We're long past the heyday of the East Village club scene, so wonderfully chronicled in C. Carr's anthology, “On Edge.” Back in the 1980s you couldn't stumble into a club without encountering some kind of wild, challenging performance; if you were lucky, you didn't get mugged getting there.
In the years since, the story has been one of attrition and loss: to gentrification, to AIDS, to fallout from the implosion of the NEA. And it sometimes seems that performance art is being inevitably co-opted by the institutional art world. P.S. 1 just announced a new series for emerging performance artists, for god’s sake. Karen Finley does museum gigs. It's fine that these artists are getting recognition; but something vital often goes out of the work, some renegade energy, when it's placed in such sterile environments. Not everything in this world needs to have an official stamp of approval.
But all is not lost. The fugitive scene still exists, if you know where to find it. Earl Dax’s Scenedowntown.com blog is a good source of information. On Monday, for example, the one and only Penny Arcade will be throwing a book party as only she can (erotic dancers, hooray!) at Le Poisson Rouge.
“The landscape has changed,” said Dax, an independent curator and producer who works primarily outside of traditional concert stages. “But I still think there’s lots of opportunities for people to perform in clubs or bars or non-traditional environments. Those places are receptive to work and artists that are not going to be received at a lot of institutions - certainly a lot of performers starting out, and a lot of queer, marginal or oppositional or radical artists.”
Dax is the man behind P*ssy F*ggot, a recurring one-night festival that he describes as “a big queer pu-pu platter of performance and music that has a little bit of something for everyone.” Tickets are a ridiculously low $10.
“My interest is in performance, and it’s also in expanding the audience,” Dax said. He laughed, “It’s like dealing with an endangered species. Ok, the population of downtown performance artists is down to X number. What can we do to make sure that they proliferate? Part of that is making sure the audience is there. People are lamenting that the audience for live performance is dwindling. Well, if they’re not coming to the institution in the way or numbers you want them to, go to them.”
Choreographer Jeremy Wade participated in the last event and, according to Dax, he was hesitant about performing.
“He told me that when he first arrived at the Delancey on Thursday, he thought ‘I'm not performing here. I'm getting out of here immediately,’” Dax explained. “However, once he got over his initial apprehension he said that the experience had been incredibly useful. It forced him and the musicians to ratchet up their performance to engage the audience, and in the process it took the work in a different direction, a direction he wants to explore in developing a new work.”
Watch the video of Wade's performance, below. And stay tuned...P*ssy F*ggot may be coming to a disreputable bar near you.