I’m not gonna lie, when I heard Wild Torus— the aggressively psychedelic Bushwick performance art duo– would be hosting their “most ambitious event yet” this weekend, I imagined a sweaty, gyrating orgy of disembodied tentacles coated in globs of indecipherable goo, or “Torus Juice” as it’s known (it’s actually corn syrup). Not exactly gallery material. When I first encountered Wild Torus’ cult-like “digital spirituality” rituals at their Bushwick home base, Torus Portus, I had never seen anything like it– and I haven’t seen anything to match it since.
But this time, Wild Torus won’t be cramming their messy participatory performance ritual into the tiny Torus Porta. Instead High Performance will go down at Last Frontier, the brand new Greenpoint art space and work studio of accomplished Norwegian artist Sol Kjøk, which at first glance seemed like an incompatibly slick place for the chaos of Wild Torus.
Earlier this week I visited Last Frontier to check out the space and meet Sol. She’s a veteran of the New York City performance and visual art scenes, having run in both circles since the ’90s when she attended grad school at Parson’s. Around that time, she started a live-in artist collective in Greenpoint called The Mothership, which she still calls home today. “It’s a five minute bike ride from my house,” Sol said of Last Frontier, located inside a massive, 100-year-old industrial building that also houses Broadway Stages, an ever-expanding network of production facilities and sound stages. (The building actually became a Superfund site after it was contaminated by the Exxon-Mobil oil spill and has since been cleaned up.)
I made my way past bales of hay and endless coils of thick, heavy duty chords, toward a large staircase. At the top, there’s a door carved out of a brick facade. Hanging overhead is what looks like an enormous porcelain mask with an open mouth– a dead giveaway this was the place.
While Sol has worked on the Lower East Side (at the Houston Street home of NOoSPHERE, a non-profit venue and art space she founded in 2011, which has also functioned as her studio for the past several years), she’s wrapping up things there and heading to Greenpoint. “I’m moving out of that space next month,” Sol explained. “We’ll have a send-off party the last weekend of November with a lineup of performers. That will be waving goodbye to that place, and this place will serve that same purpose.”
The opportunity came when the owner of Broadway Stages, one of Sol’s main collectors, gave her the keys to the Greenpoint space. While the rest of the building is almost unrecognizable as its former industrial self– made over into sound stages for filming– this section has remained intact. “He doesn’t want to change that, whereas everything else is spruced up and new,” Sol explained of the building’s owner. “He wanted creative activity to happen in this space.”
In light of the gracious offer, Sol said she wants to give back by creating opportunity for other artists. “I’m very fortunate to have a space like this, so I also want to share that with other artists,” she explained. Last Frontier, in addition to being her personal studio space, will “occasionally” host exhibitions and performance art events led by other artists.
Two such shows have already taken place here. “Both of them were really wonderful and I’m amazed people came all the way out to Greenpoint,” Sol said– hence the name, Last Frontier. Sol describes the location of her “platform” as “the final outpost of industrial New York in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn.”
When I first heard that an arts venue was calling itself “Last Frontier,” the name immediately struck me as similar to the language used by those Bushwick developers who managed to piss off a ton of people and blew up the internet in the process (a PR stunt that seemed intentionally scandalous and totally self-aware, really) by characterizing the neighborhood that was home to their new luxury development as “Brooklyn’s vibrant new frontier.” (Colony 1209 has since been rebranded as simply 1209 DeKalb, prompting at least one writer to declare Bushwick “post-colonial.”)
But Sol has lived in Greenpoint for close to a decade. At The Mothership, she and her roomies host exhibitions, performances, and artists-in-residence (and for $50 a night through AirBnb, The Mothership will host you, too). So it’s kind of hard to imagine Sol would actually believe the neighborhood is some kind of barren wilderness. But weirdly, in the eyes of the froufrou upscale art world, Greenpoint still seems to be “way out there.”
The Wild Torus show will likely be Last Frontier’s final public event before Sol takes a winter break from exhibitions and events to paint. In the meantime, here’s your opportunity to check out one of those rare spaces that maintains the rough edges of a former factory– peeling paint, raw brick details and all– while moving in some attractive improvements like a glistening poured-concrete floor, and has no qualms about welcoming in some serious freaks.
The gallery, located alongside Newtown Creek, is squeezed between sound stages below, a recycling plant beyond a chain link fence with big trucks moving in and out seemingly at a constant rate, and the biggest wastewater treatment plant in the city (which got a futuristic makeover that was completed in 2010). While I was walking down the drive, a truck driver peeped his head out of his 18-wheeler just a couple feet away from me. “You lost, sweetie?” he asked me.
I must have looked like it (lost– not a sweetie) because I was gazing up at those bulbous poop containers aka the wastewater treatment plant’s “digester eggs” (which, if you ask me, isn’t any more delicate of a term). They look like gigantic, swollen, silvery water balloons impossibly hovering in midair and they’re hypnotic those poop eggs. I had arrived at sunset, at a time when the eggs burst into color, glowing blue and purple throughout the night. “It’s actually an art installation,” Sol explained of the lighting.
We climbed up onto the roof for a better view. I’m not exaggerating even a little when I say this is the best view of the New York City skyline from up high I’ve ever seen. From the vantage point of one particular sweet spot, you get a a stereo-vision view of the Empire State building and the Chrysler building, one in each window. The fact that a good chunk of the city’s excrement is so close you feel like you can touch it, makes it all the better. Eventually an elevator will be installed and Sol hopes she can incorporate the rooftop into the gallery space.
The artists Sol will be welcoming into the space are simply those who do work she’s engrossed by. “I’m really interested in performance art, so it’s going to be mainly performance art, but also musicians, dancers,” she explained. “I really like organizing inter-disciplinary collaborations.” The inaugural show at Last Frontier, Whispering Voices, for example, was billed as a “collaborative installation” made possible by six independent artists working in a variety of mediums including animation, sculpture, performance art, visual art, and music production. “It’s fun when you can toss all those ingredients into the pot and make kind of a new thing– that’s the kind of thing I really want to do,” Sol explained.
Sol met the founders of Wild Torus, Amy Mathis and Mike Berlant (aka Mág Ne Tá and Vlady VØz Tokk), after Jeff Stark’s Nonsense New York listed Last Frontier’s first show. “They read our description and what they do is very similar to what we do,” Sol explained. “We started talking and it turns out we have many points of connection, because we’re all affiliated with the performance art scene in many ways. We’re kind of part of the same family.”
This weekend at Last Frontier, Wild Torus teams up with Estonian-based performance art collective Non Grata, another group with rather unconventional practices and views. “For those, whose world of arts starts from the point, where the art world ends, NON GRATA has been a liberator,” the group writes on their website.
Together, the artists and a few more collaborators will present a night of “avant-garde performance art” that includes “participatory rituals, hypnotic visuals, dystopian soundscapes,” culminating in an “interactive avatar rave.” It’s all part of Diverse Universe, Non Grata’s world-traveling “performance art festival.”
“It’s kind of an underground festival, but it’s well-known in its scene, basically the motivation is participatory performance and it invites people to, you know, free themselves and be part of the performance,” Mike of Wild Torus explained. “It includes local artists too.”
Last Frontier will offer Wild Torus something they’ve sorely needed. “It’s basically an expanded format” of Wild Torus’ performances, which are “dedicated to an expanded consciousness and physical mobility,” Mike explained. “We still do our regular shows at Torus Porta and right now, it’s too small. The last show we had was, like, overflowing, so this is definitely going to be on a grander scale than everything else we do, but with the same message. We have so many people who come to our shows and say, ‘This is the first time I’ve done something, the first time I’ve had this experience,’ and they’re dedicated to coming back because it’s addictive, and it’s freeing, and it’s really all about doing things that you wouldn’t normally do in life, and not just being an observer but being a participant in creating this energy together.”
It’s easy to forget that Wild Torus is art per se. Several months back, when my friends and I entered the basement layer of the Torus Porta, at first having no clue what we were about to stumble on, we were convinced we’d walked into either an alternate universe or a give-no-fucks sex party. It was probably a little of both. The event was billed on Facebook as what seemed to be nothing more than a freaky party, but when we arrived everyone was either naked, covered in goo, or slathered in body paint, glitter, and what was possibly peanut butter. The ritualistic drum beating and pounding electronic music convinced me this was more of a Burner reunion than Art. It wasn’t until much later I found out it was the latter.
The whole experience was overwhelming, almost transcendental but also starkly real, both of which are feelings that I find are wildly distinct from anything I’ve ever been inspired to feel at a white-walled gallery show. And consider that, compared to some of the other attendees, I was about a one out of ten when it came to participating in the romp (10 being totally naked and covered in Torus Juice and body paint while grinding on some stranger). I just had to know what this was all about and I found out for this B+B article I wrote back in March.
Sol, who will be an observer on Saturday, admitted that she’d never been to a Wild Torus show before. I don’t fear for her, though. She described her ethos as similar to Wild Torus’ aims: “to create contemporary rituals and participatory environments and immersive scenarios where people are part of a group happening.”
Sol’s own work consists of massive paintings depicting entangled bodies of bald, nearly identical humanoid creatures frozen in the midst of physics-defying acrobatics. The figures appear to be preparing for a sci-fi future, suspended inside jars of primordial goo. Or maybe they’re trapped in a terrarium, where the progeny of an alien invasion and inter-species reproduction can view what’s left of the evolutionary misstep (humans) as nothing more than colorful sea monkeys. In a way, Sol’s work– at once grotesque but profoundly beautiful– induces the same kind of dizzying disorientation that Wild Torus’ manages to achieve with the human yarn balls they orchestrate.
Sol has said her work deals with the dichotomy of the Dionysian and the Apollonian, a Nietzschean concept originally fleshed out in The Birth of Tragedy (not Fight Club, c’mon)– which is basically something all humans grapple with, to a certain degree. Dionysus, the Ancient Greek god of wine and son of Zeus, represents unhinged hedonism, wild communal energy, and chaotic creativity. Whereas Apollo, Dionysus’ way-less-cool brother, denotes a stoic kind of fortitude, sense of reason, reliability, static level-headedness, but also a sort of aloofness.
According to Nietzsche all successful tragedies have a perfect balance between the two opposing forces. The healthy ideal in human existence, according to other thinkers, is the embodiment of both sensibilities, in perfect balance and conversation with one another. High Performance, then, has no choice but to be interesting, with the promise of opposing forces locked in a strange dance for primacy. Seeing the Dionysian Wild Torus in a picturesque gallery environment is extremely difficult to imagine, but it’s even harder to imagine Wild Torus considering holding back from their usual insanity for even a moment.
“I have no curatorial input in the show at all,” Sol explained. “So basically, I have faith in them. I’ll just be here as a viewer– What are we going to get to see? I don’t know.” Clearly Sol’s openness to the Dionysian is still alive and well at Last Frontier.
High Performance takes place at 8 pm on Saturday, Nov. 7th at Last Frontier, tickets: $7.56