For this week’s blog theme I want to match things I saw last week with some counterparts in art. Since the week was filled with interesting stuff it should be an enjoyable ride.
My best experience last week was seeing performance artist Penny Arcade in Longing lasts Longer and I cannot quite tell whether I laughed more or kept more tears back during her event last Friday. Mostly the show made me think, and experience awe at the physical energy and intellectual courage of a woman my age (mid to late 60s) who takes no hostages. A singular monologue, accompanied by intelligently chosen music and creative lighting offered the most incisive assessment of our current cultural dilemmas. She tackled an astonishing array of topics, without sacrificing depth for breadth, with a killer wit.
NYC friends, check out her next engagement at Lincoln Center on 2/15. Run, don’t walk!http://pennyarcade.tv ,
Much focused on gentrification of both, neighborhoods and ideas, pointing to the consequences of eradicating the visibility of alternatives, which were often provided in neighborhoods that are now mainstreamed for economic exploitation. Because of the gentrification theme I picked Vernon How Baileys’ sketches of NYC and some of my own photos as illustrations. (The performance, by the way, was presented by Boom Arts which once again made alternatives visible compared to our usual fare available in PDX. Check out what they offer next: http://www.boomarts.org)
Arcade is based in NYC and I lived not far from her geographically in the 70s and 80s – East vs West Village. Might as well have been two different universes in other ways, given my life at the New School.
But gentrification was only one of the topics that were tackled by the artist. They included the current political insanity, a brilliant analysis of the difference between nostalgia and longing, with the former being thoroughly discarded, a poignant comparison between the inclusiveness and tolerance of the queer community of old, and the absence of those characteristics we experience today. As an academic I, of course, related particularly to her description of the tyranny of fragility, the insane insistence of safe spaces and coddling of all kinds in our institutions of higher learning.
Arcade, whose life could be succinctly described as the epitome of (voluntary as well as forced) risk-taking, mourned the absence thereof in today’s youth brainwashed to seek security and be the perfect consumers. Her criticism was counterbalanced, in the most poignant fashion, by sage advice to embrace the few periods of freedom you have in your life. For once, I heard advocacy for self acceptance rather than striving for external recognition, that wasn’t corny or clichee’d. Her rage against a society that ignores the dangers of AIDS, while conveniently filling the coffers of the Pharma industry that sells life-saving drugs sans mentioning the looming, debilitating side effects, was fueled by the loss of many of her friends and acquaintances to the scourge.
I left with a sense of sheer gratitude that people like Arcade exist and refuse to be silenced. I left with a sense that those of us who try to make our critical assessments of the world we live in known, are not alone, even if in a minor league…. and I left with a sense of wonder how age can be defied in the most dignified fashion by refusing to yield to the societally imposed rules of dignity. Friday night was a gift.
Here is more on the sketches by Baily, and below I add some photographs of the new skyline of NYC that he could not have envisioned in his wildest dreams.