I wanted to speak to you in person, but that will have to wait until I am in Berkeley or you are in Santa Fe. Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. I admire you and would like the opportunity to understand your performance work in greater depth.
AUDREY: Can you describe the type of performances you are creating now? Has your performance changed/evolved over the years?
Are there any projects that you’ve not yet realized that you are burning to create?
FRANK: Ah, "Where is your work heading? What do you want to do next?" It is not my work. It is not my choice. For me, it is not a question of a next thing. It is a growing, evolving vision. I am carried along in this vision. A performance does not have a beginning or an end. It is just a tiny bit of the vision. The vision braids around itself, flowing on. I do not know where the vision is taking me. I have not been down this vision before. I just follow wherever the art and the magic lead. I could not have planned anywhere near as a rich life that following has opened up. I never know what will trigger what, what will bloom into years long projects, etc. I just jam, play, and enjoy!
In a way what I do in my monthly performance series today is close to what I did in my first performance workshop in Santa Fe in the early seventies.
I used my communal family of four as a core to start a weekly drop in workshop held in my friend’s Santa Fe pre school. I never knew who would show up each week. People from my street performances, free spirits who heard rumors about this naked happening, a Wait Until Dark cast of straight actors whose director required them to come, all were thrown into this crazy experiment. I never knew what I was going to do because I never knew who I would have to work with, or what I would have to deal with. This madhouse gave me a flexibility and a trust that the vision would guide me to create a temporary communal reality from those who were there. But the casual drop in format placed a limit on how deep the intimacy could get. In my communal family, we were creating a way of being which was an underground base for the art. This base was a powerful influence. But it wasn't yet the clear focus of the work.
In May 1973, the end of this stage was a twenty four hour performance. I became aware of the magical quality of extended time lengths when I attended an all night peyote ceremony of the Native American church in Taos. [They dug a hole in the ground in the teepee for me to sit in.] Time was as powerful as the magic medicine in creating a group reality trance. To try this time factor, I took my cast to Albuquerque to do what amounted to a 24 hour performance. For the first six hours, we approached people on the campus of the University of New Mexico, people with whom we would like to play, inviting them to an audition that night in the College Art Department for a happening. Then, after dinner, we did the workshop exercises with the 12 people who showed up. Slowly taboos were broken, a community of performance magically appeared...which was lucky because I could only book the room until midnight. Then I had to truck the performance across the city to the University of Albuquerque. The sense of community was strong enough that everyone came along. At dawn, as we stepped out of the studio, there was the crisp feeling of being born into a new world. In the late seventies I was doing forty eight hour performances!
But more about Santa Fe later. What I do in today’s series and what I did in that first workshop look very similar because they are! But the performance is always changing. Sometimes the change is when I see that something has stopped working. Like by the nineties I had developed a loosely scripted ritual. But the audience started to know what will happen, started coming for a social [pickup] shallow scene. There was no magic, risk, push!! So I had to stop using any script and do a totally improv ritual!
I became sucked into performance not to tell stories, not to paint pictures for others to look at, not even to reveal something about myself or about the state of things, and certainly not for fame or fortune. It was simply the best way that I saw to create the intimate community which I as a person needed and that I thought society needed as an alternative to the personal isolation....
I have always wanted to bring dreams into reality.
I was lucky. I was never under pressure to be good at anything, to make money, to make it in "the real world", to be polished – and the other distractions that other modern artists have to, or think they have to, deal with. So I could focus on having fun, on going into taboo areas where magical change can be evoked. I couldn’t do anything THE RIGHT [“NORMAL”] WAY. But I always have been so dumb that I didn’t realize I couldn’t do whatever I was pulled to do. So I just figured out how I could do things MY WAY! So I have done pretty much every kind of art in every kind of role in almost every kind of venue. And I took it for granted because I thought it was easy and I always had fun! So it’s hard to say what my art is!
There are all kinds of art. There is art that calms, art that pacifies, art that sells, art that decorates, art that entertains. But what I am committed to is art as a battle, an underground war against fragmentation. The battle is on all realities. The controllers have always tried to fragment us. Fragment us from each other. Imprison us in islands of sex, color, religion, politics, classes, labels, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc. they fragment our inner worlds, they blow our individual realities apart, and play the pieces against one another. They are us, or a part of us. They are the controllers, the politicians, the sexists, the women's libbers, the pornographers, the censors, the moralists, the church, the media, the businessmen, educators, the victims and the powerful.
They are us. They have divided us from our power, from our beauty, from our lust for life and pleasure. They have divided us from most of reality divided dying from living sex from living, sex from pleasure. We are kept in boxes of fear, of mistrust. We are kept waiting kept waiting to do what we want waiting for enough money, enough schooling, for everything to be right. We are kept waiting and protecting and hiding and suffering.
This is the time to do battle with the boxes.
As artists, our tools are magic, our bodies, taboos, and dreams.
This kind of art can be bubbles of childhood hidden places where you can play and explore it is the kids' under the covers world, the playhouse, the treehouse, the cave, behind the barn, playing doctor, cars at drive ins before going all the way, Huck Finn's raft, tepees. People are afraid of this area of lusty exploring that they think they have out grown but they are sucked into it.
But this kind of art can have a more heavy duty magical side to it that shocks, offends, and breaks new ground. This side is what is locked in, the subconscious, the womb, the underground, hell/heaven, pleasure/torture, the coffin, the grave, birth/death/rebirth, dream/nightmare, the hidden world of taboos.
Artists of this breed need to be warriors who are willing to go into the areas of taboo, willing to push beyond where it is comfortable and safe to explore and build a larger zone of safeness. They need to be idealists, willing to live ideals.
Truth is we here always have several projects going at one time and more are popping up all the time. A lot of them turn out to be multi- year projects requiring major work which radically change our life. For example, in the nineties I was publishing an underground zine THE CHEROTIC [R] EVOLUTIONARY, which had become a well respected venue for all kinds of artists over three years. Then I [who can’t talk] got a regular radio talk show on one of the first internet stations. Well, we quickly started our own online radio station for various reasons [I exposed things about the other station]. LOVE UNDERGROUND VISIONARY REVOLUTION [LUVER] quickly bloomed into a 24/7 community with shows from people around the world. So I had to stop the zine so I could do LUVER! I did not plan to do a radio station just like I had not planned to do a zine! I just follow! LUVER lasted for almost fifteen years until the record industry forced me to shut down LUVER last year! I still do my SHAMAN’S DEN show [which started streaming as live video very early on].
AUDREY: I am curious about your childhood, where you grew up? What you dreamt about….
FRANK: My first stroke of good luck was I was born spastic with cerebral palsy, unable to feed myself, walk or talk. Add to this good fortune the fact that my formative years were in the sixties my fate was assured!
During the first year, it became more and more obvious that things weren’t “normal.” The doctors told my parents that I had no intelligence, that I had no future, that I would be best put into an institution and be forgotten. This was a powerful expectation with all the force of western science and medicine as well as social influences, behind it. It would have been easy for my parents to be swept up into this expectation. Then that expectation would have created my reality. I would have long ago died without any other possibilities.
Instead, my parents rejected this expectation for the possibility they saw in my eyes, for what for them should have been true. This rejection of the cultural expectation of reality could not be a one time choice. They had to passionately live their choice every day, every minute, or the cultural expectation would have sucked them and me into it. It fought them at every new possibility they opened to me. Their passionate commitment to how they thought things should be attracted people to me who kept opening new possibilities for me.
So I came out wanting to communicate with people any way I could… With my eyes at first! But soon with my noises, physical movements, laughing, etc. I just let people know I wanted to be with them, wanted to play with them, etc. This was a great training to be an actor! This was how I communicated until I learned to spell [I don’t know when that was!].
Actually it was my mom, Connie, who insisted to ignore the doctors. Connie was the black sheep of a Mormon family in Utah who had married a non-Mormon guy who was in the air force. Grace, Dad’s step mother…my grandma…supported my mother in keeping me, in treating me as a normal kid. I think they out-voted Dad! We lived in Dayton until I was 8 on the Air Force base. Granddad Frank and Grace lived in Mansfield…over 2 hours away. To give Mom breaks, they took me to their house for a week at a time.
I named my left hand “Mike” and my right hand “Ike.” They have different personalities from each other, move differently, etc. Mike is a smooth dude, somewhat sneaky, but in control if non-linear. Ike is very emotional, prone to outbursts, jerky….and shy. They have always had issues with each other…always the soap operas. Kids live in realities like this. I thought people who talked/thought in terms of “handicap” just didn’t see Mike and Ike…and the other body characters…didn’t understand their inner/inter logics!
Because Dad was in the Air Force, we moved a lot, both around the country and to Morocco and Germany. Each time we moved, Mom had to battle to get me into school [either regular school or special schools which often said I was too severely handicapped for them to take]. So I grew up knowing doing battle/struggling was how to open new possibilities up! Sometimes the school took me, at least with Mom doing something like coming to feed me or taking me home in the afternoons to continue the lessons. Other times, the school refused to take me at all. So Mom had to teach me at home! All of this taught me that struggling with flexibility is a great life style. True, when I was home taught I felt isolated. But even in those times, I made friends and was in the Scouts and went to church and to the teen club just to be with kids!
We moved to Redlands outside of San Bernardino and I got into a special education program. It was in a wing of a grade school campus. There were two classes, one for grade school kids and one for junior high and high school kids like me. There I had a board with the alphabet divided into four lines. The other person would point to each line and I would nod when he got to the right line, etc. a slow process! [My family just said the alphabet.] The doctors dictated I should learn to type with my hand... The normal way to type! I, my teacher, and my therapists all thought it was the wrong direction. But back then doctors were gods. So three times a week they taped a peg in my hand, put me into a standing box [I am not sure how that's normal!], and for an hour I tried to get the peg through holes on a thick plastic key guard to an electric typewriter... Me sweaty, rubbing my wrist raw. In the year, I may have typed a few words! But I quickly had a practical idea. Put a pointer on a headband... my therapists and my teacher [women] wanted to try my idea. But the doctors [men] vetoed the idea. So for a year I was losing ground on my school work. They were getting ready to drop me from the school because I couldn't keep up. Meanwhile the news that next year the class would be moving onto the regular high school campus! Then we had a substitute teacher who tried my idea in art class, putting a brush on a headband. It worked! So my regular teacher ignored the doctors and rigged a pointer from tinker toys and an elastic band. It kept flipping down, hitting my nose. But within five minutes I was typing on an electric typewriter, without any key guard or any other special equipment. Everything then changed! So I started to paint and write at the same time! Btw, the first thing I wrote was a paper on a one world democratic socialist government! And the rest is history!
Talking to people through my board has intimate qualities. It slows people down, bringing them into a softer, smaller, more focused reality. It also reveals things about them through Freudian slips, etc. through the years I have designed the board around the other person who is reading the board, rather than around me.
In high school, I started hanging out with the few leftist students on the campus. And I started writing a political column in the school paper for my journalism class. This started me on commenting on everything. Most people who read my column didn’t know I was disabled, just a radical before being a radical was in fashion. I got shit for debating a G. I. who was in Vietnam. He responded to a column I wrote in the school paper. We went back and forth in the paper... People accused me of undermining his morale. I was sat down and told I was ruining the opportunity of the crips [my word for the disabled] who would come after me [it was the first mainstream special education class on a regular high school campus] by being a radical. They wanted to use me as their poster crip because of my high grades. I didn’t buy it! I said I thought the goal was to procure the right to be fully human for crips [and for everybody else]... Including being political! So I continued to doing what I was doing! I was interested in the big deep picture, not in being a disabled artist.
Funny, that was only a couple of years after I got them to try my idea for my head pointer for typing and talking. Now i was causing trouble with my writings! And writing for underground papers opened a lot up for me for years. After high school, during the summer before I went to junior college [which almost didn’t take me because I drooled!], I had my brother drop me off at the head shop THE MIND VENDOR every Saturday. A Lesbian couple ran the shop. They also put out an underground paper THE MIDDLE EYE which I quickly started writing for! When the cops shut down their shop, I started hanging out their house. This included me in the small underground community in San Bernardino! This opened everything up for me! This community was made up of artists, musicians, poets and radicals of STUDENTS FOR A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY, THE BLACK PANTHERS, and THE PEACE AND FREEDOM PARTY.
My personal roots are in the idealism of the 60's. That was when I broke out of personal physical isolation. I looked for a way to bring about the ideals for me and for society as a whole. The normal channels obviously would not work for me.
So all I had were my fantasies. I read novels like The Magus and Steppenwolf. I started wanting to create other alternative/altered realities just like the magicians in those novels. I read the Beat writers and the French Surrealists, Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl and Abbie Hoffman, listened to Dylan, watched the hippie movement grow. I wished I could be a hip artist living in San Francisco instead of being stuck outside San Bernardino reading, listening, watching, waiting. All of this brewed inside of me. From my high school years, days, I had been writing nonsense scripts dealing with nudity and nonsexual eroticism, always with roles for me to play! I read how-to books about directing, acting, film making, etc. I read such books as Toward a Poor Theatre and The Theatre and its Double. I read THE REALIST, published by the Yippie satirist Paul Krassner, who now is my good friend! I read about THE LIVING THEATER, Allan Kaprow, Anna Halprin, etc. Little did I know that I would in a few years meet in intimate ways most of my heroes, and that they would feel that what I doing was the continuing of their work! When I was doing my OUTRAGEOUS BEAUTY REVUE in the late seventies, it turned out that a writer who was interviewing me was the writer who did the piece in PLAYBOY about THE LIVING THEATER which I read in the late sixties! I took this as a sign I was doing something right! I also read STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND and wondered about the possibilities of group relationships.
[I do believe I just answered your question about who are my heroes!]
But I didn't think I could get people to let me direct them in the rituals in my head. It was not until 1970 that I started trying to live out my inner visions. I tried to get the ok at Cal State, San Bernardino, to produce my all nude play on campus. To my surprise, the college said yes. But I couldn't get actors. [In the early eighties they had me do a performance there!]
I was offended by such things as body doubles for nude scenes in movies and actors in live plays wearing flesh colored tights in lusty scenes. My play was a statement against this perverse attitude. I wasn't really into sex itself in my art. I just wanted to see nude bodies on stage not sneak them in to a love scene and see them do things like paint their bodies with baby food. I learned it can be hard to get people for weird things.
Also in college, I started doing political pranks. For an example, I had my friend Steve Emanuel [who I still do things with] push me into the Marines’ recruiting office on campus. I spelled out to the confused recruiter that I wanted to join [I was extremely serious!]. Finally the poor guy said I could not do what the Marines do. I replied I could push "the Button"!
AUDREY: Tell me a little about your connection to Santa Fe.
FRANK: During the time of the Kent State killings, I saw my life was heading back into isolation if I did not make some radical changes. I was about to get my degree. I knew that once that happened, I would be stuck at home without much contact with people. I had tried to move out several times before. But gravity pulled me back home every time! At the time several of my friends were living at what they thought was a hippie commune. So I was hanging out there on Saturdays. But then the actual owner returned to sell the property. So my friends had to move. But the owner saw things in me and I continued to visit her, showing her my poetry and oil paintings [I painted one for her called VANITY]. Louise Scott had been a Beat in the fifties and transitioned to hippie. I told her my tale of woe. And she said I could live with her and her two kids and move to Santa Fe with them after she sold her San Bernardino property. But I had tried to move out before. I figured I needed a lot of miles between me and home when I moved out again. So I dropped out of college and hitched to hippieland in Santa Fe to wait for Louise to come which we thought would be in a week or two. It was two months! I stayed in a DIGGER style commune crash-pad THE CENTER which was in an abandoned shopping mall in town. At first I just crashed there, eating the two free meals served every day, getting a different person each day to help me [feed me, take me to the bathroom, push me to THE PLAZA, get me down to the floor mat to sleep, etc]. There were always people glad to do whatever I needed! So I found out I could live in raw life without any money, etc! I even visited quite a few of the communes in northern New Mexico, including THE HOG FARM, MORNING STAR and THE THEATER OF ALL POSSIBILITIES. When Louise and her kids finally arrived, we lived together communally with a few others. We never had much money… But what a fun life!
I was known as UNICORN then because of my head pointer. I wrote a column, UNICORN SPEAKS, in the underground paper. Basically I was hanging out with the artists, musicians, poets, hippies and political revolutionaries in cafes, bars, coffeehouses, etc, helping to plan both political and art events.
But in a year, I found this life too comfortable! So I hitchhiked to northern Massachusetts to a commune, the Brotherhood of the Spirit. There I danced with the communal rock band, Spirit in Flesh, having fun, hitching/touring the East Coast. I even danced on stage at Carnegie hall and got written up [with a photo] in CREAM MAGAZINE! After that start, it was all downhill from there [just kidding]!
My first major performance began in that spiritual commune in which I lived. This commune was itself a liminal altered state in which 350 people went around doing their everyday duties, but talking about who they were in past lives, going into trances, channeling spirits and other things that I, skeptic, thought were weirdnesses better suited to cheap horror movies than to real life. But the people would not listen to me when I tried to tell them this spiritual business was spacing them out of this human life. But then one day, when I was typing, a spirit who later introduced himself as Reed, came through me, typing, "You are not typing this, Frank". At the beginning, I thought I made Reed up to get the people to listen, and to start creating my ideals in the world. But I may have been taking more credit than I deserved because Reed and two other spirits/characters/persons took on reality for themselves. People waited for the next "lecture" to come through. The spirits talked to people, guiding them (and me) to create a new personal community. Even when I left the spiritual commune, reading the new lectures for the people around me became performances aimed at them. People started seeing Reed and the others in their dreams. The question of whether Reed is "real" is not a useful question in shamanistic performance that is, performance for change. Reed is real whether he is a spirit floating around somewhere, or my alter ego, or a conning fiction which I used as an invisible puppet. His reality is the change he created in the outer world.
Reed lasted for three years as an active performance. He as a performance contained the qualities which shape all my work. It was aimed at building a personal community which by its very existence threatens the established order of isolation and fragmentation. Its parts, the lectures, used the people around me to get to universal concerns. Reed was a framed process running parallel to, but braided with, my normal life.
So after a year at the BROTHERHOOD [during which I had gotten married], I moved back to New Mexico with Debbie my wife to build a personal community. In Albuquerque, because of my REED writings, SILVA MIND CONTROL [a new age outfit] wanted to back me to open a commune. So I, without any money, was driven around in a big RV by a couple of real estate agents showing me huge hotels, etc for sale for a week! Talk about a surreal performance piece! But the deal exploded when I exposed shady practices of SILVA!
So I went back to college at New Mexico University. Debbie and I developed a relationship first with JoAnne and later with Ray. We four eventually moved in together as a tribal relationship and moved to Santa Fe again!
I was still looking for a way to work with people. I got into the Moving Image Lab at Anthropology Film Center on Upper Canyon road. It was a very intensive in-depth film making course which was nine to five every day for four months. I made films of rolling nude down a hill, smearing bodies with baby food, nursing by a sexy woman. But when the film course was over, I did not have money to make films. I could not see putting my energy into getting money to make films, could not see putting up with the compromises and outside control involved in an artistic context requiring big bucks. For me, the act of breaking a taboo is what is magical, what effects change...not someone seeing it in a film.
This not having money, this not wanting to be controlled and limited by money, was what sealed me into a performance life.
So I again started looking for a way to work with people. I wanted to see people nude, and touch them, and to create an intensity between us.
I had been painting oils for years, painting with a brush strapped to my forehead, painting nudes from magazine photos. One day, when I was selling newspapers in The Plaza as an excuse to talk to people, I told what turned out to be a rich woman I painted oils. She asked me to paint a nude of her. So Debbie set me and my paints up in the fancy living room as the woman undressed. On that day I realized how art can give people permission to do what normally is forbidden. It gives a frame that switches realities from the narrow normal reality to the freeing altered reality of controlled folly. If you go up to a stranger on the street and ask him to show his body to you, you will be lucky if he just walks away and does not hit you. But if you sincerely (and sincerity is a key) ask him to model for a painting or be in a video that involves nudity, there is a high chance he will do it because you are offering him a key to a new, different, and temporary reality.
So I sat on the center plaza, "selling newspapers". But selling papers was only a context. The context for me was an excuse for watching people, talking to people who had the slowness and the insightful curiosity to stop and talk...a way for me to ask them to model for me. These special people were my real targets for my street pieces. They saw past the mask of the cripple. The masses used the mask of the cripple to relieve their guilt, to reinforce their fragile superiority of being "normal", to make themselves feel better by throwing money (up to $20 a throw) at the less fortunate at whom they would not even look. The third type of person was made up of the poor and the kids who gave money as a pure spiritual act. When the special person stopped to talk, a crowd gathered around to listen. Money fell on my board while I was asking the special person to model.
The newspaper selling quickly fell away. All I had to do was sit there on the sidewalk, being available to talk. It did not matter that I dressed fancy, or had a sign saying "I don't want money; I want you". The money kept falling. But I did discover that there are special spots and special ways of sitting which attract people. Sit at a slightly different angle, or on a spot a few feet away from the special spot and you become invisible.
I have done these street performances across the country. I have gotten tickets to the Joffrey, filled a couple of workshops, got my cameraman for one of my films, all from the street pieces. I almost caused a riot in front of Caesar's Palace in Atlantic City, N.J. The crowd did not take kindly to the casino guards trying to push me away because I was taking Caesar's money.
I painted a lot of the special people from the street performances. I noticed the changes in the people when they took off their clothes; how they relaxed, how they started talking on a deeper level about important personal things. After I got a taste of direct interpersonal acting out of erotic dreams, painting became too static. I began a series of private performances called Nonfilms. I asked the special people from the street performances to come to my home, into my study which was my first cave. Within this cave, cut off from the normal reality, we created scenes which no camera would shoot, nobody would see. Although I had played with my friends before in nonsexual eroticism, this was the first time I tried to use "sexual" acts in a nonsexual art form. I was surprised with the power that this released. Because of these scenes, the people started talking about their lives during these sessions and said it helped their other relationships. Not one person minded that there was no film. These nonfilms were the base for my career in relationship counseling.
I first noticed the nonlinear effects of private performance in these secret rituals. People whom I approached on the street came to me weeks after the nonfilm, the person usually reported changes in his life, in his relationships, in how people were towards him...all of which amazed him (and me too) because he hadn't told anyone that he had done the ritual. Part of the change in how people related to him can be explained linearly by the change in the person emotionally and even physically caused by the performance. But this does not explain how things "just happened" to him, things that were improbable, things that we both linked to the ritual.
In the eighties I started videoing these nonfilms when the VHS home equipment first came out. I didn’t care that there was no place to show these videos. I got shit for using the VHS [among many other things]! I didn’t care! The important thing for me is always the doing the art with people, not who will see it! So we just put all of my videos in the closet. When the internet finally arrived, I was ready! I was one of the first artists who used the internet to show my videos! Those nonfilms in the closet now get watched by thousands a day!
I don't have a choice about what the art is like, can't change it to suit the art fashion to keep up with the times. It is a living monster pulling me along in its zigzag evolution. Real art is like that. Art is a calling, not a career.
The nonfilm pieces were active physical mutations of the psychic, literary lectures of Reed. Both the Reed lectures and the nonfilms were created around the particular people in my life to call forth an alternative reality to the normal one. I do not function all that well in the social, political, casual, sexual, economical, competitive world. So I look to performance to create a world of community, intimacy, and human intense interaction. For me, art is a matter of survival.
But I began to see the nonfilms were magical intense nonsexual one night stands which were not building a sense of expanding community, the heart of the vision that controls my art.
I was not satisfied with these nonfilms because they were brief relationships that did not go anywhere. What I wanted to do was create intimacy that is, a situation in which anything is permissible, where people feel that secure. I didn't want to connect this intimacy with romance or sex because that would set limits. But that "anything is permissible" did mean a wide open erotic freedom.
I somehow stumbled upon a book, Environmental Theater by Richard Schechner, a book about a theater of active involvement and participation, of nudity and intimate physicality, of risk taking and change. It was right up my alley. Richard's insights and experiments were inspiring to me.
But it seemed to me the Performance Group of Richard's was not well versed in, or committed to, a living communal intimacy, so they retreated from the edge when they were expected to live the personal intimacy they were acting out. My years of communal living and spiritual study gave me needed keys to take what Richard had done forward. The book fit so well with my own experiments, philosophy and vision, it became a base of the next stage of the work.
And I have already talked about the workshop and the twenty four hour performance which came out of all of this. After that performance, my tribal body of four plus around five people from the workshop moved to N.Y.C. to continue the work.
AUDREY: You are well known as one of the NEA funded artists that was targeted by Jesse Helms in the 1990’s, which resulted in the NEA no longer funding performance art. What do you think about the growing embrace of performance art by large museums, collectors, and the public?
FRANK: I have written a lot about what I call THE COMBINE PLOT which leads artists on a chase of college degrees, of skills to operate high tech art making machines, of money or positions that will give them the opportunity to do art, even when the style, the subject matter, and maybe the content of the art is dictated by this chase, by the combine plot.
When the news came out that I was on the hit list I wrote this:
“I see in the press that Sen. Jesse Helms and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher have nominated me, along with Annie Sprinkle, Karen Finley, Johanna Went, Cheri Gaulke, as well as other unnamed artists, to be the next target in their war on art. By doing so, Dana and Jesse have given us artists a platform from which to fight the plot. Because doing battle with the combine plot is one of the main functions of an artist, I am flattered to be nominated as one of the top ten on the new McCarthy hit list. I was feeling left out. All my heroes in the past were banned, jailed, harassed for their work. Artists such as Finley who I respect have been fighting the censors for years. My ego was crushed when I saw Rohrabacher on CNN label Annie Sprinkle a threat to the established moral order. After all, my work is as threatening as hers. But days later, someone sent me the NEW YORK CITY TRIBUNE (Feb. 5) special report that named names, and my name was there. What a relief! I only wish Dana and Jesse had invited me to testify. Jesse, I am available.”
It was not about stopping funding artists. Annie Sprinkle had not even tried to get NEA funding when we were targeted. And I just had gotten a NEA fellowship of five thousand dollars years ago! It was my first and last spin in the Grant Game. I felt fine about applying because back then they based it on your past work, not for some future project. There were no strings on how I used the money. I always had the iron clad policy of not giving the control of the art away to the government, corporations, audiences, cast members, venues, etc. So I only do art that we here can afford to pay for ourselves. But in the end of the year of that fellowship, I began to have an addicted feeling, thinking about applying for more grants, etc. rather than just doing art. So I said FUCK THIS SHIT and went cold turkey! That addiction to getting outside money really shut off a lot of possibilities!
About five years before this targeting, I was pissing other artists off by warning them they were opening gates for such an attack by giving other artists shit for not doing politically correct enough work. So I was expecting such an attack. But I didn’t think I was a big enough fish to be one of the targeted! But I was ready, ready to ride the bull for years, ready to use the platform and power that being targeted gave me to battle with censorship, repression and suppression, and to have fun doing it! Being targeted is just a part of the job of doing the kind of art I do!
The core goal of this attack was to politically deball all art. All of us targeted artists [gays, women and me] were using nudity and eroticism for radical political social change.
When an artist sets herself up as being an artist who goes beyond the normal frame, who tells the hard truths, who explores the unknown…not to be hip, or controversial, or to be interesting…but because that is how our tribal human being evolves, so it has to be done…when that kind of artist then goes after money, personal fame, and/or glamour while still claiming to be doing avant-garde art, it is denying society the real evolutionary function of the real avant-garde. It tells people, audiences and artists alike, that the avant-garde is just a branch of the entertainment complex with the same rules, goals, reality as television, rock music, Hollywood, and sports. This is like telling people a can of Slim Fast is a balanced meal of real food. It is a lie. And the scary dangerous thing is artists are buying/selling this lie. Avant-garde art is art that tells the truth, explores the taboos, pushes the limits. Obviously this kind of art, if it is honest, cannot be focused outwardly. Historically, often “The People” [who are not the same thing as “the mainstream”] have identified with the avant-garde because it was telling the truth about their lives. The focus of the avant-garde should always be on telling the truth, not on popularity polls and bottom lines. The focus of the avant-garde has been, and should be, on doing art that is as “pure” as possible…not on mass media entertainment of reaching as many people as possible by shaping “the product” to that goal.
The mainstream entertainment, by it sheer mass, has always sucked artists out of the fringe, the underground. That is just gravity. In reality, it takes a lot to enter, and to stay in, the underground. The underground is where the real freedom and the real ability to change society are to be found. This is why artists CHOOSE the underground instead of the mainstream. This is also why, when an artist is pulled into the mainstream, this freedom and ability decay. In my own career, I have worked very hard to stay in the underground…this work has been hard precisely because some of the pieces have turned out to be “popular” [whatever that means!]…attracting the mainstream sharks.
The mainstream has always tried to create a fake avant-garde with fake controversies, fake taboos, fake “hipness,” etc. to give the marks a controlled fun-ride through a Disneyland to keep them away from the real edge of life. This is because the powers-that-be cannot control or exploit what is in the real avant-garde. To pull this off, the government, corporations, whatever need us artists. WE ARTISTS DON’T NEED THEM!
Seeing art as THE PRODUCT, with marketing phrases such as “alternative comedy [a.k.a. performance art],” is very damaging to performance art because it trivializes art. In fact it avoids “art” all together, selling “alternative comedy” as a weird, consumable form of entertainment which will give you a laugh for your buck. This is not what performance art is. Performance art is the performing/doing/experiencing the act of art. It is going on a physical journey into the unlimited realm of art. Sometimes this journey may be funny or entertaining. But these are not the true goals or rewards. The suggestion [promotion] that these are the rewards of art results in denying people, including the artists, the real full freeing experience of art.
All of this is selling the art, the artists, and the audience way short. Moreover it was misunderstanding the new media such as the internet and zines. In these media, artists can relate to their audiences directly without middlemen, without compromises, without limiting concepts such as “mainstream”…all for very little money…so why sell out?
Btw, I am always willing to sell out for fifty grand a week!
So the NEA became a part of this long before Helms targeted us. But when he forced the NEA to add a clause to its artist contract, the NEA became useless to artists like us. The clause was basically a loyalty oath to the established order, promising to do no art that could offend anybody! Some artists like Rachel Rosenthal sent their NEA money back, refusing to sign! But most artists signed, not embarrassed to admit that they did that weak of art! And that was the death nail of the NEA to individual artists.
AUDREY: Your work deals with the body, erotic play and sexuality— themes that a person with cerebral palsy is not usually identified with. Are you able to get away with things that more traditionally able-bodied artists are not?
FRANK: Mmmmmm… Who is doing the identifying? Who are the artists with cerebral palsy who don’t deal with the body and sex? And why don’t they? Don’t they deal with life in all of its dimensions?
I have always claimed whole LIFE with all of its issues, etc. as my canvas and subject matter. I have claimed all kinds of art and all channels of communication as my tools! Having cerebral palsy is one of my tools. It is a great shortcut and adds additional dimensions to what I do. For an example, when I get on a stage at a punk club to sing, everything is blown open, the old reality with all the limits have been shown up as lies because a dude like me shouldn’t be a rock star! So my body is like a booster rocket even before I open my mouth! But then I need to deliver, get results! I always do!
There are always all kinds of pressures to change the content, the tools, and the focus of the work. People always say they like the work because it is strong, but I should get over my obsession with sex and nudity, and get on to more important issues; I should not get "stuck" in one vision. I can never figure out why they LIKE the art if they think that!
What they do not realize is what they like about the work, the strength, comes from being committed to a single vision, no matter what the current trends and fashions are. I cannot imagine more important issues than sex and freedom symbolized by nudity. But these are not my ultimate focus. Sex and nudity are powerful digging tools to reach the intimate community. By limiting the tools of art, art itself is limited.
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 in the eighties was criticized for limiting her audience because she offended 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.
AUDREY: Is nudity and eroplay always a part of your performance?
FRANK: Well, in my performances, like in my life, the possibility of nudity, sex, and everything else is always there on the table to appear at any time. This turns up the importance of everything that does actually occur into an intensive altered state. I never know what will happen!
And in reality all my life is my performance, using all kinds of channels of communication [both linear and non- linear]. Funny! I probably have reached lot more people than any other performance artist. And me, not caring how many people the art reaches!
AUDREY: Is the glass half full or half empty?
FRANK: My cup runneth over! It always has!
AUDREY: As a younger performance artist, I am interested in a dialogue between our generations. What are your impressions of the 80’s and 90’s generation of artists as opposed to your own. This, of course, is a very broad topic, but perhaps you can rap on the subject a little.
FRANK: In the seventies and the early eighties, the calling of art became the career of art. The passion and idealism became the studying of the trends of what will be "in" next. The passionate vulnerability that creates magic was replaced by a cool and clever intellectualism. We artists got seduced by high tech. We got seduced by the modern media, by the quest for large audiences.
I think performance was being ruined by trying to package it as entertainment, as off beat cabaret. Some performance is entertaining. Some performance is cabaret. That is great. But when you try to package performance into a neat cabaret format, as I think is the trend, to make performance acceptable and profitable, it becomes a hip form of nightclub watching or groovy T.V. watching. If you limit performance in time and space for acceptability, it stops being performance.
I like doing cabaret and video. They are great mediums in themselves. Of course, video, cabaret, computers, etc. have always been a big part of what I do.
But when I am doing cabaret or video, I am always aware of the limitations built into their formats. When someone watches a video, he knows that he will remain passively watching from the outside; the video will not literally pop out into his reality, or physically drag him into the T.V.
When someone goes to a cabaret, he knows there are certain limits involved such as that each act must end before another begins; but in performance, anything is possible. A performance can last for a minute or it can last for days. Performance can start in one space but then move to another. Performance can be storytelling, it can be a guy threatening you with a baseball bat, it can be a guy hanging by his skin, or throwing food, or anything. In performance all things are possible. And that is what gives you an extra edge to create dreams.
Performance, like any avant garde art, is the way society dreams; it is the way society expands its freedom, explores the forbidden in safety, loosens up. Society needs its dream art, just as an individual needs to dream or will go insane. Our moral majority society, bent on going backwards into the violent blank rigidity of a censored mind, needs taboo breaking dreams to get back to freedom. Performance is perfectly suited for this dream role. At the present time, our society is at a fork in its growth. It can go deeper into high tech impersonal isolation, or it can rediscover the magic that happens when physical and emotional humans actively and directly link up with one another. Art can either just follow society, just recording the trends, or it can take a pathbreaker role. I am talking to you artists who are not as lucky as I am to have a physical reminder that they are misfits of society whose job it is to push back the limits of society. This is a reminder that we misfits are still needed.
Performance art, the art of performance, is rooted in the private games of babies where every move and gesture has its own meaning to the baby it is rooted in the creative and the destructive games that a little kid does when he is all alone games that adults still do, but will not admit to doing, even to themselves.
One of the main criticisms I get is that my art is old fashioned, a throwback to the 60's. I find this funny because the roots of the art are much more old fashioned than that, going back to the cave.
Performance obviously goes much farther back than 1909 when it became a formal art form. The Futurists were reacting to the bankruptcy of formal art, with its gallery power scene, the elitism of art, the money, the politics, and the social scene of art. This is a true but a one sided view of why performance appeared at that time.
I think performance came into existence to fill a void in western life. The void was the lack of magic and inspiration. The two areas of creativity, theatre and religion that traditionally were the source of this magical inspiration had long ago moved from magic to entertainment and politics. This void also gave birth to psychology during that same time period. I often get the criticism that my work is really psychology and therapy, and not art. When it is realized that psychology as a formal science and performance as a formal art were born at the same time, this criticism can be answered. Performance and psychology are both involved in spiritual healing by digging into the hidden mysteries of life.
The dynamic of seeing art is not the fundamental dynamic of art. The doing of art is art's basic dynamic. The doing of art and having other people see the art work are two separate dynamics, events, rituals. The seeing of art is what the viewer or listener does in her head. The doing of art is the ritual of creation, is what the artist does. In reality, this ritual has more to do with the act of doing than the act of creating. When a child first draws crazy lines on the wall, he is not trying to create something...but to do something for some effective purpose that our linear logic cannot grasp. The crazy person does his insane rituals, not to express himself but to keep the sky from falling or to make pain go away. And it works. The sky does not fall down. Maybe it is because of the rituals of the insane.
The very act of doing changes the whole universe. This is a key principle of magic. By doing a ritual or by speaking a spell, you can effect change. Painting a picture, doing a dance, writing a poem, any act of art can be a magical ritual, the doing of which has nonlinear effects. Seen in this way, most acts of creation are private rituals done in personal caves. What we usually think of as works of art are aftermaths of art.
The problem with our modern frame of art reality is not that we make art to be seen, but that we have forgotten (or have been made to forget by those who control what is to be seen and what is not) that the power of doing art is the main power of art. The private performance is a way to regain the magical power of the doing of art. Defining what a private performance is is an interesting way to enter the magic. I define it as a ritual that is not for an audience. It is something that has to be done, something you may not even want to do. One of the easiest to frame as a private performance is a shaman going to his secret spot to do rites nobody will see to open himself up for channeling visions that he cannot personally use or tell anyone about. We have seen other obvious private performances the child, the madman, the artist alone doing art. We can add things like doodling, singing in the shower, playing invisible drums to the radio when you are safe alone in your room. It is something that has to come out. It is something too silly, too taboo, too sacred, too intense, too raw, too vulnerable to be done in public, to be expressed. This may be where real art begins. This kind of doing by one person is clearly private performance. It has an element of secrecy and undercover. I can remember singing on my bed along with the radio, quickly stopping when anyone opened the door, not wanting to be exposed, not wanting to lessen the magic. And now I sing in rock clubs.
The hidden ritual not only kept me from insanity (some people will say that makes it therapy, not art), but opened nonlinear routes of possibilities not only for me, but for everybody. The private performance gives the artist freedom from limits and shoulds and morals, so that she can go beyond where the society or culture or the consciousness has reached, to connect to the universal power. By doing this she brings a new universal area into this reality.
AUDREY: I think you are terrific Frank. I see that you ran for President?
FRANK: Well, are not all political campaigns performances? That doesn’t mean they are not serious. My performances often start with something seemingly trivial then grow by themselves very quickly into forces unto themselves. The campaign started with a t-shirt of The Three Stooges. Michael [“Mikee”] LaBash, who is one of six people I live within a tribal relationship and who is our graphic/web designer, had a CURLY FOR PRESIDENT t-shirt. For Christmas 2006 Mikee made me a FRANK MOORE FOR PRESIDENT shirt. When I wore it, people started asking me what my platform was. So I wrote a platform up. Everybody who read it got excited, overflowed with hope, saying it expressed what they felt and wanted. They didn’t see a performance artist in a wheelchair. They didn’t check the odds of my winning. Instead they saw someone who they could excitedly vote for… somebody who shared their dreams, who talked deeply about what really affects their lives. Their reactions placed on me a responsibility to mount a serious campaign, to commit and surrender to it…and to hang on no matter where this ride would go. I never know where a performance or a project will evolve to.
In one of my speeches from the campaign I said that I started running basically because none of the prominent candidates were talking honestly and directly about the state of things, were committed to fundamental change, and had a clear plan to create a humane, sustainable, and just plain enjoyable society. So I took on that role. My running for President created an excitement for how possible it is to bring our dreams for our society into reality… to remove fear and isolation; to get the boot of big corporations off our neck; to provide everyone health care, life-long education, a minimum income, and a livable wage; to restore our rights and freedoms; and to bring our troops home! We everyday people know the real state of the union! But more importantly, we have the sense of what is possible! We need leaders who share our dreams and who do not sell us short. Or sell us out!
This excitement extended overseas, and we received much more coverage of the campaign in Europe than we did locally, although there were a handful of great interviews and articles about the campaign here in the U.S.. In Europe, there were great articles written about the campaign in France, Germany, Poland and the UK, and an appearance on Swedish TV!
We did many local events and attended many different local festivals during the over two years that I ran for President, and they were some of the most effective pieces I have ever done … Here is what I wrote about the campaign coming to the “How Berkeley Can You Be” Parade in September of 2007:
“The whole day blew me out. Linda and Mikee took turns pushing my chair close to the lines of people along the parade route so I could shake hands, look into people’s eyes, hear their responses, interact one on one…all of which would have been impossible if I sat on a truck. I was moved when people thanked me for running, when whole sections started clapping and chanting “GO, FRANK, GO!” Erika, Corey, Alexi, and sometimes Linda or Mikee gave out over 1,200 copies of the platform. And people didn’t throw it away as is common, but started reading it, shouting out planks they were moved by. I can see that “pressing the flesh” can be addicting! And a lot of people are devoted viewers of the public access shows of Suzy and mine. “I WATCH YOU EVERY NIGHT!”, “WE TIVO YOU!”, “I LEARN FROM WATCHING YOUR SHOWS!”
Camping out in our beautiful booth, which we put up for most of these events and festivals, was only slightly less intense. We were a visual magnet, decked out with banners, t-shirts, buttons, bumper stickers, peace flags and platforms. And people got the tribal body that the 6 of us are together!
By the “official” count, I received a handful of votes, spread across a number of states, Maryland, Illinois, Kansas, Georgia, Utah, West Virginia, and of course California. But the “official” count for write-in candidates is always just a small part of the picture, because so many of the states that actually accept write-in candidates for President will never actually count or record the votes unless the number of votes becomes large enough to contend with the “major” candidates. For instance, we know directly that I received votes in New York, but there were 0 votes counted for me in NY.
The campaign also had a direct effect on the electoral process for write-in Presidential candidates in a number of states. We not only forced several states' elections divisions to learn their own system, we also challenged and/or changed procedures and requirements in other states both before and after the election.
For much much more information about the campaign, with great photos and video from the various events, visit: http://www.frankmooreforpresident08.com/index.html
And for more about my work, people can check out the below links:
facebook group: The Universal Underground Video Bank
Thanks for sharing your being/art/love with the world~