Cynthia Carr

  • DEAD ALIVE

    I’VE BEEN TRYING TO FIND a couple of lines written by David Wojnarowicz, lines I came across while researching my biography of him, Fire in the Belly (2012). I remember them being scrawled in one of his small notebooks, yet somehow they aren’t in my “Notebooks” file—or in “Journals.” But the gist is burned into my brain. What he described more poetically than I’m able to was the sight of a homeless man lying in a refrigerator box. Only the man’s feet and lower legs were visible. David photographed the scene, and, as I recall it, he wrote in the elusive notebook: “That was once someone’s

  • the October 1999 issue of Artforum

    IN OCTOBER 1999, Artforum devoted a special issue to East Village art—its confounding rise and precipitous fall. I’ve had a copy on my shelf ever since, and regard it as one of the essential postmortems of the scene.

    On the cover is a photo of the artists David Wojnarowicz and Mike Bidlo at Pier 34, an abandoned warehouse extending into the Hudson River off Canal Street. At first I wondered why the editors had selected an image from outside the neighborhood, but the pier—and the unauthorized and uncurated “show” that popped up there in 1983—definitely functioned as an East Village

  • performance February 14, 2013

    East of Eden

    Critic and writer Claudia La Rocco recently caught up with the pioneering performance art journalist Cynthia Carr in SoHo. They talked about her latest book, Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz (Bloomsbury, 2012), and her time spent writing for the Village Voice during a period that spanned the culture wars, the AIDS crisis, and the fabled East Village art scene.

    Claudia La Rocco: So many things changed for me as a writer when I found you and Jill Johnston; your books were incredible guides to me. Was there anyone like that for you?

    Cynthia Carr: Well, Jill Johnston definitely.

  • the Poets' Slam

    BACK WHEN TRISTAN TZARA picked words from a hat, back when Allen Ginsberg created beatnikery with the Howl heard round the world, life still prospered on the book-reading plane, and verse could shake things up. Today, in the age of hype and image, only the hype-and-image hymn that is rap can make any waves. Otherwise, poetry leads with certainty to the state of no-fame no-money, making it possible for it to seem like the last incorruptible art. Making it the logical focus for the last trace of any bohemian energy in Manhattan, from the long-established Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church, to

  • Replicants

    IF MARY SHELLEY INVENTED the monster-making genre (her Frankenstein appeared in 1818), filmmakers invented its now-beloved visual clichés—the bubbling, smoking beakers, the obsessed egomaniac at the controls, the dungeonlike lab in a gloomy Gothic-style home. These disappeared with the advent of outer-space mythologies, all cyborg and android. But from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, 1926, to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, 1982, they were narratives about trying to control what we’d unleashed. Any walking, talking bucket o’ bolts had better be a servant like R2D2. Or as the high-tech axiom goes, we could

  • Trying Times

    LAST APRIL IN Tupelo, Mississippi, the Reverend Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association got his hands on a copy of David Wojnarowicz’s exhibition catalogue Tongues of Flame. Here was something the preacher could use: raw material to further the Lord’s work of killing the National Endowment for the Arts. He would testify later that the catalogue made him “kind of sick at [his] stomach.” Still, Wildmon doggedly went on looking for the naughty bits. These assorted homo- and heterosexual images were fragments of much larger pieces, but the heck with the larger pieces; the heck with what

  • Sandra Bernhard

    I GOTTA BE ME? Some persona said that. We’re ruled by personas, addicted to images, obsessed with celebrities. And Sandra Bernhard presents herself as a pure product of this performance culture. She travels in hyperreality, and she loves it—almost as much as she hates it.

    Without You I’m Nothing is the film of a performance about performance, written by Bernhard and John Boskovich, directed by Boskovich. Bernhard plays every side of the media-made equation: spectator and spectacle, fan and star, consumer and commodity. We first meet her in her dressing room, where she looks into our eyes and

  • Laurie Carlos

    White Chocolate travels the vicissitudes of memory, through stories handed down for generations and old songs that bring back a childhood. Writer/director Laurie Carlos structures the piece like a song, with recurring refrains instead of a story line. The subtext that emerges is one of racism imprinted on personal mythology. The title may refer to the way some white people appropriate what’s black or to the way some blacks try passing for white. Carlos always writes ambiguity, mutability, possibility into her work, as if mere facts just can’t evoke the ghosts.

    Carlos plays the central character

  • Ping Chong, Brightness

    Ping Chong’s forte is the creation of ambience, but there’s always a message behind his beautiful, staged pictures. Though his social consciousness sometimes seems at odds with his rather whimsical sensibility, Ping Chong’s Brightness, described in the program as “a theater work for the fin de siècle,” uses that very tension to generate pathos. This is vaudeville drenched in melancholy.

    A ringmaster dressed in bright white, her peaked witch’s hat lit from within, welcomes us cheerfully to “the circus maximus of the millenium,” alluding to a world of war and plague just outside. As she promises

  • Dream Bardo

    From the apocalyptic imagery of its sets and costumes to its eccentric hillbilly music, Lambs Eat Ivy seems to embody southern-style outsider art, as if it were the performance counterpart of the Reverend Howard Finster. And, like Finster, this trio has definitely found a universe in its particular grain of sand. The group’s subject is mythology, from kundalini to Christ. The show at Franklin Furnace, Dream Bardo, 1989, documented a librarian’s journey through the Bardo state (the period between death and rebirth described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead). The trio (Nancy Andrews, Emma Elizabeth

  • Imperceptible Mutabilities In The Third Kingdom

    Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks calls Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom “an African-American experience in the shadow of the photographic image.” In four scenes connected by a dreamlike logic rather than a developing narrative, characters struggle to find themselves in that shadow—the representations and definitions made by white folks. A white male scientist in the first scene, called “Snails,” studies three black women (Mona, Jonah, and Verona) through a camera planted in a cockroach. The roach sits in the living room; at two feet long, it’s too big to kill. They refer to it as their

  • Annie Sprinkle

    Annie Sprinkle, the self-described “feminist porn activist” and ex-porn star, seems to embrace a role many feminists have fought to undermine. With her coquettish manner, pretty smile, and very large breasts, Sprinkle presents herself as the complete sex object and clearly finds that role more empowering than demeaning. However, her performance of Post-Porn Modernist, 1989, at a lower-Manhattan burlesque theater made it clear that it was never simply the role that empowered her, but her own sexuality.

    Sprinkle evaluated her years of work in the sex industry with some detachment and wit. She first