AFC’s Matthew Leifheit and Baltimore City Paper writer (and AFC friend) Michael Farley give you some highlights of Bushwick Gone Basel, a one-night only fair alternative held at the CuCu’s Nest, a Miami Beach dive bar. In three words: Jaimie Warren RULES.
Mathew Leifheit: The installation of Sunday night’s Bushwick Gone Basel showcase looked elaborately half-assed. Curators Angelina Dreem and Ms. Fitz had covered the interior of a Miami Beach dive bar with haunted house-style black plastic trash bags. Art had been hung over the mess, and films were being projected on a bed sheet strung up lumpily in the back of the space. Then one of the participating artists explained to me that this was an attempt to go low-fi in the spirit of Bushwick.
“Everybody loves an underdog, and people who are just doing it because they love it versus doing it for the money,” curator Dreem told me. Maybe that’s why this was some of the more adventurous art I saw last week in Miami. After a week of fussing over Art F City’s booth at the UNTITLED. fair to make it look as slick as possible to compete with all the rest, I really started to appreciate the “I-don’t-give-a-fuck” this place had going.
Michael Farley: Preach, honey! After a week of exclusive-this and guest-list-that, this night was giving me LIFE! I was actually half expecting it to be that brand of Brooklyn art snobby that’s kind of worse than Miami art snobby; where the “I don’t give a fuck” attitude you’re talking about can translate to “my art is a sloppy mess because I’m soooo DIY but my Margiela shoes cost $900.” Thankfully, that was almost non-existent. I mean, it was there, but the positive vibes of the majority cancelled out the handful of people who brought bad work and an attitude to match. To me, DIY is about bringing a generosity of spirit to your craft. I look at Jaimie Warren’s costumes (produced in collaboration with Lee Heineman) and they’re all about transforming crap from the thrift store and craft supplies into something interesting to look at. It’s about an economy of means in terms of material, but a surplus of (fake) blood, sweat, and tears. After seeing that, and a whole week of people working so hard to show their best work (or someone else’s) I got bummed out by little things like Travis Egedy’s (really nice) prints falling off the wall and some other presentation issues that just came across more lazy than punk.
Overall, though, this night was one of the Basel week highlights!
ML: After a succession of video pieces that played while people chatted, curators hushed the audience with an introduction of a new video debuting at the event by Signe Pierce and Alli Coates titled “American Reflexxx.” The footage is neon-colored and purposefully glitchy, fast-forwarding and halting as it follows performer Signe Pierce through the streets of Myrtle Beach, SC. It’s completely unstaged. She’s dressed like a stripper wearing a convex mirror over her face, stopping every so often to pose. A crowd begins to gather, and grows to about forty people, mostly pre-teens. They fall in step behind her. She remains silent in the face of taunts, and about halfway, someone chucks a water bottle at her head. By the end of the piece, she’s dripping with the drinks people have thrown at her, and bleeding profusely because an adult woman pushed her to the ground, before running away. The video was terrifying, surreal—and true. After the screening, at least three separate people told me this was one of their favorite artworks from the weekend, and I totally agree.
MF: Powerful stuff. This video was so eerie and difficult to watch. I wish I had seen it in a context where the narrative was easier to follow; I’m crazy ADD and am so accustomed to trying to ignore moving images in bars. Watching it at a party was a strange experience …. I found myself struggling to watch it at an awkward angle through the crowd, while at the same time wanting to look away because it was so disturbing.
From my disjointed experience of the piece, a happy accident kind of happened where I was never quite sure who the aggressor or protagonist was in whatever snippets of conflict I caught. I love the mirror as a prosthetic mediating between the artist’s identity and that of her assailants: The public was literally projecting onto her. It also functioned as a surrogate screen; poisoning public space with the same cruelty-excused-by-anonymity logic of YouTube comments.
I wasn’t crazy about the editing style; for me, it was a layer of removal from the video functioning as an index of the performance. I immediately viewed it through the lens of Trecartin (At first it seemed like a deliberate reference), and consequently it took me a hot minute to realize this wasn’t scripted acting. This content is already so powerful/visceral/stranger-than-fiction that making it more surreal seemed like an unnecessary distraction.
ML: We love Jaimie Warren. Her performance was introduced by a video of hers called “A Blob’s Bike Ride (For Pee Wee).” Prior to making the video, Pee Wee Herman actually instructed Warren to “take a photo of yourself on a bicycle trip and show me the picnic you have when you get there.” This resulted in Warren dressed as a large fleshy blob ferociously consuming Manet’s “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe.” Only here, the foods were celebrities: Dolly Parton as pancakes, Oprah as crudités, and Grace Jones as a cake. When Warren finally took the stage dressed as Little Richard, that’s when all hell broke loose.
Through a series of breakaway costumes, she transitioned into a nudie suit so that she truly resembled filthy punk rock god GG Allin. She performed his classic “Bite it You Scum,” but in between calling people pigs and whores she whispered apologies into the microphone—deep down, she’s a nice person. Although Warren told me she before the performance that her costume had prevented her from using the restroom for hours, she did not poop on stage and eat it, as Allin would have done. Warren does not look anything like Little Richard or GG Allin, but her conviction was more than enough to thrill me into buying into her transformation.
MF: This was my favorite thing I saw all week, and it was the best GG Allin performance ever. I had just eaten brunch at The Palace bar that morning and seen all these drag performances—I think it made me appreciate this so much more. I like the weird ambiguity of the relationship between a drag performer and the audience, and the drag performer and the celebrity being impersonated. Who is the one being idolized? Who is laughing at who? What is self deprecating or narcissistic?
I think a lot of Jaimie Warren’s work is about trying to figure out how she fits in (or not) to the world and how we (the viewer) relate to her. Like she tries on different identities as a process of elimination, and then she shares that process of figuring out her autobiography in a way that’s very vulnerable but funny—instead of egotistical or alienating. Jaimie’s world is all about synthesizing non-sequiturs into something that’s oddly coherent. It was hilarious and so entertaining, but she did it with such conviction and energy and wanted everyone to know that she really idolized both of those performers.
ML: Within seconds of Baltimore duo FlucT taking the floor, a set of rubber boobs had flown off one of the performers and hit me in the face. Composed of Monica Mirabile and Sigrid Lauren, the extreme energy of this act made up for haphazard acrobatics. It was like two Cirque du Soleil performers had gotten really trashed, but their lives depended on getting through this one show. Some pretty impressive moves were pulled, like Lauren lifting Mirabile through her legs and somehow up onto her back. At certain points the two performers became an indistinguishable ball of flailing limbs. After three or so minutes of bizarre and violent (but very determined) thrashing, flipping and stripping, the performers left the stage by crawling on their knees through the crowd. Still digesting that one.
MF: I missed most of this performance! I hate myself! Sigrid and Monica are a really good example of people who work so hard in the DIY scene; they have a huge amount of drive and ambition and will spend weeks preparing for a show that has the raw energy of a punk house basement, but approached with countless hours of practice.
I’m sad to say they recently moved to Bushwick. Baltimore misses them dearly, but I understand you gotta go where the hustle happens. Isn’t that why we’re all in Miami?