Following the passage of the same-sex marriage bill in New York and a recent weekend of LGBT pride, it just felt right to attend curator Bradford Nordeen’s “Dirty Looks.” The series is a monthly platform for experimental queer film and video that Nordeen affectionately describes as “roaming”—June’s event was held at P.P.O.W. Gallery in Chelsea, though it takes place in various venues across the city.
The feeling at P.P.O.W. was exciting; perhaps everyone was riding the high of the past weekend’s victories. With a full house, Nordeen introduced “Female Trouble: A Genderfuck Program,” a series of works exploring queer and feminine identities from drag queens to the hyper-femininity of Narcissister. Featuring works from 1967 to the present, Nordeen’s lineup created a discussion about gender bending (or, in his own words, “genderfucking”) throughout history.
Conrad Ventur’s “Mario Montez Screen” (2010), a quiet piece, set a contemplative tone. Ventur has teamed up with Rene Rivera, a.k.a. Mario Montez, the “Puerto Rican drag queen darling” of Andy Warhol’s Factory, to begin reenacting some of Warhol’s screen tests. This particular piece feels like a meditation, perhaps on Rivera’s own journey: after his active collaboration with artists like Warhol and Jack Smith, he retired his drag persona and moved to Florida. The decision may have saved his life from the AIDS epidemic. Now, thirty years later, “Mario Montez” is collaborating with Ventur to capture some of these moments again, adding layers to the conversation. Montez’s unwavering gaze coupled with silence becomes almost reflective to the audience.
Using her purple heels to evoke German fascism, Patti Podesta’s “Stepping” (1980) brought us into trance-like territory. Podesta portrays constant tension, walking delicately atop the surface of one open windowpane to another. One uncut shot follows Podesta’s feet as she walks anxiously back and forth to Nico’s “Deutschland Uber Alles” – the long shot emphasizes trepidation.
Next we took a plunge into queer history with pioneering experimental filmmaker Steven Arnold. Arnold’s pieces (in this show, “Messages, Messages” (1968) and “The Liberation of Mannique Mecanique” (1967) are dream-like visions of androgynous beings. Their narratives are modern-day fairy tales and reveries about gender—all through the lens of an acid trip.
Otherworldiness was definitely a theme of the evening. Following “Messages, Messages,” the audience was thrust into the present. “The first time I saw her perform, it blew my mind… and then stuff came out of her veej,” proclaims a flier from Santos’ Party House, describing Brooklyn-based performance artist Narcissister. Narcissister and Joseph Kraska’s “Every Woman” (2010) video work is an unsettling reverse striptease: standing on a platform, Narcissister, nude, begins dressing herself by pulling clothing out of her orifices to the music of Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman.” Playing with ideas of body image and universality in her Barbie mask, Narcissister forces the viewer to consider voyeurism and sex work as well.
“FISH: A Matrilineage of Cunty White-Woman Realness” (2008) is a conversation between Zackary Drucker and her mother. In rapid-fire dialogue the two, dressed up in overly femme-y blonde, curly wigs and makeup, explore the disjuncture and connections between the “second wave” (1960s-1970s) of feminism with contemporary concerns. This is further illustrated by the mother-daughter relationship of the two characters and their shared, yet different, positions as women. Drucker specifies her trans identity in playfully descriptive lines like, “I love my snatchy bitchy lispy fishy sissy cunty cross-dressing drag queen daughter / son.”
Vaginal Davis’ “Barbi Twins” (1993) was a perfect follow-up to “Fish,” continuing a fun and campy vibe, as to be expected from the infamous Ms. Davis (a founder of the queer punk and zine movement “queercore,” performance artist and filmmaker). In “Barbi Twins,” we follow Davis and her “sister” (clearly not her sister) as they run around L.A. and brag about how everybody loves them. Well, it’s true.
Nordeen’s program was rounded out with a dynamic Q&A session featuring select artists. Utilizing works from a range of moments in art and queer history, Nordeen curated a unique conversation about gender, sexuality, identities and perception. As if I didn’t have enough reason to return for this month’s “Dirty Looks,” it will be screened on a rooftop!
July’s “Dirty Looks” will be a rooftop screening of “Under the Stars” at Silvershed, 119 West 25th Street PH, New York, NY 10001. Visit dirtylooksnyc.org for more info.
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.