risk people (ill, disabled, and survivors alike). Early in the pandemic, when none of us knew exactly how the virus spread, my friends and I watched YouTube videos on how to extensively clean produce and packaged groceries in order to remove viral particles.

This heightened grocery washing became my weekly fruit-baptism, a meditation on the food that nourishes us, and a spell to erase our collective fear of death. My status as a young cancer survivor heightened the emotional intensity of these rituals. Fruit washing became an act of care—tender, attentive, and erotically Dionysian. Dionysus, the androgynous god of ecstasy, is associated specifically with the symbols of grapes, wine, and the eroticized body. He liberated his followers from self-conscious fears and oppressive powers through the devotional pleasures of the earth. Longing for a feeling of release, this performance connects to the Dionysian spirit of liberation at a time when the pandemic limits everyone’s pleasure.

For the performance, I am clad in a black velvet robe and dishcloth as a headdress. I enter the water fully clothed. Slowly approaching the waterfall as one might approach an altar, I wash clusters of deep purple grapes under the rapids. The water is forceful, and many grapes are washed right off the cluster. After several minutes, I move away from the rapids and return to the shore. After a minute of standing, I then repeat my approach to the waterfall again. This cycle continues until the force of the water disintegrates the grapes entirely. Over and over, I approach the waterfall with fewer and fewer grapes, until one lone grape on a bare spindle remains.

This remaining grape is presented to the waterfall extremely slowly, with even more care than the abundant, fresh cluster. The performance ends when it too is swept away by the force. The ritual serves as a communication with the intelligences of water, sun, and rock in a time when physical human connection is painfully limited. It is an act of devotion, a discharging of anxiety, and a plea for pleasure.