Genet Sais Quoi


Left: Jonathan Schipper's plastic mould in “Still Ill.” Right: John Lovett, Rita Ackermann, and Alessandro Codagnone.

In this month of nascent lethargy, young Brooklyn artists with wilting petals would do well to see Momenta Art’s energetic group show “Still Ill.” A series of performances whose leftovers accumulate and linger in the space, it offers chastening evidence that some people, rather than fleeing to the beach, have decided to stick around and do something useful, or at least interesting. A man-shaped plastic mould in which a naked Jonathan Schipper had crouched on all fours made me feel I’d really missed something at the exhibition opening. “There were pools of sweat on the floor and steam was coming off his body,” Momenta’s assistant director Michael Waugh told me. Though the fluids had dried on the plastic man, his presence spoke of the ecstasy of rituals seen, and felt, firsthand. The remnants of other performances suggested more treats were in store. On this evening I was to see John Lovett and Allesandro Codagnone, the show’s curators, debut a performance about R. W. Fassbinder with Rita Ackermann. And fashion design duo Pleasure Principle was presenting an extended environmental piece on the gallery’s façade. It was worth braving the heat.

“It’s about football”—meaning soccer—said Pleasure Principle’s Adrian Cowen, of the homemade banner, printed with the letters “C.R.E.E.,P.” (derived in part from a song by The Fall) that was draped across the gallery’s front windows. Collaged audio of stadium chants blared, and a smoke machine farted intermittently. These indicators of devotion among European football supporters appeal to the British Cowen and his Roman partner Diva Pittala; the near-religious fever they suggest is intimidating to some while profoundly comforting to others. Football is a massive and divisive cultural force––like NASCAR in a way, but more tribal and poetic––that acted, in this context, as a neat and unpreachy metaphor for the more unsavory effects of unwavering belief. These ideas did not weigh heavily on me, though, and I must note that this was not, categorically, a night for doomsday fatalism. I sat for a long while with François, a fashion photographer on assignment from Paris, who was wearing a billowing Pleasure Principle creation seemingly modeled on a Klan robe or on hip-hop’s ubiquitous quasi-ethnic three-quarter-length white tee, or both. “I have been partying for five days,” François sighed from behind the sunglasses sliding down his nose, “and zis”—he tugged the shirt—“is keeping me going.” He retracted his entire body inside the cotton folds and shut his eyes, then smiled to demonstrate.

Left: Ackermann, Lovett, and Codagnone during their performance. Middle: Diva Pittala and Adrian Cowen of Pleasure Principle. Right: Momenta Art's Michael Waugh with François.

By the time Rita Ackermann appeared, the mellow early crowd of less than a dozen had swelled to thirty sweaty bodies, and I happily found myself in a back nook with the performers as they changed into their costumes. I blurted to John Lovett, who was shirtless, that I had never seen such a voluminous amount of body hair in my life; he laughed and thanked me, then said that he’d grown it especially for the performance. The trio vamped for my camera as Imitation of Christ’s Tara Subkoff, coming out of the bathroom, sang their praises. “You are a Fassbinder girl,” said Subkoff to Ackermann as she made her slow approach to the front. “I am Jeanne Moreau,” Ackermann uttered to no one in particular, at this point far more focused than either the fashion sprite or myself.

The piece was a response to Fassbinder’s final work, an adaptation of Genet's Querelle, an honest film about the crapshoot of sexuality, and the master would have been proud of its unadorned ambiguity. Lovett and Codagnone were in sailor costume, wedged in a corner and kissing passionately. Codagnone waved a switchblade behind the larger man’s back as Ackermann straddled a chair and watched. Codagnone untangled himself and engaged in a gentle waltz of foreplay with Ackermann. They walked off together. The jilted Lovett followed. It was all over in five minutes. Written across the wall was an R. W. aphorism—“Love does not exist, only the possibility of love”—that clearly means a lot to the trio, and by the time they had vanished it couldn’t have seemed more cogent. “Happiness is not always fun” is an R. W. saying that means a lot to me these days, but on this particular night, at least, the opposite had proven true.