This summer I attended a farewell party at Mx Justin Vivian Bond’s apartment in the East Village. Actually, let me rephrase that. I attended a farewell party for Mx Justin Vivian Bond’s apartment in the East Village. From early afternoon through the midnight hour, friends and loved ones of V came to drink, dance, and bid a warm and sometimes angry farewell to a beloved loft space where over the course of 2 years, the adored NYC singer, author, performer and artist flourished. Within days of the party, the apartment would be vacated to make way for a new condo complex called Avalon. A few weeks ago the contents of Justin Vivian’s loft settled into a new home at the Participant Gallery for V’s gallery show The Fall of the House of Whimsy. I sat down for a drink with Bond to discuss the show and the increasingly autobiographical direction of V’s work.
Adam: Tell me about your new show at Participant.
Justin: It’s called The Fall of the House of Whimsy. I chose that because it’s opening on Halloween, and you know, in Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher this house that this artist is living in disappears into a mist at the end. And, my house that I’ve been working in is disappearing in the mists of Avalon, literally, because the developers that have done the Avalon Complex are turning my part of the building into a 12-story condo unit. The original tenants will each get an apartment for like $10 each, but for the rest of us, we’re out on our asses. My intention had been a show of my watercolors, but shortly before we had to move out in spring I was lying in bed one morning and the light was so beautiful that I just got out of bed and started photographing my apartment. I really started meditating on how creative I had actually been in the two and a half years that I had lived there. I produced my record and did the Jackie Curtis book with Hilton Als. I did my ReGalli Blonde show at The Kitchen, and we rehearsed it in that loft, and we rehearsed the Christmas Spells shows in the loft. I wrote my book Tango, had amazing parties and met amazing people in the loft. More…
Since the dawn of cinema, film has dealt with the subject of death in an unimaginable number of ways. Think of melodramas where the couple finds love only to have a sudden cough render the hero or heroine fatally ill, or action and horror films where death is inconsequential – sometimes cathartic – amusement. Documentarian Jennie Livingston’s astonishingly influential documentary Paris Is Burning also featured subjects - marginalized gay men of color participating in New York’s outrageous drag ball scene – dealing with death. The film ends on a heartbreaking note, as one of its brightest subjects is revealed to have been murdered by a mysterious john who was never caught. As Livingston pointed out at a Queer/Art/Film screening of the film this past June, nearly all of the subjects in the film are now dead. The death of the titular “Paris” – Paris Dupree last month underscored her point. Now Jennie is making a new feature documentary called Earth Camp One that explores the way we deal with death as a society and as individuals. The film explores a major loss she experienced in the late 1990′s, when her grandmother, mother, brother, and uncle all died within four years of each other. But she describes the film as “neither therapy nor diary; it’s an expansive and deeply humorous trip around the outer edges of what it means to be alive and human.” Jennie needs your help to make the film happen though, with just about 2 days left before reaching the end of her Kickstarter campaign, she’s raised $29,000 of the $40,000 she needs to reach. If she doesn’t hit her goal, she won’t get any of the money. So please take a moment to watch the video and visit Kickstarter to give what you can to help support this project. If you consider what an impact Paris is Burning has had on the culture at large, imagine what Earth Camp One can do.
A mountain of 175 pounds of candies “individually wrapped in variously colored cellophane” piled up in the corner of a gallery. The candy is unguarded, so the viewer is encouraged to take some. Each and every day, the remaining candy is weighed and more is added until the pile goes back to the same 175 pounds. This is Untitled (Ross), one of the most poignant works by Felix Gonzales-Torres, the Cuban American artist who lived and worked in NYC in the ’80s and early ’90s. This beautiful installation underscores the process as an intrinsic part of the art piece, which is constantly being re-created, and never finished.
175 pounds corresponds to the “ideal” weight that a doctor established for his patient Ross Laycock, the artist’s partner, when he was diagnosed with AIDS in the mid-80’s. Gonzales-Torres was once asked who his ideal audience was, and he answered without skipping a beat; “My audience is Ross.” Ross died in ’91. The diminishing amount of candy parallels Ross’ suffering and weight loss prior to his death, but the replenishment stipulated by the artist metaphorically grants him eternal life. More…
On the night of September 10th, 2001, I placed a roommate ad on the Village Voice website for my 2BR share in the West Village. The next morning I woke up to emergency sirens and witnessed the attack on the World Trade Center from my bedroom window. After a harrowing day, I left my apartment to stay at my boyfriend’s place in Brooklyn. Then, a few days later when I called my machine (remember doing that?) to get messages, there were a number of people who had called asking about my roommate ad. Some people even called me the day after 9/11, casually asking if they could “stop by and see the place.”
This was the strange but true story that was the inspiration for my first full-length play and later feature film, WTC View. It tells the story of a man who, like myself, placed a roommate ad for his apartment on September 10th. Because of this fact, people often mistake the play for being autobiographical. This is a situation that I’m somewhat familiar with because it’s happened before with other works of fiction and films I have written. In some ways, I find this flattering because I think it means people find the story so believable and real that it must be true. However, I also find it somewhat annoying because it assumes I just write down everything that happens to me and that there is little imagination involved in my writing. Still, the burning question remains…is it true or not? Is this the story of your life? Well, here’s my attempt at an answer. More…
Day at Night was a public access television program hosted by James Day which ran throughout the 1970′s. In this episode, author Christopher Isherwood (The Berlin Stories, A Single Man, Down There On A Visit) discusses his life and work on the occasion of the publishing of his autobiographical novel about his parents, Kathleen and Frank in 1972.
By now you’ve probably heard so much about director Andrew Haigh’s wonderful new gay romantic drama Weekend that you may wonder if the film is really as good as the hype. Happily, as those of us lucky enough to see it before it was released in theaters today know, it is. Haigh is also as charming and easy to talk to as his film is to watch. After a grueling week of interviews and press, I met up with Haigh to talk about how his own sex diary inspired his new film, and his somewhat ambivalent feelings about his success on the eve of his film’s release. Note: There are a few plot points in the conversation that follows that you may not want spoiled. So see the film tonight and then come back and read the interview – yes, you guessed it – this weekend.
Adam: Chris’ character in the film is a character who is an artist and who’s making this kind of diary-like tape recordings of his experiences, cataloguing his experiences with his lovers and I’m wondering if you have any of your own sort of similar journaling thing like he does?
Andrew: I did what Russell did. I had a list that I kept password protected on my computer. I definitely used to come back straight after it happened and write a piece, like Russell does, about that person. It’s crazy when I look back at them now and read the kind of things that I said. They’re always quite sexual and I would just describe who the person was, and what happened. It was weird. It was like I would write it for someone else, even though I had no intention of ever showing that to someone. I came out quite late so it was probably a way for me just to deal with suddenly being out and sleeping with people. I suppose that list inspired elements of the film because I did look back at it before I started writing the script. Although the people on that list aren’t in the film.
Your autobiographical filmmaking -
Doesn’t go that far! More…
In our previous installments of Art and Autobiography, we’ve focused on people who have used the raw material of their lives in an unobscured fashion, whether through diaries or performance. In this installment, we meet an author whose approach is quite different. While Annie Baker’s award-winning plays (Circle Mirror Transformation, The Aliens) often seem so real an audience may assume they are based on her life, Baker says she cares more about emotional truth than “how-things-really-happened truth.” We conducted an email interview over the past month to explore these layers and how they appear in her work.
Adam Baran: How is your summer going and what are you doing?
Annie Baker: My summer has been pretty okay. A lot of traveling outside of NYC. I was in Florida, then Boston, then New Hampshire, then the Berkshires, then Maine, then the White Mountains, then the Berkshires again. I spent all of July and most of June away from the city.
How is your broken foot?
Oh, man, it still kind of sucks. The broken bone is healed, but the tendon is still really inflamed and I’m still not allowed to run or jump on my foot. Or dance. That’s the hardest part. No dancing.
I know that was a pretty traumatic experience for you. But did it give you any ideas for any of your upcoming writing?
Zero ideas. More…
Over the past few years Dan Fishback has made a name for himself as one of the most talented young writers and performance artists in New York. When reviewing Fishback’s 2009 play You Will Experience Silence, the Village Voice wrote that he displayed a “[Tony] Kushnerian sense for the complexities of historical memory,” even though Fishback’s piece was “sassier and more fun” than Angels in America. But at the same time that Fishback was experiencing success, an illness was in the process of changing his life drastically. Now Fishback is hard at work on a new show, titled thirtynothing, which will premiere at the end of September and run through October 22nd at Dixon Place. thirtynothing tells the story of Fishback’s quest to learn about unknown queer artists who who were lost to the AIDS epidemic – and how doing so changed his life for the better. Fishback has launched a fundraising campaign on Indie Gogo – which ends tomorrow, and is throwing a benefit tonight at Dixon Place featuring performances by future downtown legends like Molly Pope, Kim Smith, Max Steele, Max Vernon and The Lisps. I called Fishback at home on Sunday night to talk about his show, his health, and what it feels like to turn share a birth year with the most devastating plague in history.
Adam Baran: Why did you decide to call your show thirtynothing?
Dan Fishback: I turn 30 as soon as this production is over. I’ve been looking forward to it for the past five years. When I was 25, I was in this arts fellowship and was the only person in their twenties. Most of the others were in their mid-thirties. So when I would complain about boys or whatever my problem was they would all just yell at me, “Dan, these problems aren’t real problems and as soon as you hit 30, you will see that everything that’s bothering you right now is really stupid and changeable and everything’s just fine. You’ll gain this cosmic wisdom and everything will just be easier.” I believed them so intensely that for the last five years, I’ve just been, like, killing time.
As someone in his 30s, now for about six months, I don’t know if I’ve gotten this newfound wisdom. Problems are problems are problems. Of course, they’re not going to go away when you turn 30. But I’m with you. Just waiting.
Yeah, waiting for the cosmic wisdom of age to descend upon you.
What about your Saturn’s return? That was another thing I didn’t experience.
Really? My Saturn return was fucking intense. It’s still going on. More…
I met kari edwards in Colorado, in Naropa, in the summer of 1999, a warm, summer afternoon, late enough so that the sun slanted into my eyes when I heard her call my name from afar, almost like putting your ear up to a conch shell, seemingly miles away. I had strayed rather far from the buildings of the school compound towards the river, and I saw kari make her way out of the sun towards me, parting the tall uncut brown grasses with her hands, perhaps not too gracefully but with enormous force and determination. It was nearly a Stanley meets Livingstone thing, we seemed so far from conventional civilization, or the urban in which I spend most of my time. I always come back to that first meeting, me standing in that field and she approaching me like Mrs. Moore in A Passage to India, or Cathy rushing headlong towards Heathcliff in the moor, or really in my head it’s more like the Kate Bush video of Wuthering Heights. Frances Blau was there too, trailing kari by six or seven yards, picking her way through the overgrown fields that are now, I think, practice fields for the University’s football team, rah rah rah. I’m not describing the actual plant life well but think of Christina writhing around on that grass in the Wyeth painting “Christina’s World.” More…
In my interview with diarist Kevin Bentley last week, Bentley and I discussed the form of the diary, and how it can help or hinder the type of autobiography an author is trying to tell. Bentley spoke about his decision to edit out many moments of high emotion, instead focusing on the descriptions of his sexual encounters – and the way that helped him create an entertaining and sharp narrative. Keep the Lights On director Ira Sachs also used his diaries to help write his film, but the resultant script lingers on some of his most painful moments. With this in mind, it’s interesting to consider the case of the six known people with what scientists call superior autobiographical memory.
In the first part of the report (above) from an episode of 60 Minutes last year, reporter Lesley Stahl interviews those who both suffer and benefit from this strange memory disorder, where the tiniest details of every experience, conversation (and the ensuing pain, pleasure, or ambiguity) can be re-experienced in real time. More…