I've been a bit surprised this year at the surfeit of holiday parties. I thought I didn't really know poeple who were god-worshippers, holiday-celebrators. I guess everyone loves to party, though (myself included). I've been quite fortunate to have a lot of things to go to this week and last. To see old friends and new ones, to get to wear red and green and sweaters-- it's great. Even in the midst of so many yuletide invitations, I was totally bowled over and super psyched to get an announcement a few weeks ago about a new BABYSKINGLOVE performance: Pieces of Me Based on Pieces of You, which I saw last night. And which I totally adored.
I've long been a fan of the BSG girls, as you probably know, and was really excited to get to see a whole evening of them. It's been a while since I caught one of their shows, and as you can see from their website, they've been tremendously busy making lots of art and going all over the place, as well they should. I have so many really fond and exciting memories of seeing BSG perform at galleries, in rock clubs, anywhere, really, but always with a kind of wild-eyed excitement; they remind me of the fact that anything is possible. That everything is possible.
Their newest show, P.O.M.B.O.Y., is obviously based on Jewel's landmark debut album. All the BSG girls played Jewel, in 90s denim and tie-dyed tank-tops, with honey and amber and champagne blonde wigs. It was a feast for the eyes, seeing the crew fussing about the space before the show. Also a feast for the mouth, as the BSG members passed out popcorn and bubblegum for a pre-show treat.
I wonder how old BabySkinGlove's members are. I'd like to think they're not so much younger than I am. Certainly, I think, if you are very young, it would be easy to overlook the fact that when Jewel's first album came out, she was a very big deal. I was never a huge fan, but I guess I really do like basically all of the singles off that album, and I suppose I do actually love some things about Jewel the icon that I forgot I loved. Living in a car, having bad teeth-- it's weird to remember these things about a pop star. This could never be part of a pop star's story, now. I mean, right?
It was kind of a cabaret, kind of a musical performance. Kind of a talent show. It began with Jewels reading poems from her book, A Night Without Armor. For the first time, I find myself wondering if Jewel made the pun in the title on purpose or not. The poems are famously both expressive and opaque, full of the kind of pop-rock malapropisms that make 1990s nostalgia so dangerous. BabySkinGlove understands the stakes here. Jewel, at the microphone between songs, is gracious and yet terribly impatient. She's good-natured but she's a diva. She's sensitive (and she wants to stay that way) but she's strong. She's aggressive. She's mad, but she's not letting on. She can show you pieces of herself, give herself away, and not lose anything. It's a funny kind of vulnerability, the kind you beat the world over the head with. It's a funny kind of sensitivity, the kind that turns you into a pop star.
The BSG girls alternately played up or interrupted or undermined or sang along to the songs, creating entirely different styles, forms of performance. For one song, they sharpened knives, used them to eat ice cream, one of the Jewels slowly cut her arm onstage (for real) and dripped blood. For another song, lead Jewel sang beautifully while the other Jewels ran through the crowd, arguing hysterically with each other, breaking up in public. At one point they all swarmed an audience member and sat on his lap and sang just to him. It was heartbreaking and it was really scary.
So much of performance art in New York right now seems to either be capitulating to the oppressive demands of Theater or Gallery Work. It's like your parents got a divorce and you alternate weekends with different parents. BabySkinGlove, then, are something else. They don't live at one parent's house or another-- they live at the school, in the girls' bathroom, where they're smoking cigarettes. They live under the bleachers at the football field at midnight. These are bad girls, smart girls. Who can fault them for being so tough and brave and gorgeous? Even if they're a little scary.
I've been thinking a lot recently about CoLab in the 1980s in NYC, and specifically Cave Girls, the feminist art project organized by Kiki Smith and Ellen Cooper.
You can see a great article about them by Kara Carmack here.
This is the Cave Girls in the back of ABC No Rio, which, hi Kiki Smith cofounded. Also makes me think of the cover of the Slits' legendary 1978 Cut:
I'm not just trying to compare punk rock ladies in mud here-- I'm interested in the ways in which the kind of proto-primal imagery is used. CoLab and Cave Girls were literally occupying squats, terraforming a bombed our Lower East Side into a kind of punk rock Utopia (it seems like to me). The Slits were using this imagery as a way of deliberately commenting on their major-label status. Viv Albertine said, of the iconic cover image: "Nobody could see the strength, the joke, the little twist that we were all a bit fat. They were thinking we were trying a come on and sell our image. What would they prefer - us all dolled up in something fashionable? We wanted to write songs that wouldn't go out of fashion and we felt that about the cover, too. We didn't expect to have to explain it! But in the end, everything we did solidified our image; you get a lot of shit for not fitting into a box. And gradually we had to accept that we weren't going to shake off the Slits' Wild Women of Wongo image."
OK so what is my point: I've sometimes noticed BabySkinGlove touching on similar trajectories of feminist art discourse. They're not going back to nature, but they are, often, dolled up in the most glamorous detritus to be found in Bushwick. Check out the "Couture" section of their website, I mean god. It reminds me of what Wynne Greenwood said the original concept for Tracy and the Plastics would be: that they were these sort of human characters who remade themselves out of neon plastic things they found at the dump. The idea of recycling; I think is inspiring. Not the trash stuff, but the intrepid-ness. The Slits and Cave Girls seem to interact with a different kind of nature: BabySkinGlove, instead of pulling Jungle Exoticism "nature" or rediscovering a post-urban PreHistory, they dig into their own nature scene, their own history, to look for something to wear. What do they find to adorn themselves? Jewel's first album. Clad in the sort of topical, sort of dated, uncomfortably apt words of a semi-forgotten pop poetess, BSG finds beauty, strength, and danger.
I wish it was playing for longer! I wish there were more BSG shows to go to, you guys. You all need to be following them nonstop.
There's also a brand new fashion spread they just made. How gorgeous!
"Reptilian Intimates", shot by Dixie Parden. Extreme modeling by Wesley Flash, Marta Borozanian, Viva Soudan, & Bailey Nolan.
I'm in love with it.
Ok I'm gonna go to at least one and maybe two Holiday parties. But I'll be listening to Pieces of You on my way.