DC at Night

DC at Night

Saturday, August 11, 2012

I Do. I Don't. I Do. I Don't ...

You know that part of the wedding vows that goes "until death do us part." Well, for performance artist Kathryn Cornelius those vows should have been altered to something like "until death do us part or 30 minutes, whichever comes first." In a wild, abbreviated, yet weirdly realistic series of ceremonies yesterday, Cornelius got married and divorced 7 times during an engaging performance piece at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

We caught Cornelius and husband number 5. Here's how the blessed day (or, to be more specific, blessed 27 minutes) unfolded.

After a moving ceremony on the Corcoran steps (for that description we had to rely on other guests because we arrived late for the event), the couple posed on a giant platform named The Bridge above the doors for their first pictures as husband and wife. The setting made it appear as if they were the top figures on their own giant wedding cake.


Once inside, a silver-voiced master of ceremonies in a tuxedo publicly announced the couple as hundreds of revelers cheered. After a 1st dance, Cornelius and her Dr. husband offered a toast before cutting the traditional wedding cake.

"Our love was meant to be, the kind that lasts forever. And I want you here with me until the end of time," Cornelius said.

"You're the meaning in my life; you're the inspiration," her husband responded.

After being served cake and sparkling water, the guests were urged to hit the dance floor. A boisterous "The Macarena" faded into "The Twist." Those tunes were followed by a joyous "Living La Vida Loca" and a sexy "I Like Big Butts and I Can't Deny." The couple danced together, then joyously moved among the crowd, urging them to even wilder moves.

After a bouquet and garter ceremony, the floor once again became packed as the DJ played the Kool and the King wedding dance staple "Celebration." But, during this song, it became apparent that all was not well in marriage land. The couple didn't dance with each other, and the new bride-of-minutes was particularly enjoying the ministrations of a young, handsome wedding guest.

The song switched to Guns n' Roses "November Rain." Although the couple were slow dancing, as the lead singer Axel Rose sang the lines "Nothin' lasts forever and we both know hearts can change. And it's hard to hold a candle in the cold November rain," Cornelius began to cry. The music stopped. Slowly, Cornelius and her husband began backing up until they stood separated by the entire hall.


"I can't do this anymore," Cornelius said, emotion choking her voice.

 Her husband responded softly, "The silence is deafening."

"I don't love you. I want a divorce," Cornelius replied.

And so, separately, the couple approached a table where a young judge was seated.

"Did there come a time when you were separated from your husband?" he asked Cornelius.

"Yes," she replied

"Well, everything that had a beginning has an end," the judge said. "In the name of art, you are now divorced. This marriage is now null and void."

Cornelius's husband faded quietly away. However the performance artist suddenly broke into a wide smile and danced her way to and through the nearest exit to await whatever would come next. The couple had been married for exactly 27 minutes.


At 3 p.m., Cornelius appeared outside standing on the corner of 17th Street, beaming and blushing like the new bride she was about to become. This time her partner for life would be fellow artists Holly Bass.


As the crowd blew bubbles and a cellist played, Cornelius and Bass exchanged the solemn vows that would make them wife and wife.

With the words "everything that has an end has a beginning," the presiding minister gave permission for the couple to demonstrate their commitment with a 1st kiss.

After posing for pictures with the crowd, Cornelius and Bass mounted the stairs to The Bridge platform, ready to be introduced at their happy reception.

Realizing that we had seen all this before, my wife Judy and I headed down 17th Street to catch the Metro at the Farragut West Station. Coming toward us, we noticed groom #7 and a small entourage on their way to the Corcoran. In his hand, the groom-to-be held a bouquet of flowers for his intended. We wished him luck on that wedding thing. "Thanks. I'll be OK. I'm in love," he replied with a wide smile.

And I guess, when it's all said and done, that's the most important idea. Whether it's real life or performance art, where there is love, or even the appearance of love, there is always a chance. And a chance is all any of us are ever promised.  

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
So what exactly was Cornelius trying to say in her performance piece she entitled Save the Date? In a handout available to the crowd, she explained that the event "explores the life cycle of marriage and divorce, and the wedding ceremony's complex mix of private emotion, public spectacle, social expectation and state power. The multiple marriages, receptions, and divorces question the emotional and political implications of the changing status of marriage as an institution in today's society. The suitors chosen were self-selected through online proposals using Tumblir, Twitter, and Facebook. The online social media courtship explored the relationship between technologies and private vs. public life. In full view of the White House and in the midst of changing political rhetoric on marriage, I hope the performance will evoke conversation and audience questioning."

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