CHAPPED LIPS

Kissing is in the air, and not just because it’s spring and my allergies are attacking my face to death.

No. Led by Tino Sehgal‘s “This Progress,” which opened at The Guggenheim back in January and featured “Kiss”, where exclusively male-female couples made out on the rotunda of the museum for like, all day, kissing has made a comeback of sorts, mainly because there still seems to be a lot of confusion about the politics of the action, and for that matter, representations of publicly expressed sexuality in general.

Long story short, Brennan Gerard and Ryan Kelly of Moving Theater Company got their hands on a casting call for Sehgal’s work, which was explicit in its request for “male/female” couples. In response, Brennan and Ryan have created “You Call This Progress?” Right now, it’s being discussed over at L. Ro’s WNYC blog, and I was originally going to post a comment there, but it turned into this state-of-the-union-length post, so I thought it would be better to just post it here. (Prepare thyself: from here on out–and for better of for worse–the language gets all academicky….)

I love that Brennan and Ryan have created this work; this constructive response to a gut reaction.

I think, through exploring their subjective reaction (as gay men) to seeing the public lionizing through performance of an exclusively male-female couple embraced in a kiss, they are getting at something essential to any argument about the human experience of/encounter with gender and sex, and therefore, sexuality: That gender and sex is always positive and subjective; and so sexuality and expressions of sexuality are also always positive and subjective.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the body, and I keep fixating on this idea of body-positiveness. We have this regard for the body as either complete (“Yep, all ten fingers and toes!”) or incomplete (anything less). But this way of regarding the body is predicated on an expectation of what the body should be, or should become. I would argue that a body can never be “incomplete”, since it is itself a totally positive manifestation of living matter: all living matter has “grown,” has “developed,” has one direction that is positive. If you remove a part, that does not make the total body that is left “incomplete”, it merely makes the body smaller and changes its shape, but the remaining body is no less positive. Maybe more broadly, one might say, EVERYTHING THAT IS, IS POSITIVELY.

In this same way, gender–particularly as social performance, and in the case of Tino Sehgal’s work, as performance art–is always positive. Gender, when gender is present, cannot be negated; like skin color cannot be negated; like height cannot be negated. We humans have this annoying habit of “looking past” things. A habit that stems from an avoidance of already “not looking” at things we find inconvenient to look at; i.e. social privilege for men, for white people, for heterosexuals, for the “fully abled”, for Christians, for English speakers, for the wealthy, et al. And so to keep ourselves from looking, we invent this idea of “looking past”, or “looking beyond” (usually expressed this way: “I don’t see you as [insert minority description].”), so that we never in fact have to confront the subjectivity of our own gender, race, or any other majority characteristic which we may be and/or express.

This false ability to “see past” essentially positive and immutable characteristics of the human body/experience (whether naked sexual characteristics, or the socially/personally constructed characteristics of gender, religion, political party, etc.), allows us to make all kinds of ridiculous arguments claiming that the body characteristics of the dominant group (maleness, whiteness, heterosexuality, “fully abled-ness”, Christianity, the English language, wealth, etc.) are simultaneously “ideal,” “universal,” and “objective.”

This tethering of “idealism,” “universality,” and “objectivity” is the necessity of any dominant group politics. It enables the dominant group to maintain an assumption to unlimited and exclusive privilege. It positions them as the designers, adjudicators and beneficiaries of power and justice. It allows the rampant, excessive representation of their own subjectivity while excluding and suppressing the representation of “other” subjectivities. It allows artists like Sehgal to argue (even via here-say, you have to imagine some form of this argument must exist in his reasoning) that the representation of a minority characteristic within a work that is attempting to be “universal” will “complicate,” or “politicize” a work, or make the work suddenly “subjective.” The only complication homosexual subjectivity would deliver to “Kiss” would be the unraveling of a violent, homophobic assumption to heterosexual privilege. Which would be a good thing.

And this is precisely the double-bind heterosexual supremacy (or any kind of political supremacy) enacts upon homosexuals (or the dominated group). Homosexuality is politicized by homophobia; in fact, the more homosexuality becomes visible and socially acceptable, the stronger the push is to politicize the behavior by the passing of laws that restrict the rights and freedoms of gay people. So when gay people speak up against these offensive (and offensive) maneuvers by heterosexual supremacists, they–the homosexuals–are portrayed as “being political,” when in fact they are being compelled into political action out of survival by a dominant group that has enacted a political movement against them. But because our culture is dominated by heterosexuality, the political agency of heterosexual supremacy (and of exclusionary heterosexual performances like Sehgal’s) literally “ISN’T SEEN.” It is invisible, because, well, of COURSE, heterosexuality is “objective,” “universal,” and “ideal,” none of which apply to the definition of politics.

To find an illustration of this absurd principle, one need only look at our judicial system. During Justice Sonya Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings, she was repeatedly grilled by white lawmakers about whether or not she would be able to exercise “objectivity” in cases that involved racial politics. The racism inherent in such questions was unabashed, if ultimately–and thankfully–impotent. But the principle governing such questions is still in place in common discourse regarding majority/minority politics and justice.

The question is always whether a justice of a racial, gender, or sexual minority will be able to be “objective” about cases involving race, gender or sexuality, respectively. In this question is figured a presumption that only white, or male, or heterosexual justices can be truly “objective” in these instances. Thus, laws created by whites, or males, or heterosexuals against non-whites, or non-males, or non-heterosexuals, are only able to be “objectively” adjudicated by members of the very group that made the discriminatory law in the first place. Sounds pretty fair, right?

In majority/minority politics, “objectivity” is always the privilege of the dominant group. I even heard a friend once argue that Anderson Cooper shouldn’t “come out” because he needs to be able to remain “objective” about “the issues.” As if his coming out would “politicize,” or “make subjective” his reporting on every possible issue, not just the gay ones. It is really sinister how pervasive these feelings are in our culture, going so deep that a liberal person who would vote for gay marriage would still be able to feel that all news anchors need to be heterosexual or closeted homosexuals in order to report objectively on anything. (OMG, we could probably spend another few thousand words on Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s argument that The Closet encompasses straight people as well as gays who are not out, but that is for another day or drunken evening…)

Seeing heterosexuality as objective is an illusion of privilege. Tino Sehgal’s “Kiss” is not objective. And Brennan and Ryan, in a stroke of genius, expose the subjectivity of “Kiss” by engaging language simply to describe what one is seeing at the Guggenheim. In the audio track accompanying the performance of “You Call This Progress?”, you hear them speak out what they observed in “This Progress.” They say things like “her right hand on his left shoulder,” “his left hand on her small of back,” “her right hand caresses his left chest.” All it takes is this rudimentary process of describing what is happening to show up the pretense of Sehgal’s “uncomplicated” vision. It also resonates brilliantly with one of Gregg Bordowitz’s scrolling questions, read aloud at the Burning Bridges performance of “You Call This Progress?”: “How is art a description?” How, also, is experience a description?

I was on the train the other day, and two black kids, maybe nine or ten years old, were playing a game, a version of Twenty Questions. One of them would pick out a random person on the train, and the other would ask questions in order to identify which person had been selected. The kid who was questioning would rattle off a preliminary course of dichotomous inquiries that went something like this: “Man or Woman?”; “Light or dark skinned?”; “Straight or curly hair?”; “Tall or short?” You get where I’m going. Our experience of bodies–and thus, our entire awareness of social order–is always accompanied by the tacit and necessary function of description. And the answers we receive are subjective and positive. We learn to understand the world by describing it. We know our place in the world by knowing our descriptions. To suddenly claim that subjective description of gender, or race, or sexuality is irrelevant to the experience of human interaction is to betray our history of understanding people only to service a purely conceptual maneuver of aesthetic sanitization.

Now, I am not arguing for the tyranny of description; of labels. But, whether we like it or not, we exist within this tyranny. Pretending that description doesn’t matter only strengthens the tyrannical grip of language over our bodies by playing into the privileges that language constructs.

And so we go back and forth between deflecting language’s/description’s limiting force upon our lives, and also employing language to affirm immutable characteristics of our bodies and of our identities.

I recently co-created a “Kiss-Out” with my collaborator Todd Shalom in response to a recent gay bashing that took place in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. We organized about sixteen people (of which, Mr. Kelly was one) to kiss at the corners of two street intersections near where the attack had taken place. The people were organized mostly in groups of two; mostly male-male couples, with one female-female couple, and one corner where I think two males and one female alternated configurations of two.

In one of the online discussions that followed (and in some cases, preceded) our action, an argument came up that suggested because we included male-female couples within our action, which was an action in response to homophobia, that this heterogenous makeup “negated” gender subjectivity altogether. The person who wrote this comment was trying to say that, essentially, if all sexualities are represented, then no sexualities exist.

I wholeheartedly disagree with the slippage from regarding sexual orientation as positive only-in-the-context-of-opposition/exclusion to regarding it as negative in-the-context-of-togetherness. Bodies are not like pigment, in the sense that when all pigments are present, we see white, or, the illusion of no pigment. Rather, when you see a straight couple and a gay couple expressing affection together, even in solidarity, there is no way of perceiving either action as negative or negated: They are both happening, and they are both happening positively. Likewise, excluding one from the other–as Sehgal’s work does, and as Brennan and Ryan’s work also does (which they call themselves out on)–does not strip either from their essential subjectivity.

I think what many of us are agitating for goes much further beyond a limited and perhaps ineffectual idea of “breaking down barriers,” which are usually understood to be the barriers of labels, or description, or language. Rather, we want to eradicate prejudice and privilege within the arena of description, so that both a heterosexual kiss and a homosexual kiss are seen as positive, not as oppositional. We also want to eliminate compulsory participation in descriptions that do not apply to our sense of identity. Because I do not identify as “heterosexual” does not mean I want to identify as “nothing.” If “heterosexual” is a construction that is at odds with any other configuring of sexual orientation, then I am happy to apply any secondary and following class of labels that all fall under the category “non-heterosexual” to myself. However, I would rather understand heterosexuality as a positive iteration of human sexual possibility that is equal to and co-existent with other positive iterations of human sexual possibility, whatever we end up calling those.

And we also want to forge an at-will relationship with identity. Maybe today I feel like “a man.” Maybe tomorrow I will feel like “a woman.” Maybe the next day I will feel something in between those two categories. Maybe I am currently in a homosexual romantic relationship, but maybe there will be room for a heterosexual relationship in the future, or, as Brennan and Ryan seem to argue for, a relationship outside of the structure of the couple.

But to understand any of these possibilities, which are exciting, and which seem to present an amazing opportunity to use language as constructive, but not as restrictive, in determining individual or group identity, we have to be able to call out the illusionary offspring of prejudicial identity politics and the teetering house of cards that is built upon its upward spiraling shoulders.

New Kid On The Block

Management for downtown dance-theater/performance artists (we really may need to just make up a term that covers this; suggestions? I guess Na’vi is already taken…) is not a simple thing. It’s obscure, there is very little money in it, and in a financial climate that threatens both artist funding and the capital that goes into keeping New York’s handful of downtown venues in operation, the future just doesn’t seem very bright, or steady.

But one man is about to take up the torch of what often feels as much like a social cause as it does an artistic industry. Ben Pryor (full discloser: we’re kind of BFFs…), who has been working to represent artists with Pentacle for the past two years, has decided to strike out and start up his own management endeavor, tbspMGMT. Yay!

Pryor’s first act/action as an independent rep. is AMERICAN REALNESS, a curated festival of contemporary dance artists (Gelflings?) that is being held at Abrons Arts Center (a venue that now can be counted on to present New York City’s edgiest artists), which coincides with APAP and The Public Theater’s Under the Radar (UTR) festival, a festival that has built a solid reputation for presenting excellent emerging theater work, but one that has also drawn criticism for under representing NYC’s dance community.

For AMERICAN REALNESS, Pryor has managed to assemble what The New York Times’ Claudia La Rocco might term “the cool kids” of downtown dance (Uruk Hai?), including Jeremy Wade, Miguel Gutierrez, Jack Ferver, and our very own Ann Liv Young. Specifically, though, these artists all seem to share an outlook that engages the body in performance in ways that are gritty, explicit, passionate (or its opposite, dispassionate), and generally queer.

I emailed Pryor about American Realness and his decision to go it alone as an artist representative, and these are some of the things he had to say…

Counter Critic (C.C.): What the fuck are you doing?

Ben Pryor (tbsp):

Re Defining American Contemporary Performance

trying to sell the work of these artists who are pushing, reshaping and erasing the boundaries of dance and theater.

Starting my own management entity with a bang.

Showing some amazing work, and maybe some tits and ass.

C.C.: How are you doing it?

tbsp:

By the seat of my pants.

Blood sweat and tears

C.C.: Need more info about AMERICAN REALNESS.

tbsp:

I love under the radar, which has been the best platform for contemporary work during APAP, but it doesn’t show dance.  It became a dream of mine to create an “under the radar fordance”, if you will.

I am marketing the whole thing as a festival because it is a better way to put the work out there than a showcase. The goal is selling the work, but I am also trying to reshape international perception of american work. somehow they don’t really know the contemporary stuff is happening, not in a big way. I am trying to give attention to that. I am also trying to challenge american presenters (outside the 10 that do present contemporary work) to get with it and show some good shit!

This is also sorta the launch of tbspMGMT. I haven’t clearly established relationships with everyone, but I am trying to make it an organic progression.

Why these artists?

Cause these artists give me chills when I see what they do.

I love the way they think.

That they are reshaping contemporary work and it is not being seen outside new york and that is CRAZY.

Cause who doesn’t like calling out a whole industry of your peers for being lame and old fashioned.

Cause I like making a splash and so do these artists.

American Realness begins Friday, January 8 @ Abrons Arts Center and runs through January 11. Tickets to shows and a full festival schedule can be found here.

Regarding Michael Jackson…

I’m sure you’ve all been wondering what the hell I think about Michael Jackson and his death. (Really?) At least friends and family last night seemed to be wondering. So, here I go, trying to formulate what feels for me something difficult to talk/write about, not because of any kind of grief, but more for what I don’t feel (and haven’t felt) for the once living-legend of popular music.

In short, for me, Michael Jackson passed a point of usefulness long ago. I say this selfishly. He had not put out music of the kind he did in his golden days for basically over a decade. His public appearances simply grew weirder and weirder, as did his appearance. I’ve always responded negatively to his child-like approach to love, global hand-holding and minor bed-sharing. He had a personality that read both megalomaniacal and cartoonishly coy. He failed, though his life now be cut short, to come clean with the public (even to Oprah, for Christ’s sake) about his heinous plastic surgery history, and, I assume, about the complete nature of his attachment to young boys. He became an artist who was shielded by money and fans (including family and friends), and who failed to transcend the flat-line of substance that befalls many who land in that most chaotic and vertiginous of public spaces: Celebrity.

To be fully transparent, I never really loved Michael Jackson. While I’ve enjoyed certain of his music and his music videos (“Smooth Criminal” has to be my favorite), I have never bought one of his albums, nor downloaded any of his music.

While many around me seem to regret his death as some loss from our childhood, it is a loss I can sense somewhat, but feel no great impulse to allow to subtract anything from what, for me, was already a wild-west of events and understandings that far outweigh any emotion I may have reserved for him or permitted to tether with my experience of youth, save remembering how, in third grade, a girl sitting next to me had Michael Jackson stickers all over one of her notebooks with “I love Michael Jackson” written all over it, and I couldn’t help but wonder why anyone (boy or girl) would have sexual feelings toward him.

There is “Thriller,” I suppose. But largely what I remember about that is its controversy, its dark unfolding into an inescapable community of zombies, and its prefaced disclaimer that reassures audiences that Michael Jackson did not believe in “the occult.” The song still confuses as to what it’s about in the first place.

His death does not resonate for me because, in a very palpable way, he had already died, and had already reached a sort of status of immortality that could not be eclipsed by even a sudden death, as we have now. Whether or not Michael Jackson would have died yesterday or in twenty years, the world would still have remembered him with the same amplitude of awe and sentimentality. This explains why my very first reaction to hearing of his death (via text message, of course, as I was purchasing a ticket to [auspiciously named] Lewis Forever at the New Museum) was, I guess I thought he would never die.

And, just to throw you all a curve, there’s a place of distrust in my regard for Michael Jackson,—wholly laid out by the King of Pop himself—that has created a void into which a sinister thought has slipped: This could all be some immaculate hoax.

His behaviors, his beliefs, his cryogenic chambers, his mask-wearing and veiling of his children, his known curiosity for mischief, his inability (seemingly) to be honest, his desire to remain a child forever in a “neverland” of no consequences and unflagging fandom, compounded the facts that he was virtually broke insolvent (he had lost the ranch and all of its (his Neverland Ranch “narrowly escaped foreclosure”, and some of its contents were nearly auctioned off earlier this year) and his face was literally crumbling to pieces before his (and our) very eyes—how much of a stretch is it to assume that this defeated and haunted star would do anything to escape his life (no longer private, and it utter ruins) even by staging (the grand showman that he was) a sudden and unexpected finale and triumph over his obsession to wage a lifetime campaign between his image and his public and the mechanizations (money & media) that brought them all into a grotesque endgame where everybody involved both loses and wins; i.e. we lose him but gain his legend; he loses his life but wins the game of control.

For the record: I don’t believe this is a hoax. I don’t actually believe that. But the doubt is there, nonetheless.

I won’t—and can’t—take away anything from him as a performer. He moved and sang with an idiosyncratic virtuosity that has been imitated (hi, JT!), but will probably never be replicated.

But, contrary to the verdict already being rendered by television news, he will—sadly—not just be remembered for his music. His life was too damaged and too public to leave any collective memory of him pristine; only selective memory (which posthumous memory can be, more often than not) would imagine Michael Jackson as only an artist with a generosity of heart and talent who inspired millions and whose life was cut all too short. The Michael Jackson circus has been around for a while, and I don’t see any reason why it would stop now. Like Elvis, like Marilyn, he has a bright and glaring future in tabloids and video retrospectives for generations to come. Not exactly the neverland he wanted, but it’s the one he’s going to get.

(Here’s also, my second favorite, with Janet, and cameos by Warhol and Magritte…)

And dream of Ann Liv Young…

For a while now I’ve been having–every so often–dreams that feature Ann Liv Young. Well, three dreams, to be exact.

These started, as far as I can surmise, shortly after my first writing on Ms. Young’s work.

The central anxiety of these dreams–and they are always anxious dreams–balances precariously on a paradigmatic axis of whether or not Ann Liv Young likes me.

This state, I suppose, is a state of my reality. I do not know Ms. Young personally. While we may share mutual friends and acquaintances, we have never communicated directly. So I don’t know what Ms. Young feels toward me other than what I have experienced at her performances, which, unlike almost any other performance work today, make it a chief concern to deliver to the audience a packaged bundle of various fields of regard Ms. Young either does or does not have for them.

The only two pieces of information I have to evince what Ms. Young may or may not feel about me is miniscule, but perhaps telling.

First, silence.

After publishing that first article, I realized that I should probably have given Ms. Young a “heads up,” since the highly sensitive issue–that of a child’s welfare–and my calling into question the constitution of her work as “art” necessarily implicated Ms. Young as having performed a non-artistic act against a child that may be deemed by some as neglect. So I sent Ms. Young an email, using the address found on her website at the time, alerting her about the piece. I have never received a response from Ms. Young either to that email or to any of the pieces I have written about her work since.

Second, and possibly related, hearsay.

A friend of mine went to one of Ms. Young’s “Christmas” shows, which she held at her home last winter. I dared not go myself: 1. I was busy, 2. Because I don’t like to be terrorized during performances, and 3.) Because I really wasn’t sure how Ms. Young would respond to my presence, should she even know who I am.

Nevertheless, my friend went, and I asked him, afterward, what his experience had been like. After reporting some predictable activities (people getting naked, obnoxiously loud music), my friend said he had a brief conversation with Ms. Young, afterward, in which she mentioned to him, “Some people think I’m a bad mother.” Continue reading

TO DO: DTW Lobby Talks

Lobby TalkLobby TALKS

The New Media of Dance

(not in performance)

Photo: Ed Rawlings

Jun 9 at 7:30pm
Dance Theater Workshop

219 West 19th Street, New York, NY

Organized by Chase Granoff

“As the internet continues to develop and mature into a powerful platform for communication, marketing, networking, and criticism, we will look at how these technologies have influenced dance. How has this development challenged and changed the landscape of dance journalism and criticism? Does print media remain relevant? How are dance artists and companies utilizing social networking and other Web 2.0 technologies?

“Panelists: Caleb Custer, Director of Marketing, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet; Marlon Barrios Solano, creator of dance-tech.net & DANCE TECH/The Program; Andy Horwitz, Founder & Editor, Culturebot.org; Claudia La Rocco, Performance critic, WNYC’s Art.Cult blog; Kristin Sloan, Founder, The Winger, Director, New Media, New York City Ballet; Ryan Tracy, Counter Critic; Eva Yaa Asantewaa, InfiniteBody blog, Body and Soul podcast; and Chris Elam, Artistic Director, Misnomer Dance Theater.

“Lobby TALKS creates a forum for open and in-depth discourse on contemporary issues in dance and performance. Organized around specific themes, each meeting uses as a starting point one or more of the artistic investigations, methodologies, and motivations that can be seen in performance today. Subjects will be investigated, challenged, and considered by an invited group of artists, critics, and theorists, and is open to all who would like to join the conversation.”

TO DO: Mt. Tremper Arts NYC Benefit Party

n1372487134_329439_1806212

(Elke Rindfleisch and Sarah Webber Gallo above)

Mt. Tremper ArtsNYC Benefit Party

Monday, April 27
7pm-9pm

Powerhouse
Books in DUMBO
37 Main Street
Brooklyn, NY
8456889893
info@mttremperarts.com
(more details below)

Come out and support this amazing festival, founded by Aynsley Vandenbroucke and Mathew Pokoik. Arts, across the board, are in dire need of direct funding right now. If you can pony up for a ticket to the benefit, please do, and know that, in addition to seeing some fab performances by the likes of Brian Brooks, Mark Jarecke, Catherine Miller, Elke Rindfleisch, and Ms. Vandenbroucke herself, you will be helping make possible a sincere, fiercely curated festival of dance, visual arts, and….what’s that you say?….Opera?

That’s right. Mt. Tremper Arts has asked my little opera ensemble that could–Collective Opera Company (or, COC, if you’re nasty)–to create a brand spankin’ new opera , from scratch! (Save the date — August 21, 22 — if you’d care to see C.C. put his music where his mouth has been…)

If you can’t make the benefit, but still would like to help this young festival thrive for another year, I encourage you to send in donations of any size to:
Mount Tremper Arts
PO Box 88
Mt. Tremper, NY 12457
(Checks should be made out to Mount Tremper Arts)

Support the arts. Support the future.

xoxoC.C. Continue reading

TO DO: “Pussy Faggot”

pf_tote_eblastTONIGHT @ The Delancey, ubiquitous downtown producer Earl Dax is throwing a birthday bash for himself, which doubles as a fundraiser for Dixon Place’s HOT! Festival of queer performance.

In light of Claudia La Rocco’s insightful piece on the negative impact capital campaigns and anchoring real estate ventures can have on the missions of small arts organizations, it’s probably more important than ever for us all to start giving money to venues like Dixon Place to support actual programming!

Plus, this party, colorfully titled “PUSSY FAGGOT” (here’s some fab background in the Village Voice) is bound to be epic, with the fiercest queer performers coming out of the woodwork to celebrate Dax and his return to the HOT! Festival. Justin Bond and Kenny Mellman are slated to be there, along with a host of other transient downtown artists.

SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION ALERT: My very own Collective Opera Company will be doing an opera intervention/interactive performance of two excerpts from our upcoming project, SCARLET FEVER, an opera transposition of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s iconic (and hilarious) novel, The Scarlet Letter!

Come out and support some hot Hot HOT performers while raising cash for ye old Dixon Place.

It’s here. It’s queer…That pretty much sums it up.

MONDAY, APRIL 6, ’09
Earl Dax Birthday Party + HOT! Festival Money Maker =

“PUSSY FAGGOT”

9PM-4AM

The Delancey Lounge
168 Delancey (between Clinton & Attorney)
Advance Tickets $16-ish with code “hotfest (must purchase in advance!)
Regular Advance Tickets $18 / $25 at the door.

Click through for fierce elaboration from Dax on what, exactly, “Pussy Faggot” is… Continue reading

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.