Inspired by my crazy adventures as a performer on the road,
this is the story
of two performance artists who cook up the ultimate performance: to kidnap their
billionaire boss...and turn him into the wildest
performance artist the world's ever seen.
2021 has been a wild ride, and it’s not even halfway done.
Due to Covid, this year hasn’t exactly been rife with in-person performance art opportunities, but Ventura’s 5x5x5 series curated by John M. White marched bravely onward via video, thank God.
So, after workshopping pieces in my backyard with mannequin parts, dirt, ladders, invisible skateboards, and bananas, I finally came up with something crazy from my childhood called 1979 Norwegian Choreography for Skateboard & Banana — check out the pics & video! The piece is simple, but it took 3 bone-jarring days to choreograph and shoot, so by the end, my legs were DESTROYED from all of that faux-skateboard jumping.
I just finished writing THE OCCULTIST, a new streaming/TV series pilot about a failed archeologist who becomes an occult detective — I’m so so so excited about this one, because it combines my eternal love of Indiana Jones and my obsession with the occult that dates back to my childhood — and the script just became a finalist at the 2021 Los Angeles International Underground Film Festival — yesssss!
Plus, DARK SILO, the script I co-wrote with KayDee Kersten, was a finalist in ScreenCraft’s 2021 Action & Adventure contest after winning Best Original Screenplay at the Burbank International Film Festival. Agents & producers: I am so ready for youuu!
My preliminary schoolwork toward my Ph.D. in Parapsychology is finally done. It concluded with a thesis paper called The Liberating Power of Image in the New Thought Movement, which is a feminist take on how the concepts of image and seeing in the metaphysical “mental sciences” (Religious Science, Christian Science, etc.) can liberate one from the raging patriarchy in Western modes of being & seeing.
My doctoral dissertation is up next. I’m still plotting what to research — my list is crazy long and growing: metaphysical healing, shamanic & witchy practices, chaos, E.S.P., ghosts, even aliens…. There are too many topics I’m excited about to choose. Maybe I can incorporate them all? Hm….
I hope you found something fun and fulfilling over the past 6 months to keep you sustained & inspired through this pandemic horror show. For me, it was my wife, dog, friends, and a lot of margaritas, followed by tons of running. I’ve racked up the miles from Los Angeles to Sedona, dropped 10 pounds, ran a half-marathon virtual race, and just started training for my 5th full marathon, with hopes of qualifying for the Boston Marathon this year (assuming my legs ever recover from all that make-believe skateboarding…lolol).
So, if you drive past a pale, bony, dehydrated blonde dude who is tripping through the asphalt streets of Burbank like a loon, please don’t run him over! Wishing you a healthy & beautiful summer!
What a year. Coronavirus. Insane politics. Death of Justice Ruth Ginsburg. And still, in the hardest year in recent memory, so many dreamers continued making art. I’ve never been so exhausted, yet so inspired at the same time. I hope you found moments of inspiration too. Here are a few highlights for me:
Since coronavirus canceled most of my performance art shows, I decided to film all of the crazy ideas that I wanted to perform on stage in 2020. The surreal result is called It’s Almost Over, which one viewer called “David Lynch-esque” — the highest compliment for me, everrr.
Rattle Rattle, the short film I made with KayDee Kersten, made it into 9 film festivals in 2020, and our feature screenplay Dark Silo — which won Best Original Screenplay at the Burbank International Film Festival — moved us one step closer to landing an agent.
My award-winning, clown-comedian friend Natalie Palamides crushed 2020 with her new Amy Poehler-produced Netflix special, NATE. If you didn’t see the live show in Edinburgh, New York, or L.A. (or if you didn’t catch Nat back in her salad days), you’re in luck, because Netflix did an incredible job of capturing NATE’s insane and fearless magic. Don’t miss it!
2020 saw me finish a third of my Ph.D. work in parapsychology and metaphysics, with an emphasis on healing and occult practices. My studies inspired me to write a TV/streaming series pilot about a becoming-magician, with more historical realism than most other occult films or shows I’ve seen. Stay tuned!
Lastly, with my performances canceled, my primary stress release in 2020 was running up into the Verdugo Mountains that ring Burbank. I covered 1,050+ miles, with 120,000+ feet of vertical gain, which is like climbing Mt. Everest 4 times — not bad. I also did some running in the open desert around 29 Palms, where I accidentally stumbled onto a bombing range, and got chased off by a Marine helicopter ‐ see pic below. What an adventure. (P.S., if you’re a runner on Strava, come be my friend!)
Dear Diary: I’m crazy-excited to announce that DARK SILO — the FBI conspiracy-thriller film script I wrote with KayDee Kersten under our Roughhausers banner — just won Best Original Screenplay at the 2020 Burbank International Film Awards! Our minds are blown — thank you so much!
In a heartfelt F-U to Covid, I had the chance to perform in a mask on the streets of Ventura a few months back with a mop and a palm frond. In Mesopotamian and Egyptian religions, the palm branch represents eternal life (the palm’s name comes from the Greek phoinix, the same word we use to mean the bird that revives itself from its own burnt ashes). Here the mop is not necessarily a symbol for cleaning; it might serve as my own human-made frond — a kind of artificial (but magic) ‘palm’ held in (the palm of) my hand (with ‘palm’ coming from the Latin palma, meaning the hand spread open like a leaf). In my mind, I was my own Axis Mundi, a human bridge channeling & imbuing the mundane and unnatural with the magical healing power of the natural. Let’s hope the spell works.
In another attempt to kick Covid’s ass, I was seriously disappointed to learn that all of my running races had been canceled this year, so I decided to stage my own solo race: a 50K (31 mi) ultra-marathon around Cordova, the Burbank street where I live. The run took just under 5 hours (about 28 loops around the block), during which my better half KayDee kept me alive with fluids & food, organized all of the spectators who showed up to cheer (OMG, THANK YOU GUYS!!!), and chatted with people who tuned in from around the globe to watch the race’s streaming feed, live from a camera in our front yard. KayDee also made me an epoxied finisher’s medal — see below. Amazing! First ultra-marathon, complete. Suck it, Covid!
Wherever you are, I hope you’re hanging in there, and managing to thrive. I feel grateful that in the midst of this Covid-era craziness — so much pain, loss, confusion, animosity — that there have been moments of joy, which have been harder than ever to find — a full-time job, really — but I don’t know what else to do, except seek them out, and pry them from 2020′s rotting palm, because I — we — you — deserve them.
Our new film Rattle Rattle is an official selection at film festivals across the country! Storyline: one of my hands kills the other, and quickly regrets it. See the trailer here!
My creative partner KayDee Kersten did an incredible job with the cinematography, and I discovered that my hands are bitchy, impossible-to-control characters on camera — how did I never notice that before? Haha. We shot the film in our Burbank garage, where our soundstage was my grandma’s old card table surrounded by a circle of homemade felt blackout curtains, while I ran around in a fetching array of leotards. We’re in the running for a few more festivals — can’t wait! Special thanks to North Hollywood’s Wooden Nickel Lighting for the killer lighting setup!
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. So…would you do her? Hahaha:
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.
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.
It’s been crazy since July when we began shooting the novel’s trailer, but the footage is DONE and editing is well underway. The HD & 35mm footage are stunning, thanks to the cast & crew & lab.
But more importantly, the novel’s interior layout has begun, and the cover art is complete—I can’t wait to hold the first copy in my hands! Early reader quotes have also been pouring in. The latest, from Marc Wilmore, Writer & Producer of The Simpsons: “A well-written, hilarious adventure I’d recommend to anyone.” Holy shit, I’ll take it!
I just finished watching Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis, an incredible documentary from 2006 by Mary Jordan on performance art forefather, Jack Smith. I’m an idiot for not having watched this sooner. If you’re a fan of Jack Smith—or of Warhol, Fellini, John Waters, Jonas Mekas, or if you’re an artist or an art patron or a wacky postmodernist—trust me, it’ll blow your mind, witnessing Smith’s influence on pretty much all things art. No doubt, he was a god. I dont know if this is official, or how long it’ll stay up, but Destruction of Atlantis is presently on YouTube here.