July 27th, 2012 · Jennifer Piejko
The current exhibition at the Suzanne Geiss Company has turned the gallery into something of a performance after-party, stretched out over nine summer nights. Walking into the gallery, first- time visitors may suspect that they have accidentally wandered into a sleek downtown club, one so new, cool, and underground that it must be members-only— one called Blasting Voice.
Blasting Voice is a performance program that is, of course, temporary and ephemeral, and the club will soon return to daytime gallery business; the show will live on as anecdotes of seeing downtown celebrities and young artists performing, hanging out; you just had to be there. Curated by Ashland Mines, Blasting Voice is more an exhibition of atmosphere than visual art. Well-known in Los Angeles for creating "environments" (often parties with committed followers and attendees), including WILDNESS at the Silver Platter, GROWN at Dinner House M, Mustache Monday parties, as well as New York's famed GHE2O G0TH1K. The show at Suzanne Geiss welcomes artists who may in fact be more accustomed to performing in seedy nightclubs than the white cube. Collaborating with Thunder Horse Video, Mines designed a small stage surrounded by several columns rigged with entirely too much sound and light equipment for a single performer, even for established artists such TV on the Radio’s Kyp Malone, Lizzi Bougatsos, Math Bass, and Wu Tsang, as well as emerging artists such as Shayne Oliver and Geneva Jacuzzi.
I walked in last Friday, July 20, when the lineup featured Vishwam Velandy, Ilyas Ahmed, and Lizzi Bougatsos. The experience indeed started not unlike that of visiting the hottest new club in town: waiting in a long line to get in. Each show begins promptly at 6:30pm, but the line snaked around the corner long before six o'clock. The Soho street on which Suzanne Geiss sits has certainly seen plenty of nighttime excess and overindulgence in the decades of mythical Downtown New York, so it seems fitting that the mostly very young crowd are leading the procession to the next wave of performance stars taking the stage inside.
On entering the gallery, audience members are encouraged to sit on the floor of the otherwise empty room, and the pristine white gallery soon fills with neon-colored smoke and lights. The room filled quickly, right before the first artist of the evening, Vishwam Velandy, emerged, suspended upside-down from the ceiling and addressing us over a microphone while maneuvering a laptop set up on stage. Simultaneously pointing a flashlight and shuffling through YouTube videos projected on the wall, Velandy narrates without explaining too much, speaking in broad generalizations about social media connectivity, melancholy, and being the life of the party.
Velandy left the stage and gallery staff prepared for the next act in complete darkness. Ilyas Ahmed then took the stage, flanked by a column of dim yellow bulbs, and strumming a guitar and singing a hymn-like song for several minutes. The assuaging music reminded that even the Blasting Voice knew how to whisper, as well.
After an extended break, a woman dressed as a witch (Lizzi Bougatsos) emerged from the back room, walking a winding path through the audience. She shared tips on living better, including “drinking everything out of wine glasses”, "taking baths because they are cheaper than massages", and "doing one thing every day that reminds you of being in Paris", opening Styrofoam egg cartons out of a tattered Balenciaga shopping bag and dropping dry egg shells all over the floor. She made her way back to the circular stage, bathed in purple light and smoke, and began to sing. The Gang Gang Dance singer kept everyone on the floor entranced, even when she finished her song and appeared to disrobe behind a Mylar screen.
The program wrapped for the evening, and everyone was ushered out into the somewhat surprising, winding daylight. We had spent a night at Blasting Voice, but to our surprise the raging party ended briskly at eight o'clock, where the crowds headed out in search of the after- after-party.
Blasting Voice runs at the Suzanne Geiss Company until July 28.
Jennifer Piejko is the editor of Performa Magazine.
All photos courtesy of the Suzanne Geiss Company.