'What Does the Apocalypse Smell Like?' 

As we move into an uncertain, potentially dystopian future, Lindsay Tunkl uses performance art to explore death and the end of the world.

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click to enlarge "Portrait of a Parting Practice Participant," 2018, by Lindsay Tunkl. - PHOTO COURTESY OF LINDSAY TUNKL
  • Photo courtesy of Lindsay Tunkl
  • "Portrait of a Parting Practice Participant," 2018, by Lindsay Tunkl.


We gazed at the sky and sucked on lemons, listening to 1965's "Baby I'm Yours" by Barbara Lewis. I'll be yours until the stars fall from the sky / Yours until the rivers all run dry / In other words, until I die. In the past hour, I had thought about deadly bike accidents, my ideal afterlife, religion, consumerism, Burning Man, and Black Mirror. I reflected on the Chinese Buddhist chants that played as my grandfather neared his end, the way my mother covered my eyes when his body descended into the ground, the rituals we maintain to keep memories alive, and whether any of it truly matters. Even without an answer, I felt at total peace. I felt transported. I felt a way art so rarely makes me feel, and so fully.

At the end, I asked her what she hoped people take away from the experience.

"Whatever they need to," she said. "I try to not have attachment to the outcome. It becomes too complicated to have attachment to what you want people to experience."

Indeed, that's what makes it art and not therapy. And unlike a therapist, Tunkl doesn't just ask questions. She is an active part of the experience, someone who also feels and wonders and maybe even cries. What makes Tunkl's practice so effective is her own open vulnerability. She brings similar thoughtfulness and sensitivity to conversations about white guilt, queer identity, art's role in gentrification, and the problems with capitalism. No matter the format, her work always returns to one central question: What matters?

"I believe that so much of the fucked up shit that is happening in the world is because of fear, not talking to each other, not being able to relate to each other, and not having empathy for each other," Tunkl said.

"I kind of feel like love is the answer but don't want to say it," she continued, laughing. "How can you say love is going to solve the Trump problem? You can't. But I also believe it can somehow. Love is an action. What does love as an action look like? Active listening. Giving someone an hour of your time for free and asking the hard questions. Really being present for another human being."

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