Mimi Allin – A Poet's Recap

During the August heat wave, Seattle performance artist Mimi Allin offered Tacomans an imaginative escape to the beach with her one-woman show, Seaside Opera, at Tollefson Plaza. Allin performed the piece several times a day over the course of a week, in the process engaging with spectators who were alternately entertained and confounded by her rhythmic activities – both actual and mimed – involving props such as rubber lobsters, a pail and shovel and a lifeguard stand, all to the sounds of music such as Claude Debussy’s La Mer. Allin is known for her original performance works – for instance, showing up at Green Lake every Sunday for one year, to both give and receive poetry to strangers. Here are her impressions of her Spaceworks-supported time in Tacoma.

*  *  *  *  *

I must say, I was most delighted & surprised
to see how respectful & open & kind the Tacoma public is!!
I arrived every morning to find my lifeguard stand unharmed in any way.
Between sets, I left my radio & record player & binoculars in the
middle of the plaza
and no one took or harmed anything.

At times there were inquiries…
What are you doing? What’s this here? Who’s in charge?
To my responses, I heard, “That’s cool.” “I like it.” “Thanks for being here.

*  *  *  *  *

I’ve had a bit of time to process my work in Tollefson now
& have some thoughts about the space & the people I encountered
& even James Sinding’s letters
which over the course of a week became many things for me.

At first Sinding’s letters were a way to engage & advertise the self.
But strange, I thought, without instruction all these people know what
they have to do,
make & photograph a message to their friends, mothers, partners..
I was not surprised at the wish to make larger, more pubic statements,
but became interested in the permanence & impermanence of our
feelings, words & actions.
The work of finding & placing letters was the important thing, I thought,
but the attention is being paid the result, the word that is spelled out.
But that word so quickly goes away, a letter or 2 are taken by someone else
to spell something else nearby & soon the meaning of the first phrase
crumbles away.
I began to see how quickly everything changes, is assimilated,
mutates, feeds something else.
The web of living.

Monday and Tuesday were tough.
Not only was it ungodly hot, but I was sick with a sinus thing
& there were 2 reporters waiting while I set up,
which put a little pressure on.
Sniffle sniffle achooO!
I overdid it at first & performed for 2 straight hours,
but thankfully was able to sleep a lot that night & all week
& so was feeling pretty much all better by Thursday.

On Wednesday, when the weather cooled off a bit,
I felt so much more comfortable & began noticing then the responses I
was getting,
the feedback to my movement–smiles, questions, laughter.

Thursday was a high point for me.
There were lots of interactions that day
& I was feeling good & knew what I wanted to accomplish.
During the earlier part of the week,
I was sometimes worried
about whether or not I was big enough for the space
& did I need a sit-down audience
or was my quietly & persistently unlocking the space enough?
Unlike Occidental Park in Seattle,
Tollefson has very little incidental traffic
and so perhaps a beacon was what was needed?

By Thursday, however, I’d determined what I was doing was indeed enough,
& was, in ways, better that whatever bolder visual work I was then imagining
would better solve the Tollefson puzzle.
With my own energy, in my own way,
I was activating & engaging all those spaces, big & small, that make
up Tollefson.
And I began to see in the casual movement of the adults & children around me,
as they went about rearranging letters & spelling out their names,
a record of their comfortability with me.
I was not unseen, not forgotten, but accepted & understood. A
comfortable & moving piece of the space.
No one questioned what was happening. It was performance. In
Tollefson. Of course.
That simple realization did a lot to change my feelings about what I
might be accomplishing in Tacoma.
There are many ways in which a place may be activated, brought to
life, made more free.
In becoming more and more free myself, I believe the public became
free along with me.
Alas, there is much more to be done toward personal & public liberation,
but I am happy & proud to have played a part in doing this work in Tollefson.

-Mimi Allin

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