Dispatch from the opening of AiOP in rainy Manhattan
Thursday, October 11th, 2018
By Alexandra Hammond
Today I quite literally took shelter from the remnants of global-warming-fueled Hurricane Michael in Westbeth Gallery, the indoor extension of BODY, this year’s manifestation of the Art in Odd Places festival. Most performances, which would have taken place outdoors at various locations from Avenue C to the Hudson River, were postponed due to intermittent warm downpours. As I leapt over the curbside reservoirs in the Meatpacking District, I contemplated the effects of the rising sea level on the newly-restored cobblestone streets of this high-gloss neighborhood and headed southwest to the gallery.
Entering the portico of the Westbeth Home for the Arts complex, I encountered the Dutch group Questions Collective rehearsing for their performance Foundation, each wearing a candy-colored jumpsuit. One member wielded a giant-sized mascara wand from the group’s collection of larger-than-life beauty tools, which they use to draw metaphorical connections between the “beautification” of womens’ bodies using cosmetics and neighborhood gentrification. The collective addresses the role of artists, often cited by real estate speculators as “tastemakers” and “early-adopters”, in the transformation of cities into economically exclusive playgrounds for the bourgeoisie.
For most of October, Westbeth gallery will be chalk full of such timely and topical artworks. Many involve performance props or documentation. Most notably, all works are made by women, female identifying and non binary artists. The same goes for the public performances on which the festival is based. Since the Enlightenment schema that structures Western society has cast the body as the leaky, mortal, fecund zone of the woman, artist-curator Katya Grokhovsky decided to do a full takeback -- fighting persistent inequality, under representation and devaluation of women by staging an all-female festival. While the past few weeks in politics (and the politicized judiciary) have been a grim reminder that American patriarchy is willing to put all institutions on the line to maintain its death-grip on power, the resistance marches on, even joyfully, in spite of collective pain and trauma.
Jody Servon’s free posters state: “MY TIME IS VALUABLE”. They are sized to be easily captured in a selfie as a proclamation of the value of labor, and the persistent undervaluation of women’s work. Rose Nestler reimagines Etruscan vessels, fitness gear and excertize culture’s ongoing attempts to regulate the unruly (read feminine) body in her choreographed video Gymnasia Hysteria. Donna Cleary and Kathy Halfin’s altered mannequins model the dirt and moss skins and the tentacled, knitted headdresses of an urban earth goddess. Inviting introspection, Daniela Mekler’s participatory work My Body Is Not In Question offers open-ended worksheets where viewers can reflect on where they feel particular emotions in their bodies and share knowledge about self-care and women's health resources.