Blab July 2002
Published Jul 01, 2002As an inveterate introvert, a magesterial misanthrope, and a inherent inhibitionist, I sometimes have to force myself to commune with my public, if only so they don't get the impression that I'm a goddamn snob. That's why when I was asked by Wayne Baerwaldt, the hyper-kinetic new director of the Power Plant art gallery in Toronto, to participate in an interactive event several months ago, I figured it would be a good opportunity for me to hobnob with hoi polloi. I started my Polaroid performance art last year in Los Angeles at an event called Platinum Oasis (to which I will soon be returning for an encore) by taking instamatic shots of people posing on a bloody bed in a hotel room that had been decorated to look like a gruesome crime scene. Snaps went for five bucks a pop as people vogued enthusiastically with either a machete or a shotgun. The results were deliciously demonic. At the Power Plant, I had the bourgeoisie posing with my good friend and model extraordinaire Justus, who was serving up some deep South white trash amateur stripper realness, licking women's spike heels and tonguing the ears of distinguished elderly gentlemen with grey at the temples. It was such a rousing success that I was invited back to essay a similar performance at their annual fundraising event, the Power Ball.
This time around I decide to add to the poetic Justus a pinch of female flavour, so I ask my dear friend Sasha, the Eye magazine sex columnist and burlesque beauty queen, to participate. She jumps at the chance to get naked in public in front of a bunch of snobby rich people. We arrive at the Power Plant to discover that the large space I have been accorded has been meticulously decorated to my specifications: an old used mattress covered in plastic in front of a corner of the room fitted with 70s rec room basement faux-wood panelling. Calvin Klein, eat your heart out. If you have one.
Justus has brought along his favourite costume: a white Ted Nugent dinner jacket, white Kangol hat, and black knee socks. Just for laughs, Sasha, who performs burlesque regularly at Lee's Palace and other venues, has brought along a nun's habit and matching black bra, Pretty Baby-era frilly white bloomers, and a baby T-shirt she's just had made for the occasion that day with the word "Libber" written on it. You know, as in Women's libber? It reminds me of the scene in Frank Perry's production of Diary of a Mad Housewife in which a woman at a pay phone overhears Frank Langella being inordinately cruel to Carrie Snodgress (Neil Young's ex-girlfriend) at a snobby, bourgeois New York party, and when she hangs up she walks past him and declares, "I'm going to report you to Women's lib!" (If there was such a hotline, it would be impossible to get through.) As it turns out, the exact nature of what constitutes the liberation of women will later be open to hot debate.
Things start off innocuously enough, largely because in my experience, until the public is all liquored up, it is strangely unwilling to pose provocatively for dirty Polaroids with a nude model. This, of course, goes double for Canadians, who have a big fat quivering black butt-plug up the collective wazoo. A good example of this is the absurd, disgusting behaviour recently of a Canadian curator who attempted to censor my photographs of neo-Nazi skinheads from a large art exhibition in Milano, a city where a gallery already represents my work and has sold many of my photographs of skinheads and other human creatures to much acclaim. In an email to the curator who chose my work for the show, a professor of art history at Princeton named Ruben Gallo, this politically correct and humourless harridan had the gall to say that she was attempting to "protect the Italian public" from my dirty pictures, which she deemed offensive to homosexuals, Jews, and, presumably, Jewish homosexuals. Considering the work has already been praised and sold around the world, including a show sponsored by my Jewish New York gallerist Aaron Rose, I can only attribute her actions to a severe case of butt-plug-itis. The fact that this blatant act of censorship comes from Canada and from the left should come as no surprise, but please, read an art book, and a history book while you're at it before polluting Europe with your ignorance. Have you seen the work of fellow Canadian Attila Lucaks, who spent ten years in Berlin and often uses neo-Nazi skinheads as subject material, or heard or the work of Pasolini, the Italian cineaste whose movie Salo, about Italian fascists, was partly the inspiration for my neo-Nazi-themed work? Besides, art is meant to provoke and offend. Why don't you go examine your vagina in a hand mirror and make a video about it, you femi-Nazi.
Whew, I'm glad I got that off my pigeon chest. But I digress. As it turns out, there are also apparently a few Canadian femi-Nazis at the Power Ball. Sasha later informs me that more than one woman attempted to scold her for displaying her nude body in public for all to see, and for a male photographer at that, particularly when the accompanying male model only stripped down to his camouflage underwear (graciously furnished by artist Will Munro, whose profile and photographs by yours truly you can catch in the new Dutch magazine). Sasha patiently explained to the emaciated dames that there is nothing shameful about the female body, especially her voluptuous, natural one, that it's her choice to display her body, and that she finds it liberating and healthy you know, like the Europeans. (Incidentally, I asked Justus to take it all off, but he wasn't in the mood.) I'm extremely busy, what with wrangling the talent and meet-and- greeting the paying customers ($25 for a single Polaroid, and I get to keep one of two taken) and dealing with the obnoxious media who have swooped in like vultures. Well, some of them are nice, but the CBC is pushy, so I make the guy who wants his picture taken pay full price. Like all cheap Toronto media people, he thinks my services should be free and that I should be grateful for the publicity. Fat chance.
Fortunately, the Power Plant has provided me with two brilliant volunteers, a pair of middle aged black women who take charge of the money and the release forms and keep an eye on the Polaroid's I tape up on the wall of shame for people to peruse, just in case some rich, light-fingered drunk tries to steal one. Just as I suspected, once, while I'm preoccupied with shooting and the volunteers are busy with other customers, some jerk absconds with one of my important works of art. I'm extremely peeved that someone has Winona'd my prize Polaroid. I ask the black ladies to be even more vigilant, and they are: one of them catches some guy in a designer suit halfway out the door with a Polaroid tucked in his sweaty palm. She plucks it from his paw and scolds him for his bad behaviour. Later these two beautiful middle class volunteer ladies pose with the models, including Sasha in her full naked glory, without a trace of self-consciousness. Rich people are so self-conscious.
Many interesting people pass through, though, like the eight-and-a-half months pregnant lady who poses back to back with the nude Sasha, and the young married couple who want to be snapped strangling each other, and the little queen who wants the models to be worshipping him, like Truman Capote. Some people are condescending, others intrigued, but a good time is had by all. Particularly by those who check out the other entertainment for the evening, an excellent new Toronto band called the Hidden Cameras, or, as I like to call them, Peter Paul and Mary... and Mary... and Mary... and Mary...