A guerrilla performance
Met Gala, New York
May 1, 2017
Performed: 23 hrs
With: Anna Shpilko, Alexandre Lyle, Katya, Thomas, Ziyad
Film: Lavoisier Clemente
Images: Lavoisier Clemente, Anna Shpilko, Gleeson Paulino
I get a call from my dear friend Dino, a talented young Greek architect. When I called him the day before, he was extremely happy to help and carry me to the Met Gala – he even called his two friends, also young architects.
– Sorry Fyodor. I spoke with a friend of mine who works in the NYPD this morning. He insists that I shouldn’t go. He says that the Met Gala is serious shit. We will be arrested straight away. You know, I'm worried about my work visa. I’m in no place to lose it. So Gabriel and Tyler also cannot make it, unfortunately, for the same reason. Sorry for that. Good luck with tonight.
Dino was not the first with such news. Earlier today I received a call from Jake, who works for the UN. The day before he was also quite excited about our potential adventure together.
– Sorry my darling, I'm afraid we have bad news. We lost a few of our colleagues this morning in a bombing in Somalia. Also, I left my tuxedo at home. Please don't be upset with me, I promise to help next time!
Well, Jake. Sure, Dino, Gabriel and Tyler. I wasn't that naïve, and asked seven people altogether to carry me. But of course, 15 minutes after Dino's call, I received another one from David Birkin, my wonderful friend and an amazing artist.
– I love you, Fyodor, but my the actress friend asked me to go with her to the Met Gala after party tonight, so I might not be on time if I go with you. I went to the Met Gala itself a couple of years ago, it was so funny, but it's also a very long ceremony, so I think you won't be free any time soon. Take a good care of yourself and drop me a note once you done.
The joke was getting old.
First of all, the box itself weighed 35 kilos, in addition to 80 kilos of me. And 115 kilos for two carriers is obviously too much.
Second: the belts were designed for four carriers.
Third: I really doubt Peter C, the 7th carrier out of my New York based friends who agreed to help, would make it to the spot at all.
It starts looking desperate.
Anna and I start arguing.
It seems like the box doesn't want to be put together.
– We’re missing some screws! And how come you put two walls together without a bottom?
I start getting hysterical, and gradually turn into a monster as I scream at Anna, all out of my own weakness.
– You should have started earlier! When did you wake up today?
The stunningly-beautiful Anna says in her defence, waving a screwdriver in the air.
It looks like we're gonna scratch the beautifully-polished floor in our Chelsea Airbnb, which I miraculously managed to rent from a friend at a huge discount, and the metal parts of the box are quite wooden-floor-unfriendly. Alexander Lyle, a wonderful performance artist (and a great friend) is the only one who made it there on time. He decided to come earlier – he was worried that we might not assemble the box without him. He was so right!
We're done with the box.
I check my backpack and, thinking twice, decide to leave my passport at home. Alex and I carry the box downstairs while Anna washes the traces of plumbing work off her hands. 10 minutes later, she joins us at our Uber XL – the box would not fit in a normal Uber – decked out in the tallest high heels possible, a jaw-dropping emerald couture dress, and pearly make up. (If it had been me getting this dressed up, it would have taken me at least an hour).
Ziyad, a Lebanese-born Uber driver, turns out to be a funny dude. He wants to know more about what's gonna happen tonight, and laughs out loud once he learns about the plan. I also feel funny, but in the wrong way. I call my other partner-in-crime, filmmaker and cinematographer Lavoisier Clemente, who actually shot the better part of Temporary Monuments in Brazil and in Sri-Lanka with me. He has even saved my life once, when I nearly drowned while filming at the 3rd Monument, 'Pau de arara'.
– Hurry up, Fyodor – police have started blocking the entire area! My photographer friend and I are walking around here, and it looks like you had better park around 88th street, as far from The Met as possible, so no one will see anything.
That was exactly what we were going to do.
After making our way through the usual Manhattan traffic, we park, leave the box at Ziyad's car, and go for a walk to see how everything looks. SUVs, black as cuttlefish ink, are crawling ahead, part of a special path organised for the celebrities on the right side of 5th Avenue. This “celebrity lane” is surrounded on all sides by cops, more cops, and even more cops – uniformed and undercover, skinny and fat, black and Asian, of all shapes and sizes.
It looks like they're all scared of something.
That's when I understand: most likely, they’re scared of me.
Cops start looking at us suspiciously.
They look at our entire crew, all of whom look a bit strange: two guys (Alex and Lavoisier) wearing a strange sort of formal dress (definitely not something Anna Wintour would authorize inside her party), another guy wearing jeans (myself), and a stunning celebrity – a young woman in an emerald dress with a wooden clutch in hand (Anna) – inexplicably following along. I wonder whether it would be a good idea for us to split into couples, to avoid looking so suspicious.
But at this very moment I receive a phone call.
– Fyodor, are you crazy? I came here to carry you, but it's full of cops! And I've got some weed in my pocket. What were you thinking? Sorry man, I really have to go.
Peter C, a radical performance artist was the last one to drop out. I start thinking about how terrible the contemporary world is. At this point I leave my friends behind, crossing 5th Avenue with almost no hope left.
I'm hanging onto a fence.
There are a good thousand celebrity fans underneath me. They are stretching their hands out, clutching mobile phones in despair, towards a poster saying something about Rei Kawakubo. Next year there will be special stalls built for the fans, and tickets will be sold at $500 each. They will take their pictures in a very organized manner, following specific signals, and paying money for every shot. Anna Wintour is a rock 'n roll monster.
So I just wanted to look, with eyes full of sadness, at the spot to which I didn’t make it this time. To look at the fortress which turned out to be unassailable. It's the first time in my relatively short career of guerrilla performance that I have been unable to make the things work.
Then I see Katy Perry leaving her SUV (well, at that time I didn't know it was Katy, but later I had a chance to look at the pictures and figured out who the red blob was). She was covered with 4 layers of blood-red bathroom curtains.
And then I see 200 paparazzi, shooting Katy non-stop. I understand that even the paparazzi are separated from Katy by a couple of fences. So the spot is totally unreachable. I'm hopeless. I hold the fence with one hand and with the other, I get my phone out of my pocket and call Anna.
– Look, it's terrible here. We're not gonna sneak in. We should kindly thank everyone and go to bed. Seriously. – is all I manage to say as I see the face of a good-looking young lady, drilling me with her eyes from down there.
– What is this all about? Where exactly are you trying to squeeze through? – I hear, in perfectly clear Russian.
– Anna, I'll call you back. (To the lady) Well. Can you promise to me you haven't heard a thing right now?
– Of course, done deal. But it seems that I know you. I'm Katya, I used to work at Vogue magazine office in Moscow.
– Katya, I'm Fyodor, what a surprise! And who is this young gentleman with you, so well dressed? And what are you both doing here?
– Please meet Thomas, he's my American friend. We came here, pretending to be fans. And apparently, we are not. So tell me what you are going to do. I'm so curious.
– Well, could you just get out of there with your Thomas? Let's meet a block down the street from here, we need to talk.
Straight away I know it's now going to work.
Thomas is happy to be a part of the adventure. Katya is happy to help. Anna calls an Uber SUV (50$ per trip plus the distance travelled). The black driver of our glossy black Uber, all dressed in black, doesn't mind to be a part of the craze – he just asks whether he will be on TV. – Of course you will! – I'm happy to ensure him. Ziyad will be driving Lavoisier, the photographer and Katya. He'll be driving amongst the normal cars – the ones with no right to stop from four blocks above the Met and three blocks away after it.
Alex, Anna and Thomas will be riding with me – although I'll be locked in the trunk – inside the black expensive SUV.
In real life, Anna often gets questions about her film career. Many people think she's Anne Hathaway's identical twin. Her dress makes her look as if Anne Hathaway got younger and better-looking. Alex will play the role of Anne Hathaway's bodyguard. He will sit, stone-faced, in the front seat, firm and calm. Thomas will be Anne's date: he'll stay on the other side of the back seat and look apathetic. Anna will crack open her tinted window and wave her hand subtly, just like all the other celebrities as they hear the fans screaming and wowing.
Alex has an idea: one block down the street, Serena Williams' driver has parked. Alex runs there to ask him for an invitation that the driver has underneath his front window.
Come on, you don't need this anymore, Serena is inside! Alex is amazing and straightforward, but Serena's bodyguards are polite and strict: it's a firm no.
Alex is tightening the last 6 of 18 screws.
The box is being loaded into the trunk.
Lavoisier is nervous. He saw an undercover cop on the other side of the street, who saw us getting ready – and me, naked. He walked towards the Met talking on the phone. I scream from the box – Hey, come on, let's go! Don't do the rest of the screws, it's fine like this!
We're on the way.
I'm whispering every mantra and prayer I know, all mixed together. I'm sending energy vibes to everyone – especially to those security officers that check the invites underneath the frontal windows of the celebrities' cars.
But the main thing has already happened. Nothing depends on me anymore. At this very moment, my work takes a turn towards DIY art. They will do it themselves, those contemporary art lovers, the random addressees of this dangerous artwork. Many of them have no clue what's going to happen and how they will be used. For example, now, the entire thing is in the hands of Alex, Ziyad, Thomas, and the driver of the black Uber SUV. I hope we make it through the check point. And I don't even want to think about who's gonna be responsible for the things a little later.
I can even hear the fans screaming – Anne! Anne! Please, open the window a little more, we can’t see you!
Anna allows herself a light smile and doesn't do anything in response. The main security who controls the traffic and checks the invites, the one who is placed amongst the celebrity traffic jam, is not saying anything – he only smiles and tells the driver to pass by.
– We know your passenger. Come on!
Here, inside the trunk, I cannot see anything, except for the reflections of headlights in the SUV’s rear windows. But I can feel the air getting somehow denser: I can physically feel us. We passed.
Our journey takes less than half a mile, or even less than that. We have Rihanna in front of us and Beyoncé behind, and the traffic jam makes the journey much longer.
But what a miracle: the second Uber, the one driven by Ziyad, is keeping right in parallel on our left-hand side, shoulder to shoulder with us. When we finally park in front of the celebrity entrance, Ziyad also parks in front of us, puts the hazard warning lights on and runs back to the SUV, along with Lavoisier, who is already filming. There is too much illegal action happening all at once, so the security and the guest list ladies are slightly lost.
First of all, Anne Hathaway graciously gets out of the black car wearing her emerald dress, and the guest list girls, all five of them, start furiously paging their iPads, since they most likely remember that Anna Wintour didn't invite Anne Hathaway this year. Coming to the Met Gala with no invite? What nonsense.
Then, Ann gives a sign to her bodyguard – Hey, open the trunk, I need something out of it.
Well, ok, this is more or less reasonable.
Many of the celebrities arriving today are wearing closets, or floor carpets, or barely naked, or wrapped up in a bathroom curtain. Who knows, maybe she's got a crown made of live bees sitting in her trunk? Today's ball is a ball of wonders; anything is possible.
Alex opens the trunk, and Thomas, Ziyad and the black Uber driver get the clear box with the naked body inside, and carry it ahead and drop it in front of the Met Gala reception.
And then they walk away calmly.
Anne Hathaway, wearing an emerald dress:
– You know what? I don't even know why did I come here, actually. I should rather leave.
Leaving security and her fans completely surprised, Ann isn't heading back to her car – for some reason, she's leading towards the exit.
And the most surprising: Lavoisier with his big camera remains completely invisible, invulnerable.
The Met Gala is famous for only accepting Conde Nast’s trustworthy and 100% loyal photographers. CN’s PR team knows their names, home addresses, and where their great-aunts live – just in case. It's a subtle and delicate business. But here you go – a completely unknown guy gets out of a spooky car and is now buzzing about the clear box. Out of all the photographers, he's the only one who doesn't stay amongst the other paparazzi, behind the fence. And nobody cares! Is it for real that no one can see him?
The guest list girls are majorly overwhelmed. But they are trying not to show it. One of them is pretending everything is all right and waves her iPad as if it was a fan. (All of that I much enjoyed watching later, thanks to Lavoisier's video). Two members of the security team are kind of blushing and hooting with laughter. The third one is whispering into the fourth one's ear – and looks like he's saying something important.
Then they both go to a table placed on the side. They take the white tablecloth and cover the box with it. A few guests are already involved with filming of the entire action.
Lavoisier's footage didn't allow me to see exactly who they were but two of them straight away post it on Instagram. One of them is an unknown Chinese guy; the other – one of the sponsor’s girlfriend.
This all literally takes seconds.
Unfortunately, I didn't have enough time to give my carriers a proper briefing (the ones that I properly briefed are probably now safe at home), so the belts remain attached to the box. The Foundling's rules are: once the box is delivered, disconnect the belts and take them with you as you leave. Those belts turn out to be quite helpful for the Met Gala security and police. They are dragging me into the dark side of the museum's courtyard. They are knocking on the glass.
– Hey, get out! It's over.
– Hey, can you hear me? I’m serious!
– Hey, what's going on?
– If you cannot hear us, we're gonna break it off.
(What am I thinking? I'm thinking about how to stand up without my genitals being seen. That’s exactly what I could be sued for later. The rear view isn't that important. What's important is what’s in front! So I stay still, holding my left wrist with my right fist – the symbol of The Foundling, the guerrilla hands. I'm breathing through the six holes – three in the left side glass and three in the right; I'm still feeling ok; in São Paulo, it took over three hours, but at the end of the third hour it was already quite tough.)
Now they are shaking the box. Do they want to wake me up or what?
And now I can see a real crowd around me – or, most precisely, the crowd's feet. Plenty of cops and even more firemen.
Now I can see the feet of what look like real counter-terrorism experts. They seem to have been called to help.
They start breaking the upper glass. The glass is destroyed and small pieces are landing all around.
– Hey! Get up! Get up now!
I continue the way I am. One- two-three! – they drag the box on the side, I'm falling off covering my crotch with the hands.
I'm being put on my feet.
– And now you're gonna look like a Greek sculpture! – One of them laughs as he covers me in a Grecian tunic made from this former tablecloth.
I’m standing – towering, it seems – like a beautiful statue. And straight away, I'm locked up in handcuffs.
It’s at this moment I understand that for at least the next hour, I'm gonna be busy, and I won’t be going out for dinner with my beloved friends and partners in crime.
The whole block is lit up with police lights.
It's all in my honour.
I can see three huge fire brigade trucks and many more police cars.
I'm being kept by a dozen strongmen.
Finally, they put me in the car, in the back seat, and we depart – with lights, sirens, and the full NYPD honours.
The last thing I can see from the police car are Anna's eyes. She's talking to the biggest cop –wow, he's really huge, probably a sheriff. Her eyes, already large in the first place, are now much larger. They are like the full moon, deep and anxious.
What I see next are the bars in the police car.
I'm trying to focus on the feeling of the handcuffs.
What if I'm having this feeling not just for the first time in my life, but also the last?