From the Deep Archives: Mabou Mines’s HAJJ

May 7, 2020

In this time when live theater is not happening, the veteran downtown troupe Mabou Mines has been posting online treasures from its archives — clips and documentation and full-length videos from its long illustrious career. This week the focus is on a 1993 piece called Hajj, written and directed by Lee Breuer, performed by Ruth Maleczech, with set and lighting by Julie Archer and video by Craig Jones. Because I wrote an article about the production and its cutting-edge use of video technology for American Film magazine, the company asked if I would talk about what it was like seeing the show in person back in the day. My comments were posted on the company’s Facebook page, which you can view here. And you can check out the history of the production on the Mabou Mines website here. There’s a link on the website to watch the show on Vimeo, which is necessarily a rudimentary document that is no substitute for the magical live performance, but it will give you a sense of the work.



Quote of the day: ELECTION YEAR

April 28, 2020


As somebody who has observed elections and paid close attention to democratic processes in other countries, do you have concerns about what the pandemic might mean for our election in November if we’re still far from any sort of “normal?” We’re going to have the election. It’s the law to have the election. We need to understand, without the president taking it personally, that something went wrong in the last election. We need to understand that the states have a lot of control in this. We need to decide that America’s going to prove our democracy by making sure that we’re going to have a free and fair election where people are encouraged to vote and supported in their desire to vote. But I’m not sure we fully have grasped some of the issues — and how quickly things can change.

–Madeline Albright, interviewed in the New York Times Magazine

Quote of the day: SOCIAL CONTRACT

April 15, 2020


Society is indeed a contract….It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.

–Edmund Burke

edmund burke

Quote of the day: KINDNESS

April 11, 2020


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

–Naomi Shihab Nye

naomi shihab nye

(photo by Ha Lam)

Culture Vulture: TOUCHING HISTORY at the Palm Springs Art Museum

March 26, 2020

To quote Alanis Morrissette, isn’t it ironic? When the Palm Springs Art Museum decided to mount the first exhibition on the West Coast commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall gay-liberation rebellion, associate curator David Evans Frantz chose to commission eight contemporary artists to create new work, and the theme he selected was…Touch. That certainly seemed entirely reasonable, unremarkable, or simply admirably out-of-the-box when the show opened last October. It felt that way even when I saw “Touching History: Stonewall 50” Sunday March 8, when museum docent Vinny Stoppia gave a guided tour for members of the local chapter of California Men’s Gathering aficionados.

By the time the museum closed to the public March 17, the show had become a relic of a bygone era, one that has given way to the new era of Touching Nobody.

But let me take you through a few of the high points of the exhibition for me, starting with the vintage poster that seems to have inspired Frantz to adopt the theme of touch for this overview of post-Stonewall gay life. (click on images to enlarge)

3-8 touch one another

3-8 touch poster credits

3-8 touching history artists3-8 touching history manifesto

“Touch is powerful, affirming, and unruly.” I love that!

3-8 kang seung lee


I was particularly moved to see these works paying homage to Tseng Kwong Chi, a downtown legend and a colleague of mine when I worked for the Soho Weekely News when I first moved to New York. Kwong Chi produced a number of iconic images, including the photograph of statuesque dancer Bill T. Jones that became a widely beloved poster by Keith Haring (a signed copy of which hangs in my apartment to this day). A number of artists have used the erasure technique (including Christian Holstad) but Kang Seung Lee’s representation-by-absence of Tseng Kwong Chi felt especially poignant to me.

3-8 kang bklyn bridge

3-8 dugan fabbre trans elders

Jess T. Dugan and Vanessa Fabree’s portraits of trans elders are gorgeous.

3-8 sky and mike pic

3-8 sky and mike text

3-8 adult content

The first inkling I got about this show came from reading an article by Jerry Saltz in New York magazine about Robert Andy Coombs, the remarkable young white disabled artist whose work consists largely of beautiful, boldly erotic portraits of the artist interacting affectionately with naked friends. The article suggested that there was an entire show devoted to Coombs at the Palm Springs Art Museum. Actually, there are only two photographs by Coombs in the show but they’re amazing — intense, frank, beautiful.

3-8 coombs blow job

3-8 coombs text

3-8 coombs cuddle on couch


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