Performances (1970-1982): An Introduction

February 17, 2012

Bicentennial Salute, 1976, Landfill at Battery Park City, NYC

In the spring of 1970, I found myself able to live in New York for six months, on an independent study leave from UCSD, where I was an undergraduate. At that moment in time, happenings were a bit passé (even though I had participated in an Alan Kaprow happening on the beach in La Jolla, and attended many of Pauline Oliveros’ open ended music events) but performance was on the rise. While in New York that year, I attended and participated in workshops led by many of the Judson Church group of choreographers, particularly Elaine Summers. But truthfully, I backed into that world of performance.  My open door was via costume.

I had started finding amazing items discarded in the trash on the streets of New York and Brooklyn: leather jackets, lace curtains, velvet drapes, textile remnants from the light manufacturing factories that still existed in Soho. All of these treasures were free for the taking. I also discovered a store on St Mark’s Place that sold antique fur coats for $5, $10 and $15 each; definitely a possibility for my student budget.

The work I had been making at school consisted of large ephemeral hanging installations using some of these same materials. But, I was seeing new possibilities in New York. As I removed linings from the coats, and cut the fur or leather into strips, expecting to use them in another hanging sculpture, I realized that the human body could be the support for these dissected (I suppose today we would say deconstructed) garments. I also realized that if the remains of the garment were worn over a naked body, suddenly there was a vast range of associations, from the tribal to the fetishistic (both were popular subjects at that time).  What is usually covered could be revealed, and by covering what is usually exposed (such as the face by a veil), a vast range of cultural references were immediately conjured.

Persian Line II, Leonard Street Loft, 1975

However, even though I loved making these objects, there was a problem: how to present them? I did not want to embalm them on a mannequin. Sometimes I pinned them to the wall, and then took them off and modeled them, demonstrating that they were simultaneously art objects and costumes. This was always a one on one presentation, and seemed destined to reach only a tiny audience. A friend photographed a group of us wearing this first set at an abandoned sand pit on Long Island, and a full range of fashion magazine conventions could also be referenced.

As I continued to make the costumes, I experimented with ways to present them publicly. In June 1971, for my senior show, I presented my first  full-on performance of the costumes with about a dozen friends willing to take off their clothes in the middle of my opening and put on the costumes, then roam through the room talking with each other and trying to engage non-participating audience members in conversation. Such was the mood that night, that several people attending the opening spontaneously took off their own clothes to join us performers.

From there, performances followed many different lines of investigation:  the fashion show with and without narration; the court masque or pageant; the tableau vivant: the striptease;  the seemingly benign subversion of wearing very odd hats for tea in Wannamaker’s Department Store window; and more.

Performances were staged at the Museum of Modern Art (twice), the Kitchen (many times), the Philadelphia Institute for Contemporary Art, the Los Angeles Institute for Contemporary Art, The Vienna Performance Festival, Berlin Festwocken, The Bologna Performance Festival, as well as many galleries and university art departments.

By 1982, this body of work had pretty much run its course. I was no longer interested in performing, particularly performing nude. I tried to create several performances without my being a central figure, but it felt odd and misguided. It was one thing to ask myself to present myself in differing contexts on stage, but it was very different to direct others. Consequently, I stopped.  I  have continued to design costumes and sets for various dancer/choreographer friends. To write about this work. To recreate certain pieces for studio photographs. In 2010, I recreated Robert Kushner and Friends Eat their Clothes at Astor Space in New York in collaboration with Gastronomica Magazine.

With all this in mind, I hope that you, however you found this site, will enjoy looking at these documentary and studio photos of my performances from 1970 to 1982.

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