Nicky Watts in a Box
July 2012 - August 2018
"This was the hardest thing I have ever chosen to do. It hurt in all ways."
In Nicky Watts In A Box, I lived my day-to-day life as a tourist on the road; I just so happened to have my head in a box. In my second conceptual and processed-based art project, I underwent my third national tour, performing in 32 cities with my head in Plexiglas. I was exploring emotional isolation and the box itself was the physical representation of the invisible walls many of us carry. I was displaying my wall rather than hiding it. I walked the streets, entered restaurants, and simply lived -- whatever that life may have looked like, as a tourist -- as if I weren’t wearing a box. If the public didn’t mention it, I didn’t acknowledge the box, either.
The public was my audience. I performed in Greyhound buses, restaurants, museums, parties, airplanes, cafés, grocery stores, malls, bars, schools, and even by myself -- everywhere I went.
I forced myself to shut down my responses in order to cope with the audience's intense reactions. People kissed the box, licked the box, stuck their hands in it, snuck photos, punched it, told me dirty jokes, a lot of dirty jokes by all genders, classes, and sexual orientations, and I was threatened to be raped and murdered for "fucking with people’s emotions." Someone stuck a cigarette in it and a few different people stuck blunts in it. No one asked if I were a smoker. Two people actually entered my box. One woman kissed and licked my face on the day I had food poisoning. In Chicago, a man shoved his whole body inside the largest box made by Mark Doepker. The man twisted and crammed his way in until his mouth was to my ear and my mouth to his ear. He wanted to hear why I was in a box. In Miami, my couchsurfing host sexually assaulted me because he didn't want me to forget him. He wanted to be special to me and was no able to hear my pleas over his delusion.
"One woman kissed and licked my face on the day I had food poisoning."
Everyone wanted to know why I was in a box everywhere I went. I wore a box on my head for over 70 days in a 5 1/2 month period. I slept in it, cried in it, exercised in it, prayed in it, traveled in it -- the box went everywhere. This was the hardest thing I had ever chosen to do. It hurt in all ways.
Some Performances were scheduled and some consisted of me spontaneously showing up in a box. I performed in New York at The MOMA, The Met, Central Park, and at a conceptual performance event in The Chelsea Arts District by just showing up (well, I was invited to the event by the gallery owner by showing up to Chelsea).
In Chicago, I headlined a new show called, The Curio Show, produced by Irene Marquette. I performed in two Fringe festivals -- one in Charlotte, North Carolina -- and the Rogue Festival in Fresno, California (both of which were completely new types of performances for me and weren't very successful, but great learning experiences).
At the end of the tour, I did a two-hour audience performance at Art Basel Miami, outside of SCOPE. I sat outside SCOPE, about 80 feet from the entrance, staring into the door. The performance, Attempt To Focus; Miami Art Basel, is part of a series I conducted in multiple locations across the country. I mindfully contemplated my future participation in Art Basel and events like these during this specific version of the performance series.
I did a performance at a BDSM party. The host, patrons of my work, wanted to incorporate a fundraiser for me for the international tour during a birthday party. I was horrified by the idea of interacting with people who may hit on me in such an intimate setting and felt that prudeness was an important part of my relationship with sex and sexuality. To visually represent these feelings, I performed nude inside a steam filled box. There was a plastic part that was formed to my bust, chin, and the palms of my hands. People came up and confessed to me what ever it was they needed to get out, then they pressed against the plastic to engage in a kiss. People got deep in their confessions. The host, who had expressed desires for me since the day I met her (she was in the nude, it's a long and funny story), got to live her fantasy for a moment. I pressed up against the plastic barrier and engaged in the intimate, yet safe and disconnected moment. It was called Kissing Booth Confessional. My confession was that even with my comfort in nudity when it's with artistic expression, I'm actually really a prude and don't want to be touched by 99% of people I meet. Sexuality, when it comes from anyone outside of that 1% is horrifying to me. The idea that men would think I went to this party to engage with them was terrifying. It had nothing to do with whether I judged them poorly, I didn't, I think their lifestyle was beautiful for them, It's just horrifying for me. I had a rather serious security guard in all black create a physical separation between myself and the audience and I deliberately hid during the speeches, with my head poking out. All of it was to demonstrate the harsh relationship I had with sexuality. I think it came across as if I hated them, though. There was a lot of room for improvement.
I’m fairly new to performing. It’s not my most comfortable medium, I like hiding a bit more, but it often does the trick I need it to with my audience. My breakout from Wear Recycle to Nicky Watts In a Box was equivalent to a singer in a boy band going solo. I’m new to being the center of attention and it’s very far out of my comfort zone.
Nicky Watts In a Box gives me the opportunity to teach my audience that they can succeed, even through the more challenging times, when its hard or something they don’t want to do, when it feels unnatural because it focuses so intensely on oneself to a point of provoking change. I teach that change can be a great thing by actively seeking it in a way that people can connect to, through my work, energy, and public sharing.
"I teach that change can be a great thing by actively living it in a way that people can connect to, through my work and my energy."