In her manifesto for Dust to Dust, Lower East Side artist Theresa Byrnes states: “I am not afraid to get dirty, I am not afraid of the cold — I have a high discomfort tolerance, I am not afraid of the rare disorder of the nervous system I have (Friedreich‘s Ataxia). Because of FA I ride a wheelchair and the control of my muscles is progressively difficult — WHATEVA! I am not hung up on having a static or mainstream identity.”

Dust to Dust, now at SUFFER, offers discovery and excitement for those who view her artistic responses to the world and her sense of self. “I am not shy about the different way my body moves, my performances often being athletic. I am curious and keen to see and feel just how I do move. My physicality, my vulnerably is a privilege. No one else is wired to move the way I do — it is unique and awkward and beautiful. Challenge is life and life demands struggle. I want to explore what it is to be human…I am fascinated to posses my body & I am fascinated by my ability as a painter to enter a visual mark and be emotionally and intellectually catapulted by it.”

Byrnes considers herself a painter first and performance artist second. She is constantly inventing ways for her body to manifest itself in her paintings. In Dust to Dust, she creates a body painting that exemplifies the struggle of life; from beginning to end.

Wearing a mesh body suit, Theresa is first found in a pit at the entrance of the gallery at SUFFER, filled with mud. Along the entire gallery, there is a performance apparatus consisting of a long (water color) paper mounted on a structure with rails on each side, several ropes—which pull down paint pigments—and an overhead device which moves along with her, spraying mist. Also, scissors are placed in strategic places, along with troughs of dirt near the rails.

Byrnes traveled from one side of the gallery to the other solely by using her arms to pull her (using the rails), while hurling her body over the paper. As she progressed, Byrnes tugged at the ropes, thereby spraying mists and pigments throughout the performance. She was completely covered in dirt and pigments—which painted the paper via the movements of her body.

Around the halfway point, it was clear to see that she was struggling hard to make it to the other end. Grunting sounds abounded (along with dark, ambient music) as she continued. Byrnes sometimes stopped to cut off a piece of her hair to add to the painting. She would occasionally throw some dirt on the paper for texture. By the time she got to the other side (about 45 minutes after she started), she could barely make it, but this seemed to give her more energy, more will to finish. When she ended up in another dirt pit at the back, there was a riveting combination of relief and exultation in the air. This was a truly mind-blowing experience.

Dust to Dust
Through Jan. 30, SUFFER, 616 E. 9th St. (betw. Aves. B & C), www.theresabyrnes.com.