The weak February sun shone on the main quad of Campbell - Frank College, and on the latest “Placement” by noted Irish performance artist Seth Murchison. Students, faculty, particularly the art faculty, and the many who came from around the state to see this and the other ArtVermont exhibits around campus . . . They milled around the pillars arranged in catenary curves, the recorded voices and music, the lighting displays around the perimeter, and read the poems on the pillars.
And on the center pillar, a little higher than the rest, the live performer was doing the yoga pose known as “bear”. Or maybe it should be “bare”. Because that was what Tami Smithers was, utterly, her legs spread up and out at a 90-degree angle, fingers intertwined with her widely-extended toes. With her flexibility as a trained gymnast it was no strain at all to keep her back straight, eyes fixed on a point above and beyond, as it happened just past the top floor of Rossland Hall, the administration building.
“Yes, it is an adjustment very good,” Professor Brignon said. Tami’s crotch was at their eye level but they were careful to look up at her torso, her taut, blank expression, and then down at the bare breasts, reddened and tight with the cold, and the brownish-red pebbles of her hardened nipples.
“Isn’t she cold?” The vaguely Eastern European cadence came from the man next to the professor, a shortish fellow in a beret, overcoat and gloves.
“She has developed resistance,” said Professor Yevtushenko. “I would not worry.”
“Remarkable young woman,” said the tall man in a thick Irish accent, stereotypically wearing a tartan jacket over jeans and a flannel shirt and thick boots. And now a change in music, and Tami, with slow, measured motions, untwined her bare feet from her fingers, crossed her legs and began a partial headstand. Her hands braced alongside her head, her crossed legs raising high up above her straightened back.
“Congratulations, Mr. Murchison, for making the adjustment so quickly,” Dean Jorgon said, adjusting the coat over his usual business suit with the trademark maroon tie. “It seems to have worked out well.”
“Yes, and thanks to your last-minute suggestion, with the unexpectedly pleasant weather -- what is it now, about 13 degrees? Not sure what that is in Fahrenheit -- we could move the entire installation outside. And it turned out the jumpsuit actually could be dispensed with. The sneakers also. I suppose yoga poses are more easily done in the nude anyway. I have never used nude models because of the spectacle aspect . . . I remember well Tom Wesselman’s ‘Bedroom Tit Box’, sorry, but that was the title of it . . . But this is a breakthrough for me, from an artistic standpoint.” He turned to the Dean. “It was a surprise getting that call from you this morning,” the Irish man said.
“Yes, I wish I could say what happened wasn’t partly my fault,” the Dean said. “It was almost a disaster. Thank goodness Mr. Ross warned me about the lack of proof, and I could alert the security people in time.” Henry Ross, the campus attorney, took his gaze away from Tami’s now upside-down vulva and smiled modestly.
At a puzzled look from the man in the beret, the Dean went on: “Henry made clear that an unsworn second-hand statement would not be adequate proof that Miss Smithers was no longer following her, uh, religion. Fortunately the security people found her in Professor Choudhury’s office at the very last possible moment. Miss Smithers was quaking with what must have been fear and revulsion, I imagine, literally half a second away from putting on clothes, her hands shaking as she was about to slip the jumpsuit on. In a few seconds she would have been entirely covered up with that jumpsuit, and with socks and sneakers on her feet. Obviously she had been pressured into agreeing to put on clothes, which would be utterly repugnant to the religion which the college has tried so hard to protect.”
As he recounted the story, loudly enough for everyone around to hear, Tami’s upside down gaze continued to fix on that same spot, up and above. Her toes, sticking out from the hollows of her crossed knees, twitched ever so slightly.
“I knew we had done the right thing based on what they told me about her reaction. She cried out, ‘No, no!’, and in her distracted state she actually tried to grab the jumpsuit back! Fortunately there were two officers, in full uniform of course, and after a violent struggle that unfortunately knocked over a few things in Professor Choudhury’s office, they managed to win that bizarre tug-of-war so her nudity was preserved. The jumpsuit got ripped but that’s a moot question now of course. Then she ran to the locker room, her bare feet slapping down the hallway, and was heard crying, and then wailing, banging on the lockers with her fists. Her screams of ‘no! no! no!’ resounded through the empty corridors. She was clearly traumatized by what she was almost forced into doing. I’m glad it was late, classes were over, and there was no one around to hear.
“Of course Professor Choudhury has been strictly admonished as to what she tried to get Miss Smithers to do. We have referred the matter to the Faculty Disciplinary Committee.” In a quieter voice, he looked up at the upside-down nude and said, “Per the advice of Mr. Ross, if Miss Smithers ever wishes to, uh, modify her religion, we will have to have her questioned under oath, to make sure it is a free and uncoerced choice on her part. This necessarily involves going into matters back to . . . her first week at school, the circumstances under which she declared her religion. We will also have to find all relevant witnesses. It sounds very legalistic, I know, but we have to make sure her First Amendment rights are protected.”
The man with the beret, clearly impressed, looked up at the upside-down face. “Miss Smithers, I admire you greatly.” She did not respond. Seth Murchison said, “I’m sure she appreciates the compliment, but she is not supposed to break character.” “Oh, sorry.”
The six of them -- the Dean, Henry Ross, Professor Brignon, Seth Murchison, Professor Yevtushenko, and the man in the beret -- circled around the central pillar, taking in the exquisite nudity from every angle. The music changed and, as they came around to once again face the posing nude, Tami brought her legs down, extended them out until they were almost in a split, and ducked her head underneath.
Murchison said, “I believe Miss Smithers’s nudity complements the work more than the jumpsuit would have. Notice the flushed color of her skin, due to the temperature. It actually suits the work more than the jumpsuit would have. Also the rest of her body, outdoors on a day like this, presents an interesting mosaic.” These comments gave the other heavily clothed adults permission to look at every bit of her. “The brownish red nipples, hardened from the cold. The red blotches on the buttocks. The redness in the toes, and the fingers. One can even see in this pose, her vaginal lips parted, the redness within offsetting the pinkish character of her inner thighs. These are all variations of the color red, which as you can tell was the theme of the central pillar.” They took turns drawing their heads close to Tami’s crotch to understand what the artist was talking about.
The man in the beret said, “Her anus is well on display, and even it seems a little reddish in addition to brown.” The others agreed. Murchison said, “Yes, the anus of Miss Smithers and her surrounding skin basically sum up the color scheme of the entire presentation.” They crowded in closer to look.
Tami continued to look up into the distance, as directed.
“And of course the red hair,” Murchison said. “And by that I mean not only the hair on her head, but her pubic hair.” The men examined the latter a lot more closely than the former.
Henry Ross looked at the Dean. The Dean then turned to Murchison and said, “Perhaps a comparison with the jumpsuit . . . ?”
“Yes, thanks for reminding me,” Murchison said. “I have the, well, remains of it here,” he said with a little chuckle. He fished out of his bag the ripped-up coverall, the coverall that had come within a few seconds of finally enveloping Tami in soft warmth, and protection from the world’s constant probing gaze. With the help of the man in the beret, they stretched it out so that it lay full length next to Tami’s stretched-out nudity. It came within an inch of touching her. The posing nude quivered and quaked. Her eyes blinked but stayed resolutely fixed on some distant point.
“You see that the uniform color of the jumpsuit, actually this is a pale shade of vermilion, does not make the exhibit come alive as does human nudity.” He brought the jumpsuit down and the human nudity stopped quivering.
“Also the socks.” He brought out one of the warm, fluffy wool socks and stretched it out right next to Tami’s freezing bare foot. Actually too close; part of it glanced ever so slightly against Tami’s little toe, causing another quiver. “Oh I’m sorry Miss Smithers, I realize it is offensive to your religion to have clothing touching you . . . Anyway, the sock is not as interesting as the various shades of red we see here in a bare foot.”
“I agree, remarkable,” Henry Ross said. A bit more loudly he said, “My, it’s getting colder.” With an exaggerated gesture he pulled his overcoat together under his chin and stuffed his hands in the pockets. They contemplated the nude, spread-out body of Tami Smithers for another moment, the many effects that cold air has on the skin of a white girl; then Murchison led them to the other pillars. As they drifted off, one could hear him say, “This is a wonderful crowd. More than I expected.” “Yes, indeed,” the man in the beret said. “I think this Placement will give you some much needed exposure.” “Yes, any artist has to be glad to get exposure.”