What’s 3 Minutes of Your Time? Myk Henry Performance Art

Tram happenings: Geneva, October 1996. Shaving performance (Monday morning). Boarded the tram 12 at Carouge 11.00hr in the direction of Moinsullaz. Well dressed wearing a suit and tie, I carried with me a fold out stool, a metal basin, and a briefcase. The briefcase contained a thermos flask full of hot water, a mirror, a scissors, shaving foam, a coat hanger and a towel. I clipped off my beard shaved and left the tram ten minutes later. Public reaction: One woman immediately changes her seat when she sees me taking my tie off. Old man: “I hope you’re well shaved. I think you missed a spot” Whilst pouring the soapy water out the door and onto the street one woman obviously offended and in a hurry to get off the tram says: “I can’t believe it. First he shaves and now he’s blocking the doorway of the tram. Public transport worker comments aggressively: “Next they will be installing toilets on the tram.” Photo by Didier Beguelin (Geneva)

By David LaGaccia

Myk Henry, an Irishman from Dublin, had just come back to Brooklyn from an arts festival in South Korea. He walked around his apartment and into his kitchen making coffee, and placed the mugs on the dining room table. One month had passed since we had last spoken. Before his trip to Korea he said that he had been getting burned out on performance art. Although now, he felt reinvigorated. “You look down a side street and you see the neon signs blinking and the people rushing by and it’s like, woosh!” he said. And he is amazed at his own prolificacy. Realizing he’s participated in eleven performances in 2012 alone, it doesn’t seem like Myk Henry is slowing down.

An artist who works with video, installation, and performance art, Henry is tall, broad shouldered, and speaks in a colorful, descriptive way that brings up images of the many specific and odd experiences he’s lived through. He gives the impression that life could be, or is, at least for him, an art form. (He also shares an uncanny resemblance to actor Adrien Brody.) He works as an interior renovator by trade and lives as an established artist by discipline.

Henry lived through Williamsburg’s early “Warehouse” scene in the late 80s and early 90s, helping create art exhibitions in burned-out factories. Those events attracted creative minds who wanted to keep the bright lights shining at night, and police and fire marshals who wanted to shut the bright lights off before the events had even begun. He’s traveled throughout Europe, working with many art organizations and collectives, and has recently returned from several performance art festivals in South Korea.

Henry lives off the Nassau G train stop, where Greenpoint meets McCarren Park, acting as a buffer between the traditional Polish neighborhood and a now-upscale Bedford Avenue, which has changed dramatically since he moved there in 1986. Those were times when, by night, one could see the Manhattan skyscrapers above the old warehouses. McCarren Park would be empty, except for a few muggers, bums, and people in their mid-twenties to early thirties holding each other up by the shoulder, stepping out of bars with legs crossing each other, slumping in a tangle to the park benches by the baseball fields lit-up by the tall floodlights.

In the late 80s and the early 90s Williamsburg had two bars at opposite ends of the neighborhood: one in the north and the other in the south—the Right Bank, on Kent Avenue and Broadway and the Ship’s Mast on Berry between North 4th and north 5th streets; the first café was the L Café on North 7th and Bedford which opened in 1992. Williamsburg at this time was a neighborhood of abandoned factories, thieves, garbage, and drugs, where needles and crack vials could be found strewn down Kent Avenue, and industrial spaces, like the Old Mustard factory, were taken over by bohemian artists who promoted raucous art events by what is now called the “East River State Park.” Those warehouses have been torn down, but a few concrete slabs remain.

Tram happenings: Geneva, October 1996. Shaving performance (Monday morning). Boarded the tram 12 at Carouge 11.00hr in the direction of Moinsullaz. Well dressed wearing a suit and tie, I carried with me a fold out stool, a metal basin, and a briefcase. The briefcase contained a thermos flask full of hot water, a mirror, a scissors, shaving foam, a coat hanger and a towel. I clipped off my beard shaved and left the tram ten minutes later. Public reaction: One woman immediately changes her seat when she sees me taking my tie off. Old man: “I hope you’re well shaved. I think you missed a spot” Whilst pouring the soapy water out the door and onto the street one woman obviously offended and in a hurry to get off the tram says: “I can’t believe it. First he shaves and now he’s blocking the doorway of the tram. Public transport worker comments aggressively: “Next they will be installing toilets on the tram.” Photo by Didier Beguelin (Geneva)

Henry moved to New York from Dublin, Ireland, after his father, a department store owner, refused to consider handing the family business over to him, saying: “Go to university young man and get a degree in business and we can revisit this subject when you have achieved that goal.” Wanting to travel to the States with a childhood friend, the plan was to go to California, after first stopping in New York. “Originally I was preparing to come over with my best friend. As teenagers we spent every day together, but he let me down at the last minute. I ended up posting a notice on the YMCA bulletin board in Dublin, and some guy responded. We traveled together to New York and were picked up at JFK by some friend of his who took us to his house in Morristown, New Jersey. He threw both of us out after 10 days, and I only had $1,000 on me. Within two weeks I was down to $500. I was really in a tight spot.”

Needing a job and a place to stay, he went to the 42nd street YMCA in New York City, and was told to try to contact Father Pat Moloney at the Community Center on the Lower East Side on East 9th Street. As recently as April 13, 2012, the New York Times ran a character study on Father Pat, mentioning a British intelligence officer who called him the “underground general,” of the Irish Republican Army. Hearing Henry’s story, Father Pat took him in and let him stay in the apartment of his brother John, who was being held on gun running charges in Long Kesh prison in Northern Ireland. Long Kesh housed paramilitary prisoners during the Troubles from mid-1971 to the mid-2000s.

Looking for a job, Henry used a contact that his neighbor in Dublin had given him. A building contractor named Kieran McGrath, who was originally from Tyrone, told Henry that if he was ever in need, he should talk to his brother Tom. Finding Tom, he approached him, mentioning the brother’s name.

“Tom, I am your brother Kieran’s neighbor from Ireland. Do you have a job? And he said, ‘Yeah, I manage this underground casino, would you be interested in dealing cards? If you want to learn how to deal blackjack, Vinny our teacher will show you how.’ These clubs were run by the Irish Mafia, The Westies. I was in with The Westies at 19 years of age. My code name was Blaze, and they’d say ‘Yo Blaze go to 64th street.’ It was a lot of fun. They gave me a shift at the big club on 18th Street and 1st Avenue. On a busy night there would be like three hundred people in the club. At 8:30 a.m. there would be a queue outside the bathroom and inside you would see people shaving and putting on ties getting ready for work. We had this giant bouncer named Tiny. When he walked passed you, the floorboards would kind of sink. He had a frontal lobotomy and a metal plate in his forehead so he was kind of slow. Overall, I had no idea who I was rubbing shoulders with. When the cops busted the club it would usually be on a Thursday evening from 8 to 9. As soon as the cops would clear off a van would be waiting outside with tables and chips to replace those the police had just confiscated. You’re back up and running again pronto. If the owner Johnnie Mac was arrested we knew that he would be released quickly, since he knew the local precinct sergeant. And there were a lot of Irish cops on the force back then. But then they changed the busting laws, so I wanted to get out because I was afraid of being deported. It was like something out of the movies and I was the bad guy! That was my first job. It’s a social thing to deal cards, and to deal cards under those circumstances was like you were brewin’ in the prohibition days.”

Cut off my clothes and hair. Galapagos Art Space, Brooklyn, New York. October 1996

Moving to Williamsburg in 1987, Henry became part of the bohemian art scene in Brooklyn that was being decimated by the AIDS epidemic, and at the same time growing with an influx of like-minded artists who were part of a scene that would come to be known as Immersionism. Living in an apartment at Havemeyer and Roebling streets with his then girlfriend Anna Hurwitz, it was she who first got Henry interested in art. “Anna introduced me to culture. It had a nice feel about it; it felt like we were renegades, pioneers. There was lots of empty space. My roommate Martin Eastwood, who was from Northern Ireland, told me about the Lizards Tail. We used to work together as dealers in the club, and he was interested in music. When I went there for the first time I really loved the cozy, underground vibe and decided not to tell my girlfriend about it for a few months. I wanted to keep it as my own little hang out. Eventually, I told her and she also became friends with everybody and an integral part of the warehouse core group.”

The Lizard’s Tail was a cabaret on South 6th Street under the Williamsburg Bridge started by Terry Dineen and the late Jean-Francois Pottiez, and was part immersionist culture, or what Suzan Wines in Domus Magazine called “immersive culture.” “It [immersionism] blew out of a collective desire to work in a warehouse, to find a place in Williamsburg so we could showcase a lot of the performance and arts, to make it a sort of living experience, so we knew we wanted to make something community-based,” said Terry Dineen. “There are no words, it was the Cat’s Head—that was the spirit—an incredible spirit—a very international spirit. Korean Jean-Francois really spearheaded that. There was no question if it wasn’t going to be done; there was a driving force in our belief in each other and what we were doing. We were pioneers of the area—pioneers of the warehouse scene. People were coming across the east river from Manhattan in canoes.”

“Immersionism” was the art scene that took place in Williamsburg during the late 80’s and early 90’s, showing performances and multi-media works in abandoned warehouses and factories, including two that were called the Cat’s Head and the Flytrap, both of which stood on what is now the East River State Park.

Henry took out several old photos and placed them on the table, wiping them off, making sure there weren’t any coffee rings on the edges. They were taken in his old Havemeyer apartment; he had red hair and was dressed in a patchwork coat.

“1989 through 1992 was a pivotal time in the art scene in Williamsburg. From the windows of the Cat’s Head you could see the glow of the art installations inside and thousands of people waited outside anxious and full of anticipation about what was in store inside. We were inviting young artists to showcase non-precious artwork in large, raw spaces. We wanted to encourage the artists to come out of their studios and make work that the audience could dive into, to interact with each other and explore their own creativity. We were weaving in and out of dumpsters making art out of trash. You’d see really exciting trends—you really felt you were on the cutting edge. Now if you tried to do the same thing today you’d get shut down in a second. I really appreciate being able to experience New York in the 80’s, but I left at the right time. In 1994, Henry left Brooklyn and moved to Switzerland, where he continued his involvement with the arts, and spent 10 years immersed in another bohemian art scene.

See description at end of article.

Henry was recently invited to perform at the Korean Experimental Art Festival in Seoul. After getting off the 21-hour flight, he met other artists from around the world at the airport waiting to board a bus provided by the festival organizers. For the opening night of the ceremony artists meet other artists, celebrate and drink, and find out when they’re set to perform. “You know how wild and crazy it’s going to get based on the lineup,” said Henry. During the festival, the organizers assign each artist an assistant, usually an art student, who helps gather materials for that artist’s performance: a pig’s stomach, a dress, anything needed from any of the nuanced shops in South Korea. Afterwards took park in the Jeju art festival, which he called, “the South Korean version of Burning Man but not quite as funky,” taking place on Jeju Island, off the coast of Korea, centered by Halla-san volcano, and known for its high winds. In the two and a half weeks he stayed in Korea, he performed a total of four times and built an 80-foot wind installation out of white fabric wrapped around poles.

Last year, Henry also directed the first performance art biennial ever held in Houston, Texas, called “Lone Star Performance Explosion.” It was the first time he had spearheaded a festival on this scale.

“To create a new awareness, to jolt people out of their routine—that’s the power of all art. I think the medium of performance is a potent one. The human body is the most influential material you can use. A lot of people are just stuck in their ways. I’m pretty good at creating a situation that stops peoples’ normal flow. I sometimes question if it’s a complete waste of my time, but then I see art that resonates with me and I say ‘Yeah this really can make a difference.’ You don’t have to touch every single person in a space. If you can touch just one single person, then the performance is a success.”

Henry’s performance work is often political and social, dealing with issues of sexuality, gender, how we use or value our time, and what happens when our lives are pushed from the norm with these themes. One performance, called “Time Out,” where he stops a moving trolley during a busy commuting afternoon, was developed in Prague, and in Basel and Geneva, from 2000 through 2001.Specifically timed for three minutes, one purpose of the performance is to see how valuable such a short amount of time is to another person. Dressed in a nice business suit and carrying a bag a groceries, Henry walks out in front of an oncoming tram. The paper bag rips on cue, the tram stops precisely where he wants it to stop blocking all traffic. He searches slowly—and stalling for time—gathers the carrots, the spaghetti, the lettuce, and the tomatoes, to the annoyance of the conductor and all of the passengers on board. Next, when a policeman intervenes, or when pedestrians or even the conductor start helping him, Henry looks to see if he reaches his target time and boards the trolley and hands everyone a business card that reads: “A performance by Myk Henry. What is 3 minutes of your time? Send your answer to my email.” Outside, through the trolley windows, a sandwich man walking on the street corner can be seen with a sign that reads: what is three minutes of your time? Typically there would be a crew of at least five people helping Henry.

One email response was: “You managed to steal 3 minutes of our (the passengers) time yesterday. I noticed that you had bought yourself a new suit and that you had an accomplice with a sign. For what purpose?”

The whole performance was documented by multiple cameras. It won him the La Bourse Federal, the National Swiss stipend for contemporary art, and Le Prix Contonal de Geneve, or the Geneva State prize for Contemporary Art. He was the first foreigner in Switzerland ever win the Providentia Prize (Young Art) for contemporary artists.

Erik Hokanson, co-director of Grace Exhibition Space and friend of Henry. says, “Myk can be really obsessive, pushy and can size things up accurately, and it’s these three things that make him great. He has this ability to mix social issues, political issues, racial issues, and gender politics, and squeezes them through a fine mesh so that you’re getting a distillation of all these ideas with a beautiful perplexity. He’s so conceptual, and it can be very literal, but it’s this intensity of purpose which keeps you continually focused on his actions.”

Henry has a lot of documentation of these performances on DVD’s, few of which can be found on the internet. He has neither an artist website, nor a dedicated Vimeo page for his performance work. Only a listing on apartmenttherapy.com about his work as a renovator can be found, where clients talk about his jobs installing a French door, a loft, a kitchen, renovating an apartment in the West Village, the Upper East Side, or repairing buildings by the Fulton Fish Market.

“If your project involves anything with wood or metal and needs a clever eye and a master’s touch, Myk is your man,” wrote one client. “Myk expertly rebuilt my closet the other day. He does what he says, charges fairly, and left my apartment in excellent shape. He also happens to be a very interesting, thoughtful fellow, an unexpected fringe benefit.” wrote another. From “I got this out of the whole deal,” he said, pulling out a sword from its sheath, and brandishing it in his dining room. He had just come from a Hurricane Sandy-related flood, and a client was throwing away a pile of old rusty antiques. Henry said the tenant gave him the old sword, an Arabian looking weapon, after he finished the demolition job.

His adeptness of being a renovator comes from his experience at building art installations. In the Warehouse Scene, he was a construction coordinator, and his skill developed further working on a construction crew. “It was stimulating to be part of a young team,” he said. “I’ve always been handy, and I’m really good at it now. I’m able to pull things together that others couldn’t even dream of doing. I can make the unimaginable happen and make it all look professional. How do you figure this stuff out? How do you make this picture in your head a reality? How do you transform your dreams into reality?”

At press time the WG learned that Henry’s next project is organizing a multi-city North American Performance Art Festival. In June and July, a group of performance artists from around the globe will bring live art to audiences across the USA and Canada, traveling in an old school bus Henry proposes to convert into a mobile command pod.

Rent me
Park of the Future, Amsterdam
April 1999

As many as two million people are feared to
have perished in North Korea since food shortages
swept the country in the mid-1990’s with
refugees and aid officials on the border painting
a picture of a society in desperate straits. Their
countrymen are therefore turning the women
and girls of North Korea into merchandise to be
traded for food and money. There is currently a
widespread shortage of women in China and it
seems that there is an increasing number of
young North Korean women, many in their
teens, being smuggled out of the country and
sold to Chinese farmers as brides, so that families
can eat. (The Herald Tribune February 1999)
The intention with the performance rent me was
to highlight the situation in North Korea by
placing myself in the Park of the Future shop as
the merchandise. I was not for sale outright but
could have been rented by any individual for the
duration of one month. As a means of initiating
a slave trade I rented myself without conditions.
The only stipulations were; a sum of 15,000
Euros was to be paid as a rental fee, the rental
agreement would be for one month, and I would
have the right to document whatever took place
during this period of time. Beyond this the
renter had complete freedom to do whatever
he/she pleased with me during this time.

The 15,000 Euros was to be donated to an international
aid organization working in North Korea.

Note 1: Many people were curious and throughout
the day posed a wide range of ethical, political,
racial and financial questions. One offer
was made to rent me by another performance
artist but this turned out to be a hoax.

Note 2: Some of the questions asked were as
follows:

I have some financial problems with a business
deal at the moment. If I was to give you a gun
could you go and shoot somebody for me?
If I gave you 15,000 Euros could you to go to
Korea and bring me back a teenage girl?

What gives you the right as a white western
male to represent a situation here in Europe
which is actually affecting young Asian girls in
the far East? Why don’t you go there and do
something about it?

Has anybody offered to buy you?

Transgression from the 80’s: A Festival of Films by Nick Zedd

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By David Lagaccia

With films ranging from fuzzy eight-minute clips, to 90 minute-long scratchy features, a festival of New York’s cinema of transgression started Tuesday night at Glasshouse (246 Union Ave.) in Williamsburg.

A tribute to underground filmmaker Nick Zedd, Tuesday night’s opening attracted a large crowd of viewers, where seats ran out and some had to pull their coats tighter while viewing the films from the street under a canopy of cold drizzling rain.

Zedd, who was in attendance along with artist Kembra Pfahler, and film curator Michael Chaiken, is an underground filmmaker who started his work in New York in the early 80’s, and helped start the film movement know as the cinema of transgression. These films were low-budget, and focused more on avant-garde narratives and experimental film techniques.

Pfahler, a musician, performance artists, and fashion designer is based in Manhattan’s “Alphabet city,” a neighborhood that like SoHo and Chelsea, was a haven for artists, twenty, thirty years ago, but because of rising apartment rents, has since seen the rise of commercialization and the fall of the arts. Her punk/glam band, The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, combines music, costume, and performance art and was the subject of the first feature shown, Butterfly Witch, directed by Amber Dawn.

After Dawn’s half-hour feature, and Zedd’s eight minute short, War Is Menstrual Envy, the gallery also held a panel discussion with Zedd, and Pfahler. Talks ranged from their work, to how Kembra and Nick were first introduced to each other, the beginnings of Zedd’s directorial career, and the current lack of funding in the city for experimental artists.

“I like performances and films that are completely transformative top to bottom, from floor to ceiling,” Pfahler said.

“When I got to New York [in 1976] I was kind of disappointed I didn’t see the kind of counter culture I was hoping for,” said Zedd. Quiet, and dressed in a long black coat, he said he named it the movement the cinema of transgression in his zine, the Underground Film Bulletin in order “to get the attention of the media,” “If you put out the name of a movement, it kind of gets the media’s attention, he said “

Glasshouse will screen the films of Nick Zedd, along with many other films from the transgressive film movement, including works by Amber Dawn, Nicholas Abrahams, Mary Jordan, Casandra Stark, and many others. Other influential films by experimental filmmakers such as Kenneth Anger will also be screened. The features, which were originally filmed with 8 and 16 mm cameras, are being projected digitally over the five day event.

A newer Williamsburg gallery on Union Street, Glasshouse’s philosophy is that “Art should be experienced in a place that allows staying.” Run by Lital Doten and Eyal Perry, the two artists are from Israel, and have held spaces in San Francisco, and are involved with the noted performance artist Marina Abramovic.

The gallery regularly holds nights with performance art, and art events that are more experimental including tributes for the work of such artists as Ana Mendieta and Rirkrit Tiravanija.

One notable difference about Glasshouse is how it is presented; a gallery attached to an apartment, the space starts at a gallery storefront and winds up and down stairs and into a contemporary New York apartment, giving the viewer an original experience on viewing art.

“Well, as for the reason of bringing the cinema of transgression to Glasshouse, I guess it felt very natural,” said Doten. “We are trying to promote critical and radical culture that is not aiming to be part of a mainstream, but rather behaves as a TAZ (temporary autonomous zone). Coming here only several months ago we try to also invest time in locating some of the relevant movements and personalities of the past and present, honor them and invite them to participate in the Glasshouse operation. We especially hope that these events would be relevant to the younger local artists, and guide them through their own practice and critical thinking, as it influences our own practice.”

Films of the cinema of transgression can at times be surrealistic or even challenging to watch, especially the films Vienna Action artists. To get an idea of what these films are like, all you have to do is go to a quote by Zedd about the spirit of the underground movement: “We propose that all film schools be blown up and all boring films never be made again.”

The qualities of the films reflects the spirit of ultra-low budget filmmaking and are naturally crude; but they also feature a generation’s worth of New York underground film expression that has never achieved widespread release, but non-the less has documented the ideas and attitudes of underground artists and filmmakers from the late 80’s.

“I came because I’m a friend of Nick’s,” said Berd Naber. “It [cinema of transgression] shows that side to show the other side. It’s very humanistic and it shows the vulnerability of life. [Nick] likes to show that other side.”

“The cinema of transgression was a kitschy take on underground cinema and Andy Warhol’s films and because it was so kitschy, it allowed for better expression,” said Miles Pflanx, an experimental filmmaker and part owner of the Bushwick gallery, Fitness Center for Arts and Tactics.

Nevertheless, the movement was an entry point for such actors such as Steve Buscemi. Mainstream directors such as Martin Scorsese, John Waters and David Lynch have also found influence and expressed admiration for works like Kenneth Anger’s.

The screenings at Glasshouse are free and will run every night from the 15th to the 19th starting a 9pm and ending, as they put it, “very late.”

The Rules of Grace—Performance art thrives at 840 Broadway 

Colombian artist, Carlos Monroy dancing samba for the speed dater Mona Kamal. The card chosen by Mona was: Hi, my name is Andrea Fraser.

Performance artist Jessica Hirst from Spain at Grace Exhibition in April.

By David Lagaccia

A giant poster of a brain tells you you’re at the right apartment. Under the screaming wheels of the elevated J train, and up the flight of stairs, is a sizable loft painted in gray.

Grace Exhibition Space, a converted loft at 840 Broadway, is one of the few performance art galleries in New York City, ridding itself of a stage and focusing on the immersion of artist and audience. With a suggested $10 donation at the door, the gallery hosts artist talks and art events every other Thursday and Friday, providing several hours of performance by both local and international artists.

Filled with professors, students, the young, the old, the curious, and the frightened, Grace Space is the kind of Friday-night hangout where you’ll drag a friend or date by the arm to come and see something they have never seen, and will never see again. Where, in a single performance, an artist can tax your imagination and push your comfort level to unexplored or previously ignored moral perspectives while you’re sitting idly on a bench with a drink between your legs. Here the barrier between audience and performer dissolves, and you’re encouraged to take action, to participate in the full spectrum of human experience in all its beautiful, humorous, bold, and nightmarish qualities—all created by the shared dream of a mass of people. On each night, and in each performance, the human body is redeemed from the mundane and made anew.

Brazilian performer Luisa Nobrega attempts to break wine glasses while screaming for three hours.

Performance pieces at Grace Space can run from five to 20 minutes, to several hours, the time being dependent on the willingness and resolution of the artist. Each inch of humanity is explored, from the simple act of transferring water with a spoon to a partner’s bowl, to the complete surreality of eating a bowl of Life cereal naked while waiting for a metal pot containing water and Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time to boil on a plug-in hotplate.

“We like to say, what God took seven days to do, we do in ten minutes,” said Erik “Hoke” Hokanson, a performance artist and director at Grace Space.

New York City artist, Mathew Silver presented a self-help course to awaken the inner child. Photos courtesy of Grace Exhibition Space

“It took me years to learn this art form,” said Jill McDermind-Hokanson, founder and director at Grace Exhibition Space. She’s the reticent one of the couple, but is the spark behind the busy gallery. “Performance art comes from fine art, like painting and sculpture. I just keep getting fascinated by it.”

After coming to New York City, and seeing a need for a venue for the art form, Jill started Grace Space in 2006 with her friend, Melissa Lockwood, whom she met at the University of Iowa. Jill graduated with a master of fine arts and a master of art in intermedia and video and studied under Hans Breder. She became interested in performance art through filmmaking because, she said, she found herself  “projecting.” She’s been practicing performance art since 2000.

Jill was introduced to Hoke after meeting him four years ago at the Fountain Art Fair in Miami, where he was one of the organizers. Hoke, who has a hobby building working guitars (with 75 or so in a storage locker somewhere), described himself as “primarily an object maker,” and was new to performance art until he met Jill. It was only after her encouragement that he became interested and started performing his own pieces.

“[Performance art] is far less encumbered with rules, and it was liberating,” he said. “Unlike other art forms, it’s not confined to materials and technique, concepts and personality. Discovering performance was eye opening to me. I was always afraid I would screw it up, but you learn you don’t have to screw it up, just do.”

Since then, the Space has been curated by the recently married couple, and has hosted over 600 original performances, giving local artists such as Mathew Silver (from the New York subway stations) to foreign artists like Jessica Hirst (from Barcelona) an intimate venue to show off their craft. Both the professional artist and learning graduate student are welcome, with only one stipulation: their work has to be genuine.

“We’re like a community,” said Jill.

“The curating at Grace Space is really important. We get people who appeal to us. We go to these festivals and see what we think is really strong and we send them an email.”

Colombian artist, Carlos Monroy dancing samba for the speed dater Mona Kamal. The card chosen by Mona was: Hi, my name is Andrea Fraser.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

“We make a big point of meeting all the artists,” said Hoke. “[We] have them come in and let them get a feel for the place.”

“Sometimes I let the artists go in the order they want,” but he admitted that they usually want to “finish off with a big wild mess of a performance.”

Jill and Hoke usually schedule each artist six months in advance. After they send a friendly email to the artist, they follow up with a formal letter so an artist can use it to get funding. Since their gallery is not yet a non-profit, each artist has to pay their own way to New York, either through a grant, sponsorship, or from their own pocket.

Seeing a need and having a desire to cultivate performance art talent, Jill and Hoke often go out of their way to be as accommodating to visiting artists as they can, buying them meals and allowing them to stay at their three-bedroom Bedford Avenue apartment for free, even if they’re meeting for the first time.

“There’s a day or two of feeling each other out,” said Jill about having traveling artists stay at their apartment.

After a workshop at the exhibition space, they took Finnish artists Päivi Manunu and Ilari Kahonen, as well as Art Institute of Chicago graduate students Sabri Reed and Autumn Hays, her boyfriend Brad, and their intern Ryan Hawk on a night of wining and dining in the private room of the Japanese restaurant “Qoo” Robata Bar, on Metropolitan Avenue.

Monroy trimming a shape of a hearth on his hair for one of his speed daters. The card chosen by the dater was: Hi, my name is Marcel Duchamp.

With a round of saké and a few plates of tempura vegetables to start the night, the conversation shifted from politics to movies to books to performance art, with no word on what would happen the next night. There’s anticipation for each piece, with no want and no hurry to spoil it.

Ilari, who has been involved in performance art for four and a half years, was celebrating his 50th birthday. Sabri sat in repose. Asked what was the matter, she said she was just “taking it all in.” She flew into New York from Chicago the night before (Wednesday), performed Friday night, and flew back Sunday.

After another round of saké, with “cheers” and “saluts” heard from end to end, three platters were set out with rolls of eel, tuna, and salmon, and with clusters of orange salmon roe, shrimp tails, and swordfish—each an aquarium on a platter, in shades of pink sashimi. When the night was finished, Jill and Hoke paid the bill before anyone noticed.

“You see some really, really respected people from their countries,” said Henry G. Sanchez, a faculty member and teacher of digital media for the School of Visual Design, who frequents the gallery often.

Carlos Monroy, who traveled from Colombia, is such an artist. He’s involved in a long-term workshop and internship at the Hemispheric Institute for Performance and Politics at NYU. On May 18th he performed a piece at Grace Space titled “Art of Speed Dating,” where he played the role of a speed dater, asking curious viewers to “date” him by sitting down with him at a table lined with rows of nametags with descriptions of specific actions. Viewers were then asked to choose a nametag to put on Carlos, which he then had to act out. This forced him to have a simple conversation, to put on high heels and a skinny dress and perform a salsa dance, to strip, or to go on all fours with a collar around his neck and act like a dog. Carlos’s next performance will be at La MaMa experimental theater club in Manhattan.

“There are so many actions that happen in a performance, but the more I do, it kind of gets more to the point, that it’s not about the action,” said Carlos. “It’s about being there experiencing that and kind of being somehow willing to live that thing, experimenting it. Even if you’re not a performer and just being there.”

“That was a very smart piece, not only fun and interesting, but calling from an art historical perspective,” said Henry. “Carlos really stood out. That’s the best one he’s done so far.”

A newcomer may see performance art as bizarre or random, and indeed it requires the spontaneity of live performance, but often there’s a careful process of thinking out a piece, making sure every gesture or object is not mistaken for symbolism, for unintended or ambiguous meaning. If questioned about the intention of a piece, a performer will often talk about an entire philosophy of what, why, and how, although exact meaning is sometimes hard to pinpoint, with the listener playing the role of a frustrated lepidopterist failing to pin down an elusive butterfly.

“Art is about communicating, not about keeping secrets,” mentioned Hillary Sand, a performance artist and also volunteer at Grace Exhibition Space.

This communication starts with the artist’s body through what is called action. Marilyn Arsem, a performer and teacher of performance art at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, wrote in a 2011 essay detailing what she believes performance art is: “The artist uses real materials and real actions,” she said.

In line Ms. Arsem’s definition, I believe a performance artist’s prime material is their body, using it to interact with both the space they perform in and the audience that surrounds them. Their imagination for a performance is bound by the limits of their body. This means a piece may also include male or female nudity, and it may be explicit and challenge the edges of decency and morals of the viewer, but like any common object, a lamp, a bowl, a rocking horse, a screaming voice, an exposed penis or a pair of bare breasts, the artist will use the body as an art object, creating action to transcend something material into an idea. This idea is then left for the viewers to discern for themselves, with no single answer being right or wrong.

The artist Carlos adds, “People get shocked and people feel they need to understand, and because of that people run away from performance art instead of going closer. I’m trying to get people closer [to performance art], not just in an appealing way, so at least when you go home you can at least talk to yourself—I had fun today. If after you have fun—you’re able to think of other stuff, I will say, ok, my work was really well done… My point my idea is—after you have the fun, somehow a door opens and you think of other things.”

“I think good performance art results in more unanswered questions than answered questions,” said Hoke. “It’s not about acting, it’s about action. Action belongs in performance art. The work that we show is art through action—conveying the immaculate through the idea of movement!”

“You can have this very simple act,” said Jill, “and it has this intensity of purpose.”

An intensity of purpose they said is found in the gray space of a performance, when the primal gray matter of the brain reacts to the spontaneity and inventiveness of a performance.

“You’re absolutely riveted because this artist can keep your attention,” said Hoke. “A lot of these performers are revealing, and the audience can get a sense of who the artist is.”

A typical Friday for the two has them running and working through the night. During an event, Jill and Hoke meet old friends and greet and introduce new acquaintances; they fix lighting, and help set-up each performance; they announce each artist by using a bullhorn to grab the audience’s attention, making sure everyone is quite and gathers around the next piece. By the end of the night, they’re exhausted with several weeks worth of work finally done. They film each performance for an archive, which they make available by appointment during the week.

With the end of each performance, and after the audience has cleared, comes a sober concern from each performer of what others thought of their piece. A vulnerability and shyness that somehow was masked returns and is exposed through conversation lasting until the early morning. Jill and Hoke give their advice and their thoughts with each artist listening with careful attention. The artists were asked to keep their spaces messy throughout the night, because they’re told it’s part of the performance and theme of the night. But now it’s 12 a.m. it’s time to close; the artists are then asked to clean up their spaces before they leave, with everyone remaining helping with mops and brooms, careful to leave remnants of their mess, a scrawled wall, feathers from shredded pillows, a piece of rope, mementos of the artist and the night.

Nitehawk Features Live Scores to Accompany Classic Movies

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The band Morricone Youth specialize in life film scoring. Photo courtesy Nighthawk


By David LaGaccia

In live performances, a musician, a dancer, a singer, an actor will spend weeks in rehearsals, hitting every mark, rehearsing to perfection; but each performance is necessarily filled with unexpected moments, sometimes errors, never to be replicated in just the same way twice.

In spite of what they are called, silent films of yore were rarely silent. It was standard for live musicians to play in a theater providing a musical arrangement for a film, emotional cues for an audience to react to, and even entertainment in its own right for those who wanted to see pianists, violinists, or sometimes a small orchestra perform. A screeching violin can warn us that our favorite actress is in danger; a tapping drum can mimic the hoof beats of a trotting horse, and a sliding horn can tell us when to laugh when Buster Keaton braves death again.

On Sunday, May 13, the Nitehawk Cinema at 136 Metropolitan Avenue carries on this tradition, screening the F. W. Murnau’s 1927 film Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, featuring live, the band Morricone Youth who score the film.

Nitehawk, which opened about a year ago, has made this a monthly event, playing live scores for such films as Murnau’s Nosferatu, Buster Keaton’s The General, and coming up May 25th, a midnight showing of David Lynch’s Eraserhead with Morricone Youth again providing the soundtrack.

“We take a film from the archives that is visually powerful and we see if can add something to it,” said Mason Rader, one of the director’s of Nitehawk Cinema.

Mason stated that they try to choose films from silent movies to 70’s cult favorites that are “heavy on visuals and light on plot.”

Nitehawk is a cinephile’s theater, specializing in classic movies from the silent era to contemporary cult classics to current independent films. The theater has both digital and 35mm projectors, and general admission starts for adults at $11.

The lobby has a full bar with seats and tables for visitors to hang out in, and the walls are decorated with classic movies posters, and rows of VHS tapes that range from The Nightmare Before Christmas, and concert videos of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, to the early Diane Lane feature, Ladies and Gentle, the Fabulous Stains, to exploitation films staring the drag queen Divine, all of which will have you begging ‘Can I buy this now!’

This is the video vault, a row of upright display cases that would make most independent video stores jealous. The films are curated by Caryn Coleman, and each week, a film is highlighted on the websites blog with a review, and is screened for free “in glorious VHS,” in the lobby.

The theater has three screens that differ in size. Sunrise was shown in theater 1 and has a large screen and stadium style seating with a small table that couples two seats and holds a menu you can order from, before and during the film. Before each showing, short films relating to the feature film were shown instead of commercials. For Sunrise, classic Disney and Felix the cat cartoons played with a more obscure mix of silent shorts set to contemporary music.

Devon E. Levins’s band, Morricone Youth, is centered right in front of the screen with Devon (on electric guitar), Dan Kessler (on keyboards), John Castro (on bass), Fraser Campbell (on tenor saxophone, clarinet, and flute),  Timur Yusef (on drums), and Karla Moheno as a soloist, a choice unusual even for live scoring.

Mason chose the band with its more modern and unconventional take on classic films because he described himself as “loose,” when it comes to interpretations, and he wants the music to stand out. “I want the band to compete with the film,” he said, adding, “this is art created for art.”

After introductions by Mason, the film begins. The band with small lights shining on their program notes, start in with each member looking up at the screen waiting for their cues. The Sunrise theme begins in with an eerie organ tone and transitions after the opening credits.

The music is modern and the band easily transitions from scene to scene setting the right tone even though the styles range from jazz to surf rock to the films original score. Even the theme from Alfred Hitchcock Presents makes an appearance.

“I was thinking, oh no, they didn’t go too steep up the hill,” said Mason after the show, referring to the Hitchcock piece.

“The Hitchcock part appeared in the original film,” said Devon, “It’s called the Funeral March of the Marionette  by Charles Gounod. People probably laughed and wondered why we did that.”

The band, despite playing with electric instruments and a modern take on the score looked close to the original orchestration for inspiration.

“It’s a matter of respecting it,” said John Castro.

Sunrise, appearing in 1927, was one of the later films of the silent era. A tremendous technical achievement for its time, the film still impresses today with its huge German expressionist sets, and groundbreaking camera work. The film, unlike other silent films at the time, had its own film score, and was a bridge between silent film and “talkies.”

The story is simple. A woman visiting from the city tempts a man from the country to murder his wife and sell his farm so they can run off together. The film has romance, horror, and comedy and is consistently ranked by critics and the American Film Institute as one of the greatest movies ever made. Like many silent films, the movie plays like a fairy tale. It inhabits a world similar to ours of faces and action, but they favor pantomime over speech, and fantasy over realism.

In one scene the woman chooses the method of the murder—drowning—and the title card (which are used sparingly) melts away on the screen while Yusef plays a descending drum roll. Another scene shows a piglet on the run in what looks like a warped version of Coney Island, or any amusement park. After finding a knocked over bottle of wine, the piglet licks the spilled wine, and starts to trip and fall from drunkenness.

“That wine scene, sometimes that scene with the pig, it usually falls flat with me,” said Mason, “But it worked!”

“It’s hard to do comedy, because well, you have to be funny,” said Devon. “I mean whenever you see Charlie Chaplin fall, you have you to do the slide whistle.”

“She was doing nice vocalizations,” Mason said, referring to Karla’s singing, during the rain storm—the climax of the film.

“I really liked how she whistled while the woman whistled,” I said.

Devon mentions that improvisation is a big part of their act.

“We didn’t expect her to do it,” said John. “She was saying all through rehearsals how she was going to do it, and she did!”

“We were thinking we should really try to get her into this,” said Devon. “We start with three or four people and we go from there.”

Morricone Youth, its name a faithful nod to Ennio Morricone, famous for scoring The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and many other spaghetti westerns, started as a cover band of film scores in 1999, or as Devon put it, “The band started really high energy doing 60’s go-go music, spaghetti westerns influenced music,” and eventually got into doing live scoring for films, seeing that as a “natural progression.”

“It’s what we do, and it’s what we’re into,” said Devon

In 2004, they put out a studio album of original music titled Silenzio Violento, with plans to release another album soon. The band, however has gone through several lineup changes, and in 2006 went on a brief hiatus, but, members Devon Levins and John Castro have stayed throughout.

“We met in the fourth grade, and played together since the 7th grade,” said Devon.

Devon, an avid collector of film soundtrack LPs since he was a kid, is familiar with many composers, many which may be unfamiliar to the average filmgoer, such as Francois de Roubaix, and John Barry. Since 2007 he has hosted a weekly internet radio show on East Village Radio, dedicated to the moving image, and its film composers. “ I love it,” said Devon,“ everybody has a story.”

Months of work goes into these arrangements, with many rehearsals going into them. It took them a couple of months to prepare for Sunrise, with several rehearsals needed just last week. Unlike normal bands that play song to song, Morriconne Youth, like any orchestra, plays nonstop. In the case for Sunrise, it was 95 minutes of constantly following on screen to hit their cues. “ It’s a lot of work,” said Devon, “but we’re used to it.”

“You are basically writing the movie,” said John.

“It’s uncharted territory,” said Devon. “ Like every time you see a great movie you see something different, and every time you hear a great album, you hear something new. What we try to do is put something new in, every time we play.”

The old becomes new again with each new interpretation. F.W. Murnau’s. Sunrise is playing again at the Nitehawk Cinema, Tuesday the 15 at 7:30, with general admission costing $16 for this special live event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brooklyn Shows Off Its Bands at BAM’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” Festival

Annie Clark also known as St. Vincent jumped into the crowded orchestra pit, climbed up the railings to the first rows of the theatre, climbed over several chairs stumbling and crowd surfed back towards the stage.

Singer St. Vincent jumped into the crowded orchestra pit and crowd-surfed back to the stage. Photo by Rebecca Greenfield

By David LaGaccia

And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose.” Walt Whitman, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry

If there ever will be a distinct Brooklyn sound, it just played last weekend in one big blast.

Brooklyn is a songwriter whose voice barely resonates over the sound of her guitar amp with twenty fans watching. Brooklyn is a flugelhorn, a trumpet, an accordion, a trombone and a tuba blowing notes about old Santa Fe. Brooklyn is a chorus in blue, surrounding a sea of people. Brooklyn is a black leather skirt in two-inch heels climbing over plush seats and singing into a microphone in an opera house full of screaming fans.

From May 3rd through May 5th the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) hosted over 35 local bands in its first-ever music festival titled Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, and included such bands as The Walkmen, St. Vincent, Sharon Van Etten, Beirut, and The Antlers. Special appearances included Talking Heads’ David Byrne, a late night performance by members of the Grammy award-winning band Arcade Fire, and a DJ set by LCD Soundsystem members Pat Mahoney and Nancy Whang.

For three days, bands played in the three venues provided by BAM Peter Jay Sharp Building in Park Slope, Brooklyn, filling the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, the BAMcafe, and the BAM Rose Cinemas, with a variety of music and music lovers.

St. Vincent on stage at Crossing Brooklyn Ferry festival. Photo by Rebecca Greenfield

Named after the Walt Whitman poem, the festival was curated by brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner from the band The National, and was meant to reflect the many musical and cultural tastes of Brooklyn, giving both local and nationally recognized bands a chance to perform in front of their hometown fans.

Folk was there, and so was electronic jazz, cabaret, rock, bubu, chamber pop, stage performance, religious, classical, choral, folk jazz and any mixture of those styles of music.

No genre was discriminated, with the sole criteria to get on the bill being you had to call Brooklyn home.

“They liked my first record, and they asked me to play,” said Heather Woods Broderick, during her solo set in the BAM Rose Cinemas. After she gave thanks to the two brothers for this and previous invitations to play at shows, she picked up her Gibson SG guitar and started into a pop rock arrangement of Leadbelly’s “Goodnight, Irene” with Zeke Hutchins and Doug Keith backing up on drums and bass.

Later that evening, Heather, Zeke, Doug, and as well as Aaron Dessner, backed up Thursday night headliner Sharon Van Etten in the Howard Gilman Opera House. Before each song, Heather and Sharon faced each other, held up their guitars, and smiled with excitement, acknowledging that they were ready to begin.

This spirit of musical collaboration held throughout the three days.

yMusic, the classical sextet played a piece during it’s opening day set titled “Proven Badlands,” written by St. Vincent’s Annie Clark. Throughout the weekend, the acclaimed group went on to back up such acts as Jherek Bischoff, and My Brightest Diamond, with individual members playing with still even more bands such as the NOW Ensemble.

Bryce and Aaron Dessner also both performed in the festival, supporting musicians as spectators in the crowd and joining them on stage.

One highlight on Saturday included Bryce playing guitar with 45 girls and boys from the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. The children, all dressed in blue, began their set with a hymn, surrounding the sitting crowd of parents and the curious. After three minutes, the chorus transitioned into a choral performance composed by Bryce, titled, “To The Sea.” Shara Worden from My Brightest Diamond later accompanied him, performing as a soloist for the set.

Praise and thanks for the brothers were heard from many if not all of the acts that played.

“A lot of thanks has to go to Bryce and Aaron and the kind people at BAM,” said Bradford Cox, during the middle of his great performance, playing under the name Atlas Sound. “I’d say this is one of the best places I’ve played.”

Beirut on stage at Crossing Brooklyn Ferry festival. Photo by Mike Benigno

Despite having great crowds for all three nights, several of the headlining acts had trouble connecting with the audience. If fact, many of the bands barely interacted with audience, instead going from one song to the other.

Sharon Van Etten had such a mixed response during her set that in between songs she asked, “Are you guys all right, because I’m getting a weird vibe.” The Brooklyn singer songwriter, who was supporting the release of her new album, “Tramp” looked uncomfortable on the big stage of the Howard Gilman Opera House, but nonetheless put on a good show.

Tyondai Braxton also put on a good performance, creating and mixing on the spot, loops that ranged from space rock synthesizers to fuzz guitar riffs that would fit in with the glam rock of T. Rex or Gary Glitter. But again, he received a mixed response from the crowd who may have just been unfamiliar with his work or of that genre of music.

These reactions may have been caused by the diversity of the acts at the festival rather than the performance of the musicians. It would be hard to expect fans who came to see the religious themed band The Yehundim to show the same enthusiastic reaction to the hard rocking drums of Caveman just an hour later.

Aaron and Bryce may have had good intentions to try to represent an entire musical sound of the community, but in doing so, the whole show felt less cohesive than it should have. Many of the acts felt more like individual parts than a great Brooklyn musical invention.

Another problem was with the scheduling of the acts. Many of the smaller bands had to play during the same time slots of the more nationally recognized bands; in consequence they drew fewer crowds. In particular, the Yellowbirds and Hubble played in the cramped Rose Cinemas movie theatre during same time The Walkmen and St. Vincent were playing to full capacity crowds in the opera house.

Brooklyn Youth Chorus. Photo by Mike Benigno

Even so, many of the headliners lived up to and exceeded expectations. St. Vincent and Beirut in particular stood out not only playing to the crowd, but energizing them as well.

The best musicians know how to conduct their audience like a separate instrument, tuning them and strumming them as easily as a guitar, creating a unique arrangement for their songs; they perform an unseen voodoo ritual that forces all to rise and all to clap and all to sing and all to stomp and all to dance even in seats designed for black ties and ivory opera glasses.

Annie Clark, or St. Vincent as she is known on stage had crowds flowing into the aisles of the opera house. She performed hard rocking arrangements of her songs “Cheerleader;” “Dilettante;” “Actor Out Of Work;” “Cruel;” and “Black Rainbow.” Her performance included a theremin solo, and for her last song, with microphone in hand and 2-inch heels strapped on, jumped into the crowded orchestra pit, climbed up the railings to the first rows of the theatre, climbed over several chairs stumbling and crowd surfed back towards the stage.

Beirut had a similar energetic performance thanks to the passionate flugelhorn and ukulele playing of Zach Condon and fellow bandmates Perrin Cloutier, Nick Petree, Paul Collins, Kelly Pratt, and Ben Lanz. After seeing them live and play a song like “Santa Fe,” you’ll have the urge to run to the closest music store, and start blowing on the nearest trumpet.

Bryce Dessner performs with Brooklyn Youth Chorus. Photo by Mike Benigno

Aside from a few problems regarding scheduling, the whole festival played great, and will be welcomed if it becomes an annual event complimenting Williamsburg’s waterfront concerts. Considering this was BAM’s first time ever holding a festival of this size, it should be seen as a wonderful first time effort will hopefully more to come.