While the majority of New Yorkers –at least according to my Instagram feed– were out of town gallivanting on the Greek islands, Italy, and in the French countryside, unexpected art actions have taken place in Long Island City along the east river, just south of the Queensborough bridge. Held at the studio of artist Matthew Barney, these performances have been ongoing for the last 10 years but have only recently opened to the public. Co-curated by Brandon Stosuy –also one of Barney’s best friends– the performances were a delectable feast, satiating intellectual and visual hunger.

Josh Fadem, in REMAINS BOARD, Remains Studio, Long Island City, Photograph by Katy Hamer, 2017

The first performance was held on June 29th and was titled REMAINS BOARD. It included collaborative participation by Josh Fadem, Jane Lea Studio, Laura Stokes, Cohdi Harrell, Paulo Paguntalan and the Remains Studio team on top of organization by Barney and Stosuy. A durational event, episodic even, REMAINS BOARD took viewers through a narrative that commenced with two large tree trucks being slowly lowered within the interior of Barney’s studio. Each tree also had an acrobat scaling the surface, while a team used an elaborate pulley system to bring the bole closer to the earth. After the trees were lowered and pulled near the entrance of the studio, crowds migrated outside, the Manhattan skyline just across the East River. As the city was drenched in darkness, Josh Fadem, a comedian by trade, took to a makeshift stage and performed a slapstick comedy routine for about two hours. The routine included Fadem endlessly falling off his stool, unable to get his microphone in the stand while muttering guttural sounds. While the performance started off innocently enough, even including Fadem asking the audience if they were “ready for some comedy!” it brought him to his knees. Throughout the action, what seemed initially jovial became quite dark as this man, who was intent on entertaining, was stripped to the core.

Paulo Paguntalan (left) and Josh Fadem (right) as part of REMAINS BOARD, Remains Studio, Long Island City, Photograph by Katy Hamer, 2017

He went from igniting the stage, warranting some chuckles from the crowd, to drinking a Vaseline-like substance, vomiting profusely and then ending up in the east river. While it seemed the performance would conclude once Fadem plummeted into the river, he was fished out and continued on, landing in a barrel of vaseline before ending up back on stage which then collapsed, spouting water in all directions. He crawled out and ended up off stage, in a pile of garbage. At this point, Paulo Paguntalan –in the guise of a maintenance man cleaning up some of the mess Fadem created, took the microphone and growled lyrics. Paguntalan is the lead singer of Gath Šmānê  and Copremesis and is actively involved in the metal scene in New York. He also played a small role in Barney’s 2014, River of Fundament. Upon completion of a brief interlude by Paguntalan, a neon sign made by Jane Lea Studio illuminated the side of the building, sending an orange glow towards Manhattan. It will remain active and counts down the final days of Trump’s presidency. Having commenced at 7:30pm and finished at 10:00pm, those who hung around were a bit shell-shocked but invigorated.  There was a certain nostalgic quality about REMAINS BOARD, as it’s not often that one gets to witness first-hand the physical and abject degradation that happens when faced with mental and physical adversity. I thought of “Happy Days” a play written by Samuel Beckett in 1961, featuring a woman who goes about her day, in her home, buried in sand. As the play proceeds, she is further buried and encumbered, rendered immobile. Such was the case with Fadem, who started out lucid and ended up obscured, in a box.

Neon Sign, Countdown to the final days of Trump’s presidency, By Jane Lea Studio, part of REMAINS BOARD, Remains Studio, Long Island City, Photograph by Katy Hamer, 2017

The second performance August 3rd, titled REMAINS GUIDE, involved multi-disciplinary artists Zola Jesus, Attila Csihar, Eleanor Bauer, K.J. Holmes, Dennis Cooper, Kekouan (a constellation) and Hilary Cloos. Similar to the previous performance a month prior, this execution also commenced with a laborious, process based task. Whereas in REMAINS BOARD trees were lowered to the ground, in REMAINS GUIDE, a farrier toiled away in a van outfitted as a makeshift blacksmith shop. Once the horseshoe was complete, it was fitted on a horse which was then led off the studio property. The first in a series of tasks, this was followed by a Skype reading by controversial author Dennis Cooper. While a bit difficult to hear due to a slightly muffled connection, Cooper read a short text from his own oeuvre. In typical Cooper fashion, the story involved a particular type of murder-fantasy between a young man and a dwarf. The author often uses ass-play and the dissection of the human body as a metaphor for the revelation of obscured beauty. In excerpt:

“See, unless his brain was more damaged than doctors let on, that wasn’t a densely packed swirl of intestines, bones, organs, and so on, it was a whole, unique, miniaturized world complete with roads, towns, mountains, lakes, national parks. It was so beautiful. And best of all, the dwarf felt huge and all-powerful by comparison. Not that he knew what to do with his new superpowers. Other than to completely destroy what he’s been given to play with, of course.”

Once Cooper finished reading, the Skype call dropped and the large screen he was projected on went black. Subsequently, an older woman (K.J. Holmes) wearing a white button-down shirt and tan, wide leg pants, walked through the studio and set out cutting crescent moon shapes out of cardboard sheets. While she continued to make incisions, another woman (Eleanor Bauer) dressed in white, came forth and mimicked a similar gesture derived from REMAINS BOARD; Bauer scaled a fallen tree truck, dragging her body and using climbing boots to pierce the surface, moving horizontally. The far end of the tree (what would be the top if it were standing) was charred black and the friction between her body and the surface resulted in a drawing as the charcoal transferred to the white canvas of her clothes. A first in this iteration of what could be directly connected to “Drawing Restraint” she was covered in black charcoal, sweating.

[Backpedaling slightly, the definition of drawing* might also be connected to the mark-making of the farrier’s hammer on the horseshoe, or the carving of the boy by the dwarf…but I digress.] 

K.J. Holmes (left) and Eleanor Bauer (right) as part of REMAINS GUIDE, Remains Studio, Long Island City, Photograph by Katy Hamer, 2017

Upon ‘climbing’ the tree, Bauer went to the Holmes and while the two do not have a verbal exchange, they interact through movements. The elder woman (Holmes) goes about hanging the cut shapes on a small sculpture standing on a raw, wooden pedestal in the center of the room. As she does so, the younger woman (Bauer), now leashed via a long rubber cord attached to the sculpture, stretches towards the wall mimicking the shape of each moon by drawing with charred wood. With many more moving parts than the earlier performance, REMAINS GUIDE, functioned through vignettes –each quiet moment, offering an orientation on how to move forward in time.

Matthew Barney, Performance still from Drawing Restraint 5, 1989, Image by Michael Rees, Courtesy of Gladstone Gallery, NY

At this stage, the tension in the studio, between performer and audience was palpable. Viewers had to duck out of the way as Bauer pulled the rubber cord taut, flailing a log with burnt tip used to make a drawing. The action was a direct reference to Barney’s “Drawing Restraint 5” from 1989 whose ephemera are now part of the permanent collection at MoMA. In “Drawing Restraint 5”, a young Barney is attached to the floor by a rubber cord and needs to use the weight of his body to stretch far enough to make marks on the wall. In an interview conducted for SFMoMA in 2006 he said, “I think as an athlete, you understand that your body requires resistance in order to grow.” The tension cord, creates a similar movement practiced by football players rehearsing for a game. In REMAINS GUIDE, this familiar gesture, functioning almost as a type of paint within a stable of tools, is employed by a woman.

The final two chapters of the performance involved black metal vocalist Attila Csihar (appearing as a Shamanistic monk) projected into the studio via Skype and an audio intervention performed by Zola Jesus. Both figures were somewhat obscured; Csihar with face paint and Zola Jesus engulfed by a costume that appeared to have been made of deconstructed fish nets.  Csihar chanted in a deep, raspy voice while Zola Jesus projected in a falsetto, singing the same words Dennis Cooper read earlier. A cyclical rotation of an event with many moving parts, REMAINS GUIDE was similar to a poetic narrative, a verse with structure yet still unclear. If navigation was intended, it required a detour through the woods, in order to arrive at the East River shore.

Attila Csihar, Skype performance as part of REMAINS GUIDE, Remains Studio, Long Island City, Photograph by Katy Hamer, 2017

REMAINS BOARD and REMAINS GUIDE were the highlights of the summer, harkening back to a time in New York when the focus wasn’t just on zombie formalism or artwork that doesn’t require much thought beyond the surface. These layered performances focused on the symbolism of draftsmanship, the physicality of male and female bodies, life and death, success and failure and trusting the process of a journey. Merging popular and underground cultural references, the works marked our time in a way that felt both ethereal and weighted. They each required patience, attention to detail, deliberation and physical endurance. After each successive finale, residual audience members stared longingly at the nearby Manhattan skyline sparkling against the night sky, cracked open cans of beer, lit cigarettes, and discussed what had just happened.


*Drawing: 1. a picture or diagram made with a pencil, pen, or crayon rather than paint, especially one drawn in monochrome: a series of charcoal drawings on white paper2. the art or skill or making pictures or diagrams with a pencil, pen, or crayon: she took lessons in drawing.

Katy Diamond Hamer is the Founding Editor of Eyes Towards the Dove. She regularly contributes to several editorial publications with contemporary art content ranging from profiles, interviews, reviews and exhibition previews. For more please follow her on Instagram @katyhamer

Manhattan Skyline as seen from Remains Studio, Long Island City, Photograph by Katy Hamer, 2017