When it’s over, she’ll go home, take off the gown, let the spray tan fade. She will hope that those in attendance might think differently, now, about weddings, marriage, divorce, and the jangled mess of love and loathing in modern America. That they will be jarred into thinking about how easy it is for people to get married and divorced and married again — assuming the government has granted them that right.
Her performance art piece is called “Save the Date.” It will take place at the Corcoran Gallery of Art as part of the museum’s “Take It to the Bridge” series, co-sponsored by the Washington Project for the Arts. “The Bridge” is a 7-foot-by-7-foot plexiglass cube that was recently installed above the Corcoran’s entryway. Artists in the series will use the Bridge as both the space and inspiration for their installations or live performances.
Two weeks ago, Chajana Denharder attempted to sleep in the chamber. Upcoming projects include a performance piece that looks at stereotypes of Hispanic immigrants and an installation of screen prints that take advantage of light coming through the glass.
Cornelius, who is 33 and has been doing performance art since 2003, immediately knew she wanted to take part in the series when the call for proposals went out this spring. Her recent works have explored the language of pain, so she first thought she might do something on that. Then it hit her as she sat in the studio of her Columbia Heights home: weddings.
Throughout her arts career, Cornelius has scrutinized social institutions and constructs that generally go unquestioned. And few institutions are as ripe for inspection as 21st-century weddings. Within two hours of having the idea, her proposal was written.
Cornelius, who works as an information technology project manager by day, easily passes for Washington Everywoman in grayish-tan slacks and a cardigan. She is fluent in the language of theory that one picks up as an art history minor; her work pulsates with attitude, verve and intense relevance.
In an orange jumpsuit she once scrubbed the floors and sidewalks outside 14th Street galleries to represent how artists clean up neighborhoods, then get priced out of their studios by eager developers. In perhaps her most recognizable video, “Resolve,” she vacuums a beach to the hymn “Autumn” — reportedly the last song played by the band on the Titanic.
“Save the Date” examines the elaborate trappings of weddings by going through the prescribed motions of the ritual: carry the flowers, say “I do,” kiss. But she also intends for the piece to provoke questions about our attitudes toward commitment and marriage equality. Cornelius will wed people of both genders throughout the day.