My early work as a painter and installation artist explored the decomposing carnival as an emblem of postindustrial New York City. My imagery consisted of ferris wheels and junkies, fish being bathed in fire hydrant water, and the vanishing pastel colors of signs, bumper cars, and lights. My work changed as I realized that my paintings were serving as backdrops --- for human behavior. I wanted to emerge from the discreet relationship I was having with my “amusements” so my ideas could have more immediate contact with audiences – via performance.
The destitute amusement park was symbolic of the failed and dangerous city of my childhood. The flicker of its dizzying lights was also a metaphor for slipping in and out of the identities I sought to comprehend. For the last 20 years through performance I have been transforming the autobiographical and social histories that emerge from my biracial heritage. I have created a cast of characters that improvise in everyday social exchange, and perform for the stage.
My performances challenge conventional beliefs about race, sexual orientation, and gender in contemporary culture. As my European Jewish “bubbie”, I recall the candy-coated pleasures of Coney Island’s. I wax poetic from a park bench about my migration from Virginia to Harlem when I perform as my African-American grandmother. I am camouflaged within disco-era fractured reflections and pass as Greek when I revisit my 16-year-old identity. My alternate avocation as Butch-in-the-Kitchen, enables me to operate a meal plan service that is funded by fraudulent food stamps. In a torn tuxedo and teetering toupee, I perform as my grandfather, Uncle Bob, a ballroom dance teacher and social maestro from a well-battered 1960’s Borscht Belt mirage. My personifications of gender and race are subverted through their differences as well as their common embodiment. Simplistic conclusions about identity are undermined as one character transfigures into another.
In addition to performing as autobiographical characters, I reexamine a lexicon of images from popular entertainment and art that are expressive of my racial heritage. As a “Borscht Belt” comedian, I deliver a barrage of deprecating “standbys” while re-inscribing this genre’s legacy of Jewish blackface minstrelsy. I eschew the minstrel’s burnt cork for a crimson mask that gets accrued by dunking my face bathing in a 25-gallon tub of borscht.
I also re-embody the Jewish performance artist Eleanor Antin, and reinvent the character of her fictive black ballerina, Eleanora Antinova. I convert Antinova’s original evocation of Diaghilev’s revolutionary The Rite of Spring into a Detroit Rebellion that is envisioned with the Black Panther Party. I replace Antin’s original cast of Diaghilev and Nijinsky on wheels with life-size puppets that I animate of Huey Newton and Stokeley Carmichael. Antin, the white, Jewish straight artist who becomes black for this her ballerina role gets replaced by a white, Jewish, black, and butch lesbian.
The physicality with which I once painted has become transformed into the embodiment of personae. My earliest desire was to represent an antithesis to the artificiality of the amusement park’s candy-coating. Through dislodging familiar codes of representation, my performances now reflect an optional discourse about identity; they produce an aesthetic of hybridity. My own identity as a medium and a subject has created a wide and ever-growing range of characters. My characters seek to rouse dialogue with other urbanites. The stress, poignancy, bias, and joy that becomes reflected continues to enlarge the frame of my work.
I have performed at art spaces, galleries, festivals, and museums nationally, including the Detroit Institute of Arts; The Jewish Museum (NY); Bronx Museum of Art, Queens Museum of Art; University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA); and Arizona State University Art Museum. I have lecture at conferences and universities including the Open Engagement Conference (Portland, OR), Intervene! Interrupt! (UC Santa Cruz), Northwestern University, New School for Social Research, New York University, and Wayne State University. I have been awarded grants and fellowships from the Franklin Furnace Fund for Performance Art, New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), Urban Artist Initiative, and Skowhegan School of Art.
I am delighted to be a returning MFAIA faculty advisor to Goddard where I taught at Plainfield from 2005-2007 and Port Townsend in 2010. My teaching experience also includes School of Art and Design at University of Michigan, School of the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), Queens College (CUNY), York College (CUNY); and the Harvey Milk Institute of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies (San Francisco).