If a Large Event Happens in the East Village in the 1980s and No One Writes About it, Is it a Large Event?
Yesterday, I had an experience that apparently is quite commonplace for today’s teenagers, except that no one was naked or passed out. I discovered a picture (above) which I didn’t know existed, posted on the internet.
It’s from a piece I was in called “Goya Time.” And it what made it surprising was that I was looking for just this kind of thing in 2011 when I was applying for a New York State Council of the Arts “Original Work” grant for a piece called the Forgotten History of Staten Island. I was looking, in fact, for anything I could find about my past work.
The Forgotten History’s theme was the malleability and unreliability of history. In order to get the grant, I had to demonstrate (among other things) “a) artistic excellence and cultural significance” and “d) artist’s experience in regard to the proposal.”
The project involved a multitude of different disciplines, some of which I hadn’t been involved in for a couple of decades; and I had never applied for a grant before. So I didn’t have any kind of a resume that I could have submitted to NYSCA that would justify “A)” or “D)”. Thus I had to do a considerable amount of research on myself. Dates, places, names, spellings, all had to be retrieved.
In today’s context, that doesn’t sound too difficult. Every sneeze and fart that mankind has experienced in the past 5 years is now permanently installed on a Google server somewhere. But I was going back decades, and many things were difficult, or impossible, to find.
In a truly Borgesian moment: I discovered the fallibility and unreliability of my own history, while working to get a grant for a piece whose theme was the malleability and unreliability of history, in general.
I found myself swinging between a sense of outrage that the monumental effort I had gone through the over the years had ultimately resulted so little reward, and so much obscurity; and the sensation that I was perpetrating some kind of hoax on NYSCA. Who was I exactly? Had I just imagined the preceding lifetime? And what about all the people I worked with, quite a few of whom are now dead. Did everything they do just evaporate into the ether? Did I imagine them too?
In more rational moments, I reflected that practically nothing done in those days in the East Village (or the New York Underground art world, in general) was covered by anything more than a listing. Nor was that really the goal. How underground can you be if you have some flack begging the New York Times to show up? Of course no one sees this as a paradox nowadays. And perhaps that’s the better attitude. It’s certainly the more practical one.
Goya Time was perhaps the largest single event I was involved in. It had over 80 participants, and an audience of at least several hundred, and I think maybe more. Enough people to fill up a couple of floors of a Lower Eastside space called Cuando, sometimes spelled C.U.A. N. D. O. – I think, (couldn’t find it on the net). I don’t remember how I got cast in the piece. I was active in the downtown performance scene at the time; had done a couple of episodes of Chang in a Void Moon at the Pyramid Club; and my own serial The Onyx Fool had just finished a 3 month run at 8 B.C. But I didn’t know anyone in the Goya Time production. So I must have responded to an ad somewhere.
Sandro Dernini produced the piece through his organization Plexus International which now has a website and devoted this page to Goya Time. I think that’s the place to go for a summary of the basic concept of the piece, which was quite complicated. http://www.plexusinternational.org/182/16/products/goya_time_1985_new_york.html
I played Prince Carlos, (I think that was his name) a member of the Spanish Royal Family depicted by Goya, who in this incarnation became the ‘Art World Royal Family.’ We were directed by, gentle, but firm, Rajaa Fischer, who had worked with The Living Theater. Aside from the actors, there was also a dance troupe led by Dancer /choreographer Gloria McLean, and an orchestra of a dozen or so, led by Butch Morris who also wrote the score. He died recently and in contrast to previous neglect, received a large obit in the New York Times.
One unusual aspect of the production (at least to me) was that we never rehearsed with other members of the company. In other words, the actors never rehearsed with the dancers, or musicians, or visual artists. Sandro, who was coordinating things, would pop in from time to time and see how it was going. Although, he was never voluble, or frenetic, when I encountered him, he seemed to be in a state of perpetual motion. I remember thinking of him as sort of a downtown, Italian, Florenz Ziegfeld. Through him, little snippets of what was happening in the rest of production would sometimes emerge. I remember once that he was frustrated that Gretta Sarfaty (who was portraying the Naked Maja, and was the centerpiece of the whole project) wanted to perform in a body stocking, instead of actually being nude. Reflecting on what has since transpired on the Internet, I think that this may have been a demonstration of prescience on her part.
I spent a lot of time in rehearsals, walking arm in arm with the lovely lady in the picture, Lynn Kanter, a talented photographer, who was my consort in the piece. And this proved to be a strange coincidence. I was living on East 10th street at the time. And before long, I found out that she had also lived on East 10th street about a decade earlier. Gradually, it emerged that she had lived in my apartment — not the apartment building, the very same 200 square foot apartment. It was nice to meet someone who had shared my suffering.
Essentially, my role involved getting dressed up in a fabulous costume, strolling around, and acting like an arrogant idiot. Being somewhat familiar with the local club scene of the time, I didn’t have to do too much research for the part. Although, I did brush up on my Goya, which was fun, because he was a hero of mine.
Since the dancers and musicians and visual artists all rehearsed separately , we all had no idea of what exactly was going to transpire when we got to Cuando. In that way, the performers were also part of the audience, that is to say that – we were all taking it in, even as we were putting out, so to speak). I remember after the Art World Royal Family’s part ended, we pushed our way through the crowd, and I headed for the bar. I got a bottle of beer, wandered around and watched the rest of production. There was no access to dressing rooms, so I was still in my velvet duds, and wearing a ton of makeup. I remember, as I noticed the lipstick smear on my Rolling Rock, that the realization struck me that my role wouldn’t be over until I left the building. It was quite a spectacle. I was a small cog in the production, but I was happy to be a part of the beautiful chaos, and to see it all.
The photo below is one I have seen before. Both photos (I believe) were taken by Jeffrey M. Day
Necessity is the Mother of ReInvention
I knew when I set out to do this blog that if I tried to do some kind of chronological narrative of my fabulous career, it would end up in shreds. I also knew it would be kind of tempting in the beginning. So I thought the best thing to do was to make a big jump in time, right from the get go. This painting is from the Modern Venus Series that I started in the late 1990s. I hadn’t been painting for almost 20 years at that point and I only started again because been I had some arm overuse injuries that prevented me from playing the guitar. Music was everything to me at that point in my life, and I just was hoping to keep myself busy until I could play again on a regular basis.
Before my hiatus I was an abstract painter. But just before starting up again, I had been looking at a lot of classic pin up art; and It occurred to me that maybe I could combine the two. The Modern Venus Series is what I came up with. This is Modern Venus #15. It’s 22″ X 30,” Gouache, and acrylic on paper.