Sep 052012



“I myself am a failure at raising funds and sustaining my work. As a visiting artist I can hardly support basic functions. I do not have health insurance, life insurance, storage or insurance for art works; I do not have savings, retirement funds, medical plan, investments, bonds, etc. It is impossible to produce the new works I envision . . .

I’m enclosing a bibliography as well as an exhibition and lecture sheet to clarify this extremely paradoxical history, the punishing facts of this mythic “career.” Perhaps you will understand that being in dire straits while enduring a fantasy of success and achievement makes it impossible to fulfill your request.”

–Carolee Schneemann, performance artist Correspondence Course: An Epistolary History of Carolee Schneemann and Her Circle. (Duke University Press, 2010.)



Here, a mature female American artist is respectfully telling the director of the MacArthur Foundation Fellows program to go bleep himself. You know, The John D. and Catherine C. MacArthur Foundation. Ms. Schneemann had been asked to serve on a nominating committee to recommend young artists for the fellowships. Broke and broken, seemingly overlooked, Schneemann wants the MacArthur people to know it. If you have not heard of Carolee Schneemann, that’s exactly her point. And it probably means you are not interested in performance art in a big way. But maybe you have heard of Karen Finley? She made a splash in the eighties with her sweet potato. Or her yam.

I took my mother and my older sister to see Karen Finley in 1988 in San Francisco. It was Halloween night, so I guess I thought we should dress up. And we did. I was nineteen and I was living in SF doing my thing, which involved riding around on the back of my boss’s motorcycle and taking classes in Afro-Cuban dance. My sister was twenty-one and living there, too. She was doing her thing, which involved paralegal work mostly, saving money and applying to law school. My mother was visiting.

So my sister dressed up as a cat and my mother dressed up as a clown and I dressed up as an Indian. You might prefer that I use the term Native American, and I prefer it myself. But to be honest, I was dressed up as an Indian. Complete with face paint and a dime-store feather headdress I picked up on Haight Street. Very inappropriate and stupid of me, but I did stuff like that all the time, and I probably still do, but I won’t realize it until ten years from now.

Karen Finley scared the crap out of us, though I acted like I knew what to think. After the show, we went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner and we spotted the mighty Bob Weir at a corner table with some people who looked like roadies. Bob Weir never had to apply for a grant or a fellowship in his life. So is it that simple? Learn an instrument? Sure it is. I recommend guitar over flute.

One time I saw Bjork at Sam Ash in New York City. She was shopping with her tween-aged son, who was trying out guitars and amps with a friend. I don’t think she would mind me saying that she was very pregnant with Matthew Barney’s child.




Mar 112012



“The women’s figures which I see here among the people give me a tremendous urge, much more to paint them than to possess them, though indeed I should like both.”
—Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to his brother Theo, 1885


Today I went to an event featuring Clifford Owens, performance artist. I saw his name in a magazine, then watched a you tube clip in which he put kimchee in his boxer shorts and then ate it. This act, in itself, did not inspire me or make me think deep thoughts, but there is something intriguing about the way he moves around. So I hoofed it to MOMA Queens, where they have a geodesic dome set up in the courtyard (bonus).

I had the time of Owens’ performance wrong. So I watched other African American performance artists, all chosen by Owens, interact with objects and ideas and the audience in sometimes interesting ways. By the time I needed to leave, people were lining up in the hallway outside of the gallery space where Owens was going to perform.

He planned to follow a “score,” or script, provided by another artist, Kara Walker. A video of a previous performance of this same score was being shown in the gallery. Owens had his audience with him in a room; the people were leaning against the walls . . . pressed against them, really. Owens was moving around the room with physical power and complete control over the audience, which they had granted him. He selected different people, mostly women but at least one man, and engaged them in various stages of necking/kissing based on their willingness/resistance and other invisible, intuitive factors known only to him.

The video was hard to watch. Owens retreated and approached, making eye contact, perhaps trying to figure out if his “victim” would be interested or appalled or perhaps traumatized if he stuck his tongue in her mouth. Sometimes he would start by kissing her neck, then move to the lips. I didn’t watch all of it. Couldn’t.

Still, as I was leaving the museum, I felt very disappointed that I had messed up the time; a big crowd had gathered and it was buzzing with excitement. But I had somewhere else to be.

I checked into it just now on Twitter. Apparently Kara Walker showed up and stood sentry during the performance. Presumably she was worried that Owens was really going to follow her script, which called for him to force a member of the audience to have sex with him. She didn’t want to be responsible.

Just as well that I self-selected myself out of the game by screwing up the showtimes. Probably I could not have handled that kind of performance. I wonder if anyone walked out. Or maybe the door was locked? Maybe it was.

Jan 132012

from the SFGate, August 30 2007

A Burning Man participant was found dead this morning, hanging from the inside of a two-story high tent, according to Mark Pirtle, special agent in charge for the Bureau of Land Management.

The apparent suicide would be the festival’s first in its 21 year history, Pirtle said.

Pershing County coroners are investigating the scene and preparing to remove the body. Pirtle said the man was hanging for two hours before anyone in the large tent thought to bring him down.

“His friends thought he was doing an art piece,” Pirtle said.


Continue reading »