Tract 5, Day 3

by julie

Day 3 found me shuffling in alongside the Festival of fools. I was surrounded by street performers and again set myself up beside the tourist information map at Cornmarket. As it was a saturday there were mostly teenagers in town and many shared their opinion of what I was doing and what I looked like as they went past, for the first time I really realised what I must look like. I look younger than I am and I am sure if I was an older man I would not be subjected to the “whispering” shouts of how stupid I am and how much my presence pisses them off.

As has happened a few times on other tract giving days, I saw a few people I know. One stopped to chat and said “that looks like a Jesus thing” and I explained it is meant to. That this tract was a reaction to always being asked if I am saved and how I hate that question. Instead I would ask are you lost and then offer some direction only to those who asked.  That as an atheist I wanted to be able to have a presence in Belfast that is helpful.

Some young boys asked directions for Kennedy square. It isn’t on my map and I googled it but couldn’t find it, they stayed and waited for a bit then said not to worry and on they went, another couple passed and asked the way to rosemary street. I was looking at my map when they spotted it and even though I had been no help at all they still thanked me. Two tourists from Spain arrived to look at the map and wanted to know where to go and get the titanic bus tour – again I wasn’t much help. I have to admit my morale was pretty low at this point. I put myself in the position where I am offering advice on something that is not a strong point of mine. I real this awkward tension is important for my work so I resolve to carry on.

A girl asked if I had seen a group of girls one of which is wearing a purple hat, I would have laughed if she hadn’t looked so worried. I asked if she was meant to meet them in Cornmarket and she explained they had all gone into a shop then left without her. I offered my phone to call them and she told me she didn’t have their numbers. She told me they aren’t very nice before wandering off in search of them anyway.

A large group of girls and boys stopped, basically to make fun of me. They asked for directions to all the shops, one by one, that are around the edge of Cornmarket and were in plain view of where I was standing. I patiently answered every question. One boy in the group said she is just making fun of you and I said “that’s ok I have plenty of time” When they realised I wasn’t getting annoyed they left. I was secretly singing inside at managing to find a way to remain totally patient, it felt like a performance break through.

I went for a cup of tea after the distribution and bumped into several people, some artists and friends in town for the festival of fools. Each asked about my project and gave great encouragement. Saying how interesting it was to deal with this topic in this way and how courageous. We talked about how rejection can be motivation. The inner feeling of believing you are right and the more people who disagree or reject this, the more important the work becomes.

It was really exciting to talk to people who knew about my work, a real change from my encounters with the public but it left me feeling sheepish. No matter how I choose to work in public without disclosing that I consider it performance or art it is still when I return into the art fold that I receive my validation and after an afternoon out on the streets I welcome this validation more than I feel I should.