Outside and inside - Page 5

A burgeoning queer performance scene in the Bay Area is creating new zones

Queer, radical, collective: (front, then clockwise from left) Harold Burns, Tessa Wills, Honey McMoney, Ernesto Sopprani, Aylin

The DIY spirit of Home Theater Festival, and of the larger movement it's part of, couldn't have asked for a more eloquent summation — or one that hinted so neatly at its radical response to a larger context of economic crisis and control. Huang is a charismatic figure, quick-witted and generous, lanky and handsome in thick-framed glasses and a beaming smile. He's a fearless, unflappable performer and activist (some of his interventions are documented in must-see YouTube videos). He also makes the most outspoken people sound awfully tactful.

"I think most arts institutions, galleries, foundations, and theaters are useless," he says. "They keep artists in a state of dependency; they encourage a mindset that they hold all opportunities and paths to legitimacy and artists are only ever on the receiving end. That's why they keep putting out tired workshops and seminars that teach people to do lame shit like write grants and fundraise and network and do marketing and write press releases. All of that shit makes my dick limp, and none of it is necessary.

"I, in particular, believe that queer artists should not be professionals," Huang explains. "We should burn bright and burn out. We have a responsibility to society as a whole to scare the shit out of people. We should be the monsters they accuse us of being. Every society needs to enact its shadows, and it's our sacred duty, our sacred function, to do that for the world."

Huang argues the fulfillment of that function, the fulfillment of a truly subversive art, necessarily takes place outside of institutions. "Institutions, for the most part, are run by fearful, well-meaning people, to apply a phrase by Kirk Read, and to keep their heads above water, they can never really disturb the status quo. So I encourage queers to break away from institutions for their own independence, certainly, but also to restore queer art to its grimy gutter."

"This is quite a topic at the moment," acknowledges Arrington when I ask her about the DIY-versus-institution issue. "For myself, I like hybrid situations. I will always have house shows and do the less structured stuff, but I also love rigorously worked art. I love high production value. In my experience, most institutions are made up of incredibly hard-working people sincerely trying to nurture art. SQUART happening at Headlands is a great example. It's a totally nontraditional format happening in quite a traditional space." At the same time, she insists, "institutional success is not all there is. I think, actually I know, bigger issues of politics, economics, and environment are going to reshape how art gets made, both inside and outside institutions."

Jesse Hewit agrees that the issue of institutional support has become a serious dividing line, though he finds positive aspects to the debate as well. "People are really talking about this right now. On the one hand there's this group of people, myself included, who are working in conjunction with Angela Maddox over at YBCA curatorially to mobilize the community [around] what's going on in an international scene in terms of contemporary performance. And there are a lot of people who feel at odds with that. There's this weird tension." Hewit notes the change has occurred over the last six months: "The big love fest is over. People are getting more critical, which is good. It's good for the work. The work has been becoming more excellent."

Hewit suggests the uneven distribution of funding among the larger community plays some part in the increased tension, which seems all but inevitable, but he also cites a resistance to engaging an international context for contemporary performance. "We're just not a super savvy contemporary performance/dance community," he admits. At the same time, he appreciates the invention and novelty of the work being done on its own terms: "We're doing our own thing. We're kind of creating our own mini canon."


Thank you for writing this article. I find what is happening with performance in SF to be so delightful. People are making work because they absolutely must, not just for the money. But, fuck, money is sweet. People are also working together because they absolutely must. We need each other to get it done and to believe in what we are doing. When I see someone putting themselves out there mime fucking an audience member with a strap-on or dancing like a turkey with a sailor hat on I know I too must take myself as far as I can go. Have ya'll ever heard that Francis Ford Coppola quote, "Collaboration is the SEX of ART"...? So true. And SQUART is so sexy. Furthermore, I appreciated the shout outs to the more experienced performers among us like Hennessey, Curtis and Jenkins, but we got to acknowledge the work of Guillermo Gomez-Pena and the POW festivals for all they have done to bring up crazy, queer artists. With Love, Lula Mae Day

Posted by Guest on Apr. 13, 2011 @ 2:17 pm

The Emperor has no clothes. See SF '99.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 14, 2011 @ 6:36 pm

i'm trying to figure out what's so "radical" or "autonomous" or "collective" about an organization like TOC -- is it all the grant-money, the proposals, the big art institutions, the (off)centralized bureaucratic structure (run largely by one person), the career-artist professionals, the "art-for-art's sake" attitude -- or what?

JUST WONDERING...(maybe you could enlighten us...)

but yeah, more power to SQUART! and laura arrington (who was doing this long before TOC came along, as with everything else...)

THANKS! "anonymous" guest

Posted by Guest on Apr. 15, 2011 @ 1:20 pm

Wow, I had no idea the Bay Area queer performance scene looks so very, very white.

Oh, that's because in reality, it doesnt. Not that anyone would know from your article.

While I appreciate the fact that Robert Avila wanted to highlight the work of some great San Francisco artists, the article and accompanying photo spread were shockingly pale. In a city as diverse as San Francisco, it seems as though one would almost have to be trying to make it look like most of the rad queer performers are white. Yeah, yeah, I know, Philip Huang was featured (though, notably, no photo was included). And thank you for mentioning Mama Calizo's (R.I.P.) support of queer P.O.C. artists.

But still.The omission of groups like Mangos with Chili, (an organization that fosters boundary-pushing performances by emerging and established queer artists of color), Sins Invalid (featuring performers with disabilities confronting sexuality), and individuals such as Mary Ann Brooks of DirtStar is jarring.

Please be more mindful in the future when writing articles that seek to describe happenings in the radical queer community in SF. We are not all white, and we are not all funded (far from it).


SQUIRT- San Francisco Queers Undermining Insidiously Racist Tales

Posted by SQUIRT- San Fran Queers Undermining Insidiously Racist Tales on Apr. 16, 2011 @ 11:48 am

Wait.. none of the work noted in the article is or has been funded. I believe that is why is deemed radical. SQUART, THEOFFCENTER, Home Theater Festival - are all initiatives made by a community of performance artists who are not waiting to get funding to put work out or to organize themselves.

Mangos with Chili, Sins Invalid and DirtStar are all great groups as well who deserve mention, I venture to say they probably have had it at some point or another. tho this piece is in fact about another group. One that has been working very hard at making this happen.

I would appreciate a show of respect for the hard work these artists are putting forth. It takes a community. If you "SQUIRT" as so candidly name yourself want to change anything on how they are doing what they do it might be best to email them directly and see how can your great ideas encourage change.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 30, 2011 @ 1:13 pm

that you might be offending the people in that photo by calling them white?

Posted by Tessa on May. 24, 2011 @ 12:45 pm

What can we learn from this article?

1. That a white male writer perceives the queer performance scene in SF as mostly white and not very trans.

2. That many people confuse getting press with getting funding.

3. That too many people allow the language and framing of the press to influence the language and framing of the actual art, people, and communities that make our imperfect yet vibrant networks of queer, art, performance, community, action...

4. That white and cis artists can be much more diligent about representation in the press.

Those of us who were approached by the Guardian for this article did not know of the scope of the article nor who else was involved. When I was interviewed, I intentionally cited artists of color. I articulated how Dwayne Calizo of Mama Calizo's prioritized artists of color, and tried to paint a broad and historical picture of the Bay Area's diverse communities engaging performance as both queer and cultural tactic.

Basically, a curious and engaged theater writer - fairly new to dance and performance art - has been moved by a small network of friends/artists making innovative work. So he spent some time trying to present these artists and their influences to the Guardian readers. Because the article took a relatively small view, that network seems more like a clique than a movement. Most of us who resonate with the article also recognize many its absences - artists and collectives, curators and events - that could/should have been mentioned or photographed.

Access to the press and to public attention in general is always impacted by structural racism (etc): by issues of visibility and histories of oppression and systems of exclusion and racialized strategies of divide and conquer. If a press opportunity comes your way, how will you negotiate your participation?

Let's continue to experiment - take risks - with art and solidarity. If there's truly something new and good going on, let's work it. The words radical and queer aren't very important if the same old shit is structurally maintained and reproduced and represented. Let's continue to collaborate and debate, expanding our borders rather than contracting and protecting them.


Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2011 @ 7:56 pm

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