Front Edition #4

Originally published in Front Paper, Edition #4 BUOY

Now available: FRONT: BUOY
Order by mail here.

Now available: FRONT: BUOY
imageOrder by mail here.image




Release date: 11/22/14


Our print edition features a preface from AUNTS—included below—and two artist responses from Shizu Homma and Lenora Champagne. FRONT received a total of eleven artist responses via AUNTS. Below we present the nine contributions we were unable to include in the newsprint publication, a terrific testament to the impact AUNTS has had.

AUNTS preface:

For our submission we opened it up to the artists to talk about how AUNTS has helped develop their process (versus performance as product or project-by-project objectives). To reflect on how AUNTS supports process: “how we’ve prioritized artistic inquiry and practice autonomous from market demand and institutional support.” This issue of FRONT will focus on “artist-initiated happenings that support fellow artists’ processes.” 

We try to maintain an open and inclusive curatorial practice. In some ways, it is not curatorial at all and instead is a way to facilitate a presentation format filled with self-selected artists.

The artist responses included in this article are from a series of “chain curation” events that we did in May and June last year at Arts@Renaissance in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. We asked an initial group of twenty artists to show work and curate someone to show on one of the five nights. That artist was then asked to do the same until a series of five artists were curated. This format was started with Jmy Leary who founded AUNTS in 2005 with Rebecca Brooks. It has been important in creating a steady stream of new artists who show work at AUNTS.

In the last month we have learned that this space, Arts@Renaissance, as well as another space that we frequently use, Secret Works Loft, will be closed. Both spaces have been significant in the development of “our” practice in that they have provided open environments where we can get dirty, throw confetti, break open pillows, spill beer, pee, puke and stay up dancing till three or four in the morning—all things that we trade to work in more traditional (and institutional) spaces but that have been instrumental in creating the community that surrounds our work and the irk within it.

Supporting artists‘ practices has been very personal. We engage with artists in a very intimate way, and I am realizing that now through gathering content from artists and writing for this piece.


Stormy Budwig

The environment & freedom at AUNTS was helpful to my work in a number of ways. First—being surrounded by so many performance and visual artists making their work all at the same time not only helped feed my own material, but it created a charged enough environment to make me feel as though I could take creative risks and try things that I may have not felt able to try in a more traditional setting. It was like an amphitheater of artistic process, which was incredibly inviting to jump into when creating/performing my dance.

Second, and on that note, Arts@Renaissance as a cavernous, underground space with lair-like hidden rooms and passageways coaxed artist and “audience” alike to get lost. For me this feeling, the sense of getting lost in performance, is exciting and incredibly rare.

Third—in making dance at AUNTS this summer I experienced a total balance of pure productivity and pure fun.


Matthew Romein

Much of my own work exists in an interdisciplinary spectrum between interactive computer coding and body/motion based practices. Being an emerging artist, this typically presents difficulties as neither the dance community nor the art/technology community have performance systems in place that address the needs specific to this type of work. Existing performance structures in the dance community require that your work have little to no technical elements involved, whereas organizations in the art/tech community are ill-equipped to present work in a performance context as opposed to an installation/gallery context. This is why AUNTS is so essential to the performance community; they allow artists to showcase their work in self-made contexts that wouldn’t be possible in typical performance structures. Since the entirety of the space is given over to the artists to use as they see fit, the performing space becomes decentralized, allowing for a multiplicity of experiences rather than a singular focus. Possibility and intentions overlap to create an artistically volatile environment. This free-wheeling approach engenders the possibility of failure, an important aspect as it encourages artists to present work with elements of risk and uncertainty and to deviate from their standard work practice. This has been critical for me as I was able to show my work knowing that I was ultimately responsible for how ambitious and complex I wanted it to be. I was never given restrictions that I had to tailor my work around. At the same time, I had to be conscientious of the work happening around me and communicate with other artists when their needs conflicted with mine. This was an organic development though. AUNTS could mediate as needed but a dialogue based on mutual respect was often enough to find solutions. AUNTS has been instrumental for me in terms of developing work practices and performance strategies. They have also developed and provided a community which I greatly respect and feel privileged to be a part of.


Ryan David O’Byrne

As an artist participating with AUNTS, I very quickly knew that a resource that I was desperately searching for existed. As someone experimenting with performance, the most important aspect for me is a continual focus on process and discovering when, how and where process becomes performance and if it ever even does. Without opportunities to show work with AUNTS, I was like a scientist without a laboratory. AUNTS provided me with a practical lab, and a place to truly test out my experimentation. Performing with AUNTS also allowed me to extend my reach and connect with fellow artists. The environment is all hands on deck, and being able to help other artists with their pieces and support the work was very rewarding. Last summer I was able to show one of the first pieces I made. It was not only a great opportunity to start conversations with artists with whom I had hoped to be in a dialogue, but also gave me the encouragement I needed to keep making work. It’s so difficult to be in a real conversation with an artist whose work you admire until they have an opportunity to see what it is you’re up to, and last summer showing work at Arts@Renaissance provided an invaluable exchange of feedback and support. I graduated from the Juilliard School as a drama major and have all but left the world typically associated with that kind of training. Opportunities like this are so important for me on so many levels. Gaining traction within a community of artists who have no idea who you are can be difficult, and I felt so welcomed and embraced by AUNTS. Performing at Arts@Renaissance was one of the most interesting evenings of performance not only because of the great work that was being shown but also the space itself. You could feel how exciting it was for everyone to decide where their particular piece would take place, whether in an old morgue or outside in the parking lot. This participation with the environment really informed and excited the work.

My experience with AUNTS has provided me an opportunity to truly experiment. An opportunity that I wouldn’t otherwise have. As an early career artist, it is so important for me to have space and time to discover what it is that I’m doing. I often feel like I’m meant to describe, articulate and offer insight into work that I haven’t made yet or that is still early in development. AUNTS has given me the chance to test things out and learn what it is that I’m doing.  And for that, I’m so grateful.

Christen Clifford

My practice explores the act of archiving feminist performance art on the body. It is a research and archival practice: a re-performance, a re-mix, a re-interpretation, an homage, a vision, a hacked version of the original, a situationist reimagining, a re-action, a re-enaction, a re-incarnation, a re-imagined space. Re-performance draws historical connections between the politics of the past and present, with the live performance as the site of contact.

AUNTS actually FEELS like institutional support. I mean that in a good way. Laurie and Lilliana have been doing this so well, and for so long, getting to perform at AUNTS feels like a stamp of approval. Or maybe that’s just because I’m always looking for the gold star on my forehead from my dad—who is dead and never would have given it the way I wanted anyways. But I digress.

AUNTS Chain Curation was the first time I did my own work at AUNTS. I had previously been to see/participate in the events and also had performed in someone else’s work.

I don’t even know who curated me!

I curated Lenora Champagne, whose book Out from Under meant the world to me when it came out in 1991. It was the first collection of female performance texts. I read Holly Hughes and Karen Finley for the first time.

I see AUNTS as being in a direct line with that kind of experimental work from 80’s.

As spaces dwindle, stakes become higher, experimentation gets lost, work becomes safer.  What will “work”—get funded, get press attention, get my friends off their computers on Friday night?

AUNTS is fun—it’s a party, there are multiple locations and performances happening; if you don’t like one thing you might be totally into the next. And who cares if you “like” it—it’s an experience, an experiment. It’s about investigating your own work in your own way. There’s no pressure to “perform” other than to do your work. Your audience is built in, mostly young, mostly dance based.

The two pieces I presented at AUNTS were part of a practice I have had over the past seven years of reperforming /reimagining/homaging/remixing/mashuping what I consider to be Classic Feminist Performance Art. I am a self-taught expert in this area.

The first was a piece I called Feminist Peep Show that drew on the work of Annie Sprinkle, particularly her Public Cervix Announcement.

I had a small lavender room at A@R. I craft-papered the floor, hung gauzy white curtains in the back, brought clip lights with pink gels. I created an “altar” to feminist performance art. I drank “Feminist Water” (pink champagne). I hung a copper rain curtain in front, and the audience had to peek in to see what I was doing. I taped a line that they could not cross, though at the end of the night I invited some people to enter.

I had originally planned to do many AKTIONS in my lavender room, which I had on a list taped to the wall. I had props and flowers and a fur rug. I started talking about Annie Sprinkle, particularly her Public Cervix Announcement to the twenty-five people gathered outside the rain curtain. I used a plastic speculum and opened my vagina so people could see my cervix, which is a little open. “If you haven’t had children, your cervix usually feels like the end of your nose.” I showed them my scars from having birthed two children, my rectocele (bit of rectum that bulges into my vaginal wall due to tearing and injury during birth). My impetus was that a 30-year-old friend had said that she thought “the feminist project of knowing our bodies had been lost.” Part of what I love about performing at AUNTS is that the audience is moving around, changing and engaged.

AUNTS is ALL about inquiry and practice. This piece had been in my head. I had seen photos of A.S. on a stage, with men peering close up at her with a flashlight. I knew that wasn’t what I wanted to do. Making the performance meant having an audience willing to engage with the work, and with me and my body. AUNTS provided that. Feminist Peep Show doesn’t exist without the audience.

Another piece I did at a “regular” AUNTS at the Secret Loft was FEED ME ORGONE, a mashup of Barbara T. Smith’s FEED ME and Wilhelm Reich’s ORGONE boxes. This time, I had a shower room/bathroom. Which was perfect as Smith originally performed in the bathroom of an institutional museum in LA. I layered craft paper and ten large rolls of aluminum foil to create the energy chamber of the orgone room. Both pieces had sexual energy as part of their history. The audience came in one at a time, with a 15-minute limit. They fed me, gave me wine and pot, talked to me about scars, orgone rooms, performance art, makeup, cars, mothers, fathers, intimacies with their partners. I loved the interactions, but I hated waiting in the room, waiting for someone to come in to me. I hated how passive I felt.

These performances are scholarly research, I can learn them for myself by doing them. There are performances I want to GET INSIDE.

In the action, I linked my passivity to Smith’s controversial female essentialism.

Having the no-pressure opportunity to work at AUNTS lets me take risks—even the overlapping performances help—I know that if I suck, I still won’t be “disappointing my audience” the same as they would have been if they had paid to see me at a theatre space, with money for a ticket and the expectation of entertainment. The process of continuing to explore these CLASSIC FEMINIST PERFORMANCE ART pieces for a young, often female, audience helps me move to the next piece. I learn about myself and the work. It’s not performance as product. It’s let’s work together and make something great happen for one night, and in the process of that my practice is completely respected.

The fact that Laurie and Liliana are women makes a difference to me. I see the series CATCH as being the “boys” and AUNTS as being the “girls” even though they have collaborated and that is reductive reasoning. 

AUNTS is important to me as an artist, and I feel lucky and grateful to work with these wonderful people.


Larissa Velez-Jackson

I’m Larissa Velez-Jackson, a Brooklyn-based choreographer whose creative practice blurs the liminal space between research, rehearsal, performance, dance and choreography. I find it very liberating to approach those as one and the same thing. For nine years, I’ve improvised in the forms of dance, vocal work, video and digital music. Lately, I engage in this multitude of forms simultaneously so the dance practitioner works in a way where forms are in dialogue, competition and support of one another in the moment. I invite my collaborators to work in different mediums where we are untrained to explore the friction between amateurism and virtuosity and practice expression on our own terms. It is no accident that every piece I’ve ever made has been researched before a live audience within an AUNTS event. I’ve shown at AUNTS since 2006; in the past three years I’ve utilized the AUNTS scenario to hold open, durational rehearsals of my choreographic processes before an audience. The fluidity of the AUNTS setup allows me to perform for an hour or longer, sometimes amidst the chaos of other performances in process, sometimes not. It agrees with my aesthetic to just get to work during a party with curious people milling about and lots of other stuff going on. The free-for-all environment allows me to learn about what’s exciting (and not) for people to watch. What does and doesn’t hold attention? What does the work need to sit well in front of people? How does the work change when all of a sudden fifty eager people circle around us? As happened during my wrestling warm-up session at AUNTS’ Arts@Renaissance show last spring. I always learn something new about my material and my behavior in performance. Because of AUNTS, my rehearsals can take the form of charged, yet informal, durational performances. Since I’m most interested in researching the performance state, this is a blessing—to be busy at work because of the generous offering of time and space via AUNTS!


Nora Stephens

The AUNTS Chain Curation performance at Arts@Renaissance gave me the opportunity to experiment with brand new ideas in an open, supportive and casual setting. I am working a lot with audience participation so rehearsing alone doesn’t help develop all the ideas or questions I’m struggling with. It’s only through actually sharing the work and bringing it to a public that the work can progress. Because the audience is mobile and free (to sit, stand, leave, talk, drink, whatever) during AUNTS shows, as an artist I felt less pressure to create something that fits into a specific mold or idea of what “performance” is. After my performance, I received a lot of unsolicited, incredibly helpful feedback from strangers, more so than in other venues with no structured post-show talk. The casual and social atmosphere seemed to invite more interaction between everyone present. The Arts@Renaissance AUNTS platform was a perfect place for me to start the process of my duet that I’m still working on and presenting at various stages. 


Laura Bartczak

Time Share was a great platform for working artists who aren’t always “working” to perform. Through chain curation, friends of friends of friends were asked to participate and inspired to create. People came back week after week. It was so refreshing to see. I was lucky enough to perform for a few different artists, and had my own performance where I collaborated with musician Mark Demolar. I knew I wanted to capture what was happening at AUNTS and the people there—both audience and participants. The old shower stalls in the morgue were perfect for installing a photo booth. Below is a link that shows my documentation—an image and a sound score created by and for each person who came through.


Allison Brainard

Time Share was amazing because I knew what I was doing Saturday night for five weeks in a row. Since it had been curated in a chain, there were plenty of people there that were in my close group of friends and fellow artists, but also so many new people to meet. On the night that I showed my performance, I was also performing in someone else’s piece. I was running around all night and it was crazy, but it felt so right. My performers made a big mess with oreos, bananas, balloons and beer cans, so at the end of the night after the insane dance party, I did my best to mop everything up at around maybe 1:00 AM. The night in particular and the whole series is one of my favorite moments of last year.


Chris Henderson from Arts@Renaissance

Can you explain a little bit about the site-specific program and what it was intended to do?

The site-specific residency program was founded to address both the creative needs of artists and the local community in North Brooklyn. NYC lacks spaces where artists can create truly site-specific work over significant periods of time with the freedom to alter the space at will. In our surveys of North Brooklyn we found a lack of local places where people could find high-quality arts programming without having to travel outside the neighborhood.

We built in a community relevancy component that ensured that local residents were involved in the program either through workshops, subject matter, or the creation or realization of the work. The program was new enough that we could get away with a lot of experimental things that wouldn’t fly in more established venues where audiences expect a certain type of performance.

Are there any qualities of the space that you think shaped the art that was held within it?

The A@R space in the old Greenpoint Hospital lent itself to both these objectives. It was raw enough that artists could express themselves and welcoming enough for audiences to feel comfortable. The maze-like character of the space, the height of the ceilings, the spacial oddities like narrow doors, passageways, a morgue and giant shower stalls all contributed to forcing artists to work with the space rather than try to shape it to their work. And of course the ghosts. If anyone owns the space, it‘s the spirits of all the people who spent time there as patients, doctors, and now artists.

What were some of the struggles in having an arts space within an institution with another function/mission, and how did you see the artistic mission relating to that?

I’ve spent a lot time translating between artists and St. Nicks. What is most important is getting everyone to realize that locating an arts space within an institution where the mission is focused on community service means that everyone has to compromise. Artists will always push boundaries and ask questions about the use of space that would never cross the mind of an office worker. The key is integrating and involving the social service without compromising the integrity of the artist’s vision. Our challenge was to see how much we could get away with and still respect the space.

Is the program going to continue, and can you talk a little about that?

Yes. But it’s going to change. One of the nice things about the program is that although it is site-specific, it isn’t space-specific. We can take the values of experimentation, innovation and community engagement to work with artists at other locations. The program will be more flexible and the pieces of shorter duration with fewer moving parts, but it will continue. The most likely scenario is that we’ll get access to a number of spaces in North Brooklyn that are managed by St. Nicks, but not in use at all times, including community gardens, senior center activity rooms, or community centers. I’m sure wherever we go, we’ll be able to find artists (like AUNTS and friends) who are interested and capable of creating thoughtful, searching, site-specific work.


Header image: Lucy Yim: Light Noise (rehearsal image). Pictured: Keyon Gaskin.