Posts Tagged ‘machine dazzle’

Culture Vulture/Performance Diary: Queer Black Artists, Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul, Arooj Aftab, THE AFRICAN DESPERATE, Machine Dazzle, and more

September 29, 2022

The fall season kicked in big-time last week.

Sunday: I swear the New York Times’ fashion supplement T Magazine under Hanya Yanagihara’s editorship has more overt gay coverage than the Advocate does. This week’s cover story feature on young, queer black artists under 40 grew out of photographer Shikeith’s despire to pay tribute to Marlon Riggs’s groundbreaking 1989 documentary Tongues Untied, a beautifully poetic celebration of black gay male culture. The T Magazine event had several facets to it, beginning in Red Hook on August 1 with one of those history-making photo shoots gathering 24 artists in one place.

serpentwithfeet, Jacolby Satterwhite, Tune Olaniran, Troy Montez Michie, and Texas Isaiah, photo by Shikeith

The following day, five of them sat down with journalist Emil Wilbekin for a free-ranging conversation. Adam Pendleton, who recently had a splashy show in the atrium at MOMA, spoke directly to the discomfort many artists feel about having a minority-status adjective (black, queer, female, etc.) attached like a label to their work:

Adjectives are terrible, but generosity and legibility are important. And what I mean by that is: A project like this is almost a double-edged sword, in the sense that any instance where you’re identified is a terrible moment, actually. When you’re claimed as something — when you’re named as something — that’s not necessarily a moment of celebration or liberation. And that’s kind of what this being released into the world will mark. It’s funny because I actually never thought about any of this, so when you keep saying “Black,” “queer” — that’s not the language I used when I thought about myself as an artist. I was just like, “I’m an artist.” That was it.

I totally respect that apprehension, AND I will say for myself that I came out in the first post-Stonewall wave of gay liberation, and for me it has always been exciting when artists identify as gay or queer. It always makes me a little more interested in them. Not because I assume they will conform to some idea of what gay or queer art looks like — just the opposite. I’m thrilled to encounter yet another example of how rich and different and multifaceted queer art can be. So while this T Magazine feature included a few artists I already knew about (Jeremy O. Harris, Brontez Purnell, Jacolby Satterwhite, serpentwithfeet, Jaquel Spivey, and Ato Blankson-Wood, in addition to Pendleton), I now have a bunch more queer black brothers – poets, actors, musicians, designers, and visual artists — whose work I’m curious to investigate. I actively want to know what they have to say about beauty and desire, gender and politics, love and life. The names: Don Christina Jones, Abdu Ali, Jonathan Lydon Chase, Miles Greenberg, Devan Shimoyama, Hugh Hayden, Saeed Jones, Jonathan Gardenhire, Danez Smith, Clifford Prince King, Eric N. Mack, Edwin Thompson, D’Angelo Lovell William, Tunde Olaniran, Troy Montes Michie, and Texas Isaiah.

You can read an extended version of the conversation online here.

Hilarious side note: Leon Curry curated a Spotify playlist that provided the soundtrack for the photo shoot, and the T article includes a link. But the trap-heavy playlist has been thoroughly scrubbed of curse words, and the result is that some tracks make no sense at all because of the frequent dropouts that interfere with sound, sense, and flow.

Monday: The title and the structure of The Nipple Whisperer by the mononymous Lui suggests that the book is a step-by-step guide to cultivating nipple eroticism. It is that, but it is also a lot more. It is ultimately a stealth manual for sacred intimates.

The author has carefully surveyed key encounters with clients and lovers, and he shares with readers his trial-and-error experiments in sexual healing with a huge amount of grace, wisdom, and excellent writing.

Tuesday night: Touring the US for the first time, the Belgian synth-pop duo Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul took Bowery Ballroom by storm. Their debut album, Topical Dancer, dropped earlier this year – fun, effervescent, quirky, playfully political.

Best demonstration: “Blenda,” a hot hot groove (Bolis is the one-man band) while she sings, “Go back to the country where you belong/Siri, will you tell me where I belong?” In performance, they’re energetic and physically unafraid.

For their last number, they both jumped off the stage and cut a Soul Train swatch through the audience, communing and boogeying down with the ecstatic crowd. (Their next gig is at a festival in Bentonville, Arkansas!) Our posse of Body Electricians met beforehand for a drink and a bite at Loreley Beer Garden, and we took a stroll down Freeman Alley checking out the ever-changing artwork.

Wednesday: MUBI subscribers get free admission to one indie-film-in-need-of-an-audience every week. This time it was The African Desperate by Martine Syms at the Quad, a very smart, edgy portrait of a black female artist’s last 24 hours in an MFA program at a rural upstate New York campus (filmed at Bard). It opens with Palace Bryant (a brave performance by Diamond Stingily) sitting for a final studio visit with her four white faculty advisors, each with their own brand of excruciating micro-aggressiveness. As she packs up for home in Chicago and navigates stolidly ambivalent farewell partying with her classmates, frenemies, and gender-fluid flirtations, the name-checking of art theoreticians flows as freely as the party drugs.

Syms gives herself a huge amount of freedom to play with the kind of jump cuts, layering, and sound games you’re more used to encountering in music videos and TikToks than in feature films, not unlike, say, Janicza Bravo’s Twitter-inspired Zola or Michaela Coel’s mini-series I May Destroy You. (Although didn’t the recently departed Jean-Luc Godard do all of that first?) I’m not the only person who referenced Gaspar Noë’s Climax during some of the extended, chaotic, nerve-wracking sex-and-drugs sequences. One of the quirks that cracked me up was when friends would be sitting around dishing other people and the soundtrack would blank out the names, as if they were blind items in a gossip column. Speaking of soundtracks, you can listen to the music from The African Desperate on Spotify here.

Thursday: Someone at the Metropolitan Museum’s Live Arts department had the inspired idea of inviting Aroof Aftab, the sublime queer Pakistani Grammy-winning singer, to perform at the Temple of Dendur. Taking the stage, Aftab declared this was the most epic performance the group had ever played, which is saying something because she’s been touring (a lot of festivals) continuously since the release last year of her sublime album Vulture Prince.

She’s an incredible singer in the ghazal tradition, which conveys fragments of poetry in long slow exquisite lines without being show-offy. But she also has a wonderful dry sense of humor. She noted that people tend to classify her music as sacred because so much of it is slow, somber, soulful. But she specifically included one song in English on her album (taken from a Rumi poem, its entire text goes “Last night my beloved was like the moon/So beautiful”) to indicate that all the songs she sings are about being intoxicated and unhappy in love.

After opening the show with the album’s gorgeous first song, “Baghon Main,” she chatted for a while, admitting to the audience that she usually talks a lot and tells jokes between songs but she was a little intimidated by the august venue, so maybe not. In place of her usual glass of red wine, she had whiskey in a paper cup to sip throughout the show. And she said she’s lately taken to tossing roses into the audience, but she worried that security would tackle her if she tried that at the Met. Well, after a few more sips of whiskey, all her inhibitions flew out the window, and she cracked jokes about her fancy outfit, which made her feel like a car (and which she swapped out halfway through the show for a more comfortable but still glam long silvery coat). And she doesn’t shy away from sly political commentary, noting that the Temple of Dendur “may or may not be stolen.” (It is, after all, located in the Sackler Wing, named after the family whose pharmaceutical company has been castigated and prosecuted for its part in the opioid crisis.) And one by one all those long-stem roses onstage wound up in the hands of pretty ladies who caught the singer’s eye.

The acoustics were perfect for her mostly acoustic band, an oddball ensemble of harp (Maeve Gilchrist, tall blond whose high heels doubled as percussion), guitar (Gyan Riley), violin (the gender-queer glory that is Darian Donovan Thomas), and bass (Shahzad Ismaily, who also adds some crazy spice on the synthesizer keyboard he balances on his lap). She said they’d learned a lot about song order on tour, so they closed with their “happy” number, their “banger,” “Mohabbat,” which only in the world of ghazal could be considered a “banger.” The show was being filmed so will undoubtedly manifest online somewhere, but if you’ve not yet had the pleasure of hearing this exceptional vocalist, I would encourage you to check out her “Tiny Desk Concert” filmed during the pandemic for NPR.

Friday: I returned to Forest Hills Tennis Stadium (where I saw Bon Iver and Odesza earlier in the summer) for another extravaganza featuring EDM superstars Jamie XX, Four Tet, and Floating Points. The latter two took the stage together, taking turns driving.

I’m a big fan of Floating Points (a happy bespectacled nerdy Brit named Sam Shepherd) and his bass-heavy grooves; he put out an extraordinary album last year called Promises featuring the London Symphony Orchestra and the legendary jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, who died the day after the Forest Hills concert. Four Tet (another Brit named Kieran Hebden with very eclectic tastes) used his turns to conduct noise experiments that didn’t thrill me. A group of five little girls danced and frolicked behind them every so often. After an hour, Four Tet got the stage to himself and got more fun.

Jamie XX (aka James Thomas Smith, former member of the XX) definitely knows how to please a crowd by mashing up his own tuneful beats with surprises for the audience to sing along to (“Psycho Killer”! Ariana Grande’s “Into You”!).

Andy and I met up with our friends Jay and Paul, who just moved from Brooklyn to New Jersey and needed to let off some steam. Mission accomplished!

Saturday: Our friend Allen was visiting from San Francisco so Saturday afternoon we took him to the Museum of Art and Design and introduced him to the genius that is Machine Dazzle, who gets two whole floors to display his “Queer Maximalism.” The fifth floor showcases some of the mind-boggling outfits Machine created for Taylor Mac’s “24-Decade History of Popular Music.”

The fourth floor covers his non-Taylor costumes for shows at the Guggenheim, at Rice University’s Moody Center for the Arts, and for the Dazzle Dancers.

The detail and the beauty is insanely overwhelming. You could make separate trips to the show just to study the handbags, the shoes, and especially the kkkkkrazeee headdresses.

After beers at the 9th Avenue Saloon, Allen went off to Brooklyn, and we continued the day of Queer Maximalism by seeing the David Bowie movie MOONAGE DAYDREAM.

Not exactly a documentary, it’s more of a cinematic essay that collages rare concert footage, talk show appearances, and period cultural artifacts to present Bowie as more than a rock musician or pop star and more of a philosophical artist on a quest for meaning, for understanding his place in the universe. It’s written, directed, and produced by Brett Morgen, but the real wizardry is Morgen’s spectacular editing.

Sunday: I was feeling a little overwhelmed and oversaturated, but I raced down to the East Village on an electric Citibike (the trains were not running properly) to see Mud/Drowning at Mabou Mines at 7:30…only to learn that the show was at 2pm that afternoon. I rescheduled for this coming Friday, sandwiched between Monochromatic Light (Afterlife), the Tyshawn Sorey concert staged by Peter Sellars at Park Avenue Armory, and two very different shows on Broadway — MJ The Musical and Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt. Next week: another wacky, eclectic marathon starting with Flying Lotus at BAM, continuing with David Greenspan’s one-man version of Gertrude Stein’s Four Saints in Three Acts, and at long last Funny Girl on Broadway!

Culture Vulture/Photo Diary: Taylor Mac in Philadelphia

June 5, 2018

Andy and I took the bus down to Philly for Part I of Taylor Mac’s “24-Decade History of Popular Music.”

Taylor Mac is a tall bald performance artist with a phenomenal voice, an activist’s engagement with the politics of the day, and a drag queen’s ability to work the crowd. The show, which judy (Taylor Mac’s pronoun of choice) built in three-hour increments and premiered in all its glory at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn in 2015, is a queer history of the United States in song. This gig, produced by Pomegranate Arts for the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, is the first time Taylor Mac has performed the show in two all-day chunks. Mac refers to the show as a “radical faerie realness ritual sacrifice.” The loose concept is that every decade gets an hour, and the band starts with 24 members, one of whom peels off every hour until there’s only Taylor Mac onstage. Besides the musicians, there are random guest artists and a squadron of body-positive gender-queer helpers known as Dandy Minions (I spotted among them my friend Chris Bartlett, moonlighting from his high-powered job as executive director of Philly’s William Way Center). But the key collaborators are musical director Matt Ray, who arranged all 246 songs in the show, and Machine Dazzle, who created all the costumes including a different staggeringly creative outfit for each of Taylor Mac’s 24 hours.

We’d seen one three-hour segment (1956-1986) at St. Ann’s, which contained songs we knew. The early decades turned out to be a hodgepodge of familiar songs queered for Taylor Mac’s purposes and obscurities dug up to illustrate judy’s intersectional historical revision. The show opened with “Amazing Grace,” for which a woman in the audience was selected to come onstage and receive a blessing from the audience. It occasioned the first of many times Taylor Mac said, “This is going to go on a lot longer than you’re going to want it to.”

A conceptual show this long is bound to be padded and stretched thin in spots, and it was. There was the hour of drinking songs. There was the hour the audience spent blindfolded doing sensory perception exercises that required intimate interaction with your neighbors. Apples, beer, and ping pong balls were freely distributed. Large swaths of the show involved audience members dragged onstage to perform crucial tasks. Most of it was fun and engaging, but the real highlight of the first 12 hours came around the 9th hour when Taylor Mac rescued Gilbert and Sullivan from cultural appropriation jail by performing The Mikado on Mars, through vocoders, mostly to a reggae beat, with the crucial role of Yum-Yum played by a game young guy from the audience following instructions through a headset. It was one of the craziest and most fun things I’ve seen in the theater in years.

                                     that’s Matt Ray at the keyboard

                      that’s Machine Dazzle on the right in checkered stockings

The 12-hour show wrapped up an hour early, to no one’s complaint, since it was a pretty intense day. We’ll be back next Saturday for the second half of the show. We got to hang out later with our friends Nick and Jimmy.

We met Jimmy’s adorable ancient kitty Scarlett, and after brunch walked through the sidewalk art fair in Rittenhouse Square. I admired some stone sculptures by Paul E. Braun.

And I was impressed by the Basquiat-esque paintings on wood by Senegalese artist Michel Delgado.

Performance diary: Justin Bond’s RE:GALLI BLONDE at the Kitchen

November 1, 2010

October 27 – Keith Hennessy flew in for a couple of days, mostly to see Ishmael Houston-Jones’s piece Them at PS 122, but he got in Wednesday night early enough for us to see Justin Bond and the House of Whimsy perform their show Re:Galli Blonde (A Sissy Fix) at the Kitchen. The piece was inspired by a chapter from Randy Conner’s invaluable scholarly book Blossom of Bone: Reclaiming the Connections between Homoeroticism and the Sacred about the galli, the tribe of eunuch priests who devoted themselves to worshipping the Roman goddess Cybele in the four or five centuries B.C.E. The galli were forebears of the South Asian hijra or the Native American berdache and other populations of two-spirit individuals who served as gatekeepers between male and female, this world and the other world. “They were considered gender variant in both appearance and behavior, and they appear to have engaged in same-sex eroticism,” says Conner, who goes on to describe that appearance and behavior in great detail, some of which was detectable in the performance.
There was a Cybele figure, played by Justin Bond, with two attendants in lion headdresses (above), and there were numerous references to the galli’s animal totem, the rooster. (Gallus means rooster, and even in 5th century B.C.E. Rome the association of rooster/cock/phallus was already in currency.) But as a whole Re:Galli Blonde was as tortured and incoherent as its title. It was framed as a pagan ritual. As the audience arrived, there were radical faeries drumming (below) and drag queens circulating through the house as Cybele sat on her throne waiting for her disciples to gather in a circle before her to re-enact the Queen of Heaven’s descent to the underworld to comfort her recently widowed sister Ereshkigal (played by tranny superstar Glenn Marla in a spangly red dress). This descent was the loose framework for a series of vaudevillean songs, dances, and drag numbers that wouldn’t have been out of place at Trannyshack, the legendary weekly punk-rock drag cabaret that ran for years at San Francisco’s Stud bar, or at a faerie gathering. Somehow Cybele got mashed up with Kathryn Kuhlman, a Midwestern evangelist and faith healer who had a national TV show in the 1960’s and 70s called “I Believe in Miracles.” And the Queen of Heaven story somehow became a creation myth about how gays came to be despised. When the Queen of Heaven’s male escort refused to kiss Ereshkigal, she delivered a blistering curse. To heal from this curse, Bond as Kuhlman/Cybele lined up the cast and had them say how they had been personally affected by homophobia/femmephobia/ transphobia. No matter how lame, vague, or naïve their testimonials were, they each received a pat affirmation (“You are beautiful, powerful, magical”) and pronounced healed. Seriously? It’s that easy?
I could see how Justin Bond was working several layers of spiritual and theatrical mythology, following in the high-heel footprints of Jack Smith, Ethyl Eichelberger, and the Cockettes. I was pretty appalled, though, at how shallow, simple-minded, un-ironic, unfunny, and unsexy the whole thing was, although to be fair it’s not like the forebears’ work was uniformly brilliant, deep and hilarious. The performances were surprisingly amateurish, which doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing — but I will say I’ve seen sharper performances and more historically/politically/spiritually astute acts thrown together in an afternoon for a “no-talent show” at Short Mountain Sanctuary. I suppose the best thing to be said about Re:Galli Blonde is that it gave the incredibly talented Machine Dazzle another occasion to create a set of spectacular costumes and it spurred me to go back and re-read the chapter in Conner’s book, which is full of fascinating crazy details. For example: “In Greco-Roman iconography, the finger and the penis are often interchangeable symbols. Moreover, the finger in perpetual motion is a Greek sign signifying digital or penile stimulation of the anus, referred to as ‘siphnianizing,’ as the inhabitants of Siphnos were thought o be especially fond of anal eroticism…To inscribe the name [of a loved one] on a finger suggested that the youth willingly yielded to anal eroticism.”

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