Chasing the Present with Matthew Silver
“It all started with the idea of opening up the cosmic portal. The only way I knew how was by making people laugh.” Matthew explained this as we stood awkwardly staring at each other. He is tall and scruffy, with big round eyes that won’t stop wandering. Maybe I should’ve given him more time to relax after the photoshoot – but we’re short on studio time and I have to finish the interview before our team starts to wrap up. He reeks of sweat and his anxious demeanor reminds me of a child. At times it’s hard to tell if he’s putting on a show for me or answering all too earnestly. Paolo sits nearby on a sofa, glancing curiously over at us. It’s been an interesting photoshoot, but the real show is about to start.
A 35 year old performance artist, Matthew Silvers is notorious for his public feats in Union Square and Washington Square Park. His outrageous performances usually feature him in a scandalous Speedo or a one piece women’s bathing suit, coarse body hair sticking out. Matthew is loud, confident, and just plain silly. His props include children’s toys and various other objects that are either donated or picked up on the streets. Squeaky rubber animals are his favourite.
He always had a desire to be a performer. He recalls back in high school around grade 9 or 10, a kid had dared him to be ‘weird’ in front of a group of girls sitting by the bleachers. As a “symbolic permission from the universe” and to calm his nerves before the act, Matthew had asked for a dollar in exchange. Contrary to expectation the girls loved his silly jokes and actions, and asked him to do more. He claims to have performed an entire session that day in which one of his skits was singing ‘You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman’ while acting like one. That day Matthew learned his knack for making people around him laugh, and has used comedic performances as his “golden armor” ever since.
He cites Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy, Steve Martin, and Andy Kaufman as his influences. Unconventional performance comedy, low-fi with awkward pauses – “there’s a rhythm to comedic delivery” he says, and this is what he seeks to master. His method is to spike out enormous amounts of spontaneous energy, then to suddenly chill out in a pause and complete silence. The purpose is to get the audience curious, questioning his behaviour, and once their attention is got, Matthew’s job is to provoke emotion.
It was in 2006, when Matthew turned 25, that he claims to have matured as an artist. Replacing his initial desire of “wanting to be an artist no matter what”, he began to understand the importance of sending a positive message – to imbue meaning in his performance. It was the concept of chasing the “present moment” that pushed him. The present moment, Matthew explains, is the place where love exists – where there is no ego, where we move beyond the material world, embrace the spiritual and metaphysical, and by forgetting about reality become myths. Presumably this has got him laid at least once.
“Looping” is Matthew’s primary device to open the love portal. It’s about acting silly, doing something so out of the blue that it brings people into the present moment. Matthew organizes an event every week, hosting looping sessions all over NYC. He claims to be grateful that even 10-15 people show up each time. Just like his solo acts, there is a rhythm to looping: staying still like a statue to gain the audience attention, then a sudden explosion of physical expression and humor. If curiosity from the audience is what triggers the present moment, the silly act that follows is fills it with joy and laughter.
“There’s always that fear. I’m doing this work to send a message, but is it working? I have a few viral videos but what does it all mean?” Matthew admits, “Most people see me as an artist, but there are a few that see me as a mess up of society, wondering, ‘how are you helping the world?'”
“Did I open up the love portal? Or did I fuck it up?”
Photos by Paolo Massimo Testa below!