Monday, January 14, 2013

A Women For Sale: Marie Karlberg & Stand-UpII: Casey Jane Ellison and Jackie Mason at 1:1, New York, NY

Even though this city is big, at times it feels very small.  This can feel suffocating at times but there are also times when it feels like the universal alignments must be a sign that you are doing something okay within your meta-sphere.  This is currently happening to me and an artist run project space called 1:1 (1 to 1) located at 121 Essex Street in the Lower East Side.  It is run by four artists, Jarret Earnest, Leigha Mason, Whitney Vangrin and Alex Sloane and has been open for about a year and a year is all it will last (at least in this physical incarnation), for from the beginning it was only to be a yearlong project.  I have only become more focused in my awareness of 1:1 in the last few weeks because they are coalescing their end date, which will be on February 14th, with a slew of events under the header, “All The Best People,” and some of those people I know of.  I have attended two events in the last two weeks, a performance piece by Marie Karlberg and a stand-up comedy set by Casey Jane Ellison and Jackie Mason.  Both were more then worth seeing and reflects on a few interesting things going on in art. 

Marie Karlberg’s performance title, A Women For Sale, immediately made me have to see it.  The last few years has seen a wave of performance art and an institutional embrace of it that has made it all seem a bit drab now, but I was curious to see what was to happen in this performance, as the synopsis for the work read like a craigslist/online dating add mixed with a sardonic proto-feminist satire.  Feminism and art is always a tricky mix but I am a bona-fide art lover and feminist so I was more then eager to see how it would turn out. 

1:1’s space is generous for an artist’s run space and white paint, track lights and a plain wood floor have neutralized it.  It all looks very D.I.Y though, not in a bad way, but you can tell there were no contractor’s hands in the transformation of the space.  It is long and feels spacious enough to not feel too tight with more then 30 people inside.  I am compunctually on time so I was one of the first to arrive and had a chance to talk to a few of the space’s organizers in the intermediate.  Then the crowds came, which filled in quickly and had many art world signifiers of hip relevancy in attendance like Patti Hertling, K8Hardy, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Kim Gordon, and a slew of the Reena Spaulings crew. Plus many-many more art insiders and fashionables. 

The set up for the performance was in the front of the space with big windows facing onto the street.  There was an assortment of props: clothes, books, a chair.  Karlberg started on the chair and sat poised in a mesh black shirt and then a recording began with her own voice.  The artist is very alluring in both physicality and confidence, there is an old world lustiness that reminds you of Bardot but there is also a flick in her eyes that seems slightly animal.  The recording begins to introduce herself, “Hi, My Name is Marie…” and goes on to tell her generic physical stats like age and background.  It then goes into her cueing herself to sit up straight, to smile, to have open shoulders.  As the recording is playing, Karlberg performs the cues, she is always silent, and directing her gaze intensely at the audience.  The recording goes on to cue her how to best walk, how to express confidence and then how to use clothing, music, and literature to reflect her uniqueness and worth, and how these things can be used to reflect that she is a “university women.”  There is a clumsiness at points in the performance, as it is a mix of both heightened gesturing but also trying to convey a sincerity of the recorded words being expressed.  There were also moments of off syncopation with the recorded voice with the timing of actions, which was not a failure but something that made it a bit awkward at times.  Looking back though, the awkwardness was a nice element, as it made the trivialness of the actions being performed seem more familiar.  In the end, Karlberg presents herself through her verbal recorded self-reveals and also her composing herself into the idealized perfect-women-potentiality of herself as something for sale as a companion.  This ‘for sale’ element was more a gesture then the actual purpose of the performance but it finalized the points being made. 

As a woman, listening and watching this performance made me grimace at myself and at the truth of what she was conveying.  Her performance was smart and witty and more successful then I could have even thought possible with the subject matter.

This past Saturday I went to another 1:1 event, this time for stand-up comedy, which to me, at times is a more stimulating form of performance art.  The comedians were Casey Jane Ellison, who I know a bit from another context entirely and Jackie Mason, who I don’t know at all.  I was very curious to see Ellison’s set as her Aboveground Animation project is bonkers good and her recent cameo’s on V-Files with her “Status Updates” are very funny.  Also, female comedians, yeah!  The audience for this event was far fewer then it was for Karlberg’s but with only a slight awkwardness it still went on and the sets of both Ellison and Mason were very funny to see.  Mason went on first and she was quick and confident and seemed to be enjoying herself while in front.  She also looked fabulous in 1950s red.  Ellison also did a great set, even through a cold/flu and her ‘tiny virgin’ joke was really perfect.  Stand-up comedy is a painfully difficult form to do.  Its success is based on an expected response, laughter.  It leaves little room for failure, misunderstanding or vagueness.  There is something lethal about this but also can be the most pure example of art when it hits the mark.  I have to give a hell of a round of applause for both for doing it even with a lack of bodies in the room. 

1:1 is doing a lot of good things.  It seems sad that they are closing but I think highly strategic and smart.  New York City is a tough place to be weird and do weird things without the expectation of monetary gain.  This is a gain for all in another way though, it creates connections and contexts and builds, for those running it and participating in it, culture credits that may one day pay in monetary or other life sustaining ways.  There are a bunch more events in store at the space so go to some if you can before another weird New York City art-project-space closes this chapter of their story.