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The politics of memory

By Alan Gilbert

Wong.jpg
Martin Wong, King of Pain, 1997–98
Dean Daderko is an imaginative and adventurous independent curator working in New York City. A few years back, he turned the living room of his ground-floor Brooklyn apartment into one of the more interesting alternative art spaces in the city.


Parlour Projects hosted solo and multi-artist shows, performances, screenings, even a reading group. Parlour Projects is closed, but Daderko continues to curate various exhibitions around the city. His most recent one, sponsored by Visual AIDS and held at La MaMa La Galleria, was entitled SIDE X SIDE, and featured work by Lower East Side-affiliated artists Scott Burton, Kate Huh, Nicholas Moufarrege, Martin Wong, and Carrie Yamaoka.
As Daderko writes in his curator’s statement: “The exhibition considers the impact of AIDS on a generation of artists faced with the onset of the epidemic” (Burton, Moufarrege, and Wong all died of AIDS-related causes). Not by coincidence, the art on display prominently featured different modes of inscription: whether literally in text incorporated into pieces by Huh, Moufarrege, and Wong, or more implicitly in Yamaoka’s etched-glass work. While Burton’s video INDIVIDUAL BEHAVIOR TABLEAUX (1980) doesn’t include text, it’s record of a male figure enacting precise formal movements illustrates the way in which power is able to script itself onto the body, and why for queer activists and feminists alike, the body is a fundamental site of conflict and resistance.
Thus, it made sense that there would be an accompanying reading, and last night Huh, Sara Marcus, and Eileen Myles each presented work to a large group of artists, writers, curators, and activists filling the gallery. Huh read short poems that consisted of individual words and lines printed out and then taped into a stenographer’s notebook. Dating from the early ’80s, the project was aptly titled Steno Notebook. She then read from tiny artist books produced on a photocopier that combined her own words—usually 50 or less—with appropriated images. Huh finished up by reading copies of her miniature zine Rebel Fux!, again photocopied, and again utilizing found imagery, oftentimes in collaboration with another author’s text. A person videotaping Huh’s hands from behind produced a live feed that projected on an adjacent monitor the visual dimension of her notebooks, books, and zines. Many of these materials were also on display in vitrines in the gallery.
Sara Marcus is a poet, journalist, and critic who also curates the QT: Queer Readings at Dixon Place series. She began with a few poems that led into the main part of her reading: a work-in-progress history of the Riot Grrrl movement from the personal perspective of Marcus’s own participation in a mid-’90s DC-based offshoot. The excerpts she read sounded strong, and ranged from the description of an important 1992 march on Washington for women’s reproductive rights to a close reading of the lyrics to Bikini Kill’s song “Rebel Girl”—emphasizing their affective as much as their ideological aspect. Riot Grrrl was, in Marcus’s words, a “social movement of history with a soundtrack.” If the book doesn’t have a publisher yet, I’m sure it’ll find one soon.
A Riot Grrrl before they even existed, Eileen Myles gave a typically propulsive reading, all the more impressive for the lack of a mic, the gallery’s crappy acoustics, and the warm, stuffy air. I’ve already blogged about one Myles reading this summer, so I’ll keep it relatively brief and say that she read from a different section than the one I heard at Naropa of her currently unpublished manuscript The Inferno: A Poet’s Novel. The excerpt is very funny, detailing as it does Myles’s early years in New York City discovering different poetry communities and attending various readings—as well as giving her first public poetry reading. It’s a spot-on depiction of what it’s like to be an insecure poet in one’s twenties, trying to fit in, and, more comically, trying to figure out exactly what one likes, as opposed to what one’s supposed to like. Ouch. We’ve all been there. The section she read threatens to do for the New York City ’70s bohemian poet scene what Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives did for its Mexico City equivalent. I hope Myles’s book gets as much attention and sells as many copies as Bolaño’s has. It deserves it, and Myles rocks.

Comment (1)

  • On August 8, 2008 at 10:33 am Anitra Haendel wrote:

    This was my first poetry reading, and it gave me an excellent first impression.
    I loved the way Kate simply sat, turned and read the pages from the original little books, some of which were small and fragile. When Sara came up to stand, her positive vibe was contagious, and her big, toothy smiles lit up the room. The icing on the cake was Eileen. She took the audience in the palm of her hands like Patti Smith does. She took me in and rocked me (both like a baby and like rock-n-roll) with her easygoing language. She made me laugh, and made me unafraid.
    There was love in the air, too. It was clear that most people knew each other intimately, and I felt part of that warmth. Maybe that warmth was coming from the art on the walls, which was hot! Those Martin Wong paintings are really something in person – there is so much life force in them and so much tenderness.


Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, August 5th, 2008 by Alan Gilbert.