If you’ve been to Wild Torus events before, it’s likely you know all about their marathon performance-art benders and messy parties. Guests are necessarily a part of the events involving immense creation and destruction within the same night (or 48-hour marathon). My first Torus encounter was a mind-jostling, brain-crushing, chaotic mess. It was a crush of humanity, all soaked in sweat, and stuck with gloopy, sticky materials, under an onslaught of hypnotic drumming, loud-as-hell discordant synth drone, and anything and everything you can imagine.
It’s hard to imagine Wild Torus doing anything but a Wild Torus-style event. Which is why I was surprised to hear that they had teamed with Pulsar, aka Tif Robinette and Ian Deleón, the Bushwick-born curatorial duo behind a relatively new series of “transdisciplinary performance practices” held monthly at the witchy, esoteric Catland bookstore. Together, the two performance-art couples have teamed up to form Wild Embeddings. Last weekend, the dynamic double-duo curated the first in what they say will be an ongoing series of collaborative shows.
When I arrived at The Hidden Valley, billed as a “48-hour multimedia festival” held at the edge-of-Greenpoint gallery, Last Frontier, I was greeted by a quiet, almost hauntingly still performance by Karolina Kubik. As she read various S&M-esque orders, she sounded almost meek, but with a whipping cruelty at the edges. Eventually, she convinced the crowd to follow her outside, to the back of Frontier, where the building’s edge meets the black waters of Newtown Creek.
Here, she entranced her audience as she poured buckets of the gnarly water onto a freshly made-up air mattress and then began methodically spraying some noxious cleaning chemical overtop, all the while poised and unmoved in her white formal dress and high heels. She started chanting in a quiet whisper that grew into a desperate shout: “Sad people sex! Sad people sex!”
Other performers, like Ghost in Salad, were more interested in full-body chaos and creating visceral nightmares. After emerging from a creepy caterpillar-like costume and crawling around on the floor, the artist took to some synths that were already letting out drippy, strange contact-mic blasts and turned the level up to something near crushing. By the finale, he was sprawled out on the floor, exasperated from the freak out. It was one of the punkest performances I’ve ever seen.
When I met up with Wild Embeddings, Robinette explained the collaboration with Mág Ne Tá Z’air and Vlady VØz Tokk. “Wild Torus is maximalist,” she said. “Pulsar, we’re minimalist– so in that way we balance each other out.”
The duo behind Wild Torus, born Amy Mathis and Mike Berlant, looked almost unrecognizable since I had last talked to them. Earlier this year, the two took off on tour shortly after they moved out of Torus Porta, their Bushwick brick-and-mortar, following an alleged bruise-up at the Paper Box in April. The ensuing lawsuit with the venue blew up into a very public fight, complete with sensational New York Post coverage and back-and-forth vitriol on social media.
Since then, Mathis had chopped her hair and ditched the colorful candy-kid clash for a more subdued give-zero-fucks kind of getup. Berlant, meanwhile, had shaved his head almost completely, except for a wide strip extending from his forehead to his spine, and sprouted an Anton LaVey-style goatee. Together, the pair resembled a Satanist kidnapper and his innocent but bored prey.
Maybe all of this was a result of their proximity to Pulsar. “We’re involved in the occult side of the world,” Robinette explained. Aside from “experimental writers and thinkers and artists,” Pulsar also works with “performance artists who work with spirituality and sexuality.”
The name of last weekend’s festival, The Hidden Valley, refers to “this parallel world of matter that we don’t even have any sort of idea how it reacts to anything else in the universe,” Mathis explained. “So it’s a complete mystery world.”
The festival consisted of nearly two dozen artists working in performance art, video, sound, and a combination of all three mediums. They included internationally recognized names like Narcissister, local familiars like Josh Kil (who you may remember his recent solo show at Christopher Stout), and still others from as far as Spain (Maria Forque) and Taiwan (Liping Ting), who transitioned in and out of one another’s performances smoothly. Wild Torus also recruited some participants from their summer tour up and down the East Coast and across the Midwest, including Domestique, a cross-disciplinary artist from Rhode Island. “He plays on a sewing machine,” Berlant grinned. “And all kinds of weird instruments.”
The event hardly qualified as a festival in the traditional sense, nor was it strictly an art exhibition, music show, or traditional performance art gathering (whatever that means, anyway). Instead, it combined all of these things, with only smatterings of familiar precedent, into an old-school “happening”-like format. It was almost a throwback to the ’60s– but, you know, without all the annoying hipster-nostalgia that implies.
“I’m almost 30, and at my age I’ve done lots of stuff in the art world– in both the gallery system and the DIY scene,” Robinette explained of the anti-artshow format. “I don’t care about solo shows, I don’t care about name dropping, I don’t care about any of that stuff.”
Instead, she’s more concerned with what she likes to call “radical intimacy,” or fruitful artistic partnerships that are productive as much as they are “spiritual and emotional” connections.
At the same time, fun is an essential element to the team’s immersive art environment– albeit a more heady kind of fun. Robinette described Wild Embeddings as a “more mature nightlife,” and predicted the events would draw the same people “who loved Body Actualized, people who love raves but feel they are too old for them now and actually like to hang out and, like, talk to people.”
If this is all starting to sound touchy-feely and a bit too hippie-dippy, remember that Pulsar draws on an occult background– so there’s certainly a more magical element here (or bit of a Renaissance flavor, depending on your persuasion).
The series started to sound really promising when I heard more about Robinette and Ian Deleón, who recently had what sounded like the most baller wedding imaginable (the couple met, married and became collaborative partners all within a two-month span).
Mathis confirmed some of the details: “Their wedding was amazing, it was embedded in nature and, you know, love [was] in the air. There were a lot of masks, very Eyes Wide Shut.“
“Ian was minotaur and he got beheaded halfway through,” Robinette laughed. “It was like a Wicker Man-style bonfire, there was a journey and a boat and naked oil men drumming, candles everywhere.”
Clearly, he’d earned the performance art collaborative’s respect as a whole, given that Wild Embeddings entrusted the introduction of The Hidden Valley to the guy.“His lecture is ‘Death’s Talking Head,'” Robinette explained, and quoted Cummins’ synopsis: “A short walk on the long tangents of the verified philosophy of necromancy, black magic in body practice, spirit communication, and weaponized dreaming.”
These metaphysical themes are not just a one-off. As Berlant explained, he and Wild Embeddings as a whole are aiming to demonstrate that art “should be this spiritual pursuit” and not something that hangs on a gallery wall. “This is for people, if you’re tired of art being this dry, commercial pursuit and you’re just looking for some kind of intimacy and interactive, immersive spirituality,” he said.
At the end of my visit to The Hidden Valley, I was thankful to find that Wild Torus hadn’t changed a bit. By then, everyone seemed ready for the insane onslaught of baroque costumes, twinkling chandelier sounds, and an army of masquerading harlequins and fairies, clad in underwear and then inevitably nothing at all. They danced around the room and tangled guests up in fake vines and faux roses, spreading red rose petals into enormous piles. Eventually Mág Ne Tá shot out of nowhere like a Molotov cocktail and was up and over in a huge swing, swaying back and forth over the room.
Vlady Voz came out too, trapped inside a blow-up bubble toy, and the stampeding masqueraders rolled him around the room. In the end, everything had been torn down– even the chillout teepee was destroyed, and all that remained was complete havoc and disaster. I tossed myself into a pile of faux rose petals and random objects while being bound with yellow caution tape inside a heap of humans at varying levels of stoned. Believe it or not, it was pretty friggin’ great, and one of the more cathartic experiences I’ve had in a long time.
“We never like repeating ourselves,” Berlant had told me. “We always want to defy people’s expectations.”