Nov 18, 2011

full body quotation at the new museum

tomorrow night is the official live presentation of full body quotation at new museum, but tonight we are performing at a private "friendraiser" for the museum's triennial. it's not an explicit fundraiser, but the purpose of the event is to develop the long term investment of young affluent/influential patrons. i've been worrying about participating in this event for a while... especially in light of the Abramovic stunt at MOCA Gala last week... and generally thinking about the role that performance artists often play in these situations, as being complicit "entertainment" jesters for elite patronage of museums.

i continue to struggle with figuring out a smart way to respond. one way would be to just not perform- but then i miss an opportunity to dialog with the thing i wanna critique. another obvious impulse would be some FUCK THE 1% gesture, but that so often plays right into the expectations of the audience, that you become this "transgressive" queer freaky artist. my friend alex (of my barbarian) warned me they love it when you bite their hand that feeds you...

ironically enough, my performance is about the film Paris is Burning. i may have been alluding to that for months now, but the context now demands it be more explicit. because when i look at that photo above (which was taken in the sky room, the event space at the new museum) i see an image equivalent to paris is burning, and a metaphor for the way that film (and things like it) function for mainstream audiences- to like capture and placate their fantasy of queer/poor/poc self-expression. (and i mean the IMAGE not necessarily the content, but how it gets used as certain kind of marketing etc...) i could go on for days about the nuances, but basically this work is about exploitation. not like in a judgmental way, but like a rubiks-cube way, like these are all the sides to the problem - there is no easy solution. and there are SO MANY ways it can go wrong... it's a really tight spot.

so the solution i came up with is to make this statement at the beginning of the piece, and also to share the source material.

this is the statement (well maybe it won't be these exact words, but this sentiment):

Dear Audience,
Tonight's performance features all misappropriated material. We are channeling voices of people involved in the making of the film Paris is Burning 20 years ago. Originally I wanted to keep this source secret because I didn't want you to take these voices for granted as being "authentic." But the site of this performance (ie a party at the New Museum, Performa, downtown Manhattan, etc) is not necessarily a safe space for all the communities referenced in this work. If you wanna witness this; please first recognize that we exist. In order to fall apart as complex beings, we need first to be able to live.

oops that might be a little abstract ;) i still have a couple hours to come up with the right wording... but i felt the need to get this information out there...

anyway here are the sources of the performance:

Characters (in order of appearance):
Octavia St. Laurent, Paris is Burning (1990)
Venus Xtravaganza, Paris is Burning (1990)
Crystal LaBeija, The Queen (1968)
Unidentified Photographer, Paris is Burning (1990)
Jennie Livingston, Paris is Burning archives (UCLA Film & Television Archives)
Junior LaBeija, Paris is Burning archives (UCLA Film & Television Archives)
Unidentified kids, Paris is Burning (1990)
Grandfather Hector Xtravaganza, interview, June 2011

if you are in NYC hope to see you there!!!


  1. real thoughtful post here, wu. adding valuable detail, dimension to the "occupy museums" thang:

    please post if you make some documentation of the performance. break something tonight!

  2. This is a really thoughtful post. It really makes me thing of the last 20 seconds or so of Grace Jones' "Slave to the Rhythm" video. You can find it on youtube. The image of her in the cage with adoring white audiences...

    I would also read Paul Mooney's book, "Black is the New White" where he really talks about his and Richard Pryor's struggle with white audiences.