2016 will be monumental for us. Next summer, Elastic City will present our final festival and after that, there'll be a book for fans and future enthusiasts. The decision to wrap up Elastic City after next year’s festival wasn't an easy one to make, but we feel it's the right one. 2016 will be our 7th year. The itch.
In thinking about the future, the options we saw were: that Elastic City continue with a new Executive and Artistic Director or that EC institutionalize within a museum or larger organization. Well, we're a small but strong org (grrr) but we don't have the financial infrastructure to pay an ED and Artistic Director a livable wage. If we joined a larger organization, it’d provide more financial security but would compromise the urgency, form and presentation of the work. One reason we started making walks outside was so we didn’t have to answer to anyone other than you, the public.
But above all, we feel like Elastic City has met its mission and has explored this form well. We’ve developed a method. This is a project in poetry, really, and we're gonna go out with a celebration. I ain’t saying how just yet.
Our Associate Artistic Director Niegel Smith will take the baton, gild it a bit and present walks and other participatory work as part of his job as Artistic Director at the Flea Theater. Willing Participant will soldier on! I’ll continue to lead walks, give workshops on the form, etc, but I’ll also start new projects.
As I see it, EC has been incredibly rewarding—for me and for the artists and audiences involved. Since 2010, we have produced and presented over 125 original works. We’ve expanded the way in which thousands of people experience their everyday. But now’s not the moment to tout what we’ve done.
We’re raising $15,000 to help pay the artists well and offset production costs for 2016. Please click here to donate to our final year-end campaign. All donors will receive early registration sign-up. This past summer’s walks filled up on the day we announced!
With a donation of $30, we’ll mail a photograph of your choice. I shot them while traveling. The first 200 donors who give over $50 will receive a limited edition print by Agi Morawska that commemorates our 2016 festival.
I hope you'll join us in supporting our seventh year.
Todd and The Elastic City board (John DeCicco, Nora Hennessy, Heather Janoff Johnson, Peter Shankman, Niegel Smith, Ben Weber)
Come celebrate festival artists and fellow participants during our annual party to benefit Elastic City! This time, we’re taking over The Wild Project in the East Village!
Thursday, July 30th
The Wild Project (195 East 3rd Street; Manhattan)
You can purchase tickets through this link: http://elasticcity2015benefit.brownpapertickets.com/
Raffle to include prizes from: Beggars Group, The Bluestone Bed & Basecamp, eNe Salon, HERE Arts Center, Iron & Silk Personal Fitness, Joe's Pub, Kings County Distillery, Landmark Sunshine Cinema, Magic Touch Cocktails, The New Victory Theater, Shakespeare in the Park, Peter Shankman, St. Marks Bookshop, and more!
Raffle tickets $3/ticket or $20 for 10 tickets. You can purchase the raffle tickets with your benefit ticket.
Host Committee: John DeCicco, Nicolette Dixon, Nora Hennessy, Heather Janoff Johnson, Carla Kasumi, Sonya Kolowrat, Nancy Nowacek, Ben Pryor, Barbara Rogers, Todd Shalom, Peter Shankman, Niegel Smith, Ryan Tracy and Ben Weber
Festival partners: deCordova Sculpture Park & Museum, The Flea Theater, Gibney Dance, The Invisible Dog Art Center, JACK, Jack Geary Contemporary, The Library at the Public, The Poetry Project, Pratt Institute MFA in Writing, Sunview Luncheonette, and The Wild Project
It's here! The New York Times broke the news this morning! We're thrilled to announce the details of our six-week free festival of artist-led participatory walks, talks and ways throughout New York City. July 7th thru August 18th. This note's got everything you need to know. Get your registration on now cuz capacity is limited and it's gonna fill up quick!
Kate Colby & Todd Shalom
Karen Finley & Violet Overn
Todd Shalom & Niegel Smith
Julian & Leon Fleisher
Freddie, Kate & Vin Scelsa
Todd Shalom & Niegel Smith
Benefit at The Wild Project in the East Village on Thursday, July 30th with performers including Ramzi Awn and Karen Finley
Presenting Partners: deCordova Sculpture Park & Museum, The Flea Theater, Gibney Dance, The Invisible Dog Art Center, JACK, Jack Geary Contemporary, The Library at the Public, The Poetry Project, Pratt Institute MFA in Writing, Sunview Luncheonette, UnionDocs and The Wild Project
Foundation support: The Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Inc.
This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.
Festival identity by Asad Pervaiz
“Making Marks” by Wayne Koestenbaum
"Duly Noted" by Kate Colby & Todd Shalom
“Sea Glass Mermaid” by Karen Finley & Violet Overn
“DADDY WARBUCKS, PLEASE ADOPT ME (A.K.A. THE ANNIE TOUR!)” by Erin Markey
“Memory Palace” by Mimi Lien
“Ideally” by Todd Shalom & Niegel Smith
This year’s Elastic City talks have set out to undo the hierarchy of conventional artist talks in order to better situate the audience inside of an artist's work. The talks have been developed with each artist through Todd Shalom & Niegel Smith’s Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Process Space residency. Singer-producer Julian Fleisher and his father, the legendary pianist Leon Fleisher; performance curator and producer Caleb Hammons; free-form radio DJ Vin Scelsa, his novelist daughter Kate Scelsa, and supportive mother-wife Freddie Scelsa; and Todd Shalom & Niegel Smith will lead talks, each lasting approximately 60-90 minutes.
“Other Pursuits” by Caleb Hammons
“The Scelsas” by Freddie, Kate and Vin Scelsa
“Between Us” by Todd Shalom & Niegel Smith
“The Man I Love” by Julian & Leon Fleisher
“Visible Acoustics” by K.J. Holmes
“PROPAGANZA!” by Ben Weber
“Make It Fly” by Stephen Winter
“Re-weavings” by Vadis Turner
Elastic City will host a benefit, Thursday, July 30, 7:30pm to 10:30pm, at The Wild Project (195 East 3rd Street) in the East Village. There will be performances by vocalist Ramzi Awn and performance artist Karen Finley, playlist by Vin Scelsa, portraits by Santos Muñoz and champagne cocktails by bartender Tim Miner (Magic Touch Cocktails).
Tickets are now on sale at $40/person at: http://elasticcity2015benefit.brownpapertickets.com/
See you soon!
photo: Dudu Quintanilha
This following text was presented by Ryan Tracy as part of the "Politics of the Walk" talk on September 28, 2014 at Pratt Institute; co-presented with Pratt's MFA in Writing.
"￼Walk (On Ecstasy) With Me: Elastic City Walks and The Politics of Participation" by Ryan Tracy
Elastic City intends to make its audience active participants in an ongoing poetic exchange with the places we live in and visit. Elastic City
It should be clear to us by now that walking, in its many forms, is undoubtedly caught up within many political vectors of power as well as the struggles that emerge in and against forces of political and social oppression. I would like to use my time here to give attention to “participation” as one facet of “the walk” that seems to vex easy attempts at attributing a positive ethical, political and aesthetic value to the walk in its collective form. I take Elastic City’s intention to “make” its audiences “active” in their participation seriously. And for some time now, I have obsessed over Todd’s notion of “poetic exchange.” I have a sense that the terms together—active participation and poetic exchange—do some alchemical work on each other. In what follows, I hope to get a little way into figuring out what that work is and what it might say about the work Todd, and Elastic City, are doing.
I would like to come at the politics of the participatory walk from a queer trajectory; specifically in relation to the terms of participation. What enabled us to come here? What are the terms of address that occasion our collective formation? Were we called here? And if so, who called us? How did they call us? Might we have come here by another call? And if so, how might a different call bring to our being here together new meanings? In short, how did we become this we? In what follows, I will use queer insights about the politics of participation alongside José Esteban Muñoz’s notion of queer collectivity in order to explore how we might think of the walk, as imagined by Elastic City, as a political performance of queer participation.
￼One of the things I have come to love about queer theory is that it demonstrates a rather earnest categorical ambivalence toward the politics of participation. “Participation” becomes a site for struggle in queer theory primarily because identifying and critiquing compulsory social norms (e.g. “compulsory heterosexuality”) has been central to explaining the ways that queers are produced, marginalized and punished in a given cultural context, but so has devising political strategies that must on some level take the shape of social, collective movements. I have no intention of resolving this ambivalence. In fact, its ambivalence is no doubt one of the things that makes queer theory such a vital tool for social critique.
This tension was put under the microscope in 2005 at an MLA panel discussion titled “The Antisocial Thesis in Queer Theory,” where Lee Edelman, Jack Halberstam, Tim Dean and José Muñoz faced off on the subject. At stake was whether or not queer theory would be thought of as a theory about individual refusals to participate in normative cultural projects, or, in contrast, if queer theory was a theory that sought out ways for queers to form collective social movements that would counter dominant cultural forces.
One of the more poignant arguments for the latter was offered by Muñoz, an argument he would go on to elaborate in 2011’s Cruising Utopia, is that a politics of individual refusals will ultimately benefit only those queers who already have the best chance of participating in individualist, capitalist, racist, sexist culture: “gay white men.” To be clear, the intervention Muñoz was offering cannot be reduced to the flippant argument that gay white men do not face serious struggles, nor that homophobia itself wasn’t a pernicious and persistent social phenomena, but, rather, that much of the queer theoretical work up until that point had the tendency to promote an anti-relational (i.e. anti-social), individualist politics of the negative. Muñoz’s impassioned critique of anti-relational queer politics is that they were grounded upon a denial of the ways that race and class imbricate with the politics of sexuality. Thus, the resources that might support a rugged gay individualist survival (i.e. money, maleness and whiteness) are not available to those queers who are likely to have the least advantages or protections in our ￼society. In other words, anti-relational politics held almost no future promise for queers of color, queer women and trans people.
Muñoz offered collectivity as a necessary, urgent alternative to an anti-relational queer politics because it turns central queer principles (anti-normalization, anti-homophobia, antisexism, anti-capitalism) into loci of affinity from which queer social movements can be launched and broadened. Thus, participation, in Muñoz’s imagination, is not merely an option (or opposition) between group participation in compulsory social norms or individually rejecting those norms. Muñoz’s formulation of queer refusal as a collective rejection of oppressive social norms restructures the terms of participation into a queer, social form. But what keeps this queer collectivity queer? While drawing socially affective affinities between marginalized groups and individuals was at the heart of Muñoz’s project, so was an insistence on the crucial role of individual, critical self-reflection in the shaping and embodying of queer refusals (thinking here the chapter “Just Like Heaven” in Cruising Utopia). One key element that hovers around Muñoz’s queer collectivity is the gesture of invitation, a gesture that, in my reading, is crucial to keeping collective social projects queer.
I’d like to suggest that the form of collective participation that Muñoz is suggesting, one that is neither violently compulsory nor hubristically antisocial—one that is queer—must include the gesture of invitation. In the closing chapter of Cruising Utopia, Muñoz shares with us the song “Take Ecstasy with Me” by The Magnetic Fields. The song, like its title announces, is an invitation. “The Magnetic Fields are asking us to perform a certain stepping out with them,” Muñoz writes. This stepping out, according to Muñoz, is specifically a stepping out of “straight time,” of “the here and now,” of what he termed the pragmatic politics of the present, in favor of a potential future that awaits those who are willing to accept the invitation. “That stepping out,” Muñoz continues, “hopefully would include a night out on the town, but it could and maybe should be something more.” What I want to argue here, is that the gesture of the invitation, for Muñoz, is crucial to initiating collective projects that will be utopian and not risk falling into the blunt, instrumentalizing moves of pragmatic political thinking. If our social movements, our ￼stepping out together, are to retain their queer utopian promise, then they must be attended by a queer invitation, a hopeful, playful gesture that signals our suspicion that there is more to this street we are walking along than the straight time trajectory from-home-to-work-and-back-again, and that intimates our willingness to step out of ourselves and into elsewheres that must be there. “Take ecstasy with me,” Muñoz says, “thus becomes a request to stand out of time together, to resist the stultifying temporality and time that is not ours, that is saturated with violence both visceral and emotional, a time that is not queerness...Taking ecstasy with one another is an invitation, a call to a then and there, a not-yet-here.”
I would like to conclude by arguing that Elastic City’s desire for participation, and its calls for an “ongoing poetic exchange,” is just such a queer invitation; a hopeful, winking, open gesture to step onto the street together, and in doing so, to step out of the “stultifying” presumptions of the dominant political, economic, and social logics that strive to overdetermine our experience of walking in public. The collective walk imagined by Elastic City neither rejects all forms of participation (although it will reject some), nor does it naively exclude individual subjective experience or reflection (in fact, it depends on them). Rather, the poetic exchange that Elastic City offers, or invites, is one in which the putting into motion of bodies in public spaces is rethought, reimagined, re-performed and rehearsed, so that whatever we thought the street was, is or could be, is radically eschewed—vacated—clearing a ground to move differently in the world, and, in doing so, to re-make the world according to a queerer set of coordinates; that is, to actualize a world that insists on always becoming other than what we are told it should be.
“Cruising Utopia can ultimately be read as an invitation,” Muñoz concluded about his own work. One might read Elastic City’s walks similarly. I certainly do. Yet it will be important to remember that, as speech acts, all invitations are at risk of failing. It is, no doubt, anxiety about such failure that fuels individual as well as institutional desires to set up and enforce regimes of compulsory participation. Resisting this impulse to compulsorize participation is not an easy task. But, if we are to insist on making and inhabiting worlds that overcome the paranoid logics of coercion, and if bringing about these worlds means devising and launching collective acts of ￼political resistance that will require the participation of many, of ourselves and others, then it is a risk we must seductively, repeatedly, invite.
Caserio, Robert L.. 2006. With Lee Edelman, Judith Halberstam, José Esteban Muñoz and Tim Dean. “The Antisocial Thesis in Queer Theory.” PMLA. Vol. 121, No. 3. pp.819828.
José Esteban Muñoz. 2009. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York and London: New York University Press.
No Chicken’s, No Foul: In consideration of George Segal’s Sculptures in Sheridan Square Park
I received an e-mail from Sarah Schulman wherein she writes: “We are doing a performance, a "walk" through the generational divide in the queer West Village. The piece is called "Favorites" - we are asking three people of my generation and three younger people to tell the group - their favorite thing in the neighborhood that is gone. And, their favorite thing in the neighborhood that is still here...They know you of course…Would you be willing to be one of the speakers? It's set up so that you pick a location either where your place is (or was) and we bring the group to meet you there. Then you tell us about both the lost and still existent favorite places for about fifteen minutes.”
The West Village spot I chose that is gone, was Keller’s, a bar on the West Side Highway first established as the Knickerbocker Hotel and Salon in the early 1900s. I was a flaneur on the Lower East Side but would also be an occasional flaneur in the West Village beginning in the 1970s. Keller’s was remarked on as the birthplace of Disco in the early 1970s, for having the Village People photographed in front of the bar for an album cover. By the mid to late 1980′s Keller’s catered more to a Latino and African-American clientele, renown amongst the swell of black gay legends in the literary world at that time, and would finally close in 1998, after HAART the AIDS cocktail arrived. The building was land-marked on November 14, 2006 by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. How much of the history of its patronage has been preserved? What stories might I have had to tell?
As plans for the walk progressed, the organizers realized that Keller’s was too far off of the path for the walk. The re-route was more likely to end at Sheridan Square Park, site of the George Segal sculptures. I was asked if I wouldn’t mind speaking to the group there. In my ever-conciliatory manner, I agreed. Being art worldly, my familiarity with the sculptor resuscitated my curiosity. What meaning could I bring to these sculptures for the occasion? What history do they have to tell? And how does that story bear on what they represent? The ghostliness of the sculptures seem to have been a prediction for what they would represent in the future -- ghosts of the past. The controversy around the proposal surprised me once I learned of its nature. I’ll speak to that at the end of my story, reclaiming and addressing what many of us know to be true.
In June 2011, following the passage by the New York state legislature of the Marriage Equality Act, Art & Antiquities director, Jonathan Kuhn, heard from Leslie Cohen, who with Beth Suskind, her partner of more than 35 years, posed for the female figures in Segal’s sculptures. Their picture was taken with the sculpture at the dedication in 1992.
The Models: Leslie Cohen and Beth Suskind met in Buffalo College, a teacher’s college in 1965 on the first day of their freshman year. A close relationship they developed at first, would scare them and they would drift apart. Leslie, after graduation, moved back to NYC to study art history at Queens College. By chance, through a mutual friend, Leslie would be reintroduced to Beth, in 1976 more than a decade after they first met. This reintroduction would happen sometime after Leslie had been living in New York. While studying art history at Queens Collage, Leslie would befriend John (a gay man) and be introduced to his friend David, an artist who threw parties in his loft on Canal Street. David’s then partner, Manuel was an assistant at the Sidney Janis gallery, which represented some of the leading artists of the time: Claes Oldenburg, Ellsworth Kelly, and George Segal. David would become one of the two standing male figures in the Segal sculptures. Leslie and Beth would be models for the two-seated women, so we know for certain how 3 of the 4 figures identify.
The Sculptor: George Segal was an artist I became familiar with as he was good friends’ with the FLUXUS family, a family of artists experimenting with the boundaries of what art could be beginning in the late 1950s. Knowing of this association made him more interesting than what his sculptures revealed. George Segal began his art career adventure as a figurative painter working in an expressionistic manner before coming to his renown with the Pop Art movement with his sculptures. Segal was born in New York, his Jewish parents were immigrants from Eastern Europe. His parents ran a butcher shop in the Bronx, then moved to a poultry farm in New Jersey where Segal grew up. In 1946 he married Helen and they bought another chicken farm in South Brunswick, where he lived for the rest of his life.
Segal only ran the chicken farm for a few years, and began using the space to hold annual picnics for his friends from the New York art world. His location in central New Jersey also led to a friendship with Allan Kaprow in Rutgers University’s art department, one of the faculty renown for his germinal associations with the controversial FLUXUS group. Segal was said to have introduced several Rutgers professors to the experimental composer John Cage, which to me seems unlikely. Segal had a close relationship with Allan Kaprow, with whom he also shared a affinity as a Jew, Kaprow’s father was a Rabbi. Kaprow was a painter, assemblagist and a pioneer in establishing the concepts of performance art. He helped to develop the “Environment” and “Happenings" to describe art events that took place on Segal's farm in the spring of 1957. He’s also credited with developing their theory. In 1958, Kaprow published the essay "The Legacy of Jackson Pollock”. In it he calls for a "concrete art" made of everyday materials such as "paint, chairs, food, electric and neon lights, smoke, water, old socks, a dog, movies."
Knowing George Segal had only visited John Cage’s class at the New School that Kaprow attended, it was more likely that Kaprow would have introduced Segal to Cage. The American conceptual artist and Avant Garde composer George Brecht, born George Ellis MacDiarmid, also attended the classes. Brecht, who became great friends with Kaprow, would be, as I see it, an essential link for George Segal turning from a figurative expressionistic painter to creating his plaster casts that he became celebrated for.
Why body plaster-casting bandages? George Brecht was one of the originators of 'participatory' art, in which the artwork can only be experienced by the active involvement of the viewer, he is most famous for his Event Scores such as Drip Music 1962, and is widely seen as an important precursor to conceptual art. Brecht was also a chemist who worked for Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, who had headquarters in New Brunswick New Jersey, close to Rutgers University. Johnson & Johnson had developed a body plaster-casting bandage material that was made available for artists hoping to raise the corporations profile in the arts. Providing George Segal with a local source for him to begin to produce his own tableaux using this white plaster bandage material that has me thinking of their contrast to Kaprow’s two memorable crudely rendered figures expressionistically covered in black tar exhibited at the Hansa gallery in the late 1950s -- one looking like a Venus of Willendorf and the other, a male figure with an oversized erect penis – preceded Segal’s first experiments. The rawness of the material would now be understood as there was a language in art to support it -- discussions around Kaprows “concrete art” and around Cage silence, helped tremendously.
So here we have George Brecht one of the originators of 'participatory' art, and widely seen as an important precursor to conceptual art as an animateur in having George Segal come to acquiring an abundance of plaster bandage material to create work that would eventually launch his career as a Pop Artist. Some of Segal’s more noteworthy The Holocaust (1982) in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, The Commuters (1982) in New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal, were dedicated a decade prior to this tableaux in Sheridan Square Park and 3 years later the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, DC. (1995) would appear.
The Commisioner: Peter Putnam (1927-1987) a trustee and founder of the Mildred Andrews Fund, a private operating foundation that funded higher education and art, with an emphasis on sculpture, approached Segal, who apparently was not the first artist approached. Will we ever know who the other’s were? Peter’s mother Mildred Andrew Putnam, drew national attention after commissioning a sculpture by George Segal commemorating the 1970 slayings of 4 Kent State Univ. students by the Ohio National Guard. Kent State refused the gift of the $100,000 controversial artwork, entitled Abraham and Isaac and Putnam would donate it to Princeton University instead. But this deal would be different. What ever politics circumstances came into play, we may never know, however we do know that Segal accepted the commission which stipulated only that the work “had to be loving and caring, and show the affection that is the hallmark of gay people . . . and it had to have equal representation of men and women.” The established framework and support within the arts and the development of Pop Art supported a language that helped establish his sculptures into the canon of art history at the time, making him a likely candidate for this commission, and easier to market.
The figures, cast in 1980, received all of its community and design approvals in 1982. However, it would not be installed until the following decade amid political controversy much of it swirling around race and representation. “The sculptures were too white” was one claim. They were not a representation of the true history of gay liberation or the participants at Stonewall. On June 23rd 1992, the city’s first black Mayor David Dinkins and Parks Commissioner Betsy Gotbaum helped unveil the monument in Christopher Park. The initial opposition and rancor that had greeted the project had subsided; the advent of AIDS, which had devastated the gay community in particular, added a more somber dimension to the monument and its “mute” figures.
Now let’s get real--the erasure of black and brown bodies from most revolutionary histories in the U.S. is not new, and ongoing. The criticism that the sculptures are “too white” I find laughable, if they were painted black or brown would it make any real difference to how they are seen? These sculptures were meant to be a representation of same-sex relationships, period. The race of their representation not clearly in evidence, so what is really being questioned here? How can one assign race to these bronze figures as they appear? They are representations of human bodies with no defined race. To create controversy around this fact while the black and brown bodies so evident in the Village, then and now, are continually marginalized and treated as other, throwing mud at this sculpture seems misplaced.
In the gay village, black and brown bodies are appreciated for their entertainment and fetishized value mostly, and have usually found themselves persona non grata in many of the establishments that served the gay clientele in the Village. The Village then a haven for the gay community has never really taken up the cause for the plight and treatment of the black and brown bodies in their midst and rarely invited them to the table when concerns of the “gay community” are redressed. We’ve had to make our own.
The micro-aggressions we are confronted with in many of these establishments back then are no less today than they were back then. They’ve just been normalized. We had bars that at times felt open to us while many others did not welcome our presence. We made spaces for ourselves in places like Keller’s and Peter Rabbit’s then, I’ve been told, and bars like the Hanger today. Chi Chiz, seen as way too black and in your face “thuggish” was forced out. Exhausted by legal battles and ongoing police harassment, at the behest of scared white neighbors, forced them to finally close their doors in January 2011. A quick Google search on controversy at Chi Chiz brings me to http://www.queerty.com/nyc-bar-chi-chiz-says-goodbye-20101217, wherein I read comments like “Should have left it open, as said in a previous comment now they’re all going to move into one of the other bars!” and “BTW, don’t think that they won’t come for the other bars in the West Village too. They won’t be happy until an area that has always been historically gay is completely whitewashed.” The battles of then continue today but now have a name and an organized front. What of the ongoing fights with FIERCE? An LGBTQ youth of color-led organization building leadership, political consciousness, and organizing skills of youth of color between the ages of 13-24, they organize around local grassroots campaigns to fight police harassment and violence and increased access to safe public space for LGBTQ youth fighting for their right to share the public space on the Christopher Street Piers.
When I look at these sculptures in Sheridan Square Park, I see nothing that speaks to the history of a once gay village neighborhood specifically. Presently staged, in an openly shared public space, a tableau of George Segal’s sculptural figures quietly rests in one area of a garden park, presenting 2 same sexed couples’, wrapped in white body plaster-casted bandages and bronzed, one couple seated, the other standing, neither having anything to do with chickens.
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