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Review: Trajal Harrell: Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church The Kitchen

16th November 2014 By marywp

Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church is a performance in eight parts, or “sizes” presented over the course of a week at the Kitchen. Each unique event explores Harrell’s question, “What would have happened in 1963 if someone from the voguing ballroom scene in Harlem had come downtown to perform alongside the early postmoderns at Judson Church?” The series takes its title in part from the 1990 Jennie Livingston documentary, Paris is Burning which was largely responsible for introducing to a general audience the underground Vouging ball culture of working class gay black and latinos in Harlem in the 1970s and 80s. The contrast between the extravagant culture of fashion and celebrity with the elimination of spectacle from performance of the Judson Dance Theatre over the same time period a few miles downtown is Harrell’s unchartered field to explore.

The series beings with a brief performance, a introduction of sorts, XS. The intimate performance, limited to an audience of only 25 begins upon entering the theatre. Harrell introduces himself and shakes the hand of each viewer. Intimacy is established at the outset as Harell introduces himself and shakes the hand of each of the twenty five visitors allowed to view the performance at any one time. He invites his audience to take their seats on the black box theatre floor, encouraging them to be comfortable, to relax, to lie down. This simple instruction, is itself an homage to the evaporation of the proscenium stage, a core aspect to the work of the early postmodern dancers from which Harrell draws his inspiration. Once inside the theatre it is difficult to determine a moment at which the performance actually begins, as Harrell takes a seat on the floor near the small group and provides some background on the work. He also provides the audience with a cue, “when I make this sign, the performance is over.” Harrell makes a slated ‘T’ with his arms.

After explaining the thesis behind the work, “What would have happened in 1963 if someone from the voguing ballroom scene in Harlem had come downtown to perform alongside the early postmoderns at Judson Church” Harrell disappears behind a black curtain, and retrieves prepared reading packets containing a statement and selected reference texts as background. Integrating the didactic into the performance itself, Harrell encourages his audience to “take their time, to read.” Reading on the floor of the stage shared with the sole performer allow him to retreat from the gaze, to literally disappear behind the curtain without being missed. Filing the void of performance with text for which the view to actively engage displaces the artist with the materials of his work, allowing a more close, interpersonal connection when he re-appears , this time dressed in a red kimono carrying 4 red lights. As Harrell silently places the lights on the floor, a connection has been established.

As a study in intimacy, Harrell draws attention to the idea of ocularity, the idea of looking and being looked at. Harrell confesses to his nervousness of being watched, the original performances of XS, done for an audience of 50 was admittedly “disastrous”– 50 people equal 100 eyes. Even with the small group, one could feel Harrell’s nerves, even insecurity during some moments in the performance, one feels that he knows no more about the work’s eventual outcome than the audience. Yvonne Rainer, who articulated her conflicted feelings about being watched as a performer, developed a style in which she avoided eye contact with her audience, seeking to become an object in space rather than engaging with an emotional relationship with those watching her. The Vogue performers sought out the gaze of others, relying on a working-class Warholian celebrity worship. Harlem ball performances mimicked fashion runways in a quest for empowerment through visibly.

While constantly engaging with these disparate histories, the work refrains from falling into a revisionist history of dance in 1960s New York; Harrell instead applies a creativity, drawing on elements from both the expressionistic, pop enthused performance of Harlem vouging and the pedestrian movement of early postmodern dance as performed at Judson Church. The result could not have been performed by either set of dancers, instead Harrell muses on these differences and similarities. In providing reading for his audience, the performance becomes, as in reading, a personal dialogue with an existing history.

Harell’s series of costume changes (three in 30 minute performance) prevents the formation of a single character, or individual. Seeking visibility while simultaneously keeping the his individuality in flux, Harell dances against  the modest red lights, his choreography at once expressionistic and quotidian. As a song comes to an end, Harrel, makes the ‘T’ formation with his arms–the performance is over. As a model on a catwalk, Harrell turns and walks and walks slowly back, disappearing behind the curtain,  when he disappears and the theatre is silent the performance continues. “Go home and read it” Harell encouraged his audience upon handing out his printed matter. “That too is part of the piece.”

More Than Just A Piece of Sky: An Open Rehearsal

1st July 2014 By marywp



More Than Just A Piece of Sky, Marissa Perel, Jumatatu Poe and Lindsay Reuter, Chez Bushwick, June 28, 2014


On Saturday, June 28, Pseudo Empire presented an intimate performance by Marissa Perel,  More Than Just A Piece of Sky at Chez Bushwick, a dance studio and rehearsal space near our Troutman street location. The event was constructed as an open rehearsal for Perel’s ongoing performance project, More Than Just A Piece of Sky that will culminate in an exhibition and performance series at the Chocolate Factory in September. Over the duration of the performance, Perel performed alongside Jumatatu Poe and Lindsey Reuter, suggesting placements for their bodies, holding props, easily moving between performer and choreographer.

The core of the performance was loosley derived from the story of Yentl the Yeshiva Boy as directed by Barbra Streisand in the 1983 musical motion picture. Engaging with the characters of Yentl and Avigdor, the performers opened with a slow encircling, of each other, of their relationships to the space and to each other. Poe and Reuter, making their was to the bed, a white nucleus upon which much of the key moments of the evening, lay under the covers, their movements, and Perel’s and she turned them, pulling them eventually into a heap onto the floor  unfolded slowly, almost achingly, without a cloud of sensual chemistry. Pulling the bed up over them as a blanket, Poe and Reuter’s extended moment in hiding, froze the progress of the performance, what was happening under the bed, as Perel looked on.  Running through this early phrase of the performance was a text projected behind the performance and spoken to each other in different conversational settings. “If I am not for myself, who am I?”  Their relationship to each other remained constantly linked, as Perel fed her colleagues lines in a whisper, almost to remain inaudible by the audience, they repeated in turn, transforming the text into a dialogue, questioning and considering the speaker and the receiver. Perel settles their quizzical musings with the voice of Streisand; Papa Can You Hear Me is performed on a vintage 1980s record player.

More Than Just A Piece of Sky, Marissa Perel, Jumatatu Poe and Lindsay Reuter, Chez Bushwick, June 28, 2014


To end the first chapter (it feels somehow more appropriate to consider the different sections of the dance in terms of poetry or writing vs. performing arts), Perel and Reuter find themselves together on the bed, under the sheet–their relationship suddenly more intimate. Poe, who had begun the performance arm in arm with Reuter, finds himself alone, and explores this new relation in a solo to Bronski Beat’s 1980’s classic, Smalltown Boy. During his movement away from the pair, Reuter rises, proceeds to wrap the now undressed Perel in a tube of blue neon lighting and prompt depart. Now estranged from both partners, Perel is bound and retreats again under the sheets. 


The second chapter moves shiftily as Perel is joined by Poe, who tenderly lays his shirt over her body, the bed becomes a ledge on which they move, rest. As Retuter returns, moving slowly towards her Abigdor, Perel’s use of the bed as a shield, as a tool, uproots it from its objectood, becoming in may ways a metaphor for the shifting relationships and signs at play in the work.

2014-06-28 20.02.51

More Than Just A Piece of Sky, Marissa Perel, Jumatatu Poe and Lindsay Reuter, Chez Bushwick, June 28, 2014



Poe and Reuter join each other on the end again, they whisper and smile, sharing a secret. Reuter’s following duet with Perel, operating simultaneously with Poe self-portrait study in the room’s mirror. The silence of tis section enhances its beauty, Perel–still wrapped in the bed sheet clings to Reuter’s body, turning, until Perel lays cocoon-like upon the floor, at once helpless yet full of power and energy.

Marissa Perel and Lindsay Reuter, Chez Bushwick, June 28, 2014

More Than Just A Piece of Sky, Marissa Perel and Lindsay Reuter, Chez Bushwick, June 28, 2014


Once again Reuter joins Poe, seated together on a bench before the mirror. Looking ahead, at themselves, at each other, their arms perform a silent ritual, a ballet of silence, of exploration of understanding. The phrase reads as one of contemplation, of acceptance, Perel’s ghostly solo behind the pair, moving solely across the space, moving the folds of her sheet is, like their seated pair’s movements full of solemnity. Finally, Perel replaces Poe beside Reuter, either seated duet echoing the previous, the roles are reversed.


Jumatatu Poe and Lindsay Reuter, Chez Bushwick, June 28, 2014

Jumatatu Poe and Lindsay Reuter, Chez Bushwick, June 28, 2014


As night fell outside, Perel  once again began to recite texts projected behind the performers “If I remember myself, who am I?” The relationship of one to another of man and woman, of person to person and body to body are once again transferred and echoed, lines are fed and repeated, questions asked and repeated in turn. In the final exchange, a reversal and repeating of the lines “I’ll state  the premise. . . you’ll dispute.” This dialogue, echoing the teasing, witty arguing of Avigdor and Yentl in the film, surmised their relationship, the truths as perceived in that moment and the encounters moving from that as creating a series of fleeting realties and relationships.

In opening up and experimenting with an alternative version of the familiar narrative, Perel introduces an interpretation that suggests further middles and endings, exploring potential meanings and possibilities.


mary l. coyne


Pseudo Empire: The Reading Club

29th June 2014 By marywp

Pseudo Empire is excited to announce the start of our book club, a months opportunity to meet and discuss new and/or important texts in art, culture and visual studies. Anyone is welcome to join at any time, if you’ve read our current text, or would like a reason to get started on it, join us!

See below for details on our July meeting:

Author: Timothy Morton

Text: Hyperobjects

Summary: “ Global warming is perhaps the most dramatic example of what Timothy Morton calls “hyperobjects”—entities of such vast temporal and spatial dimensions that they defeat traditional ideas about what a thing is in the first place. Morton explains what hyperobjects are and their impact on how we think, how we coexist, and how we experience our politics, ethics, and art.  



Meeting #1 Tuesday, July 22, 2014
7pm Montana’s Trailhouse

445 Troutman St
BrooklynNY 11237
(just opposite side of gallery building on Troutman). 
Email with any questions, otherwise feel free to drop in!

Pseudo Empire obtains Fiscal Sponsorship

10th May 2014 By marywp

We’re very happy to announce that Pseudo Empire has been accepted for fiscal sponsorship by Fractured Atlas. This means that we will have access to a much greater network of funding sources which will allow us to continue the development of community and artist-based programming.

We’re excited to go into our opening exhibition with this support for the future!