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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #388
David Gunn

In July, Borraka B. Cromwell's friend gave him a futon. The futon had only three parts: a wooden frame, a tufted cotton pad, and a decorative cover. But when Cromwell attempted to put it together, he turned the event into a week-long performance art piece. His trial-and-error assembly began in his loft in Soho, and attracted the typical New York crowd of jaded art critics. ("Derivatively original," suggested one; "a corruption of metaphysical space," puled another; "recontextualized sleep deprivation," marveled a third.) When, by October, the bed was still not properly set up, at least not in a manner that would afford a good night's sleep, the Whitney Museum got interested. Citing Cromwell's "manipulative but pleasantly daft improvisationalism," curator Shundar Fez selected "Deconstructing the Ontological Futon" for its 21st Century American Art of Sleep Retrospective, and moved him and his bed to the lobby of its Madison Avenue lodgings. Suddenly, Cromwell was playing to audiences that numbered in the hundreds. Most stayed to watch him for only for a few minutes, some visibly frustrated at the slow progress the artist was making. ("Look, just lay the frame out flat and put the [expletive deleted] pad on top!" was a common recommendation.) But Cromwell was not to be rushed, and while his methodical process was maddening to some, it was positively sedative to others. These people camped out for hours--days, even! What was most inspiring to the onlookers was the fact that he never repeated himself. Each action was unique. Incorporating movements from tai chi chuan plus the old Pantomime Quiz television show, Cromwell's meditatively deliberate actions were beautiful to watch, but, in the end, remarkably fruitless.

The cover was a case in point. It was designed to slip easily over the pad. Emblazoned on its flanks, however, were stirring images of Mongolian fighting kites soaring over the Opiumbilical Hills in Ulan Bator. As Cromwell worked the cover onto the pad, he finessed the fabric so that the kites came alive, battling one another for territorial supremacy. Often he came tantalizingly close to overlaying the pad with the cover as designed, but then he'd maneuver the kites into another prolonged skirmish and back down the pad the cover would frustratingly slide.

One time, Cromwell addressed the cover-pad relationship as an aerobic instructor. He stood the pad on end, placed the cover opening on top, then jumped up and down for an hour and twenty minutes, attempting to jolt the pad up into the cover. Occasionally, he slammed the pad down onto the floor and rolled on it like a fisherperson wrestling an intransigent sturgeon. But neither method resulted in the pad being successfully enveloped by its cover--which, of course, was the beauty of Cromwell's art.

In November, Cromwell began to repeat himself. Alert bedding cognoscenti spotted hand-to-frame motions that he'd used in the nascent days of his act. Interest in his futon soon waned, and the Whitney quickly moved him to a dimly lit corridor on the second floor, awarding the prized lobby site to Sukoa Fibonacci's whalebone corset sleeping suit.

Then, one night when his audience numbered nil, Cromwell successfully assembled the futon. He was so tired that he simply "[laid] the frame out flat and put the [expletive deleted] pad on top." It was a revelation! Cromwell stretched out onto the pad and immediately embraced the sleep that had eluded him for nearly a third of a year. In the morning, Curator Fez discovered him still deeply dormant. He tried to rouse him, to tell him his services were no longer required, but Cromwell would not wake up. So, Fez had him moved back to the lobby and inserted into Fibonacci's sleeping suit. Spectators who had for months watched him deconstruct the rite of sleeping now tried to waken him. They yelled, they tickled him, they played raucous music, they plugged him into a light socket, they administered risky high anxiety elixirs--and still Cromwell slept.

Fibonacci was the first to capitalize on Cromwell's condition. He bought the US distribution rights to his futon, advertised it as a surefire remedy for chronic insomnia (with Cromwell prominently featured as the poster child), and promptly realized a tidy cash overload. The Whitney Museum, too, cut itself in on the action, by touring him on its satellite circus circuit as The Man Who Refused to Waken. Four months later, however, Cromwell Rip-van-Winkled. He briefly made the chat show rounds--having been unconscious all this time, though, he didn't have much to chat about--and soon faded back into Soho performance art obscurity.

We like to think that Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, and this 388th episode is no exception, will soon fade out of sleepy obscurity and assume its rightful place at the top of alert non-pop listeners' radio dials, its frequency modulated "derivatively yet originally" by Kalvos.