“When an octopus gets too stressed out, it eats itself,” begins poet Ashley August in Don’t Be Nice, the feature documentary debut from filmmaker Max Powers. At this moment in the film, August is performing a poem about the (gendered, racialized) expectation that she be less intense, in direct address to the camera. “When you see me with my literal foot in my actual mouth, you can call that dramatic.” More →
Posts by Amanda Feinman:
Last September, Bushwig sold out the Knockdown Center, that sprawling ex-manufacturing lot just on the Maspeth side of the Brooklyn/Queens border. It was perfect drag weather that weekend—a little overcast, finally cooling—and anywhere your eye flitted under those ancient exposed beams, there was color. More →
Late on a Friday afternoon, right before things were sure to get busy, Zaida Soler-Williams and Roberto Williams welcomed me into their East Williamsburg apartment, which is also their place of business. The living space is furnished simply, with a couch, house plants, and a few black leather lounge chairs; less expected are the large speakers tucked in seemingly every corner, the dominant screen along one wall, and the disco lighting everywhere, illuminating even the countertops in phosphorescent blue. “We go all out,” Roberto told me. “We’re not the type to do things halfway.” More →
When I first read Eileen Myles’s 1994 classic Chelsea Girls, I was certain it was nonfiction. I think I may have told an inquiring stranger on the subway that it was a book of essays, which it isn’t (sorry, now-misinformed New Yorker). It’s fiction, a series of short coming-of-age stories about a queer poet named Eileen Myles, who is like the collection’s author in many ways but not in all. I was so certain it was memoir because the book feels so lived-in—it brings you to tactile places, conjures the mud underfoot at Woodstock and those recognizable, “gorgeous grey feeling(s)” of adolescent romance. But Myles has long called Chelsea Girls an “autobiographical novel,” a hybrid of sorts. It merges the unreal, the dreamed-up, with the hyper-real. More →
The Storefront Project is currently covered in upcycled canvases. Sara Erenthal, one of the city’s most notable and prolific street artists, has moved her works to Orchard Street.
If you take long, aimless walks around Brooklyn like I do, you’ve likely come across Erenthal’s work at some point. She draws those graphically simple female faces, recognizable for their triangular cheeks, oversized eyes, and little red mouths. The faces are all hers, she says—but she calls them “subconscious” self-portraits, depictions of herself that have been stylized away from strict identifiability. “It’s not a very literal representation, but a representation of emotion,” she told me. “My voice.”
This isn’t the only style she works in, but it’s what she has become known for. She’s also known for repurposing found objects into canvases, “upcycling” them. Her portraits often materialize on discarded things, the mattresses, refrigerators, and wood panels that dot the city’s gutters—and they can vanish as quickly as they appear, whenever intrigued passersby feel moved to take them home. “I’m making art accessible, giving people a chance to pick up an original piece,” she said, of the benefits of this practice. “And I’m cleaning up street corners!”
Because her style is abstracted, almost cartoon-like, the portraits can feel quite universal. Many women, the artist reports, have expressed that they connect with her self-depictions, and it’s not hard to see why that would be. Erenthal frequently pairs her faces with small, sincere quips, messages like “Perfectly Flawed,” which she once wrote on a hairline-cracked mirror. Or “Lift Me Up,” which appeared on a prone, hingeless door. The themes she’s most interested in include “displacement, survival, and liberation,” which she explores all over New York through feminine figuration. There’s something wide-reaching about this practice, like she’s conducting an investigation into female power and pain, writ large.
But with Backstory, the solo exhibition she and curator Nina Blumberg opened at the Storefront Project last week, Erenthal is sharing very personal experiences. The exhibition consists of self-portraits in the recognizable style, largely on repurposed surfaces like thrift-store paintings, art prints, and old photographs (they’re for sale at gallery prices, but still maintain many of the qualities of her free public art). They work together to tell viewers about Erenthal, a self-taught artist who was raised in Borough Park, Brooklyn, in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. She left home at the age of 17 to avoid an arranged marriage, to live a secular life, and to chase her creative impulses. Echoes of the religious part of her past recur in the exhibition: a self-portrait laid over an old photograph of an Orthodox person, for example, is called “You Can Take the Girl out of the Village.”
Other lived experiences and eras appear, too, with equal clarity. Erenthal explores intense romance in pieces like “I’m Infatuated,” in which a self-portrait is laid over a blooming white flower. And her journey toward discovering her artistic style appears in “I Didn’t Want to Draw Apples,” a piece in which portraiture literally trumps still life. The exhibition’s title takes on multiple meanings, with all of this historical digging in mind: the upcycled canvases each have a backstory, because they were once something else, but Erenthal’s personal backstory is on display, too. Each image becomes a chapter in a larger autobiographical narrative.
Still, even with all this intimate excavation, there’s something inclusive or relatable about each of the faces in Backstory. As with the street portraits, there’s enough interpretive malleability in their features to allow for broad identification. “It’s just a very raw, primal, human expression,” Erenthal mused, when I asked why she thought her own repeated visage spoke to so many people. “There’s no definition of race or nationality…it’s feminine, of course, but it could be anyone.” In this way, her somewhat generalized iconography can speak very deeply to individualized experiences. Her own, of course, particularly in Backstory. But also—in this gallery, or in passing on a street corner—almost anyone’s.
“Backstory” is on display through August 18 at Lower East Side gallery The Storefront Project. The gallery is open to the public from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday.
Gregory Dillon has the very specific ability to correctly V-step in crowded Bushwick backrooms. That’s because his mother once taught ’80s cardio step in New Hampshire, and he attended her classes in his formative years. At his show at Gold Sounds last Friday, he held the room: he has a rich, controlled baritone, and a radiating joy. The kind that pairs well with revitalized synth-pop, quirky time-capsule video projections (teased hair and silvery nylon two-pieces?), and nerdy, bygone dance moves. More →
Head Hi is not an establishment you’re likely to stumble randomly upon on your lunch break. Unless you are one of the (ever-growing) numbers of people who work in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and you take your lunch break wandering its periphery. This hybrid coffee shop/bookstore/art gallery sits on a warehouse-y side street, nestled between Flushing Avenue and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. It’s not in the Navy Yard proper, and it’s also not really in residential Fort Greene, which establishes itself just a couple blocks over. Head Hi, which opened in December of last year, is a small addition to a liminal space, a tenant between neighborhoods. And it’s at least a 15 minute walk from any subway station. More →
A lot of us may be hoping to spend the middle of summer in theater A/C, but are absolutely too spooked to sit through Midsommar. The hottest months are typically a lull between awards posturing. Aside from Ari Aster’s Swedish pagan nightmare-scape, plus that wildly high-concept Beatles-based comedy I haven’t yet gotten around to seeing, there’s mostly superhero reboots and high-budget misfires on the marquees right now. But with their retrospectives and lovingly-curated series, the lower Manhattan and Brooklyn arthouse theaters have us covered. More →
Twenty blocks north of the World Pride parade kick-off yesterday, thousands in Bryant Park were singing. Sing Out, Louise! passed out pink-and-black “hymnals”—protest lyrics, set to recognizable Americana (“Somewhere over the rainbow, love trumps hate/Black lives matter to all, and Muslims can immigrate”). When those in attendance came to outnumber the print-outs, latecomers snapped photos of their neighbors’ copies, and followed along on their phones. More →
Aja, mostly, doesn’t care what you think. The rap artist, whose pronouns are “they/them,” came to prominence as a drag queen, through two stints on reality TV (RuPaul’s Drag Race season 9, and Drag Race: All Stars season 3). The two industries they straddle don’t often overlap: one world is dominated, traditionally, by masculinity, and the other by femininity, each with weirdly impermeable borders. But about not conforming to industry standards—or to fan expectations—they’re brash and unapologetic. More →