Thursday, December 4, 2008

Lost in the ArtChurch vol. 1: Awakenings, Asleepenings, Adreamenings, Aschemenings

A few weekends back, we attended the sanctification of an an antinomian church, located deep along the border between Bushwick and Ridgewood. We'd been to the Christian Center Sanctuary of Hope before & had participated and written about the experience and art-exorcism of Gordon Matta-Clark. So we were excited about returning and reviewing the latest event slash artattack to take place far away from the well-trod artist paths of Williamsburg and the LES. The Christian Center Sanctuary of Hope (for simplicity's sake, CCSH) is a former storefront-turned-Latino-Roman-Catholic-church-turned-vacant-room-turned-artist-haunt-slash-performance-space, run by three friends of ours: Matthew Blair, Lech Szporer and Andrew Wingert.
The playbill promised a lot: performances, photography, hot liquored drinks, theater, mime, noise band, and possibly the sacrificing of a live chicken named Lucy. When we arrived at the CCSH we were impressed by the full house of young creative peoples jamming the floor, drinking hot toddies and exploring the decor, which included: tree branches rising out of dirt mounds on the wooden floor; two enormous church pews built on risers facing the stage; a ceiling-suspended rope web large enough to climb into, laden with dangling church organ pipes; candles spinning on a Victrola player; vintage radio microphones and more. The carefully constructed aesthetic of slow but beautiful decay contributed to the atmosphere.

Someone in the audience shouted "Cold as hell tonight" and the burbling laughter belied the fact that CCSH is a church, but instead of religion, it offers experience. The experience, like regular churches, is to pull the church-goers out of their expected levels of comfort, to shift their mode of intake and let that shift permeate other processes of life. To enter the building one way and leave changed. Such is the process of Artaudian theater, named after the great pervert of French theatrical aesthetics, Antonin Artaud. Not an easy accomplishment, especially with today's jaded and ironic youth. However it wasn't for CCSH's want of trying.
The opening act consisted of a not-quite-goth girl playing some plaintive songs on guitar, with good intention. Following the music, Becky the Burlesque performer as Neurotic Jewish Mother Necrophiliac. The stand-up routine that followed would've given Woody Allen a hard-on and material for his analyst. The act subsited of both a comic monologue and a live example of teabagging corpses set to Celine Dion. Subtlety it wasn't, and life-shifting it absolutely aint. Then the third act.

A stocky, not unattractive but not particularly engaging actress in a blond wig took the stage and started to do a Tammy Faye Bakker self-help shtick. The southern accent, the "Yes, you can do it too!" power attitude, the 80s music, all of it, a little tiring and expected. Until she stripped down naked in the middle of this unheated church, and proceeded to give a hygiene and sex-ed course on the proper way to insert objects into one's anus and vagina. It was astonishing - by the gaping mouths and wide-eyed shock it seemed that no-one in the audience had seen anything like it. The performer, Ann Liv Young, was using her own splayed legs as the easel and her cunt and asshole as the anatomy chart. Eventually Ms. Young got up, butt-ass naked and all, and thrashed her way around the church, grinding against audience members as 80s house music thumped. Her aggressively sexual dance piece would have been at place in a megaclub in Chelsea, but performed by a naked woman in a blond wig in the middle of an Art-Awakening truly blew this church-goers mind.
Then Lucy the chicken came into the picture. Lucy was supposedly due to meet the chopping block right on the floor of CCSH, but an unnamed woman in tears (who according to Mr. Blair, wasnt part of the show) rushed the stage and made a plea to spare the chicken's life. Another shifting moment, bringing an audience member to interrupt the show. Lucy, along with Ann-Liv Young eventually escaped, courtesy of Ms. Young, her videographer Michael, and a getaway car waiting outside.

The next act started when an argument exploded between two audience members, who moved down to the central staging area and expounded, in Shakespearean English, the accurate process to live a passionate life. It was entertaining, if a bit too pretentious. My lady and I liked the part where both gentlemen chomped down on raw cow heart, only at the insistence of each other. After the argument, it started to rain inside the church, and a group photograph was called for, so the crowd reassembled themselves outside and all posed, shiveringly.

There was still the noise band and mimery to follow the intermission, but we had experienced enough moments of suspended comfort, and besides, I had worked all day while fighting a cold. It was a fast, long walk to our apartment where a warm bed and hot tea were waiting to soothe our souls. Following burlesque necrohiliac stand-up and naked lessons in sexual physionomy, after the almost-slaughter of a chicken and consumed raw cow hearts, tea and sleep will do just fine.