It's hard to imagine, for a performance artist who has no trouble filming herself rolling naked down a filthy Miami Beach alleyway to protest the BP oil spill, or freaking out a senior water aerobics class from the bottom of a swimming pool, that Antonia Wright would cringe, even slightly, at her newest project … kissing in public?
"It's completely not normal!" Wright insists, giggling nervously while speaking by phone on a recent Monday. "Doing something so intimate in public made me a little bit uncomfortable at first. But then, we wrapped ourselves in the moment, and I forgot about it. We forgot about it."
Of course, Wright, 32, is talking about her public necking session with boyfriend and fellow artist Ruben Millares, filmed on an escalator at Miami Beach Convention Center during February's Miami International Boat Show. "Love on an Escalator," the six-minute, wall-projected video that debuted last week at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, depicts Wright and Millares engaged in some serious tonsil hockey while making revolutions on an escalator. A stationary camera, partly concealed near a hand-sanitizing station, captures the steamy PDA as well as the response of the artists' fellow riders, whose reactions range from stoic gawking to at least one exclamation from an older gentleman for the pair to "Get a motel!"
"This is something you don't normally see, so you get different ranges of emotion, from blank expressions to aggressive people," Wright says of the social experiment. "The little kids always have the most-genuine responses. They just walk up to you and stare. They have no filter. Adults either play it cool or get angry. Why does public kissing cause so many people to become awkward? I just try to find bizarre situations in this 'normal world' I live in, and highlight things that are strange in our society."
Wright says they visited different cities for their ongoing project, including an escalator in Venice, Italy, which elicited little reaction from spectators, to one at a Dadeland Mall Macy's at the height of Christmas season.
But their crowded convention center kissathon clearly provoked the most-divisive response. In one instance, a father and son swiveled their heads dramatically to avoid staring at the artists. The makeout sesh also prompted two other couples to begin kissing on the escalator. Once, a woman standing next to Wright and Millares whipped out her pink iPhone, ignored the couple completely and snapped a picture of a nearby blonde girl in tight booty shorts.
Millares says the most-difficult part of the public spectacle was, well, maintaining stamina.
"We were doing 15-minute takes. My lips were going numb," he says with a laugh. "People are affected differently by public displays of affection. It's funny, because if there are vulgar displays of sexuality on TV or on the Internet, there's no problem. Our society is oversaturated with sex, but if it's live and in-your-face, people get uncomfortable about it."
Antonia Wright and Ruben Millares: Love on an Escalator
When: Through Jan. 13; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; noon-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Where: Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, 1650 Harrison St.
Contact: 954-921-3274 or ArtandCultureCenter.org