Underground in Kenny Scharf’s Cosmic Cavern, a Williamsburg, Brooklyn basement covered from floor to ceiling with neon knickknacks, furniture, disco-balls and murals, last Saturday night, I, along with about 250 other attendees, traveled to the place where the wild things are with Michael Alan’s Living Installation.
Drawing inspiration from Maurice Sendak‘s renowned children’s book, Michael Alan’s Living Installation “Where the Wild Things Are” manufactured a fantastical and hallucinatory world, including a tree-woman splattered in paint and sticks, a man-baby adorned with a crown laughing and mocking the audience and Alan, his face increasingly obscured by layers of day-glo paint, drawing, spray-painting, gluing and transforming the six performers throughout the night.
As a celebration for Alan’s birthday and as a record release party for his album Sound Drawing, “Where the Wild Things Are” featured six performers in addition to Alan, including Dave-Glo-Dello, Theresa Magario™, Raquel Mavecq, Nick Greenwald, Dylan Morgan and Kim De’Ville, all of whom moved to music from Alan’s new album as well as live music by Jarvis Earnshaw.
I have seen Michael Alan’s Living Installation three times previously, twice in the Cosmic Cavern and once in ABC No Rio and Saturday night’s performance was possibly the best I have experienced. This was a nice surprise considering in the two weeks leading up to the show, it seemed as if this performance was destined not to happen because of a personal injury (he hurt his back by lifting a heavy air-conditioner into his windowless studio). Two days, in another possibly sign that this show would not happen, he also badly cut his hand. Barely able to walk for over a week, Alan spent time in his studio on his back, learning GarageBand in order to compose songs for his album and struggling to make masks constructed out of small toys, baseball cards and found pieces of paper for the show.
Armed with only a back brace and artistic drive, Alan ignored the insistence of many friends and allowed the show to go on, making a near inexplicable and visually stunning performance.
And Now, Let the Wild Rumpus Start
Michael Alan’s Living Installation is difficult to put into lucid words, which is part of its joy for me since I appreciate the challenge. Walking down the steep steps into Scharf’s Cosmic Cavern, I pulled back the velvet curtain to discover a world of sensory overload, with blasts of colors, the smell of neon and spray-paint and Alan’s own strange electronic sounds.
When I arrived at the Cosmic Cavern, five performers were standing or sitting separate from one another in front of Scharf’s day-glo spray-painted mural, depicting a nuclear blast. Taped over the mural were three line drawings on white paper by Alan, one of which had been already spray-painted over and the others glowing in the black-light. Covered in paint, glue, baby powder, masks, hats and holding toys, the performers, each according to their own character, moved in time with the music.
After about an hour, the sixth performer, Kim De’Ville, was added to the show, emerging from the back of the Cosmic Cavern clothed with nothing but a mask. In only a few minutes, Alan covered De’Ville in paint and gave her a Gremlin doll, which she held near her chest almost like the Madonna and Child.
Watching the performance, I felt as if I was taken on a voyage to another, maybe primordial world. As time went on, the performers were barely recognizable as human, becoming more and more like fantastic art objects.
Many reviews of Michael Alan’s Living Installation refer to the performers as living sculptures but that does not fully capture the whirlwind of art-making that is involved in the show. Every kind of artistic process is used, from painting and sculpture to graffiti and the music by Alan and Earnshaw. For Alan, the Living Installation is about surpassing the categories of art. As Alan explains, “Art is now. Alive, changing, living, talking, loving, lasting, challenging who we think we are.” Rather than slotting art into a strict set of categories and styles, the Living Installation presents the idea that art can be everything — a more contemporary version of a Gesamtkunstwerk, perhaps.
While the performance occurs, the audience members also become involved in the creative process by sketching to painting to drawing on themselves with day-glo paint.
While Alan does not paint the audience, breaks in the boundaries between the audience and performance occur. I was made to sit on a whoopee cushion, which I did at first with some reluctance and then a second time with more gusto. Alan also gave me a fairly creepy glue-covered yarn baby that looked like a combination of Mr. Peanut and voodoo doll.
While the chaotic sensory barrage of performers, nudity, electronic music and the background of the Cosmic Cavern may not be for everyone, the underlying message of Michael Alan’s Living Installation seems to be a positive celebration of creativity in any form it takes. Alan encourages the audience to explore. “Make art out of anything, it comes from everywhere, twist it, love it, let it go,” he says.
Alan’s own art objects have recently incorporated aspects of the dynamic movements and dreamlike visions of the Living Installation. Known for his intricate, skeletal drawings and paintings of bodies, his current work such as “Everything Is You” (2011), with its random streams of color and hidden faces, appears as a two-dimensional representation of what it feels like to watch a Living Installation.
For me, Alan’s Living Installation “Where the Wild Things Are” represents what art should be — confusing, bewildering, slightly frightening and ultimately alive, transcendent and completely ephemeral, bringing the audience into a new creative world.
Leaving the bright Cosmic Cavern that night, I felt as if I had been thrown back into the dark, empty streets of Williamsburg much like Max arriving back home after visiting the land of the Wild Things.
Michael Alan’s Living Installation will be performing “The Wedding/Vampire Circus: A Double Feature” at ABC No Rio on September 16, 2011. Alan’s work can also be seen in two group shows: I-20 Gallery’s MAKE Skateboards until September 17, 2011 and Dead In August at The Pentagon, Brooklyn until September 9, 2011.