A brief disclosure. On those toxically quixotic summer days spent botanizing the
pavement of downtown Portland, I would sometimes spy Danzine
editrix Teresa Dulce strolling down Stark Street or Broadway wearing her assertive
"Hooker" baby-tee, and I would stop and whisper to myself: "I love
you." I wasn't the only one who cultivated a distant admiration of Dulce;
she sparked quite a fan club in PDX and beyond. As the principal face of Danzine
(1995-2005), an organization that taught us all that sex workers aren't faceless,
she and the rest of her crew channeled an unbridled sense of strength, care and
hospitality. Recently, I was fortunate enough to catch some of this energy at
an installation and Danzine retrospective Dulce and cohort Marne
put together for the group show At
the Mercy of Others: The Politics of Care
at New York's CUNY Graduate Center
(curated by Sasha Archibald, Sarah Lookofsky, Cira Pascual Marquina and Elena
Sorokina for The Whitney Independent
- ended June 25, 2005).
Mobilizing some of the elite attack squad of contemporary artists from the
60s through the new millennium, the show worked to demonstrate the impossibility
of a true and noble act of caring, while nevertheless underlining the necessity
of the work of care. A triple-play of Mary Kelly's Primapera, Mike Kelley's
More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid and film footage of Yoko Ono's Cut Piece
showed some curatorial ingenuity, successfully weaving together themes of caring,
cutting, and dependency without tugging or gnarling the fabric of the show.
This combination contrasted poorly, however, with Sophie Calle's Exquisite Pain,
Day 6, a gorgeous piece comprised of two tapestries and photos commemorating
the artist's and a stranger's pain, which stuck out like a flamingo in a flock
of geese in an exhibition that leaned towards a less polished documentary aesthetic.
Adrian Piper's Ur-Mutter #5, which compared a magazine portrait of an indigent
mother and child with a photo of the couple's healthy American counterpart was,
if a bit didactic, honest and effective, and a nice complement to AA Bronson's
similarly blatant but more therapeutic (and perhaps more challenging) Testimonial
Documentation (the care of history maybe?), became less an aesthetic concern
and more a practical one in Dulce and Lucas' installation, and amidst all the
heavy-hitters, Danzine shined. Easily the riskiest of the pieces in the show,
the to-scale recreation of "Switzerland," Danzine's in-house safe
space, demonstrated the organization's inclusive attention to sex workers and
gallery-goers alike. Sitting on a rug in this snug satellite of the main gallery
watching videos of confrontations between The Scarlet Letter and Portland's
City Council and footage of Dulce instructing (with props) an audience on how
to use a "female" condom, I was forced to consider Danzine's uniqueness.
Very few organizations managed to trumpet so many daringly progressive causes
for so long, and outside of the strip-club saturated liberal environs of Portland
(with perhaps the exceptions of San Francisco and Amsterdam), I wonder how long
they would've been able to turn their trick.
Free rubbers lying on a table didn't just embody care in its practical materiality,
they also evoked Felix Gonzalez-Torres's Placebo (an installation of which was
cut from the Care show due to spatial demands), and Lucas's Philip-Lorca diCorcia-inspired
photograph of a young hunk dribbling milk down his chest was as prurient as
it was compelling. Other pieces by artists Fishy, Dawn J., Christina LeBlanc-Stanley,
Lara Lee, Scott Nasburg, Arnold Pander, Leslie Peterson, Bryan Pollard, Suzanne
Shifflett, Stosh, Sean Tejaratchi, Melissa Tremblay, Ernest Truely, Gina Velour,
Kristin Yount celebrated a wide range of aspects of sex worker life using craft,
collage and photography. The sincere communal sentiment of the installation
was a welcome relief in New York, where many artists are far too fettered by
anxiety over commercial appeal to be truly generous.
NYC based guest writer David Velasco (a former Portlander) recently penned an article on the artist David Altmejd in the current July/August issue of Art Papers magazine.