nycARTscene Interview: Michelangelo Alasa’
Michelangelo Alasa’s “Confessions of a Cuban Sex Addict” runs through August 9th at the Duo Multicultural Arts Center (DMAC), 62 East 4th St., NYC.
nycARTscene’s Hannah Krafcik leads us in conversation with the writer/director/producer/artist:
HK: Confessions depicts your personal narrative through imagery and performative tropes. Can you elaborate on why you’ve chosen to do this sort of work featuring interactive and visual art components at this point in your career?
MA: The creation of Confessions began with my need to bring to life the interior safe place I had created in my mind since the age of 8. After a failed suicide attempt, I decided to fight my abusive parents back using style, wit, intelligence. I became a button pusher…a provocateur at an early age. At that same time, I found art, film, and theater and used it as an escape as well as a way to fight back. From an early age, I used collage as a way to bring disparate images into a homogenous whole that spoke to me deeply.
There was always a duality to my early years, which has continued into late adulthood - a tightrope dance of balancing a very strong sexual impulse with an even stronger passion to share my story. I think this came about from being sexualized at such an early age. The performative nature of the work stems from the fact that, for many years, I have been working in theater. It was natural for me to tell my story using actors along with a physical representation of the home or “House of Terror,” where I grew up, and the “safe place” in my mind, where I disappeared to when life became too trying or painful. As the work has progressed I came to the realization that what I had created was a classic self-portrait and that it would be important for me to embrace my own story and tell it as only I can tell it, without artifice or performance.
HK: Tell us a bit about the mediums and artistic practices you’ve intertwined to construct Confessions. How have you used collage throughout the work?
MA: I see myself as a 21st century muralist. I use video, still images, and found objects to create the two worlds that I have inhabited all my life. I use the power of word(s) in conjunction with the visuals to bring to life and to explore the complexities of feeling and thoughts that have challenged me since the age of three when a rather delightful sexual relationship with my father began. At the age of six, when the sexual relationship with my dad ended, I lost my mother and father emotionally for ever, and art and story telling helped me survive. The work is still very much in process and progress, and it grows on a daily basis. My feeling is that I will know when the canvas is complete.
HK: Confessions tends to be catharsis inducing for viewers, and particularly those from the queer community. How do you hope viewers will interact with and experience the work?
MA: The piece is about redemption, healing and about moving on. I am using gay social media such as Manhunt, Adam, Daddyhunt and Grindr to reach out to the queer community. I am astounded at the number of men who, on a daily basis, reach out to me to tell their own stories of sexual abuse. My own frankness and directness in speaking about and bringing to life my own story of pain using visuals and words within in a physical space seems to raise questions in some concerning their own abuse. My belief is that abuse, whether it is sexual, physical, or emotional, is rampant in our society. I created this piece for myself because I needed to physically inhabit and experience the safe place. Only when my nephew walked through the an early version of the “safe space” discussing my tale of abuse, did I see the impact it could have on others. After each performance, I am approached with words of encouragement and support as well as people who need to share their won stories with me. I created a wall of “confessions” where audience members are able to share their won thoughts with the world.
HK: You have a long history with Duo Multicultural Arts Center (DMAC), where Confessions takes place. I’m specifically interested in your connection to Andy Warhol and his previous occupation of Duo Theatre. As you continue your work in the space, Duo seems to be taking on a modern “Factory-eque” atmosphere. What do you envision for DMAC after Confessions?
MA: In 1969, I went to 62 East 4th Street and saw Andy Warhols Boys To Adore Galore series of gay porn film screenings. It is amazing to me that 40 years later a company that I run, DMAC, is co-owner of the very building where I first met Andy. DMAC, is like an artistic “complex” where I provide free space to dancers, film makers, theater and visual artists in which they can create. These works sometimes are presented at DMAC and other times they are premiered at other venues. Although Andy continues to have a profound influence on me, other mentors have also influenced what I do, e.g. Cocteau, Chanel, Picasso, Arthur Janov and, of course, Gertrude Stein whose Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas I stole from the local library (it was a first edition). This opened a new world to me, leading me to Diaghilev and The Ballet Russe and the expatriate world of Paris at the turn of the century. I myself am an expatriate of sorts, as I was born in Havana Cuba mid-last century. I have plans to next explore the pre-Aids NYC and the golden age of unprotected free-for-all world that I experienced in the early 1970’s, in particular the Continental Baths. I plan to open that work for Pride 2014.
HK: Why do you believe it is important to tell this story in the way that you do?
MA: I tell my story for myself every Friday evening. I bring into being and I inhabit fully my own world for that hour. People come and witness. It is served raw and freshly as a plate of oyster nightly, as I am still making breakthroughs during each “performance.” I use the word performance as I don’t know what else to call it. At the end when audiences applaud, I am very uncomfortable, but I understand their need to applaud, and I accept it.
Duo Multicultural Arts Center (DMAC), 62 East 4th St., NYC.
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nycARTscene Interview: Saya Woolfalk
Saya Woolfalk’s exhibition “Chimera” is currently on view at Third Streaming and runs through April 25, 2013 with a related performance on March 7, 2013.
nycARTscene’s Hannah Krafcik leads us in conversation with the artist:
HK: You present your artwork as fragments of a fantastical world beyond what we know. Our only point of access is through what you show us, and this is all birthed from a detailed narrative. Can you summarize the narrative through-line of your work?
SW: The video in my show at Third Streaming, “Tour of the Institute of Empathy,” tells the entire story of the Empathics: they develop second heads; have hallucinations of various forms of biological and cultural mixture; and activate what they see in their hallucinations through various social “formations.”
This narrative has emerged through process. As I collaborate across disciplines one project comes out of the last. I attempt to follow the stories that emerge and tease them out to their logical conclusions.
I have been working on No Place and the Empathics for 6 years. From 2006-2008, I worked with filmmaker and anthropologist Rachel Lears to document a fictional future utopian world called No Place. The people of No Place are part human and part plant and change gender and color and transform into the landscape when they die. They also transform recycled materials into usable technologies. We presented our collaboration as film called Ethnography of No Place.
In 2009, I started to think about how people in the present might actually become like the people of this fictional future, and I started working with dancers, biologists, and neuroscientists to explore this concept. In 2012, I presented the material at the Montclair Art Museum, and decided to use ethnographic museum techniques to tell the story as it had emerged.
HK: The No Placeans and Empathics’ world is comprised of what many consider a “craft” aesthetic, but interspersed are other objects recognizable from theater and performance. Can you speak to the blending of materials in your work?
SW: I love the idea that ordinary materials can be transformed into magical things. Since early in my art education the transformation of domestic materials and objects was presented as a powerful method for making art. I studied feminist art at Brown and worked with Faith Wilding at the Art Institute of Chicago (one of the founding participants of Womanhouse). As a kid, I also learned to sew from my grandmother in Japan; and, before I had a studio, sewing was a way I could make work on a domestic scale. Slowly the small objects transformed into immersive environments. After spending time in Brazil studying Carnaval, I started to build entire performative fantastical worlds.
HK: How has your interest in anthropology paved the way for your trajectory in visual art? Does this have any bearing on the multi-media and performative nature of what you create?
SW: When I started working, I was looking for a way to describe alternative world systems through playful artmaking. By using the descriptive methods of anthropology—poking fun at them, while also thinking with them—I have been able to immerse myself in the logics of the places I construct. I am also surrounded by anthropology everyday. My husband is an anthropologist, and he is one of my inspirations.
HK: Because you take such an anthropological approach to discussing and presenting your work, people who visit your exhibitions have been know to wonder if what you are “studying” might actually be real. Do you think it is? Did you create these beings? Are they from the future, do they exist in an alternate reality, or do they come into being from your imagination?
SW: I love this question. I do think Empathics exist. They are people who struggle with intergroup contact and attempt to take disparate material and fuse it and make it make sense. In some way we are all Empathics. Being an Empathics is a kind of metaphor for the gradual transformation of US culture. In the US we experience conflict because of intergroup contact. We then incorporate parts of other cultures into our own. The nature of what it means to be United Statesian is constantly changing because of these contact points and our gradual transformation.
HK: Though you are based in New York City, you frequently show work outside of New York in the North East. Does your work and its intersection with nature draw you away from urban environments? What brings you back to New York for your latest exhibition, Chimera?
SW: As I enter into my next project, “Land of the Pleasure Machines”—which is about biological and the technological mixture—movement between the urban and natural environments will emerge as an important element of my work. We have a little place we like to go in the woods of upstate NY where I can think and read and take walks with my husband and our daughter. The impact of these real experiences can be felt, and that’s what I love about Yona’s space [Third Streaming]. It is a wonderful urban place where many kinds of people come in contact with each other so that art and life can happen. It is a place where art is living and breathing and all sorts of fantastical things can happen.
Third Streaming: 10 Greene Street, NY, NY thirdstreaming.com
Saya Woolfalk: www.sayawoolfalk.com
Opens tomorrow, Jan 31, 6-8p:
Luhring Augustine, 531 W24th St., NYC
This show marks the New York debut of Icelandic artist Kjartansson’s most recent project, The Visitors, a nine-channel video installation based on a musical performance staged in upstate New York at Rokeby Farm. For this new work, the artist assembled a group of his closest friends, some of the most renowned musicians from Reykjavik and beyond. A depiction of individual creative minds at work and a baring of extreme collective emotion, The Visitors continues Kjartansson’s use of durational performance to explore the persona of the performer. - thru Mar 16
thru Feb 16:
Andrea Mary Marshall
Allegra LaViola Gallery, 179 East Broadway, NYC
Wed-Sun, F train to East Broadway or 4,5,6,N,R to Canal St.
In her thirteen Mona Lisa paintings, Marshall duplicates the material and size of da Vinci’s original, while altering the composition significantly. Marshall draws inspiration from the renderings of Dali, Duchamp and Warhol as well as the myriad theories surrounding the identity of the sitter. Additionally, there are six photographic portraits, a short film and film stills.
Opens Jan 17, 6-8p:
Pace Gallery, 510 and 534 W25th St., NYC (two locations)
A two-venue exhibition of the acclaimed Chinese conceptual artist Song Dong, known for his works that combine aspects of performance, video, photography, painting, installation, and sculpture. The gallery at 534 W25th Street will present eighteen of Song’s works, spanning from 1994 to the present. The gallery at 510 W25th Street will center on a new installation by the artist, expanding on his project for Documenta 13. – thru Feb 23