Tuesday, January 23, 2007
SPARKS: EAST VILLAGE USA 2004
"Male Geometry #1" Holly Crawford
SPARKS: EAST VILLAGE USA 2004
They say you have to be cool in the art world. But you never do what is expected. YOU ARE HOT! Burning with fever. Even in your coolest moment, posing at the entry of East Village USA where you are having your photograph taken by Patrick McMullen, chronicler of New York nightlife, you are burning through the weave of your aqua leopard print coat because you suddenly forget your role.
Are you covering the scene or part of the scene? Hard to separate the two as you were sent here by a certain Newspaper of Record to report on the exhibition opening, which swiftly and assuredly propels you right into the red-hot center. How does a reporter on the party scene become invisible during a time when everyone and anyone is seeking FAME as a partner, with the elixir of immortality as wedding gift. In this day of sequential divorce! As one of your editors used to say: “Your job is to report the news, not to make the news.” Will you ever be cool enough -- either for the art world or the Newspaper of Record? The dastardly finger of fate, as we shall see, had its own say in the matter. But would you find your way through this fate – to repeat the cycle of Persephone – pulled between long suffering, possessive Demeter and the dark, alluring Pluto – again and again?
And there, in that hot spot, tape recorder in hand, on assignment for a certain Newspaper of Record, your cool is under fire when Aaron Olshan delivers you an artist burning to tell his story. This artist gives you a rushed account that you don’t understand – something about his print being removed from the wall during the press preview earlier in the day. He points to the spot in the sunken area where videos are on display in the dark. “It was there!” he says. There is a sweetness about him that touches your rapidly beating heart. He places into your waiting palm a postcard with the name of his exhibition. You notice Aaron is on the list of artists printed on the back. “He had all the art stars there for his opening last night,” Aaron says. Art world intrigue! Sparks fly from his pen as he writes all his numbers: his home, his studio, his cell. “You have never heard his name but you have trusted Aaron’s assessments of the authentic in the past (“YOU are authentic,” he said to you once in that passionate booming voice of his, “and baby, I was born in the art world. I have seen everything!”
This artist in front of you is burning with fever – just like you! A mirror of yourself and you always have had a weakness for mirrors! He has that East Village icon look even today, 20 years after the fact. Maybe it is just that you recognize in him a fellow traveler from the Lost Generation. That is what your teacher said when she read your first manuscript, written in the eighties. “You are writing about the Lost Generation.” So lost, it didn’t even have a name! So lost, the chronicler couldn’t get it published commercially and had to do it herself! This was a specific energy that courted FAME as a flash emitted from the divine. Not the ME Generation with Pluto in Leo, not the whining Generation X with Pluto in Virgo, but the SUPERSTARS with Uranus in Leo. The lucky ones like this fellow took off like rockets and then crashed with the art market in 1987.
You tell him that you want to see his “alternate” EAST VILLAGE exhibition and will call him in the morning. He directs you across the street to the Proposition Gallery where one of his paintings is on display. And there you meet Ellen, who ceremoniously guides you to a painting of a horse in a bathtub with a frame made of a broken window. “This is typical work of R____,” she says. “The frame was a broken window from the neighborhood.” And immediately, with your fresh eye far removed from the battlefield, you get it! The dead horse meaning the death of a movement, not just any movement, but the last urban movement in which the breaking down of boundaries between writers and artists and musicians and scene makers made the last big happening scene. Before the Internet made it unnecessary and skyrocketing rents made it untenable for scenes to take root in greater New York. Before you now was an image chronicling the breakdown of structure (the frame pulled from urban decay) that permitted the rise of nonconformity as squatters took over abandoned buildings, homeless people established a tent city in Thompkins Square Park and neighbors gathered to plant gardens in abandoned lots.
Ironically, the notoriety of a movement that tore down class, gender and racial barriers is what made the neighborhood so attractive to students and urban professionals. So, twenty years later, the history still has to be written and EAST VILLAGE USA struts forward to fill in the gap. Not in the way intended by the catalogue in which contracted writings mock news stories that unintentionally highlight the absence of archival documentation in the exhibition. But it happens in the way of Pluto, the shadow element of power at work in writing a legacy. And here YOU are, guided by Persephone, penetrating that darkness with your flashlight shining on this dastardly deed: the ripping off the wall of the authentic, so all the cheap copies could be marketed as true relics of a movement that closes the door on 20th century art. So, what a story! The print hidden in the dark and the aggressive manner of having it officially ripped off the wall. Nothing short of performance art new millennium style! Your sensitive body was already confounded by the exhibition in which graffiti art gave way to geometrical paintings that were so absurdly commercial (the NEO-GEO movement the curator was to tell you in a telephone interview when you cornered him the next day!) -- sn obvious cash-in by greedy dealers in cahoots with museum professionals! And what of the authentic artist chronicling the paradigm shift through his materials, boldly placing himself way ahead of his time by attaching narrative to his graphic imagery through mythological characters? He gets edited out of the exhibition in a manner worthy of performance!
The underdog in the dog eat dog art world with a sizzling story. What journalist could resist? You rub the burns that propelled you into this East Village War. It was the belligerent artist, C______, whom you met in the corner of the LAB, the precise spot where you sit as you juice up your laptop while scribing this first person account of your experience in the battlefield – the fight for the legacy of a neighborhood quickly becoming a tourist attraction – the last art scene before the Internet made it unnecessary to have a scene and Starbucks reduced the coffeehouse culture to a commercial enterprise.
As you juice up your laptop in the back of the LAB, at the corner of Lexington and 47th in midtown Manhattan, where you are now fully launched into the first installment, FIRE, of your Blog-Novel under the spell of Holly Crawford’s spiritually empowering Male Geometry series, you wince as you remember the sparks flying about on that cold day in December 2004. It comes back to you now, the sequence of events; how at a LAB dinner you met this swaggering character C______ who insisted on giving you a ride to the East Village in his truck and then invited you for a nightcap at LIVE Café. That is the East Village hangout where they danced on the tables in RENT. “This street had one gallery after another in the eighties,” he says, pointing to the building facades. You remember how it was. On the way to your Ave D home, with its fire engine accent covering doors and stairwell, you could have five or six glasses of cheap wine. The inebriation did not serve to help you comprehend the so-called art of the neighborhood. It seemed to you that many of the artists were from elsewhere and made art purportedly about the angst of living in a crime ridden rundown neighborhood in which they resided by choice! Why would anyone be interested in work reflecting the artificiality of artists moving to a location in order to reflect that particular environment in the most superficial slapdash manner – rather than digging down into their personal mythos where art becomes a guiding force for transformation rather than simply a reflection of societal ills?
It is the same mistake you made in Buenos Aires, isn’t it? Believing that you could absorb the native passion because you refused to connect with your own! It all boils down to the ego attempting to escape the fire rather than the soul entering the fire! East Village art seemed too much about this dynamic taking place on the surface rather than going down deep to explore the transpersonal forces at work surrounding the Phoenix. It is these forces that I examine on this chilly January day in 2007 on a bed with black sheets protected by a circle of wax created by MP in a Saturday ritual commemorating the first gate of Venus when this heavenly body brings forth a new archetype of the feminine as she meets with the Moon on her way up from the Underworld.
So the forgettable art of the East Village struggled to reflect the angst of living in a crime ridden drug addicted milieu of gender bending expressionism without having the individual artist personally surrender to this upstart dynamic that surged through the East Village streets. It was not so much a political revolution, as in armed combat in the streets, but a cultural revolution where inhabitants raged against the forces of corporate hegemony that were to overtake the character of New York City and the world. The best part was the human interaction that arose out of the familiarity surrounding this breakdown – a physical place where gender stereotypes were inverted and perverted, where boys were free to act like girls and girls were trying to figure out a new way of relating where they weren’t just the Persephone object/victim of Pluto’s desire but a co-creator with the Divine.
And there in Live Café on the eve of the EAST VILLAGE USA opening at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, you are told about a woman, a pioneering critic of the East Village scene, a woman who – and, as they tell you the story, you get this feeling of dread – came to a bad end and got written out of the history. The artist, who was already drunk when you left the LAB, proceeds to get drunker and more belligerent, bruising his sidekick with assault after assault. Are they doing this for my benefit? You wonder about this and ask yourself: is this armed drama for my benefit? You are feeling weak now, completely without defense and overwhelmed by the toxicity of rotting corpses of a dead scene where the vultures are picking to the bones. A scene hammered into oblivion by developers aiming to torch the quaint neighborhood and turn it into luxury high-rise developments. The abuse is flying mostly in one direction, sending sparks across the table and you end up spilling your tea because the energy of this battlefield is more than your delicate system can handle. And you realize even as it happens that you are succumbing to the Plutonian darkness. Indeed, it is the dark before the return of the light at Winter Solstice and here you remain, not because these are reliable sources but because you believe that entering the fire will cure the hunger that keeps drawing you back to the East Village. This is no longer an illusion. The surfaces are not nearly as enticing as they were in the eighties, the danger of the streets not nearly as palatable to the senses. No, it is something rumbling below the surface that has faded in time and development but still tends to draw you in…
Oh hell, maybe it’s just the assignment that gets your adrenalin going, your first actual story for a national outlet, jumping your readership into scary dimensions! Couldn’t you have made the leap with something more…. well, tame? Something with clearly defined boundaries and no iconic beings to lure you back into the Underworld after struggling so long and hard to get out? But no! Your karma doesn’t have time for the tame, the timid, the self-effacing. Your karma is about head-on confrontation. DRAMA!
And so, you go over your notes from the opening and a long interview with Valery Gallery, a brilliant Romanian critic and poet, a thirty-year East Village resident who has faced down dictators in his past and was livid at the atrocity of East Village USA ignoring legends from an earlier generation, some of whom, like John Evans, are still making art. It was as if -- this critic and eyewitness to history declared -- the East Village movement in the eighties sprang out of nothing! And, of course, that was the intent of the show, like so many exhibitions in the art world, to enhance the value of collections.
So, on that December morning following the opening reception, you finished your breakfast at 7A, the 24 hour meeting place, and left a message for your editor about your juicy scoop before calling the East Village Icon on his home line. As you hold a pen in the right hand, the left hand is checking the cosmology. Right and left brain aware of how monumental this meeting is – there is a line up with Venus, Mars and the Moon this very day – all in Scorpio. Here is the energy of attraction getting in the way.
You nailed it accurately. He comes in and sits across from you and you focus your kundalini in the Third Eye, narrowing your gaze because you are on deadline and time is all-important, but you want to hear his story before you see the art. It is always important to separate the artist from the art; otherwise you could get overwhelmed and lose the human focus essential for the story. So he tells you about the curator who pulled the show together and all the while he is speaking he has this manner of touching his metal ring and then poking at your fingers. You don’t say anything but this seems to be an unconscious action to keep the force field between the two of you alive – to charge the encounter with sparks.
“Why would the curator take you out of the exhibition once he had put you in?” you ask, pen poised to paper. And he tells you something curious. “I’m not gay.” You are wondering if this is a come on. It seems so distant that this would even come up in the interview but this is the abyss that you and he are standing over – ready to jump. The alleged gay mafia in the art world that keeps control over who is in and who is out.
And now you are really intrigued, enough to forget your focus, or perhaps this is your focus, to determine why a guy who, for all practical purposes, appears to be gay would be rejected by a gatekeeper because he is straight. And boy, the Goddess seems to be guiding you and it feels good because you feel empowered, you have the weight of the Third Estate holding you down, after all, and the wall of the Third Estate to shield you from the sparks! Oh, but with this external cloak of power to cover your vulnerability, your innocence, your hunger for the REAL, little do you realize that you are soon to discover the answer, in a manner that cannot be printed in the newspaper!
And so, you decide it is time to go to his studio and he walks you down the street and kicks aside some debris. “It used to be broken windows everywhere,” he says and you arrive at a door with a padlock at an untitled windowless storefront on a street off the park where the homeless people used to live in tents. It is something of a feat that this character, this Icon whom you just met matches the description of the man you described in the book you wrote in the East Village. The book that traces your hunger from the East Village to Buenos Aires; the book that you dare identify with your image on the cover, an image that now hangs over five feet tall in the LAB over your bed of satin where you right this narrative on this nest of the Phoenix awaiting the birth of the Aquarian Age Goddess who will then birth the New Man in the image of her transformed animus.
So, you have to go back and experience the fire all over again. You remember how it goes, don’t you? You wrote it into your first novel, Champagne Tango. It began with a spark. “Sparks fly. Sparks burst into flames. Buenos Aries is on fire.” And this is the linear sequence you return to in this circular Blog-Novel. A spark. A flame. And finally fire. All threatening to destroy you on your journey to embrace Uncertainty and discover the New Man hiding within!
As you sit in the back of the gallery juicing up your laptop while writing this first posting of your Blog-Novel, you reflect how you have come full circle in two years time. Back to the very spot where you met the artist who confronted you with his venom and through this assault gave new meaning to Live (as in evil spelled backwards); the very spot where you received the message on your cell phone from the editor of the Newspaper of Record giving you the assignment while you were talking to Matt, the LAB gallery director. About holding a dinner for three generations of East Village spoken word poets that you hoped would attempt to answer the riddle of the East Village and its legacy for 20th century art. You sat on the ledge at the LAB where the Raven now perches on the dead tree, the very spot where your editor gave you the assignment. You think back and it feels like ancient history! Here you sit, writing about the path in which you surrendered to embrace the inevitably of the Uncertainty Principle as you simultaneously struggled to the standard, to the best of your ability anyway, of the old media where you relied on your editors to keep you clean. No favors, no meals, no lodging, no transport. The contracts got stricter as you worked your way upward from the local paper covering the Connecticut gold coast to the Hartford Courant to the Newspaper of Record. What if the art world is a seedbed of corruption? You have a standard of ethics TO UPHOLD AND HONOR, inscribed by THE Columbia Journalism School!
Now, as you sit inside this experiment called THE LAB and gaze upon Yuliya Lanina’s jet black Raven with the punk hairdo, and the primitive warrior dolls in Mohawks and scant leather S&M gear made of duct tape, you remember the date of that fateful encounter. The hardcore cosmology of the moment you stepped foot across the threshold and viewed R_____’s green demonic female figure sliding on a pole. So, this is why he said, “I’m not gay!” You turned on your tape recorder and he so sweetly provided you a visual tour through the works on the walls. At some point in the interview… you cannot remember… he gives you a plaintive look and unexpectedly, in a voice that sounds like a moan, tells you that you are beautiful. “I’m so attracted to you,” he says and he puts his arms around you and the only thought that comes into your mind is: “I’m on my first assignment for a certain Newspaper of Record and WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME!” And you stand like that for a moment, frozen in place until you slide out of his embrace and collapse on the futon, saying: “I feel faint.” And he sits down beside you, so close that his legs are touching yours and he guides you deeper into his world. He tells you that he grew up in the bohemian milieu of the West Village, where his mother still lives, and he trained professionally as a dancer. “I still have a good turnout,” he says with a grin as he takes off his shoe and shows you just how good it is. And you remember that feeling in the eighties of how all the great guys were turning gay, sometimes right in the midst of your relationship with them, and now you think you get it. You think he might be the icon you were pursuing: the icon described in your book by way of a quote: “You want a man who looks gay but isn’t gay, who is brilliant but not an intellectual, who knows how to dress but isn’t self-conscious about his style. He doesn’t exist.” OR DOES HE?
You recall that quote from your book describing the icon combining the opposites as you sit on the ledge of the LAB. You remember you know it at the time by instinct but couldn’t acknowledge it because you were blinded by the shadow while trapped in the citadel of the Third Estate. You remember that nuclear pull of his force field and thinking: I have found him, this iconic energy in a man who sums up EAST VILLAGE USA in his work and his body. Yet, here he was, this icon worthy of your literature, booted out of the first exhibition that sought to place the East Village into the history of art. And suddenly, you do something that will take over a year to process. You throw away your allegiance to the Third Estate and proclaim your pursuit of the Beloved in a fated embrace with Uncertainty under that remarkable cosmology of Venus and Mars mating in the heavens with the Moon.
Before the return of the light, you changed the course of your existence. You embraced your fate. From that day forward you assumed your destiny by making your fate conscious on the way to shattering the illusion of “objectivity”. Although you couldn’t have known it at the time, it was a path that liberated you from the natural tension between critic and creator, a livelihood ruled by the seasonal cycles of Persephone’s passage to and from the Underworld, perched forever in that grey zone, the middle ground between forbidding lover and possessive mother. You learned to hold the tension of the opposites and bring a new paradigm into the culture, a paradigm that requires embracing Uncertainty in order to move beyond Uncertainty.
You remember this triggering cosmology for the culmination of a long and exhausting journey as you focus on the present moment. Your battery charges up, now at 36 percent, an effort that takes you off the warm spot of the bed with its black satin sheets (50 percent silk and 50 percent nylon) that Demeter gave you as an early birthday present.
You sit on the chair beside the ledge and watch the raven on the burnt tree in this clever and oh so telling installation and look to the flower with the eye in its center – the eye of consciousness which protects the innocent. Beside Punk Raven are two East Village characters with Mohawk hairdos rings in their ears and holding arrows before a dead dove with a little girl’s face. The death of innocence! Walking back to Avenue D late at night you see them. The legions of young Persephone-ruled girls spilling out of bars with drinks in hand flirting their way into a seduction with Pluto, a few of them murdered by the unconscious struggle to make the universal personal. Sometimes you wonder what they are looking for and other times you know. The same thing you were looking for; the only difference between them and you is the hunger, the ravenous hunger…that sends you back to the underground in a never-ending cycle of life, death and rebirth!
It was in this corner now covered with torn garbage bags that you scribe the mythology. It begins with the sparks flying across LIVE café, stirring up the tensions of the East Village of Old. When a swaggering character insisted you hear the TRUE ACCOUNT of the life and death cycle of the East Village scene. Everything topsy-turvy because the man whom you would think has that Plutonic disdain for the feminine gave a woman credit for birthing the East Village moment with her pen! You remember how you retained this tidbit of information as a spark of light in the darkness driving you out of the Café where the characters of RENT performed their dance of exaltation into the streets and where you now brave the cold of the East Village USA night to walk into the depths of Alphabet City and up five flights of fire engine red stairs to the bright and shiny temple of East-West exchange. Where your friend and generous hostess Gae Savannah has risen above the opposing forces that are roiled once more in the East Village streets through the unexpected material of the bright and shiny… hair accessory…