The rules were simple: there were no rules.
There were no rules, and no restraints; no obstacles, and no limits. As long as she was alive in the end, anything was fair game.
She was in the newspapers for months before she did it. “Performing artist to test physical limits;” “Audience invited to participate in performing art;” “Police caution Mehari against audience violence;” “Mehari eager to explore artist boundaries.” The newspapers ran her name sparsely at first, as just another bizarre art project in the city; then, when the press got wind of the experiment she was about to undergo, it had a field day. Everyone wanted to see her; everyone wanted to talk to her. As the date of her performance drew closer, she receded slightly from the public eye — she wanted to concentrate on her spiritual being, strengthening her resolve for what she knew would be a profound and arduous task.
The night before the exhibit she stood alone in the shadows of the performing arts center, carelessly waving her fingers and hands in the light and watching the shadows cast themselves three times larger against the walls. One set of lights was mounted to the floor 40 feet away from the north wall; two other sets were fixed perpendicular to the first set, creating a box of light where the focal point would be Zahra, standing motionless at the back of the wall. Behind her hung two pieces of wood crossed over each other with strings hanging from either end. She would start by tying herself to those strings against wall, facing the audience head on. Twenty more feet in front of her would be placed a small table with 33 objects on it, one for every year of her life. That was the entire performance.
Tonight, the night before it was to take place, Zahra walked around the room in the shadows, carefully realigning each object on the table exactly the way she wanted them: a ring, a rose, a straw hat, a box, a blanket. On the table next to a set of instructions were all 33 objects, placed in order of increasing lethality, ending with a candle, a scarf, a hammer, a serrated knife, a loaded pistol.
Zahra walked to the table and picked up the first object, then the second, then the third. She became detached from herself, imagining the possible ways a stranger might use each object. She had to be prepared for any reaction from any person who used her, although she told herself she would keep the performance going no matter what.
Her manager, George Kelly, had argued with her the entire planning process of this exhibit, which she called Rhythm 0. Someone is going to kill you, Zahra, he’d shouted, flailing his hands in the air as he walked around her apartment in a frenzy the day after she called to tell him the museum space was booked. Then they kill me, she’d responded blankly. She’d only stared at him before he stormed out with the same widened, steely eyes that would stare back at the audience members who used the objects on her the very next day.
Then they kill me, she repeated to herself now, staring at the objects. Somehow these words meant nothing in her mind now; she knew she could die, and she felt nothing.