As I traverse the city from day to day, commuting to work or running errands or out alone or with friends, there are always interesting moments on the streets of NYC. The vast majority of us merely keep our eyes straight ahead focused on our tasks or destinations, ignoring the personal realities of the strangers around us. Generally, I find inspiration in public life and try to remain open to whatever maybe going on around me. Unfortunately, at times observing life can be very upsetting. However, generally, there’s plenty to celebrate, so I’ve started a video series capturing the pleasurable or unexpected in urban life.
It was late and I didn’t want to miss the train that I heard arrive, otherwise I was itching to join that guy and dance along, following his quebradita to the drone.
This past Saturday night a bit before 9pm, I stepped down into a basement apartment in Long Island City, Queens, just a couple blocks from MoMA PS 9. A few weeks ago, I read glowing reviews about Siobhan O’Loughlin’s immersive theater piece Broken Bone Bathtub that occurs in private bathrooms, so I decided to check it out. Once through a small door that I had to duck under, a coat rack outside the apartment entrance received the audience. I went with a friend and we entered behind a young couple who were very excited about the experience. We stepped in to the living room of the apartment and were greeted by a cheery hostess who invited us to chocolate fondue and nuts and a few other appetizers. Red wine was also available, but required a small donation. The hostess, told us about herself, the apartment – voluntarily lent by immersive theater fans and the actress as we waited for the Siobhan to gather herself; this was the second performance of the evening.
A few minutes later, another young woman nodded to the hostess indicating that the actress was ready for us. The hostess asked for two volunteers who would be comfortable speaking and contributing to the piece. Two young women raised their hands and were taken to the bathroom for introductions and instructions. A few minutes later, the remaining four of us, were invited to enter the small bathroom; the audience was a total of six.
Siobhan sat naked in a cast iron bathtub, her breasts concealed by soap bubbles. The two volunteers sat adjacent to the bathtub and the rest of us took seats on a toilet, stool, small chair and small plastic step stool. The actress thanked us for coming asked if we were all comfortable and then began her narrative. Her left arm was in a cast, decorated with signatures and drawings. She told us about the pain and the time necessary to recover from a broken bone and the difficulties of day to day life with her left arm in a cast. She began to detail how the accident happened, riding her bike to an activist meeting along the west side of Prospect Park, headed to Grand Army Plaza. She asked if we were familiar with the area, everybody appeared to be and as I ride it regularly, she asked me to describe it. Following my description of the area, she told us that it was a rainy night and there was a husband and wife riding south as she rode north. It was dark and wet and perhaps the couple had been riding in tandem. She collided with the woman. The husband immediately attended to her wife as Siobhan found herself alone and in a great deal of pain…
Through the performance, topics such as who do we call at a moment of emergency, loneliness, whether or not we cry, were discussed by both the actress and the audience. She seamlessly moved through the responses from audience members back to her narrative. At one point she sang a song as one of the volunteers either scrubbed her back or conditioned her hair. She joked that throughout this period of healing, she borrowed the bathrooms of friends in order to not be alone. And throughout the performance she made sure to include each audience member.
The piece was smart and thought provoking. Unfortunately, the bathroom door was left ajar and at the beginning, the residents of the apartment were taking cell phone photos of us in their bathroom. Later, at times it was distracting to look out to the living room and see people on their devices. However, in general, the manner that Siobhan was able to weave the audiences’s discussion in to her performance was impressive. The one weak element in the piece was unfortunately the conclusion.
Siobhan entered a seemingly heartfelt conclusion, she allowed herself to cry as she discussed moving on from the healing period. The crying and the final monologue felt contrived in comparison to the rest of the performance, because unlike the preceding narrative, it did not engage dialogue, but was instead prescriptive. The uniqueness presented by the back and forth between the actress and each audience was broken and the piece reverted to conventional theater – a one way presentation. It would have been transformative, if each conclusion appeared to vary given the audience interaction. Siobhan could still maintain the underlying message, but it would be great if she was able to draw from what was shared by a given audience to inform the concluding monologue rather than loose the sense of immersion.
On a February Friday afternoon walking along Fulton near Nostrand in Brooklyn, my son and I encountered an artist/writer/performer/thinker mounting painted wooden statements or declarations to the temporary plywood of a construction site. We paused to ask him about his declarations and he broke them down one by one. According to the artist each sign represents a book that he is working on, but they also sound like moments and reflections from his life.
Last night, I strolled through the vast Volta13 Art Fair at Pier 90 in Manhattan. For the most part, the fair did not present anything particularly exciting, but below are a few of the works that I considered beautiful and interesting.
Donald to Donald: “I am the most famous man in the world. I AM THE MOST FAMOUS MAN IN THE WORLD. I CAN DO ANYTHING! I have OVER 25 MILLION TWITTER FOLLOWERS. I AM THE MOST FAMOUS MAN IN THE WORLD! I need to have another rally!”
Steve Bannon enters the room.
Steve to Donald: “Donald, we’ve got to turn back the clock! This country is in total disarray. It’s our job to clean things up. We’ve got to stop people from illegally pouring in to our country and taking away our resources. Stealing the welfare from hard working Americans!”
Donald to Steve: “Steve, you write it up and I sign it! 100% agree! I’m here to make America great again. This is why I won by a landslide!”
Donald to Donald: “I am AMAZING!”
Steve to Steve: “My dreams will be realized! White Christian Right America once again! Ours for at least the next 50 years, perhaps a 100 years when we get the second and third terms!”
Donald to Donald: “I love this office! I need an escape to the Southern White House! I need a rally! The people need to adore me!”
Steve to Donald: “I’ll get to work and have something drafted by the morning. Oh and we need to do something about the gays. People can’t just be going into any bathroom they want! The perverts can harm the innocent.”
Donald to Steve: “Draw it up! I’ll sign it!”
Donald to Donald: “I am amazing. The people love me! RALLY!”
Animator Kelly Sears creates eerie speculative narratives by superimposing a voice on to archival footage. The voice presents a state of surveillance and authoritarianism as the viewer watches post-war American footage that she manipulates through various forms of animation. Sears’s work has even greater resonance and seems increasingly foreboding given the Trumpian political climate.
Although “The Rancher” (2012) uses footage of Lyndon B. Johnson, upon listening to the narration, Trump immediately comes to mind.
“Voice on the Line” (2009) stirs to mind the NSA’s wiretapping, but again with Trump’s assault on immigrants and initial legislative actions, the Trump administration and ICE come to mind as I watch excerpts from this film in which a secret police listen to conversations with phone operators. Unknowingly the operators have become complicit in the monitoring and spying of the U.S. population.
Yesterday was a snow day. 9.4 inches of powder fell upon New York City along with gusting winds and cold temperatures causing much of that snow to turn to ice. One person died in the Upper East Side. As my 8 year old son was at home with his mother, I wanted to spend time with him, so around mid-day I ventured out for a 20 minute walk over to their place from Park Slope to Prospect Heights. Due to the wind and swirling snow, the walk was frigid and unpleasant. I get there, my son and I hang out for a bit primarily working on a comic that we are co-authoring, but my ex appears hell-bent on getting our kid outside the apartment. He badly wants a play date, because I don’t present the company he wants as he complains of being alone.
Since I had first-hand experience being outside, I wasn’t so keen on taking him out. However, it was now a couple hours later, the snow had stopped and according to my ex the wind had calmed down. She showed us a picture of a few people sledding in Prospect Park and told us to get outside. In the tradition of our failed marriage, I obliged against my own judgement. In order to satiate my kid’s demand, I offered to take one of his friends and that boy’s little sister (a first grader) out with us. (The two boys are in the third grade.) The parents were happy to accept the offer. My son quickly got ready and gleefully ran down the block and half to his friend’s building.
After a meltdown by the little girl with her mom over mittens that were not at all for the snow, we all head out. For the most part it’s fine, though the two boys are kind of not listening. But after 1.5hr, the big brother pegs the little sister in the arm with a piece of ice, she breaks down crying and between sobs tells me that she’s going to have a bruise there. So, I say it’s time to go. The girl is at my side ready to head home, however the boys are still throwing ice. I start yelling. We trudge along and get the brother and sister home (not without incident as the friend pelts my kid’s head with a large piece of ice). After dropping them off, my kid has a melt down because he wants to stay with his friend… He informs me that I’m not his father, I’m just a guy named Ricardo.
I drop him off at his mother’s, then I head to my place which means crossing Prospect Park. At this point, the temperature is dropping and the winds are gusting and everywhere I look, kids are crying and parents are either ignoring them as they drag them along or yelling at the kids. One mom chaperoning four kids, looses a kid on the sled that she is pulling as a large mound of ice causes him to bounce off the sled. It’s five paces later, with everyone observing yelling to her that she lost a kid that she finally looks back only to scream at the kid to hurry up and run…
The take away – take the kids out sledding the day after the snow storm.
The underlying narrative to the many promises that Trump made to his following during the long presidential campaign was a return to the idyllic and fictive whiteness of post World War II America. This is a socially conservative and materialistic culture obsessed with modern appliances, ease of life, conformity and the centrality of white privilege… This is Trump’s America First.
So how can the current administration divert the progression of the browning of America, the progression of religious diversity, the progression of the diversification of race and gender identity?
The Trump administration hopes to do so by sealing up the border by adding to the existing wall to keep the Latinos out and by instituting the Muslim Ban. In order to veil the America First racist agenda, Trump deals in fear, because these presidential executive orders are enacted in order to protect the United States from terrorism and crime. It is well documented that no terror attacks have been enacted by citizens of the 7 targeted nations. In Trump’s America First Brown equals Terror and Whiteness equals Safety, Normality and Privilege
The 2017 Presidential Inauguration inspired this mashup:
So I export a lot of my illustrations or frames from my animations to images that can be printed onto various products from t-shirts to coffee mugs to stickers and I post them to RedBubble or Society6 or TeePublic. This design I really like and I partly do this because I want to wear some of the stuff that I draw, and this is such a case.