December 23, 2015 7:15 pm Vikings | Post Comment | Permalink
November 2, 2015 10:28 pm
I’ll be performing some serious weirdness at this Friday’s Andy Kaufman-inspired Kauf-Drops Show at the UCB Theatre in Hollywood. Come for some post-Halloween insanity! UCB Theatre, Friday, November 6, 2015, 8PM. 5419 W Sunset Blvd. FREE! See you there!
July 30, 2015 10:17 pm
I was 16 when I discovered performance artist (or really, über artist) Chris Burden. I’d opened a library book to a black-and-white photo of a young, shirtless man crawling across a nighttime parking lot that was covered in glittering, broken glass. Arms behind his back. Rolling side to side. Getting cut up. My god, I thought.
I turned the page. Another photo: the same man nailed to the back of a Volkswagen. Then another: the man in an art gallery after being shot in the arm by a .22 caliber rifle. Artist Chris Burden, the book said. Something clicked in my brain; at that moment, my idea of what art was—what it could be—was never the same.
I had read some of Conceptual Art’s history, but obviously not much about Performance Art, so the discovery of Chris Burden was a revelation. His work was the first time I’d encountered the idea of a body doing something uncodified—that is, not Dance, Drama, Oratory, Circus, but Other—as art. Chris Burden had, I realized, made up his own art form, and not just once, but over and over again. There was no precedent for his pieces; they’d fallen from the sky, alien, unpredictable, dangerous, primal, silent.
For me, his performances were about suffering. In every photo, Burden was alone, without an audience, and his face was neutral. Nothing forced. No emotional mask. Placid. An Everyman, with whatever pain or discomfort he was feeling suppressed, held captive. This resonated with me, with my own childhood cycles of pain—separation, dispair, guilt, pennance. Burden had been called a Body Artist, but in truth he was a Pain Artist: his suffering encouraged the projection of our pain, our sympathy, even our empathy, onto his waiting countenance.
Burden’s death on May 10, 2015 was a terrible blow, the loss of a hero. I never wanted to emulate him—his work was too perfect and unthinkably painful to emulate—but I chose the same alma mater as his, in part to be “near” him and his history—to perform in the same school art galleries where he had quietly bled, suffocated, cried, and discovered, alone.
When the John White Gallery invited me to perform at Ventura Art Walk in July, 2015, I decided to crawl shirtless across broken windshield glass, just as Burden had in his 1973 piece, Through The Night Softly. Despite my love of his work, I had never done a piece that would be intentionally damaging to me physically—but I needed to know firsthand something of what he had felt, of what he had experienced in his pain.
My wife KayDee and I drove to Ventura, laid out a 12-foot-long swath of broken glass in the gallery’s parking lot, and then lined it on both sides with Matchbox cars—an homage to Burden’s many car-related performances and sculptures.
It was a hot day—about 91 degrees. Sun was blazing.
The piece began. I came running out from behind the gallery and sprinted across the parking lot with a 100-pound steel car door over my head. I used the door as an umbrella, then a racetrack, a seesaw, a drum, and then a stage. I climbed onto it wearing three white tanktops, which I pulled off one by one and threw into the sky like birds, chanting “BURD, BURD, BURD.”
As I chanted “BURD” and pulled off the last shirt, a white seagull landed behind me on the asphalt. The audience and I were stunned. Time slowed. It was Burden, I know it was, in feathered psychopomp regalia.
I walked to the start of the glass farthest from the audience, lay down, and begin to crawl. The asphalt was searing—I later learned it had been between 130 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit—and the grinding of the glass shards was unbearable. I have multiple tattoos, so I know something about persisting through enduring pain, but this was like nothing I had experienced. My chest was being grinded, stabbed, burned—I was on fire with tunnel vision. I had wanted to keep a placid Burden face, but it was impossible, so I submitted to animal cries as I pushed forward, crawling but unable to use my hands on the melting asphalt, the glass cutting my chest like ribbons, brain screaming for me to stop. The white seagull watched me silently from the gallery roof—it was my confessional and our communion. Sweat ran into my eyes and my hands were shaking like crazy. More animal cries escaped—they were uncontrollable, cries for Burden, the cries he had refused to let out back in 1973.
When I reached the last of the glass, I crawled across asphalt, through the car door’s empty window, and emerged out the other side. I stood up, dizzy and weak and shaking from adrenaline. My chest was bright red, mottled, and cut from the asphalt and glass. I looked down and saw glittering shards sticking out of ribs and a line of blood streaming from my elbow.
I picked up a goodbye Matchbox car, kissed it, and chucked it onto the gallery’s roof—but I was too spent. The throw was short—the car rained down from the roof and landed back on the asphalt. I walked to it, kissed it, and threw it again. Again, too short. My arms and legs were rubber. I picked it up once more. Kissed it. Threw it. It flew up and over the roof’s peripet—then nothing. Silence. None of us heard the car land. It never came down—flown into the heavens.
Thank you, Chris Burden. April 11, 1946—May 10, 2015.
And see a great recap of the piece on The Polina Hryn Show here.
May 10, 2015 5:44 pm
Last Saturday I attended UCLA’s West Coast unveiling of Matthew Barney‘s River of Fundament, a 6-hour death-and-reincarnation tale of a writer caught up with Egyptian gods that was inspired by Norman Mailer’s 1983 novel, Ancient Evenings.
Fundament is is an orgiastic adventure in every sense of the term. Egyptian shades of Kenneth Anger, David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Luis Buñuel, Joseph Beuys, Rudolf Schwarzkogler, Carolee Schneeman, The Kipper Kids, and The X-Files are smelted down into molten imagination that comes running out of every human orifice to drench viewers in color, carcass, and fuckable cars before a noxious, farting pantheon of dug-up-and-still-decaying Egyptian-god-cadavers eagerly lapping up the leftovers.
The story—whose summary could easily expand to fill a novel all its own—sets a dead Mailer to reincarnate himself three times into different human bodies through the womb of his wife, possibly in a veiled examination of his own success and failings as a writer. Each reincarnation starts with Norman surfacing in an underground sewage river of “fundament.” Soaked in feces, he emerges to slosh up a staircase to his Brooklyn apartment above, where his own funeral wake is in full swing with New York literary types, improvising musicians, and caterers.
Each ascent of the staircase finds the wake winding down further, if not decaying; the party’s culinary centerpiece—a roast pig on a spit, whose tongue is devoured by a sickly-pale Paul Giamatti—is polished off by maggots at the end, while remaining guests fall under hypnagogic spells that have them moaning and chanting, perhaps as a byproduct of the Egyptian magic all around. Meanwhile, the river-and-apartment storyline is paralleled by a second tale, in which Norman is imagined as three automobiles, each of which undergoes its own magnificent transfiguration about town.
Both narratives are interwoven with Egyptian lore, with Norman’s cohorts mapping to Isis, Osiris, Horus, and other gods, and symbolism that is layered impossibly deep: ibises, serpents, vultures, beetles, was scepters, hieroglyphs and cartouches, belled pectorals, daggers, Hathorian cattle and horns, hidden passages both vaginal and excretory, stairwells joining heaven to a shitty hell, and of course, phalli in every shape appear against walls of gold, avalanches of fire, and heads of lettuce.
Mobs of Ph.D. candidates have no doubt already trashed all previous dissertation ideas in favor being the first to publish on Fundament, even though, sadly, not enough has been written about Barney’s latest opus in the press.
Nearly all critics agree that the work is epic in scope, with moments of beauty that match or rival—even if only fleetingly—the most gorgeous and unique imagery ever set to avant-garde celluloid. In the same breath, many also dismiss the film as simply too long, or too inaccessible—even more so, some say, than Barney’s earlier Cremaster Cycle—or that the brown rivers of offal, shit-encrusted gods, and fetid sex with puckering anuses pressed against the lens are too unappetizing to digest.
I haven’t read Mailer’s Ancient Evenings yet, so I can’t attest to Fundament‘s fidelity there, but I can say that critics who evaluate Barney’s new effort only against rubrics that dictate films must be linear, or only make literal sense, or feature less noxious scenes, or tie up endings with tidy totalizing ribbons, have embarked on the journey with a fatal first misstep that nearly guarantees they’ll miss the film’s performative and pedagogic qualities.
(These same critics would probably render similar judgments against Un Chien Andalou—even though Buñuel’s masterpiece admittedly soothes by being five and a half hours shorter in length—and should therefore save their ink when it comes to surrealist works they don’t seem to want to understand ab initio, since digging for structure, meaning, relevance, and art history context is strenuous).
But it doesn’t matter, because, really, how can anyone criticize what amounts to a dream?
And a dream Fundament is—a performance art dream. Sure, it’s interspersed with some of narrative film’s familiar codes, but even those codes break down. The “narrative” of “normal” guests attending a wake collapses into chaotic scenes of their moaning, drooling, and being generally oblivious to the scatological Norman-narrative being draped across them, so even “normal” finds itself touched by Egyptian magic, which brings spontaneous opera, object-making, and occasionally violent delusions to anyone in its vicinity.
Freud marvels in his Der Dichter und Phantasiere at the writer’s magical ability to dissolve his/her identity into a work—to become all of the characters and the spaces in-between—and Barney manages this in spades, especially with regard to the in-between. Distinctions between performance art and film, object and subject, and the utilitarian and symbolic dissolve, just like the apartment walls in Fundament that double as membranes for gods to penetrate. In a page right out of a J.G. Ballard map, Barney pushes through into supposedly empty, useless areas—our primordial shit, our intellectual detritus, our industrial graveyards, our dead—using self-made vehicles that are in-between themselves, since that’s the kind of magic required to cross the river from the hell of rigid symbolism and (re)tired modes of thinking into imaginary places that are new.
Read around, and you may come to agree that many reviewers don’t know what to do with Fundament so far, even though the film provides the answer: namely, that critics need to create their own analytical and expressive vehicles appropriate to what they’re reviewing—especially when it’s experimental—rather than relying on punctilious categories of genre and medium that are easily off(al)ended. Perhaps we should hire performance artists for the job, since their art specializes in reconciling and synthesizing the surreal with the waking; ask one what we should do with Barney’s all-seeing anuses, foil-wrapped cocks, and cars leaking silvery sperm, and I bet answers won’t be long in coming.
Images © 2014 Matthew Barney. Text © 2015 Scotch Wichmann.
April 21, 2015 11:19 am
Almost exactly one year since its debut, Two Performance Artists just tied for Silver in the Best New Voice category of the 2015 Independent Book Publishers Awards held in Austin, Texas last week, and copies are flying off the shelves! THANK YOU for this fantastic honor, IBPA! If you haven’t grabbed your copy yet, visit your local indie bookstore, or hit up Amazon! If you’d like a signed copy, we can make that happen, too—just drop me a line.
In other news, I’ve started work on a one-man show I hope to debut in galleries and fringe festivals in the near future, then maybe onto the road. It’s part performance art, part filmic, and very autobiographical, with surreal characters dredged from my unconscious, secrets of my day job as a computer hacker, conspiratorial theories, tales of ghosts, shamans, and more. That sounds like a lot, I know, and it is; I’m hoping to go meta with this in a kind of grand unifying theory of creatives, especially performance artists and their ilk. I’ve wanted to do a feature-length solo show forever, and cannot wait to unleash what’s been brewing.
Next: If you’re in the area of Ventura, California on May 1, 2015, come to the Namba Performing Arts Space for its 5x5x5 Show, where I’ll be unveiling a brand new performance art piece alongside famed performance artist John White, and many others. FREE! Located at 47 S. Oak St.
March 19, 2015 11:37 am
OMG, I am freaking out: Two Performance Artists was just named a top-3 Finalist in the 2015 Independent Book Publishers Association Awards for Best New Voice in Fiction! IBPA is the largest indie book publishing association in the U.S.—maybe even the universe!— so this is an incredible honor. Thank you, IBPA!
I’m cooking up more performances and shows for 2015, but I’ll admit it’s been a slow start, thanks to my starting graduate school in January. My creative stamina is slowly returning; it took a couple of months of getting accustomed to having a 2-foot stack of schoolbooks sitting on my desk at all times (my wife loves it!), but I’m almost back to normal.
When I haven’t had my nose buried in school assignments, I’ve been devouring everything I can find on pataphysics, which is giving me new perspective and ideas on performance. If you have any favorite links, or wanna discuss, post away!
January 5, 2015 3:31 pm
Performance artists (like standup comedians) believe that performing within a day of January 1st is mandatory if you want to ensure good luck for the coming year.
I can’t remember who first handed me this superstition, but I obey it religiously, though, I’ll admit, sometimes with a last-minute scramble to find an available stage or mic with the year’s final hours dwindling. It doesn’t have to be a pro venue, mind you; performing three minutes in a watering hole or an alley for a few drunken cohorts earns you the Karma.
My 2015 started with a healthy dose of luck: the photo above was taken during Doppleganger, a performance to celebrate Year of the Sheep at the beautiful new ALoft Gallery in Ventura, California on January 2nd.
(I don’t always perform in front of mirrors, but when I do, I like to scribble WOLF on my back and dress up like a Dutch girl covered in cottonballs).
For me, the Sheep arrives right on time as a reminder of the Bruegel parades of blind leading the blind, with the most glaring example perhaps being the screaming pitch of shitty throwaway culture and memes now born, mindlessly traded, and then discarded at terrifying Internet speeds—and I’m as culpable as anyone for adding to the bright-n-shiny baubles that increasingly distract us from digging in to become something greater.
Forget mere loss of spirituality; I’m talking about the forgetting of something far more primal: what it feels like to be a living alien creature, evolved but still part animal, now imbued with the potential to imagine and dream, inventing rituals as we go, conversing with plants and stars, on a planet spinning through cold, empty space. Maybe I’m not alone. Do you feel it? Your primordial ancestors beckoning to you through your DNA to remember what magic feels like? The call to invent from the gaping maw of nothing instead of just consume?
I drove to Arizona last month. At the risk of sounding like a mid-life-crisis Burner cliché, the time I spent in that rugged expanse of desert emptiness pried me open with an irresistible call to reconnect with my primality and instincts that have been rendered barely detectable beneath the raging din of commercial, political, technological, and dilettante clutter.
Your list of resolutions for 2015 may be long, but if you’re inclined, maybe scribble somewhere near the top:
Alone in the dirt with a drum and a bone.
December 22, 2014 11:14 am
Oh. My. God. Industry heavyweight Publisher’s Weekly just reviewed Two Performance Artists!
“Bright and capacious fiction… madcap… the chaos, danger, absurdity, and insanity keep ratcheting up.”
I wouldn’t change a word! Read the whole review here.
November 1, 2014 9:51 am
I’m crazy-excited to announce DICKTEMP, an art experiment to measure the temperature and humidity in my underwear 24/7 for the 30 days of November! Inspired by a dream I had about Matt Damon, check out DICKTEMP.COM for the current weather in my pants, or compare the daily graphs! And be sure to follow me on Twitter for the latest updates—it’s gonna be insane! #dicktemp
*** UPDATE: I just heard back from The Smithsonian—apparently the museum does not want to include my #dicktemp thermometer in its American Art collection. Maybe next time! ;)
*** UPDATE #2: Dicktemp is complete! What a crazy 30 days! Catch all the action in my #dicktemp video logs:
|Intro||Day 10||Day 20||Day 30|
I might’ve gotten a little carried away on Day 20 with all of that amazing fannybag fashion…hahaha. Here’s the greenscreen supercut just for you!
September 22, 2014 8:59 pm
When I look back on 2014, all I see is a blur.
My wife and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary. My novel Two Performance Artists was finally published, closing a chapter on a surreal 15-year journey. Our cross-country book tour from LA to NY was a success, with encouraging bookstore turnouts, performances in 18 cities, and 2 book awards along the way. “Kidnapping As Art,” my survey of artists who’ve kidnapped audiences as performance art, was picked up by MIT Press’s Journal of Performance And Art for publication in January of 2015. Headlining the final 5x5x5 show at the Sylvia White Gallery in Ventura—one of California’s longest-running performance art series in recent memory—was a humbling honor. And of course, learning I’d been plagiarized by Shia LaBeouf—and then having my revenge—was the most wild ride of all.
I don’t know if I’ve ever been more busy—and yet, somehow I’ve still got that nagging feeling that this train is only just starting to pick up speed—that all of the dreams that came true in 2014 are the wood I now need to be shoveling like crazy into the firebox, stoking the flames even harder than before to maintain momentum. But with the past year feeling ephemeral and so long ago already, the wood vanishes like smoke on my shovel, and fear sets in that the engine could start to slow.