POWPOWPOW Opening Night

POWPOWPOW is the third annual performance art festival in San Francisco.  The curators, Guillermo Galindo + Alyssa Lee + Guillermo Gomez-Peña, gave a call out to “artists more willing to ask for forgiveness than for permission”.  It’s an uncensored event in an un-permitted venue with zero budget.  A way to rally raw action artists together.

To be honest, I can’t even remember the name of the piece as I proposed it to get into the festival.  The action I proposed doing was dressing as a bride, dancing with the audience and getting them to pin money to my dress like the Mexican wedding tradition.  I wanted to do a performance to get back the $20 I gave POW in application fees.  The money from the door went to paying rent.  No artist got any money, as far as I know.

Money makes interests me as subject matter for art. Literally nothing but paper or numbers on a computer screen, we agree that money=success, power, value.  Often times, performance artists perform for free.  And without money, we wonder if our performances have any success, power or value. Furthermore, many of my artist friends, including myself, find it difficult to ask for money for their creative expression.  That mentality probably contributes to us performing for free in illegal venues.

I wanted to create a performance that not so much challenged people’s ideas about money, but seduced them out of their money paradigms.  I also wanted to break my own habits around performance and money.  The way I imagined doing this was to dress as a blushing bride and create a joyful wedding scene.  When the audience walked into the venue, they’d walk through two rows of wedding guests facing each other, drinking champagne and blowing bubbles.  I wanted the audience to feel like they were part of the wedding party as they walked down the aisle.  I would be at the end of the aisle waiting for them with my bouquet of plastic, red roses.  When they came close, I would hold out my arms and embrace them, saying into their ear, “Thank you so much for coming!  I can’t believe you’re here!  On the most important day of my life!  I am so blessed!  Thank you for helping me start a new life.  Thank you for blessing me with money,” and dance the money dance with them.  Luckily, I have some amazing friends that helped me.  Rachel Znerold not only whipped up a dreamy wedding dress in 1.5 hours, but she came dressed as a wedding guest and bawled as audience members walked down the aisle.  Kari Koller’s slutty outfit may have made one question how honorable she was as a maid of honor.  Kari’s outfit consisted of garter belts, purple toulle and gold accents.  She helped people pin money to my gown.  Irene Latempa-Milder came in a black catsuit-like ensemble with the front cut out and shear.  When she came on to the scene she said, “Am I a New Jersey housewife or a hooker?  Who knows?”  Tove Pils rocked an andro look with a motorcycle jacket and a baby blue bow tie.  Talbott Walker was the mouthy wedding videographer elated to participate in the money dance tradition.  My room mate, Steve, dressed up and dutifully blew bubbles.  Harold Burns brought a friend and they both wore suits.  Chris Hubbard and Adam Wolf looked sharp as well. Chris wore a top hat and tails.  At one point Chris came up to me and started throwing money at me like rice.  It felt great.  I took him in my arms and we danced.  I think he said something like, “This is great, Lula.  But why are you doing this?”  Always a good question.  Not always followed by a good answer.  I was taken aback.  I think I said something like “To make money an object of play.”  I wanted people to walk into the scene and feel so good about giving their money away, I wanted money to become a play toy.  A lot of people pinned money to my dress.  And some people seemed to be thinking, “wtf?  I just paid $15 to get in the door!”

A couple of days before the performance, I consulted one of my main performance art muses, Philip Huang.  I wanted his advice on developing the piece into something “more”.  He asked, “If you have $300 dripping from your dress, what are you going to do with it?”  I explained that my initial reaction was to hoard it, squirrel it away for “the future”.  He related to that sentiment.  I asked him what he would do.  He said he would set up a scholarship fund for young, queer artists.  I said incredulously , “Fo real?”  And he explained that he wanted artists to continue with the flow of money, for it to not stop with them when they receive grants or donors.  Then I thought about Oprah and how she is so rich and gives away so much.  That’s when I decided I would take the money from my dress and intervene with the other performers for the rest of the night.

After just about the whole audience walked through our “aisle” and  Kari took my bouquet and threw it down exclaiming, “It should have been me!”, we disbanded.  I walked downstairs where the majority of the performers were. There was a black curtain that created a small room with a beautiful woman dancing inside.  It was Liz Hough, naked except for black gloves and a black niqab that just covered her face.  I pinned a dollar bill to her niqab as she seemed to pull something out of my solar plexus and release it with her hands.  I pinned a bill next to the words, “what heals?” that were scrawled on to the back sheet of her little room.  Jorge and Honey McMoney were doing their leaking piece where they stood for two hours naked staring into each others eyes and allowing sweat, saliva, tears, and piss to leak from their skin, mouths, eyes and dicks.  Money easily stuck to their wet chests.  Keith Hennessy was next door at ATA performing a series of actions.  I walked in after he channeled Ana Mendieta.  I put a dollar in his lap.  He tucked it into the folds of his clothes for a moment before deciding to rip it up into little pieces, putting it in a water bottle and drinking it.  It was gross and well done.  Praba Pilar suggested I buy a man with one of those dollars pinned to my dress.  I thought that was an excellent idea.  She got on the mic in the middle of all this installed, performative madness and asked if any men wanted to be bought for 100 pennies.  A man named Duo, who works at Viracocha, sold himself to me for 20 nickels in the form of one crumpled dollar bill.  I laid down between the two leaking gentleman while I instructed Duo to take off my white, frilly heels and touch every inch of my feet.  As I lay there, I wondered what my chances were for Honey or Jorge to pee on me.  I knew that if they felt any urge to purge fluids, it was their artistic duty to let it happen.  After Duo’s foot massage, I got up relieved that neither Jorge nor Honey relieved themselves on my pretty white dress.

Guillermo Gomez-Peña wanted to cap the night off with a final image that he loves.  He asked Travis Hough to get naked and put on a semi-realistic rubber mask of Arnold Schwarzenegger and activate the space.  I pinned a final dollar on to Arnold’s ear as he creeped down the stairs and I was out.

I walked up the stairs and back out onto Valencia street.  I was tired and ready to see how much cash was still pinned to my dress.  I went home.  I had 36 bucks.  I figured I had distributed about $11 to the other artists.  $47 in total.  That may not seem like a lot, but I was pleased.  Little did I know that the next night Janet Lin and Miao would do a performance where Miao and the audience stuck $300 to Janet’s naked body.  I felt a little out done.  I also felt stoked that our work was along the same vein.  But that’s not the point.  As far as doing what I set out to do and creating a game where we collectively suspended our ascribed ideas about money, I think I began to scratch the surface.

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