Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Midwinter's Night Wet Dream: Fullstop's "Foreplays" in the Galapagos, Feb. 8 - 23

“They be scared and lonely. “

So says Michael Micalizzi as the thug wannabe Mikey in Patrick Shaw’s “Mad Twitterpated,” directed by Alexandra Bassett. He pleads this in reference to the orphaned bear cubs he has been cluster adopting over Facebook on behalf of Cliff Campbell’s character Clifford. But his observation goes far beyond its immediate context.

(l to r:) Caroline Calkins as Girl, Michael Micalizzi as Mikey; Cliff Campbell as Clifford in Patrick Shaw’s “Mad Twitterpated,”
all photos by Brian Hashimoto

It seems to be a (mostly urban) jungle out there for most of the young lovers, or rather love aspirants and acolytes, who strutted their hours upon the stage, screen, aisles, balcony and waters of Galapagos Art Space in February in Fullstop Collective’s Foreplays. The eight brief plays, two short videos, and live musical interludes that comprised this showcase on the Mondays bracketing Valentine’s Day, provided a mid-winter night’s scheme of the trials and tribulations of romantic love among a certain slice of the population in a highly mediated age. If most of the characters find themselves lost in the woods and among the thickets of hook ups and hang ups in a bewildering array of polymorphously perverse potential permutations, then perhaps we can sympathize with their desire to hang on to the cuddlier, if stuffed, versions of lions, tigers and bears with which they grapple, even as they long for each other.

So if Cliff and Mikey’s play within a play involves dream visualization projected via, uh, Droid, and ends with kids and a mortgage, their confusion cannot be considered uncommon. Consider the women in Lillian Meredith’s “there is no part of me that wants to have sex with you right now and yet here we are.” They confide in one another that they have never had an orgasm during sex, simulate coitus with their giant teddy bears, have trouble deciding whether they want it “hard” or “soft,” and rant about being insulated, via Midol, from the emotional roller coaster of their own natural cycles. They ponder existential and psycho-political questions around penetration:

(Above r:) Sarah Ann Masse posts her panda in Lillian Meredith’s “there is no part of me..."

After admitting to her friend that penetration is what she wants from her lovers, Lauren Weinberger’s character frets that, “maybe that’s scary. Maybe that’s not the healthiest way to have a permanent and meaningful relationship with someone – to have them constantly be inside you but you’re never inside them. I mean, … the problem I keep running into is how can I ever have an equal un-patronizing, non-sexually frightening relationship with a man when I really really want him to dominate me and pound me into tomorrow?”

Sarah Ann Masse’s character thinks her friend may be, “doing [her]self a big disservice thinking this way….

“Well, I mean, you’ve just completely negated for yourself the possibility of ever having a permanent, sexually satisfying relationship with anyone….
“including yourself.”(l to r:) Laura Wiese, Lauren Weinberger, Sean McIntyre and Sarah Ann Masse

The expectations and the etiquette of politically correct sex in an epoch of texting, drinking binges, supercharged sex toys, internet porn, post-feminist and post-Freudian politics, and pop psychology emerge as preoccupations in Brian Hashimoto’s “,” and Bassett’s “Lust Trust,” directed by David Jaffe. The latter two of these themes also crop up with less contemporary reference as kinky Viennese proto-fascist subtexts in Benjamin Smolen’s “The Lewis Family Waltz,” directed by Shaw, with its dancing couples stuttering and undone over the name “Germany,” and Lucy Gillespie’s mock-historic “Fore-Shadow-Play.”

Louiza Collins and Conrado De La Rosa with other cast members in Benjamin Smolen’s “The Lewis Family Waltz,”

The first three of these have all been created with imaginative theatrical conceits and hint at the range, if not always the reach, of talent that Bassett, as artistic director of Foreplays, has deployed in challenging her collaborators to bring this showcase to life. That talent achieves its fullest realization in her staging of Anton Handel’s “Analogue,” which uses the formal stage, the exposed areas of wading pool over which Galapagos has suspended its orchestra-level booths, and the railings and ledges of the surrounding balcony to weave an Avatar meets Matrix style videogame fantasy into a family sitcom all within a theater artist’s restaurant day job narrative. Here the spirited performances by Celeste Arias, Analise Hartnett, Meredith, Scott Morse and Brenden Rogers meet Bassett’s creative handling of Handel’s script in the evening’s most ambitious spectacle.

To be sure, the allure of ambition and energy emerge as the hallmark of this long evening even if the short videos “Hobo Proposal” by Ironic T-Shirt, and the satirically sharper “Call My Boyfriend,” by Diana Wright, as well as the soul cover sets by the quartet Quiet Loudly might have been more imaginatively integrated to facilitate the flow of events and interactivity. Bassett and her collaborators sometimes betray a literary and theatrical reverence that smells more of the perfume of a fine liberal arts education than it does of teen spirit, but the strength of their cooperative rests in a sense of shared adventure and risk. The more they continue to challenge each other, and to raise their realization to the level of their ambition, the more Fullstop will distinguish itself as a collective not only worth watching, but dating long term.

(Above:) Celeste Arias and Scott Morse in Anton Handel’s “Analogue,”

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Three places in the Art world - "Denim" at 80WSE

When I think back on Denim, the exhibition curated by David Rimanelli, NYU visiting assistant professor of art history and Artforum contributing editor, February 2 - March 12, at the University’s 80WSE gallery, a couple of images, a film and a bowl of chocolate coated raisins leap to mind. And then I think of the people. Context is king.

The first of the images happens to be one of the late Karlheinz Weinberger’s gelatin silver prints, a set of which took up an entire large wall in the first interior gallery. Titled Männlicher Akt, the image in question dates from around 1975, and depicts a somewhat hairy 20’s something male nude, glancing offhandedly towards the camera/viewer. His tattooed arms and hands frame a slouched torso and his flaccid, ample cock and balls rest within the V of his thighs, which spread to straddle the platform, covered with a striped fabric, on which he sits.

I had just come from the large gallery 1, its picture window looking west across Washington Square, where the growing darkness of the winter evening seemed to mimic the sky-to-midnight blue shadings of Jack Pierson’s or for mercy, a more than 30 square foot folded pigment print from 2009. This piece fairly dominated a room in which Tom Burr’s construction Slacks, from 2008, and Rob Pruitt’s pair of blue jeans and concrete benches from his 2006 Esprit du Corps provided counterpoint.

Right below: Jack Pierson's "or for mercy" 2009

The gallery’s press release had offered the following:

“Denim’s cult status as a rebel uniform emerged in the public mind largely through classic Hollywood cinema—for instance, Marlon Brando in The Wild One, James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, and Marilyn Monroe in The Misfits, and later as the preferred style for certain subcultures, for example gay subculture, as can be seen in Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising and Kustom Kar Kommandos; or, returning to Hollywood, William Friedkin’s controversial Cruising.

“In DENIM, these cinematic references commingle with denim’s “high-art” associations, which have become ingrained through the ‘60s image of the “artist-worker,” exemplified by minimalists like Robert Morris, or by Carl Andre, habitually attired in overalls. Andy Warhol is a key figure in this respect, both in his own sartorial inclinations but particularly in his art and films.”

Rimanelli’s exhibition seemed to trade on these juxtapositions while implying and perhaps provoking a series of questions using our familiar relationship a fabric as a point of reference, or, if you prefer, departure. Hell, the jeans encasing Burr’s bent kneed concrete represented the only real denim in the show. Meanwhile Warhol, represented at the Gallery by his early film Blow Job, (1964), and a framed 1971 record jacket sleeve for the Rolling Stones’ album Sticky Fingers, complete, we’re told, with working zipper, made his cameo count with only a practical picture of pants on a commercial art product and a hint of no pants in action. Warhol at NYU? What a way to make the most of your Lady Gaga moment.

A concern with fashion, in fact, both actual and artistic/cultural, lay just below the surface in this runway of art featuring work in many media from 11 artists and ranging over the last half century. That would place the work in response to the “emergence” referenced in the press release, but squarely inside the “ingraining.” Said to have been originally inspired in part by the guns prominent in the Export performance artist’s work of the late 60’ and 70’s, the show veered instead towards the spectacle of artists’ depictions of our meta erotic fascination with what we wear and how we let it represent us. Thus we have Valie Export's gelatin silver image Genital Panic, 1969, from the Action Pants series, in which she has photographed herself with her crotch partially exposed while holding a rifle – a proto Patty Hearst.

Talking ‘bout a revolution, well, you know, the press release mentions that, too:

“The artists in DENIM explore the multifarious connotations of a material that began its life as a fabric for work clothes, but has become, over the past few decades, a material for fashion, both instant and high-end couture. For Rimanelli, denim not only refers to fashion but also functions as a psychic material, sheathing ideas that range from the erotic to the implicitly revolutionary.”

Multifarious connotations sheathing ideas? Sounds erotically revolutionary to me. But then again so do work clothes, at least in this context. Standing among the elements of Mike Smith’s single channel video installation Secret Horror, 1980, I found myself dipping in to the bowl of chocolate covered raisins and coffee beans, thoughtfully provided as part of the piece. Yes, Virginia, you can eat art, even as you begin counting the patrons at the opening decked out in denim, and beginning with yours truly.

After all, ain’t it the people with their romantic hopes and dreams of better living through cotton and commerce that make all this worthwhile? Mind the gap, and while we’re counting, recall that old perhaps apocryphal slogan of the French Situationists from roughly the same time period referenced in the emergence and the ingraining: “Désirs érotiques saper les fondements de l'ordre établi [Erotic desires undermine the basis of the established order].”

I slipped in through the curtain cordoning off the gallery screening Blow Job from the one containing Secret Horror. I tuned in to the small gestures of both the movie and the mostly student/academic crowd. In the few times I’ve visited 80WSE, I’ve become impressed with it as a jewel box for quirky and provocative little exhibitions introducing the younger artists now making their way through the academy to Denim, Stuart Sherman and the like, even as it adds its soft spoken voice to the loud and crowded New York art circus. Now it stands to serve in turn, in its current annual MFA show, as these student artists’ portal opening on to this fabulous fashion city’s art scene.

Wandering back to the first interior gallery, I encountered the publicist Deborah Hughes and the two women from her firm helping her handle PR for the opening. All exuded a cool and casual elegance in their no-nonsense pony tails, figure flattering sweaters, and heeled boots under, you guessed it, well fitted designer jeans. These women service the real fashion world and their presence and their attire (their uniform; their work clothes, actually) seemed to point many of the questions the show begged to ask. If anything comes between them and their [you name the designer], it would truly have to be a work of art.