In May of 2012, my nose endured a combined septoplasty and turbinate reduction which I like to think of to the tune of Snoop Dogg’s Sensual Seduction.
(Replace sensual seduction with turbinate reduction. Or, given where this blog post is going, Durbinate conduction.)
As part of my convalescence, my surgeon prescribed antibiotics, Vicodin, and a couch.
Enter Real Housewives.
While popping synthetic heroin, I didn’t become addicted to synthetic heroin. I became addicted to synthetic femininity. I binged on wives shows. The Real Housewives of Orange County. The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. The Real Housewives of Atlanta. Because I was on drugs, I hallucinated my way into alternate housewife universes. The Real Housewives of Medellín. The Real Housewives of Buttonwillow. The Real Housewives of Narnia. The Real Housewives of Hades. They go on hiatus while Persephone hangs out with her mom.
(Sinus-related ART created on VICODIN)
Discovering these shows felt surreally natural. They were an extension of the Real shows of my adolescence, The Real World franchise, which taught me what it meant to be a gay Cuban with AIDS, a black male comic, a Latina Republican, and an Irishman in leather. And yet the reality of these characters, these archetypes, if you will, was questionable…? They were a performed, edited, and test tube version of real that hearkened to the realness of today’s televised reality, which is my FAVORITE televised genre aside from soap operatic horror (See COVEN). I especially enjoy reality which makes women cry and destroys them because what destroys us makes us better women. My favorite part of my favorite reality show of all-time, America’s Next Top Model: The Janice Dickinson Years, came at the end of every episode, when the round’s two final contestants would be called before Tyra. This Afro-ice queen would gaze down upon them and breathe: “Two beautiful girls stand before me, but I only hold one photograph in my hands. The girl whose name I do not say must immediately return to the house, pack her bags, and go home.” Ah, the cruelty. Tyra reinvented Snow White’s stepmom’s cruelty with a bigger, chocolatier forehead. The devastation on the face of each aspiring model whose name went unsaid was so deliciously poisonous that I adopted this high stakes way of conveying news in my classroom: “Two very determined students stand before me but I only hold one passing grade in my hand…”
Anyways, during my convalescence, when my girlfriend would reach for the remote to try to watch something without wives, I’d growl Cujoishly. She’d leave the living room in favor of some wife-free space in our home.
Also, Real Housewives of Miami is my family. A bunch of crazed Latinas and one Polish alcoholic? Welcome home.
(i’m the one in PRRRPLE)
(As Chuck Palahniuk would write: I am Kate Durbin’s poetic glutes.)
The Litfest website didn’t say much about what Durbin’s staging would entail and this whetted my appetite further. What would Durbin do? How would Durbin do it? Would there be costumes involved? Could I please be Vicki Gunvalson?
Oops. In case you don’t know who thee thee thee Kate Durbin is, she’s not human. She’s not human in the same way that Bjork is not human. She comes from Bunnyland, which is an invisible place near Whittier, California, and it can be seen from my Grandma’s house using an Icelandic pair of white chocoloate binoculars, and Kate Durbin is a breathing doll with a brain that dissects femininity with the twee-est precision. HER MIND IS A PINK SCALPEL, OKAY, BUDDY? She’s published a bunch of femystical stuff but is maybe best-known for being the progenitrix of le blogue Gaga Stigmata and the author of poetry collection THE RAVENOUS AUDIENCE. She also takes Tumblr very seriously, thank guaddess.
(Guaddess Feliz. Feliz means gay! Feliz Navidad!)
I loped up to Durbin as I saw her arriving at the OB stage and asked, “Can I take your picture?” I was worried it wouldn’t turn out considering Durbin’s not human, but it did.
(OMG! (OHMYGOOFY!) THAT’S A DISNEYLAND TRUCKER HAT!)
Durbin asked, “Do you want to get my shoes, too?”
I looked down at kittens in the grass.
I shot them.
My friend Zzzzzz (who is pretty amazing/she once visited a Russian folk healer in the forest and she works for the federal government) and I sat among Durbin’s audience, which was wildly stylish and young.
Durbin moved the mic onto the grass and into the shade of a big ass tree and quipped about not being cool enough to touch the Octavia Butler stage, and then she explained to us that she’d written a novella, WIVES SHOWS, that is basically a WILLIAM BURROUGHS-ESQUE WIVES CUT-UP! (Didn’t he sort of cut up his wife with a gun?) Durbin wrote WIVES SHOWS by watching several wives shows, transcribing some dialogues, splicing them together in hibbity jibbity order, and voila, she birthed a work about the performance of artifice and the artifice of reality and the reality of artificiality. GENIUS. Tumblr that!
(This image is reblogged from the Tumblr CHAMPAGNE MANAGEMENT. Get it? Uma Thermos.)
Durbin explained one of the weirdest things about the wives shows: that many of the wives are not wives. These wives are aspiring wives, ex-wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands, ex-husbands, children, low key hookers, grandmas, grandpas, babies, dogs, and closeted-Xanax-taking dogs. That’s part of what makes the wives phenomena so kooky and legit. In these shows, wife is a fulcrum surrounded by revolving human accessories that orbit towards her, at times becoming interchangeable with her. We can all become HER. THE UNIVERSAL HER.
(This dog, Napoleon, is a he, but in a conversation between his owner, psychic Wife Mama Elsa, and her daughter, Wife Marysol, his feminine outfits are noted, thus, gendering Napoleon as bitch, thus illustrating the universal, canine she. Wife Napoleon.)
Durbin announced that she had scripts excised from her novella. We were going to bring them to wife/life and she invited us to not feel limited by our bodies when it came to casting. Anybody can be a wife. Since her audience had innocents, Durbin also encouraged her volunteers to self-bleep dialogue if they felt it necessary because was this not a performance and when language is performed doesn’t self-censorship naturally deodorize its artifice?
Durbin invited up those eager to give it all in the afternoon’s first performance, a scence from MOBWIVES.
Here’s how MOBWIVES looked after Durbin Durbinified it.
Her new cast watersed it down, John Watersed it down.
In the performance after MOBWIVES, a scene adapted from polygamous Brady Bunch SISTER WIVES, a new batch of wives accompanied their long-haired, goateed husbear to choose a cake for an incoming concubine.
I grew extremely affectionate towards this sketch because my friend Zzzzzz was cast in the role of the baker. She spoke many lines and played the dubious cake lady with the tiniest amount of aloof…fear. Writer Cheryl Klein killed as Wife #3 (I think) and Naomi Hirahara, author of the Japanese sleuth series the Mas Arai Mysteries, dazzled as hapless patriarch Kody. EVERYBODY WAS FANTASTIC AS WIFE BECAUSE OF THE UNIVERSAL SHE.
The artifice of daily life, television, and marriage dangled freely before us. During both wives performances, all characters addressed one another as Wife This, Wife That, Wife Jill, Wife Jack, So and So Forth, Whatever, Whatever Wife.
After the Wives Shows, on the way to the car, Zzzzzz and I found evidence that we were trespassing in Durbin’s shoes hunting ground.
(Hi! I’ll be reading at Riverside DIY Printfest tomorrow, May 16, at 2:15! See you there! Or not!)
I’d been intrigued by Craig Calderwood’s work, but when I got a moment to really hang out with the stuff – when, by kismet Craig was visiting her hometown of Fresno, California the same night Sister Spit was passing through and she graciously hopped on stage with us – well, I became obsessed with it. 559, the name of the series she showed that night, is named after Fresno’s area code and explores a closeted queerness specific to that place. The images are intense and impacting, mesmerizing candy-colored labyrinths creating figures sinister, or wounded, or both. Hungry eyes peer out of chests and into cell phones, like deranged, digital sacred hearts. An ethereal, bubble-headed kid makes out with a fox-headed kid – or gets devoured.
So, I was fizzing with excitement to meet up with Craig at Craftsmen + Wolves, my favorite new gentrification hang-out, to pick up the piece she is super-generously donating to the RADAR Spectacle. It’s a study for a piece for her new series – each of Craig’s giant pieces begin as these smaller but no less intricate works, and the one laid before me on the table of beeswax paper inked with a pair of snuggle-necked swans, with a smaller illustration of flower-impaled penises and bees sewn to it. It’s super fascinating and beautiful, whimsical and, um, painful. I WANT IT. I talked to Craig on the internet about it.
MICHELLE TEA: Can you tell me how you work with beeswax? Is it messy or delicate or both? Do you feel a kinship with bees?
CRAIG CALDERWOOD: I am using the Beeswax with the Mulberry paper to create a translucency so you can easily see the images within the layers of paper. I find that the wax creates a more visceral piece of paper, giving it a more organic feel then if I used paraffin wax. The process is a bit messy, beeswax is very sticky in comparison to other wax options. I basically heat a cookie sheet up in the oven then take it out, lay the image down and rub the block of wax on top of the paper. The image then becomes more tactile and olfactory, the beeswax is very pungent and creates an interesting texture. I can’t say I have a strong affinity with bees but they do get referenced in the series due to the saying “the birds and the bees”. They go hand in hand with some of the Floral references in the series as well.
MT: What have you learned about swans in researching them for your new series.
CC: I have been reading a lot about Homosexuality in the natural world and a large part of the reading I am doing surrounds birds. I think I like using the swan imagery because the animal is so romanticized and heavily a symbol of monogamy and marriage. In fact the swan is so romanticized that I have been finding it hard to even find anatomy images, especially when researching the Mute Swan. As for its representation of Monogamy, the Swan in Fact does not always perform lifelong pair bonds and has varying mating and pair bonding experience. But I am merely paralleling animals and humans in these drawings, rather paralleling the way in which Psychologist and Scientists have approached queerness in both.
MT: What is the name of this new series?
CC: The Series is Called “Hard Parallels, Soft Parallels”, which has a sort of obviousness to it. The Hard in Soft is Suggesting states of arousal not just in the sense of genital arousal but in regards to the varying degrees of mental arousal. It also references the level of paralleling in the actually pieces, some of the comparisons may be really obvious while others will be very secret. I am still in the research and prototyping phase of the series so I am still developing it as a whole thought.
MT: Why are there flowers in the penises??? It is so compelling and sweet and painful to look at!
CC: In 2012 I was a part of a group show called Best Revenge: A Beautiful Fuck You, where I got to show with the sculptor Nicki Green who was showing these amazing porcelain penis vases with dried tulips sticking out of the urethra. I think when I was working on this pattern I was subconsciously channeling them. The drawing that is to come out of the swan drawing and the penis sounding flowers drawing is about being perceived as deceptive by a masculine accuser (the Chimera – more to come about that in the future). I wanted to represent having a penis as a trans feminine person while also playing with traditional symbols of femininity and what it means to have and want both. I also like the visual of something that is symbolically supposed to penetrate and represent masculinity in some contexts being penetrated by something traditionally feminine. I’m merely trying to create a beautiful representation of having a penis while being trans.
MT: Why are the two pieces stitched together?
CC: The two Pieces are Studies for a larger drawing I am currently working on; I wanted to bring them together to loosely see how the pieces can start melding. They relate in the sense that they are subject to accusations and assumptions from the Masculine Accuser which I am calling the Chimera, a monster made of many different parts in this case the scientists and psychologists that enact different types of violence on the Queer animals and people. They are pieces to a larger puzzle I am currently working on.
Well, as I learned at the Fresno Sister Spit show, I can listen to Craigh Calderwood talk about her work for-ev-ah. Come to the RADAR Spectacle Friday, May 17th at the Verdi Club, and take a shot at walking out the door with this beautiful + intelligent work!
Check this lady out! She’s totally naked, but she’s a superhero, so she’s not really worried about being vulnerable like that. She’s got her superhero hood on, and her namaste posing makes me feel like she’s totally on the side of goodness, as does that sort of smirk she has on her face. I feel like this heroine is all like, Yeah, I know it’s all samsara drama, but I gotta do my part. I’m here to help. A Bodhisattva to the rescue for reals, with a nice pair of wings clawing up her back. I lugged this big, wooden piece by artist Peter Max Lawrence around the Western Addition yesterday, then gave up and jumped in a cab, for I am not a superhero. It’s got a secret second piece on the back, a similarly nude super-dude whose main power seems to be making his bed in the morning. A super every-man we all can relate to! I am so digging Peter Max Lawrence’s super-powered visions after seeing his current installation at Mission Comics, where he papered the back room in scrawling and splattered butcher-paper portraits of old (Batman) and new – a powerful, sinister depiction of a superhero getting Abu Ghraib-style treatment doesn’t let you get to comfy with comic book nostalgia. The walls are also layered with smaller paintings that cascade downward into a pile on the floor, like a tide of superhero heads creeping your way. It’s an awesome illustration, and Peter Max Lawrence is clearly a factory of art! I am so psyched he gave us this piece to auction at tomorrow night’s Spectacle, and I chatted with him on the interweb about it.
MICHELLE TEA: Were you into superheros when you were a kid? How has your interest in them changed?
PETER MAX LAWRENCE: As a child born in the year of the “Star Wars”, “Superman” and “Wonder Woman” I believe that superheroes were the first set of mythologies that I truly believed in. These stories and characters seemed to mix into my very DNA. During my tumultuous teenage years I turned back to comics, but this time those with a bit more independent flair. I became interested not only in the characters but the creators behind them and the reasons for the metaphor and allegories they were steeped in. During this time I was also heavily into Greek mythology and my own repressed homosexuality and in short the the combination of all these things led me to not only start creating my own heroes, villains and universes but to also search out more obscure authors and creations. This led me into underground comics and zines which i went on to author myself throughout the mid to late 90’s. My general interest in them has actually come full circle in the last few years as the big screen adaptations of several of my childhood favorites have been a bit lackluster and now find myself going back to the source materials aka the old comics with some amazing story lines for example Iron Man and his struggle with alcoholism, Batman and the inevitability that he was getting older and needed to find a series of successors, so on and so.
MT: What can you tell me about the heroine you donated? How do you imagine her – does she have a back story, a life off the canvas, or wood?
PML: The heroine depicted on the poplar wood is a lesbian femme fatale version of an old Marvel character “Angel” who later went on to become “Archangel.” I continue to enjoy queering established characters and concepts by either incorporating trans or gender-swapping elements. This painting was a spontaneous study for the character that after several years of sketching and drawing evolved to a more magickal demi-goddess whose origin story boils down to she is the indirect offspring or lovechild of Pan and Terminus, a human who works at SFO.
MT: Who is your favorite superhero?
PML: It is very difficult for me to pick a single favorite super hero but if forced I would say Promethea ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Promethea )
MT: OH MY GOD I AM OBSESSED WITH PROMETHEA!
PML: Me tooooooooooo. I want more….more more moore Alan Moore. While I was in Iceland, (artist) Michelle Morby took a photo of me wearing a similar crown. And then just the other day a fan of my art all the way from Spain sent me this… and I swear to god I cried.
MT: If you were a superhero, what would your deal be?
PML: I have been asked this question many times and as per the always I’m just not sure. I feel like growing up as a closeted homosexual in Kansas and Missouri that in many ways I was living a double life for many years that made me clearly see the pros and cons of living such a lifestyle, and so if I was to be a hero of my choice I wouldn’t have to hide my identity and would probably fall more in line with a Jedi knight or someone who has to learn to embrace the powers the universe offers us all and to through trials and tribulations help the greater community and world. I prefer creating characters and their unique scenarios rather than fantasizing about my own possibilities.
Come to the Radar SPECTACLE Friday May 17th and bid on Peter Max Lawrence’s Angel, as well as work by Phoebe Gloeckner, Craig Calderwood, Kari Ovik, Joan Baez + more!
A few years ago Sister Spit did a show in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Through a series if unfortunate events, word did not get out that we were coming to town, and the only people who showed up to see us were three earnest lasses, and Phoebe Gloeckner, our Special Guest that night. A professor at UM/Ann Arbor, I had been freaking out that she would join us. I am a HUGE Phoebe Gloeckner fan, and have been since the 90s, when I first started seeing her creepy-cool comics show in in various places, and then, with the publication of one of my most favorite books ever, Diary of a Teenage Girl, an epic diary-comic that goes in and out between graphic novel and illustrated memoir. The dedication, For the Girls, When they are grown, haunts me sweetly. I feel like one of the girls Diary of a Teenage Girl was meant for.
Rather than being a dud, that sparsely attended midwest show was the BEST, because Phoebe stood on stage showing us slides form her new work-in-progress, detailing her mind-blowing process, the intensity of the story that had overtaken her life, and some witty and wise musings on the life of a working artist, in general. After visiting the Mexican city of Juarez to write about the murders of women that have been occurring on a horrible, massive scale, Phoebe was left in some sort of state of shock. as an outsider gringa who couldn’t comprehend the poverty the Juarez community exists within, and as a women and a mom who recognized the devastating loss these families were trying to live as her own worst fears. She became close with the family of a murdered fifteen-year-old girl named Elena Chavez Caldera, and began visiting them often. From this relationship has grown Phoebe’s current project, in which she intricately re-creates much of the family’s buy fashioning dolls and their environments and then photographing them, often manipulating the photographs to add details that shock and disturb, like the artist’s own face.
Phoebe has donated two of these pieces to the RADAR Spectacle, to help fund the Radar LAB creative retreat, which she will also be a guest at this year. I can’t believe we are able to offer these pieces, from a project that is so important and creative, requiring mad artistic genius and a dedication to empathy. They are amazing, and as the project comes to completion and is shown and published as a book, whoever walks away with these prints is going to be PSYCHED.
Almost as psyched as I’m going to be once I score Phoebe’s third contribution to the Spectacle’s Art Auction – an illustration from Diary of a Teenage Girl!!!!!! I am LOSING IT! If anyone wants to enter a bidding war with me for the sake of RADAR, let’s do it! That’s what it’s all for – to fund this excellent and unfunded writers’ retreat! But I am going to WIN.
Oakland academic Essence Harden interviews RADAR SPECTACLE performer BRONTEZ PURNELL.
Tell us about you’re recent work “New Diaspora” and “Other Dancers” at the L@te series at the Berkeley Art Museum (BAM). How does blackness, queerness, and collaboration inform your work?
New Diaspora was a means to celebrate the different Black talent going on in the Bay right now. It was inherently a very queer night also. I grew up in Alabama and have always been challenged/ curious about the lives of Black people in terms of place/environment/time period. Other Dancers was a means to celebrate the different experimental choreographers I know. there were some people involved in Other Dancers whose work i had never even seen before. i just got drunk at a bar with them and it was like “oh! you do performance? KOOL! would you be a part of this?” Blackness, Queerness, and Collaboration inform my work INFINITELY.
Speaking of “New Diaspora” I really loved how you ended the night with a decompression of energy by leading a group-follow dance onto pillows. How is community reconciliation significant to your art?
I went to speak to my friends class at Berkeley about community healing thorough art and i think its as simple as getting a group of people (no matter the number) in a space together moving towards a common goal or feeling however fleeting it may be. Its essentially about togetherness and intention.
Tell us about the making of “Free Jazz” your inaugural dance film from the Brontez Purnell Dance Company? Particularly the “cut n’ mix” of aesthetic choices involving punk, cosmology, the African Diaspora, and temporality. How has studying theatre and dance informed your current project?
I was obsessed with doing a dance movie cause like who does that? Particularity in Black and White Super 8 cause im a slave to aesthetic. I was doing work and making pieces at Cal State East Bay and was really excited about it so i wanted to put the work i did in a form that could live forever and encapsulate a certain period in my career. All my work is informed by whats closest to me. I think about things like sex, religion, community 24/7 and the film is a subdued response to my raging obsessions. Maybe it gives them more of a context for myself.
I loveeee novella’s, tell us about your upcoming work?
It’s called “Johnny Would You Love Me If My Dick Were Bigger” its not a novella as much as it is an exorcism of the ghosts of my reckless first 30 years on the planet. I found a publisher but editing is kicking my ass. I decided not to change to tittle ever cause i fell like trying to pander commercial appeal for a book thats about a black punk rockers romp through life is somewhat delusional. Plus i see it living on in that N.W.A meets feminism category of literature.
I think what’s really incredible about your art and you as a person is the inescapable visibility you give to the complexity of being Black, queer, male, and a politically radical punk. Can you talk about being a radical Black queer punk and how these and other positionalities continue to inform your art?
Its hard cause at 30 im finally starting to feel semi-comfortable in my skin and what i will allow and not allow. Even though im rightfully a cross section of all these varied identities i dont trust MOST Black people, MOST punks, MOST queers and don’t get me started on men. Its been an interesting journey finding out who my people are. One example was i took a dance class at Berkeley and this other queer black male student found out i was from Alabama and had all these romantic notions of Blackness and the Deep South (he had grown up in California) and he said something about wanting to move to Atlanta- now growing up down South i have my own prejudices. In inadvertently blurted out “dude, first of all if you HAVE to party down South go to New Orleans NOT Atlanta. I CANT with Atlanta. I know all the shows on TV make it look fun but its the WORST mix of East Coast attitude and Southern boredom. If i wanted a bunch of stuck-up Black people telling me to go to church all the time i’d watch BET…..BARF”- and i look up and im like “holy shit- i just scared this kid”- this is one example of how my radical, black, punk rockness gets me in trouble and i wouldn’t trade it for the WORLD…….
Essence Harden is a current graduate student in the department of African American Studies at UC Berkeley. When she is not researching articulations of Black masculinity through 1980/90′s hair and styling practices you can find her reading sci-fi and eating bagels in her back lot/garden.