Claywoman is withered and weathered, like something literally molded from clay and, by degrees, dried out. She’s the 500-million-year-old extra-terrestrial performance persona of the actor Michael Cavadias, andreappears every-so-often in public to much niche buzz. Last week, in the cabaret backroom at Pangea, she hosted an unscripted conversation with comedian Bridget Everett, which ranged and rambled from menopause to climate change. More →
Posts by Amanda Feinman:
Switch N’ Play puts a high premium on joy, so it isn’t surprising that A Night At Switch N’ Play—the slice-of-performance-life documentary about the group, making its New York premiere at NewFest this Saturday—is such a joyful watch. The film, from director Cody Stickels and producer Chelsea Moore, provides a window into the beloved drag and burlesque collective at work. Over the course of a single evening at Branded Saloon, the Prospect Heights bar Switch N’ Play calls home, we are invited to watch seven queer performers flourishing, almost in real time. And it’s a treat. More →
It was late on Monday when Allie X called me from a hotel room in Hawaii. She was packing; I could hear the zippers going, quick between her sentences. The up-and-coming pop artist played Boston’s House of Blues on Thursday, and she’ll be in New York tonight, Tuesday, opening for Charli XCX at Terminal 5. But she had to make a brief trip out West first, to headline Honolulu Pride. More →
There are few things so eerie as forsaken dolls; then there’s what’s going on at The Cell’s converted townhouse theater in Chelsea. “FOUND” is the space’s first-ever immersive theatrical experience, a deep-dive into the spooky world of visual artist Mikel Glass, just in time for sweater weather.
It is difficult to describe “FOUND.” The Cell calls it “a new and exciting way to consume the visual arts” (also: “an explosion of dolls”). Glass had free reign to curate all four floors of the townhouse, which The Cell’s founding artistic director Nancy Manocherian converted, in 2006, into a multi-use space for interactive and immersive installations like this one. Glass let loose with chaotic junkyard energy. There is stuff everywhere, found objects strewn about between, above, and below his paintings and sculptures. There are piles of loose pill capsules on the floor. Suitcases and pizza boxes. A cooler of Cherry Garcia ice cream. Even the paintings themselves have a dissonant, slapped-together sensibility; in “Birth of B-Art,” for instance, a faceless woman gives bloody birth surrounded by bobbleheads, baby dolls, and some kind of spider-crab, and upon closer inspection, you’ll notice the emerging baby has the head of Bart Simpson. But the dominant feature in “FOUND” are the aforementioned dolls, creepy things of various sizes and materials—they’re innumerable, literally everywhere, and all, apparently, were discovered by Glass on the streets of New York. Some of them are missing limbs or eyes; some stand and keep watch, holding onto the staircase bannisters; some hold iPhones in their weird little hands, displaying effectively spooky loop-video footage of JonBenét Ramsey.
There are also people everywhere in this interactive exhibit, actors from Mason Holdings (directed by Kristjan Thor), whose disconnected scenes interrupt and enhance Glass’s visual landscape. Audience members are vital participants in what goes on at “FOUND,” willing or not: if you go, you will have to accessorize a distraught woman, add brushstrokes to already-existing paintings, and maybe fill out a beyond-the-grave adoption application. I’m still working through what these theatrical snippets have to do with one another, and how they’re related to Glass’s works. It’s clear that they are all similarly atonal, curious, disquieting; it’s also clear that these cross-medium collaborators are inviting people to have a wholly visceral art experience. Glass sees “FOUND” as something closer to participatory theater than to the typically passive Chelsea gallery walk-through (he’ll tell you so himself, when you find him on his perch somewhere deep inside the house).
I, admittedly, had trouble taking in everything in “FOUND.” There is so much of it, and it’s also hard to focus on a painting when an actor standing in front of it is asking you for your blood type. But overstimulation is part of the game here. “FOUND” is a disorienting but engaging experience, like being tasked with wading, for an hour, through the detritus of a strange and vibrant brain. Which, if you go, you will have been. “FOUND” will have performances through October 31 at The Cell Theatre in Chelsea. You can purchase tickets at their website.
“We let our comics have complete authority,” Alysia Hush emphasized over the phone. “If they want to get onstage and take off one shoe, that’s perfectly fine.” Hush is a co-founder, along with Marisa Riley, of Comedy Ugly, a stand-up show that happens monthly-ish at Easy Lover in Williamsburg. The twist? Their evening of curated comedy is also a body-positive strip tease. More →
“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 →
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.