Harlem ‘Hot House’ Reimagines Heaven and Hell

Julia Kennedy and Sojourner Truth Parsons, "Daisy Temple" (2014) (photograph by Julia Kennedy)
Julia Kennedy and Sojourner Truth Parsons, “Daisy Temple” (2014) (photograph by Julia Kennedy)

Artists have transformed a vacant townhouse in Spanish Harlem for New York’s 2014 Frieze weekend. The temporary exhibition, Hot House, spans three different levels loosely corresponding to the three parts of Dante’s Divine Comedy (1308–21): the basement is the Inferno, the middle section of the house is Purgatory, and the top is Paradise.

These three zones will feature various performances over the course of the weekend. Tonight, Friday May 9, a group of dancers in the Flex style will dramatically re-imagine hell’s twisted corpses. On Saturday night, the 10th, a harpist, a feast, and a salon of different performance artists will offer the artistic counterpoint of paradise (if you like it) or purgatory (if you don’t). Those performances will take place at 7pm; see below for full schedule details — there is no website.

Julia Kennedy and Sojourner Truth Parsons, "Daisy Temple" (2014) (photograph by Julia Kennedy)
Julia Kennedy and Sojourner Truth Parsons, “Daisy Temple” (2014) (photograph by Julia Kennedy)

The top level, Paradise, is covered with flowers in a space conceived by Julia Kennedy’s BlackRock/WhiteRock project. There are bouquets in every room of the living room space as well, and a large flower installation in the art exhibition room.

“Daisy Temple” (2014) weaves daisy chains around this once-empty space. The piece will only last for the weekend as the flowers are destined to wilt. The room also includes paintings by Sojourner Truth Parsons, which might not strike one as paradisiacal at first. “What what makes you think you’re the one who can laugh without crying, pissing on poodle Tuesday,” (2014 ) depicts a white poodle getting drenched by urine. It’s a reminder that paradise doesn’t have to be such a serious place, nor is it only for the immaculate. 

Jacques Vidal and his team from KnowMoreGames, a project space in Carroll Gardens, developed the middle Purgatory space. Each work explores a destabilizing sensibility and a tortured feeling lurks everywhere.

For KnowMoreGames, purgatory was an artistic re-imagining of an early T.G.I. Fridays restaurant. In its earliest days, the urban legend is that patrons that couldn’t afford to pay for their meal in cash would barter for their meal by bringing an object or Tchotchke to put on the wall to help them decorate. By putting clothes on the wall, they imagined the crazy lengths some might have gone to for a meal at the restaurant.

NoMoreGames "Thank Goodness I'm Myself " (2014)
NoMoreGames “Thank Goodness I’m Myself ” (2014) (photograph by author)

Anna Rosen “Untitled” (2014) shows a sun cavorting in pain. Even the sun can have a bad day, right?

Victoria Cheong’s “Detroit Waterfall” (2013) depicts this eerie glowing green river. This broken water main in Detroit at night takes on an otherworldly quality. Meanwhile, Jo Nigoghossian’s  “Steel and rubber crawler, purple” (2014) appears burdened and weighed down by a purple, tumor-like mass. It was at first hard to tell if this work of art was part of the show or part of the refuse that the artists found in the space.

Jo Nigoghossian, "Steel and rubber crawler, purple" (2014)
Jo Nigoghossian, “Steel and rubber crawler, purple” (2014) (photograph by author)

Another piece, which curators resisted classifying as art, placed fish in milk cartons filled with water. This fish emits a toxic urine that will eventually kill it in the carton.  It’s a provocative analogy about how we can trap ourselves in such a small existential space that we end up poisoning ourselves. The name for the installation, a riff on TGIF — thank goodness I’m myself — becomes more haunting with this PETA-violating analogy of self-inflicted purgatory.

No More Games, "Thank Goodnes I'm Myself" (2014) (photo by author)
No More Games, “Thank Goodnes I’m Myself” (2014) (photograph by author)

Whereas purgatory is about enduring suffering, the Inferno is a place of hopeless lost causes. The underground basement area is dark with this overwhelming fetid smell. After climbing down several stairs, the big dark space is illuminated with a glowing sculpture by Ben Phelan, “Exo-Spectral Vector Gaming” (2013).

Ben Phelan "Exo Spectral Vector Grating" (2013) (installation view) (photo by author)
Ben Phelan “Exo Spectral Vector Grating” (2013) (installation view) (photograph by author)

The Divine Comedy wasn’t really just about the afterlife. It was an allegory on how life can feel like a punishing purgatory, a hopeless inferno, or a blissful paradise. When you feel the Inferno, can you see the stars that only appear in the dark, like Ben Phelan? When you feel Purgatory, can you shine like Anna Rosen’s sun, despite its anguish? Is feeling heavenly connected with not taking ourselves so immaculately seriously, like Sojourner Truth Parson’s pissed-on poodle?

Hot House is located at 418 East 115th Street in Spanish Harlem, Manhattan. There is no website. It is joint presentation by BlackRock/WhiteRock, KnowMoreGames, and the Night Gallery. It will be open Friday, May 9th 11am–10pm, Saturday May 10th 11am –10pm, and Sunday May 11th 10am–6pm.

On Friday May 9th at 7pm, there will be a flex dance performance by FlexNation, DJ Dog Dick, Barkev Gusselarian, Raphael Lyons, and a cellist. 

On Saturday May 10th at 7pm, there will be a showcase of performances by several performance artists: Jen Rosenblit, Michael Mahalcheck, Jennifer Castle, Sara Gernsbacher, Victoria Cheong, Tasseomancy, Curt Kobain, Butoh dancers and a harpist.

On Sunday May 11th, breakfast will be served all day.

comments (0)