March 27, 2020 3:34 pm
Feeling cooped up? These exercise tips won’t help at all. (Special thanks to my neighbors for putting up with this insanity…have a look and you’ll see what I mean…haha).
Feeling cooped up? These exercise tips won’t help at all. (Special thanks to my neighbors for putting up with this insanity…have a look and you’ll see what I mean…haha).
Hi Friends! Oh man, my 2019 was a wild ride. First, Dark Silo, the screenplay I co-wrote with my creative partner in crime KayDee Kersten, was a semi-finalist at the NYC International Screenplay Contest — hopefully we’ll see it in theaters soon! We also wrapped production on Rattle Rattle, a surreal short film we shot in our Burbank garage that was a semi-finalist at both L.A.’s IndieX and Indie Short Fest film festivals—not bad!
There was plenty of performance art too. KayDee and I co-produced Not An Exit, a sold-out evening of performance art in downtown Los Angeles in July with an amazing lineup of artists. And, I performed a couple of pieces at 5×5, the monthly performance series at Ventura’s amazing Art City Gallery.
My favorite solo piece this year was John’s Arrow, which was both a performance and a magic spell designed to help heal my hospitalized mentor, John White.
Although I’ve been a practicing occultist since I was a kid (Norse magic, shamanism, chaos magic, you name it), this was my first public magical act that incorporated actual magical intention and charged tools, including crystals, sigils, magical movement, spirit water, and a felt blanket (the latter which was a nod to performance artist Joseph Beuys, who was obsessed with both felt and energy).
I’m indebted to film director and occultist Alejandro Jodorowsky, whose book Psychomagic really opened my eyes to the possibilities of overtly mixing public performance with magical practices. When I look back at my performances over the past decades, I see plenty of shamanic and witchy elements (both on stage and in my own internal approach to performance), but it was Jodorowsky’s book that convinced me to bring spooky+healing to the forefront. After the Arrow piece was over, several audience members approached to say that the space’s air had taken on a strange charge — and even better, my mentor’s recovery seemed to accelerate over the days that immediately followed. Really, who can ask for more than that? Thanks, Jodorowsky!
In 2020 I’m looking to finish 2 more scripts that are on deck, produce another performance art night in L.A., and explore psychomagic further with more public spells geared toward healing (which I hope will be useful in what is shaping up to be a truly insane election year). If you’d like to receive a note when these and other happenings are happening, join my mailing list — and above all, have an amazing New Year!
After a year at the typer with my creative partner (the genius writer-producer KayDee Kersten), a new feature-length screenplay has been born: 120 pages of FBI thriller wrapped around a conspiracy I think might be bigger than JFK, King Jr., Marilyn Monroe, Kurt Cobain, Vince Foster, and the fake moon landing combined.
Even as a kid I wanted to be a writer, but a screenwriter especially, so my life has felt like one long sprint toward film in epic slow motion, a dichotomy paradox interrupted by performance art, standup comedy, beer, karate, hilarious occult practices, shitty jobs, strange ladies, and other adventures required for a screen scribe to possess any depth.
If I could change anything, it might be that my script arrived a decade sooner so my favorite film professor in college, the brilliant Anne Friedberg, might’ve had a chance to read it. A contemporary of Yvonne Rainer and wife of screenwriter Howard A. Rodman, Anne was a sparky postmodernist full of humor and encouragement who said to me once, I have no doubt you’ll get there, which was pretttttty much the best thing you can say to a boy who spends his days dreaming. Anne also confided that she’d always wanted to be a Vegas showgirl, so she’d be pleased to know our new script is driven by a smart female protagonist — and also that I’ve been known to dress up like a showgirl myself. Here’s my, er, most successful attempt right before a West Hollywood bar crawl a couple of months ago.
In December, I had the honor of opening L.A.’s 18th annual Nihilist Film Festival with its traditional blessing of TVs and other electronic devices. With America’s funniest nihilist Elisha Shapiro presiding, I blessed a TV and every cellphone in the crowd using Luke Skywalker’s long lost arm from Empire Strikes Back:
Finally, in February I dusted off Rattle Rattle, a dark fairy tale piece I originally performed in 1992. Aesthetically, I’ve always been a purist who prefers not to repeat performances so each can stand alone in time and space. (Full disclosure: while I love this purity, it can be exhausting, since 2-3 bookings in a row means having to create multiple pieces from scratch in a very short time, and sometimes my muse is drunk and slow to show up). In Rattle Rattle‘s case, I allowed an exception to my rule because with the world the way it is right now (very fucked up), I thought maybe the audience could use some magick drawn from creative energies in my past (sort of a Back to the Future shamanic recipe of my own Marty McFly design), and it worked, I think, judging from the crowd’s happy reactions.
The pattern’s been the same for as long as I can remember: the day I start a new paying job, it sucks the life out of me. A death vacuum. Zero creative breath for months on end. Energy, gone. Muse, vanished. Internal magic, nowhere. Reeling into the grind/er. The petty new minutiae, new co-workers, endless meetings, all-consuming. Brain, trailing impotent webs that ensnare nothing. I’m listless inside. Dry leaves. Grinning on empty. I wrote about this kind of torture once. Toiling away in a post office mail room in his late forties, fingers blistered and inky, Bukowski understood:
And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.
After six months at my new job, my mothy cocoon has finally cracked & I’m sliming out onto the jungle floor, sunlight above, just now taking in everything that shot over my decaying corpse like angels of death during the past half year: turgid politics, environmental disasters, horrors in Vegas, fucking Weinsteins
This is my version of depression. (And maybe yours). People face much worse, I know. But an anchor’s still an anchor. You’ll die drifting to the bottom if you can’t steal some air.
What saves me are magic performance art spells. Art shamanism. What Jodorowsky calls Psychomagic. Little symbolic acts that break mental patterns, current ways of feeling, and reorder reality’s illusions. Slump to the floor and roll around on a pile of silverware with an apple in your mouth. Pull voodoo bones from a piece of chicken and make a wish while you march in place. Commit misdemeanor acts of surreal sabotage in your enemy’s bathroom. Somehow I have the energy for these, even when I can’t muster it for anything else. Maybe I’m just curious how they’ll turn out, and they always do. It’s intuitive. My subconscious knows what medicine I need. And it always involves some ritual, some symbolic message to my subconscious that hey, I’m still here, still wanting to live, even if I don’t know how right now.
Eventually the light’s bright again, searing out the rest in electric white. The leaves go green. The muse reappears, sometimes in the form of a purple stray cat who wanders into my yard.
I don’t usually yap about my creative process & weirdo internal states, but maybe this’ll help someone somehow. (Maybe you).
In other news, the photo above [taken by KayDee Kersten] was from an October performance in Ventura where the message was this: High Culture is sneakily arbitrary. So, why not make up your own? If you wear a hamburger bun instead of a Rolex, you’ll always beat the Joneses (unless they have really bitchin hamburgers).
P.S. — Thanks to everyone who came out to Burbank’s Author Day at the Buena Vista Library! I signed copies of Two Performance Artists, and so much more! Arm casts! Pets! Even books by Shia LaBeouf! You’re the best! xoxo
I met a ton of smart people (including a Ph.D. hunting for extraterrestrials), debated national security policy with 3-letter agency spooks, and learned many scary things I’ll be writing about on my cybersecurity research blog (countercastle.com) when I’m not busy destroying art galleries with rabid dance moves and razors in my panties (yep, I did that).
With school over, I’m officially returning to freakyland, but in both the creative and security realms now. So, look for more performances, a one-man show (finally), and short films as I experiment more with Hollywood. And trust that performance art methods will also spill into the cybersecurity domain, where I’ll be researching new and (hopefully) unpredictable methods for subversion.
Don’t let the coat and collar in my photo here fool you — I was naked from the waist down. (Still am).
Thank you everyone who came out last night to the monthly insanity at Ventura’s 5x5x5 Show! Such a wild night! The crowd was on fire, the performer lineup was inspiring (looking at you, Pete Ippel), and I had the chance to unveil You’re So Nice, a new piece about the tendency to keep negativity bottled up. Nice was originally slated to be part of a one-man show I had hoped to have finished by now, but my grad school workload has been heavier than I’d hoped, which is also why these blog posts have been far and few between.
This is the first time I’ve mentioned school here, in part because my impending degree has little to do with aesthetics (at first glance, anyway), and I’ve wanted to reserve this space for more uber-right-brained activities. But it’s high-time I outed myself: my “day job” involves working in cybersecurity.
Security’s been a lifelong interest. Even as a kid, I always had my nose in books about spies, criminal capers, the FBI, lockpicking, etc. My technical background started in the mid-1980s when I taught myself programming and joined a hacker/phreaker gang as a young teen. After getting scared straight by my own FBI encounter, I began working above-board in the security field in the 1990s. Since then, I’ve worked as a consultant, security architect, and hacker for 4 Fortune 500 companies (and counting), with an average stay of 4.5 years at each.
It’s a challenging balance, pulling fish out of my performance-art-pants at night, then wearing a poker face at a job where I’m tasked with fending off thousands of online attack attempts per day from amateur and state-sponsored hackers alike. A few of my co-workers know of my double life, but like any good spook, I’ve tried to keep a low profile; patients might prefer not knowing that their doctor rolls around in broken glass on weekends.
My take, however, is that cracking systems can be a creative act — which you know if you read my novel — and so hackers/crackers are often a very creative bunch. The very term “hacker” denotes someone inventive, whether it be in computers, turning toasters into telephones, or some other wacky trade. It follows that in order to “deflect” these creative people from wreaking digital havoc, defenders must be creative themselves, and be capable of seeing what hasn’t been shown (or even imagined) yet. The best defenders are, in many ways, visionaries capable of “seeing” the road long before any dirt has been moved. This is why it pays to exercise the right-brain by embracing occasional insanity to foster new synaptic routes orthogonal to Security’s inbred patterns.
I’ll finish my Security M.S. degree this December, and I’m increasingly realizing ways I might “hack” the subject of cybersecurity itself, with lessons learned from performance art. Who says the two subjects can’t inform each other? Playable glitches have been intentionally introduced into video games as an art form, so why can’t performance art “infect” cybersecurity as a new approach, a new way of thinking? And the converse can also be true. Security is very much about detecting what is breached, hidden, or taken; why can’t these apply to the performer-audience relationship in some explicit ways as well—or even be the focus of a performance?
Frankly—and I’m wagering every artist/performer who works a corporate day job can sympathize—I’ve been nervous for years that potential employers might discover my other work, and shy away from hiring me—but no more. How can I publicly pursue the intersection of art and security if I hide the fact that they already intersect for me intuitively? And really, why shouldn’t art and technology trade inspiration? They both come from the same brain, after all, in my case.
So, dear potential employers, please hire me for my cybersecurity skillz
I’ll be performing some serious weirdness at this Friday’s Andy Kaufman-inspired Kauf-Drops Show at the UCB Theatre in Hollywood. Come for some post-Halloween insanity! UCB Theatre, Friday, November 6, 2015, 8PM. 5419 W Sunset Blvd. FREE! See you there!
I was 16 when I discovered performance artist (or really, über artist) Chris Burden. I’d opened a library book to a black-and-white photo of a young, shirtless man crawling across a nighttime parking lot that was covered in glittering, broken glass. Arms behind his back. Rolling side to side. Getting cut up. My god, I thought.
I turned the page. Another photo: the same man nailed to the back of a Volkswagen. Then another: the man in an art gallery after being shot in the arm by a .22 caliber rifle. Artist Chris Burden, the book said. Something clicked in my brain; at that moment, my idea of what art was—what it could be—was never the same.
I had read some of Conceptual Art’s history, but obviously not much about Performance Art, so the discovery of Chris Burden was a revelation. His work was the first time I’d encountered the idea of a body doing something uncodified—that is, not Dance, Drama, Oratory, Circus, but Other—as art. Chris Burden had, I realized, made up his own art form, and not just once, but over and over again. There was no precedent for his pieces; they’d fallen from the sky, alien, unpredictable, dangerous, primal, silent.
For me, his performances were about suffering. In every photo, Burden was alone, without an audience, and his face was neutral. Nothing forced. No emotional mask. Placid. An Everyman, with whatever pain or discomfort he was feeling suppressed, held captive. This resonated with me, with my own childhood cycles of pain—separation, dispair, guilt, pennance. Burden had been called a Body Artist, but in truth he was a Pain Artist: his suffering encouraged the projection of our pain, our sympathy, even our empathy, onto his waiting countenance.
Burden’s death on May 10, 2015 was a terrible blow, the loss of a hero. I never wanted to emulate him—his work was too perfect and unthinkably painful to emulate—but I chose the same alma mater as his, in part to be “near” him and his history—to perform in the same school art galleries where he had quietly bled, suffocated, cried, and discovered, alone.
When the John White Gallery invited me to perform at Ventura Art Walk in July, 2015, I decided to crawl shirtless across broken windshield glass, just as Burden had in his 1973 piece, Through The Night Softly. Despite my love of his work, I had never done a piece that would be intentionally damaging to me physically—but I needed to know firsthand something of what he had felt, of what he had experienced in his pain.
My wife KayDee and I drove to Ventura, laid out a 12-foot-long swath of broken glass in the gallery’s parking lot, and then lined it on both sides with Matchbox cars—an homage to Burden’s many car-related performances and sculptures.
It was a hot day—about 91 degrees. Sun was blazing.
The piece began. I came running out from behind the gallery and sprinted across the parking lot with a 100-pound steel car door over my head. I used the door as an umbrella, then a racetrack, a seesaw, a drum, and then a stage. I climbed onto it wearing three white tanktops, which I pulled off one by one and threw into the sky like birds, chanting “BURD, BURD, BURD.”
As I chanted “BURD” and pulled off the last shirt, a white seagull landed behind me on the asphalt. The audience and I were stunned. Time slowed. It was Burden, I know it was, in feathered psychopomp regalia.
I walked to the start of the glass farthest from the audience, lay down, and begin to crawl. The asphalt was searing—I later learned it had been between 130 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit—and the grinding of the glass shards was unbearable. I have multiple tattoos, so I know something about persisting through enduring pain, but this was like nothing I had experienced. My chest was being grinded, stabbed, burned—I was on fire with tunnel vision. I had wanted to keep a placid Burden face, but it was impossible, so I submitted to animal cries as I pushed forward, crawling but unable to use my hands on the melting asphalt, the glass cutting my chest like ribbons, brain screaming for me to stop. The white seagull watched me silently from the gallery roof—it was my confessional and our communion. Sweat ran into my eyes and my hands were shaking like crazy. More animal cries escaped—they were uncontrollable, cries for Burden, the cries he had refused to let out back in 1973.
When I reached the last of the glass, I crawled across asphalt, through the car door’s empty window, and emerged out the other side. I stood up, dizzy and weak and shaking from adrenaline. My chest was bright red, mottled, and cut from the asphalt and glass. I looked down and saw glittering shards sticking out of ribs and a line of blood streaming from my elbow.
I picked up a goodbye Matchbox car, kissed it, and chucked it onto the gallery’s roof—but I was too spent. The throw was short—the car rained down from the roof and landed back on the asphalt. I walked to it, kissed it, and threw it again. Again, too short. My arms and legs were rubber. I picked it up once more. Kissed it. Threw it. It flew up and over the roof’s peripet—then nothing. Silence. None of us heard the car land. It never came down—flown into the heavens.
Thank you, Chris Burden. April 11, 1946—May 10, 2015.
And see a great recap of the piece on The Polina Hryn Show here.
Last Saturday I attended UCLA’s West Coast unveiling of Matthew Barney‘s River of Fundament, a 6-hour death-and-reincarnation tale of a writer caught up with Egyptian gods that was inspired by Norman Mailer’s 1983 novel, Ancient Evenings.
Fundament is is an orgiastic adventure in every sense of the term. Egyptian shades of Kenneth Anger, David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Luis Buñuel, Joseph Beuys, Rudolf Schwarzkogler, Carolee Schneeman, The Kipper Kids, and The X-Files are smelted down into molten imagination that comes running out of every human orifice to drench viewers in color, carcass, and fuckable cars before a noxious, farting pantheon of dug-up-and-still-decaying Egyptian-god-cadavers eagerly lapping up the leftovers.
The story—whose summary could easily expand to fill a novel all its own—sets a dead Mailer to reincarnate himself three times into different human bodies through the womb of his wife, possibly in a veiled examination of his own success and failings as a writer. Each reincarnation starts with Norman surfacing in an underground sewage river of “fundament.” Soaked in feces, he emerges to slosh up a staircase to his Brooklyn apartment above, where his own funeral wake is in full swing with New York literary types, improvising musicians, and caterers.
Each ascent of the staircase finds the wake winding down further, if not decaying; the party’s culinary centerpiece—a roast pig on a spit, whose tongue is devoured by a sickly-pale Paul Giamatti—is polished off by maggots at the end, while remaining guests fall under hypnagogic spells that have them moaning and chanting, perhaps as a byproduct of the Egyptian magic all around. Meanwhile, the river-and-apartment storyline is paralleled by a second tale, in which Norman is imagined as three automobiles, each of which undergoes its own magnificent transfiguration about town.
Both narratives are interwoven with Egyptian lore, with Norman’s cohorts mapping to Isis, Osiris, Horus, and other gods, and symbolism that is layered impossibly deep: ibises, serpents, vultures, beetles, was scepters, hieroglyphs and cartouches, belled pectorals, daggers, Hathorian cattle and horns, hidden passages both vaginal and excretory, stairwells joining heaven to a shitty hell, and of course, phalli in every shape appear against walls of gold, avalanches of fire, and heads of lettuce.
Mobs of Ph.D. candidates have no doubt already trashed all previous dissertation ideas in favor being the first to publish on Fundament, even though, sadly, not enough has been written about Barney’s latest opus in the press.
Nearly all critics agree that the work is epic in scope, with moments of beauty that match or rival—even if only fleetingly—the most gorgeous and unique imagery ever set to avant-garde celluloid. In the same breath, many also dismiss the film as simply too long, or too inaccessible—even more so, some say, than Barney’s earlier Cremaster Cycle—or that the brown rivers of offal, shit-encrusted gods, and fetid sex with puckering anuses pressed against the lens are too unappetizing to digest.
I haven’t read Mailer’s Ancient Evenings yet, so I can’t attest to Fundament‘s fidelity there, but I can say that critics who evaluate Barney’s new effort only against rubrics that dictate films must be linear, or only make literal sense, or feature less noxious scenes, or tie up endings with tidy totalizing ribbons, have embarked on the journey with a fatal first misstep that nearly guarantees they’ll miss the film’s performative and pedagogic qualities.
(These same critics would probably render similar judgments against Un Chien Andalou—even though Buñuel’s masterpiece admittedly soothes by being five and a half hours shorter in length—and should therefore save their ink when it comes to surrealist works they don’t seem to want to understand ab initio, since digging for structure, meaning, relevance, and art history context is strenuous).
But it doesn’t matter, because, really, how can anyone criticize what amounts to a dream?
And a dream Fundament is—a performance art dream. Sure, it’s interspersed with some of narrative film’s familiar codes, but even those codes break down. The “narrative” of “normal” guests attending a wake collapses into chaotic scenes of their moaning, drooling, and being generally oblivious to the scatological Norman-narrative being draped across them, so even “normal” finds itself touched by Egyptian magic, which brings spontaneous opera, object-making, and occasionally violent delusions to anyone in its vicinity.
Freud marvels in his Der Dichter und Phantasiere at the writer’s magical ability to dissolve his/her identity into a work—to become all of the characters and the spaces in-between—and Barney manages this in spades, especially with regard to the in-between. Distinctions between performance art and film, object and subject, and the utilitarian and symbolic dissolve, just like the apartment walls in Fundament that double as membranes for gods to penetrate. In a page right out of a J.G. Ballard map, Barney pushes through into supposedly empty, useless areas—our primordial shit, our intellectual detritus, our industrial graveyards, our dead—using self-made vehicles that are in-between themselves, since that’s the kind of magic required to cross the river from the hell of rigid symbolism and (re)tired modes of thinking into imaginary places that are new.
Read around, and you may come to agree that many reviewers don’t know what to do with Fundament so far, even though the film provides the answer: namely, that critics need to create their own analytical and expressive vehicles appropriate to what they’re reviewing—especially when it’s experimental—rather than relying on punctilious categories of genre and medium that are easily off(al)ended. Perhaps we should hire performance artists for the job, since their art specializes in reconciling and synthesizing the surreal with the waking; ask one what we should do with Barney’s all-seeing anuses, foil-wrapped cocks, and cars leaking silvery sperm, and I bet answers won’t be long in coming.
Images © 2014 Matthew Barney. Text © 2015 Scotch Wichmann.