Ever feel like you’re on a big hamster wheel and you can’t get off? Ward Shelley and Alex Schweder know that feeling all too well. The two performance artists are spending 10 days living, eating and sleeping on a giant hamster wheel to make a larger point: We all have to work together to get through the daily grind.
“I wasn’t prepared for this ... perhaps I should have been,” Shelley said from atop the wheel, his feet dangling off the side of the 7.5-meter-tall wood-and-metal structure.
One wrong move by him or his fellow human hamster and they risk being thrown off. They are perched on opposite ends of the wheel, 180 degrees from each other, and must carefully coordinate their movements. When one walks, the other must walk in the opposite direction. When one stops, the other must stop.
“It’s really an exploration of what it means to collaborate,” Schweder said from the relative safety at the bottom, inside of the wheel. “It’s an exploration of trust between two people.”
Their live performance called In Orbit runs through Sunday at The Boiler, the Pierogi gallery’s performance space in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. A few curious onlookers have come by to gawk at the spectacle, which often is more still life than poetry in motion.
On a recent visit, Shelley and Schweder kept the wheel moving for only a few seconds at a time. The wheel they built themselves is 18 meters in circumference and equipped with everything they need: narrow beds, chairs, desks, a fridge, rudimentary kitchen (they’ve made omelets and sausages) and a chemical toilet (with privacy screen) — all strapped down. Even the participants are tethered to safety harnesses.
“We’re living on a big wheel that is essentially a two-bedroom apartment,” Schweder said.
“Sleeping is a kind of refuge,” Shelley added. “There’s psychological pressure here being in this thing so when you get to sleep it’s easy to stay there.”
Both men say they knew going in that life on the wheel would be tough, and they are trying to stay mentally tough until they can once again get back on terra firma.
“Ten days is a number you can hold in your mind and count down,” Shelley said. “It’s like being told to stand in the corner when you’re a kid.”