|13. The Plot of Fame and Good Taste
When the artist is rooted in private rituals, it becomes clear that she is not an agent for society, or some political movement, or the art galleries and art "experts", or even for her own individualistic imagination. Instead, she is an agent of gods, of dreams, of visions and myths. This causes reactions in society, especially when the piece is public. Karen Finley is criticized for limiting her audience because she offends them by her words, anger, nudity. An artist who is rooted in the private channels is not affected by this attempt to curb the power of the art by strapping it to audience acceptance and agreement. The power of a Karen Finley is the taboo-breaking energy she releases into society. This societal pressure to tame art down, which usually sounds very reasonable and comes even from liberal sources, is very hard for the artist to resist who is not familiar with the hidden channels of change.
Another example of society's attempt to rechannel the change coming from Shamanistic Art is what an "art expert" told me: "Your work is ... not art ... (because) it doesn't address the concerns ... (which are a) part of the current art dialogue, whether it be mainstream or 'alternative' ...curators and presenters are (not) obliged to show it." She went on to say that I should stay "in (my) own sphere", and that I don't need the public channels that galleries represent. Which is true. But galleries and the people who think what is in galleries is the full range of art need the artists, not the reverse. The magic of private performance is needed to expand the narrow, shallow river of "the current art dialogue", controlled both in content and depth by the art experts. Fortunately, there are galleries which are willing to go into the magical unknown represented by private performances.
I have debated with myself about stopping resisting the label SEXUAL. By insisting what I am doing is not sexual, I am opening myself up to people questioning my honesty and integrity. If I accept the sexual label, people would just have to decide whether or not they like sex in art -- decide whether it is art or not. That would be the depth of the questioning. They may feel uncomfortable seeing sex as art -- but that uncomfortableness would be just from breaking the taboo of sex -- which would not be that big of a deal. What I am doing is taking nudity and acts that are usually considered sexual and giving them a new, nonsexual context. That creates a tension, a conflict, an examining, a leap into something new. That is what I am after. This leap into newness is why people who are normally comfortable with casual nudity and casual sex sometimes get very uncomfortable with the nudity and eroplay in my work. By taking "sexual" acts and sincerely putting them in to a different context, it creates another reality, another way of relating. It also creates conflict with the normal reality -- and that conflict may change, in an underground sort of way, the normal reality. I think art -- or at least this kind of art -- should create conflict and change. And I like relating with people in the "unnormal" way in this different reality. This is why I do performance.
Rawness in itself is threatening because it opens the way for everyone to express their feelings directly. Rawness inspires. It breaks the chains of the rules.
The show was in bad taste, was called "exploitive". What made it thus was not just what was done, but who was doing it...crips, women and other "untalented" unfortunates. The first assumption of the people who were offended was these were able-bodied actors making fun of crips; then, when it became clear we were real crips, the leap into dumbness was that someone was exploiting us. When they got it into their heads that we had created our own acts, the new way to deny our power was to say we were exploiting our own bodies. Forget nudity. Forget being sexual. Just by getting up onto the stage we were exploiting our own bodies. Women share this hidden yoke of suppression. By breaking this yoke, by offending a lot of people, the show released, inspired, and liberated a lot more. Artists and musicians come up to me today and say they saw the O.B.R. when they were kids and thought if we could do that, they could do what they dreamt.
But my cast saw none of this because I could not impart the vision to them. They saw the show as an outlet for their fantasies and creativeness. It was not very good theater that they did for fun. It was something that could be left behind because it was not important. This lack of a bigger vision of both the historical roots and the magical social impact spelled the end of the community.
All Photos: Dave Patrick