Art of Breaking Taboos by Frank Moore (July 1997)

Sensitive issues? Sensitive to whom? Sensitive within what historical time period? Raising these kinds of questions in an issue focused on "artists who deal with sensitive issues" is in itself raising and dealing with a sensitive issue. By seeing art in terms of "dealing with sensitive issues," it places art in the same shallow realm as journalism and fashion. What is a sensitive issue has to do more with the social context within which the art is done than with the art itself. So when the focus is on the social context rather than the art itself, the art gets limited by being tied to political correctness, to fashion, to the thinking by the galleries and other "art experts" that they have the right to dictate the form, style, content, and the subjects of the current art. It would be far better to let future historians analyze the art in terms of "sensitive issues," and let us artists get back to creating.

There has always been a major but hidden concern within my art...the liberation of art from the power structures of art. It is one thing for an artist to deal with, just for an example, aids because he personally, artistically is pulled into it by his emotions and his life...and quite a different thing when he does a piece on aids because galleries are booking "aids pieces" this year. When galleries and theaters impose the subject matter, form, and style of the art they present, it is the same as when they would not book any political art in the 40's and 50's.

A few years ago I was in a controversy with a gallery which tried to withdraw their booking of me. The reason that was given was that my art was old fashion because it used nudity, audience participation, Rituals, and extended time lengths (5-48 hours)...all of which, according to them, went out of fashion with the 60's. Then they somehow heard I had within the piece a nude guy wearing a sign saying "I have aids." They said, "now that is interesting...we are booking that kind of art!" They did not ask why he was in the piece. He was a member of my cast who discovered he had aids. "The dying man" role was a part of an intense process of exploring death, for both Carlos and people in general, as a part of a lustful joyful life. Within the piece, Carlos talked to each person about dying in this context. Later in the piece, Carlos, as a regular cast member, erotically played with the audience. Aids was just one aspect of the death process, which in turn was just one aspect of the alternative human experience which was the performance. Focusing on Carlos as an "aids' victim" obscures him, cheapens him, objectifies him, fragments him away from humanity.

This is also true when we focus on a work of art or an artist in terms of objectifying labels such as gay, woman, black, disabled, etc. I have cerebral palsy, am in a wheelchair, move and sound uniquely. So that any art I do which uses my body just has to have an aspect of the disabled in it. But disability has never been the central theme of my work. However, disability has been a "sensitive issue" within the cultural Frame to various degrees in the 20+ years that i have been performing. When I was doing the tacky, sexy, gross, cabaret show, the Outrageous Beauty Revue, in the late 70's, I just happened to have, in the cast of 30, three disabled guys, as well as myself. Some in the audience were upset because they thought we were "normal" actors making fun of crips. It did not help when they figured out that we were "real crips." They then assumed that somebody was exploiting us poor souls. When they discovered that we were the artists who had created the acts, they then accused us of self-exploitation. This is similar to when "feminists" tell women artists such as Annie Sprinkle and Karen Finley that they shouldn't use their own nude bodies in their own art. I ran into this again after I did a shamanistic erotic ritual in Philadelphia. At the end of the piece, a guy accused me of using a cheap tactic of shock by using my body. If this criticism was valid, it would deny me the use of my own body. Obviously the physical disability aspect of my reality, although it is on the fringe of my art focus, does give me a powerful tool to get to my true focus, that of human liberation.

All of this breaks the taboos concerning form, time, and style. But the taboos concerning form, time, and style are in reality the main reason why I have had problems doing this art in "the art world" for most of my career. This was not as true when I started out. One reason for this was, instead of performing in galleries and theaters, I performed in rented dance halls, school gyms, rock clubs, and my own studios. But the main reason why I had an easier time doing my art was I was working within a different, more open, culture and artistic environment then the current one. My work was in the context of art done by Ann Halprin, The Living Theatre, the performance group of Richard Schechner, Grotowski, etc...and of course Artaud. I was working within an artistic context which was using the breaking of taboos within the traditional time/style format, breaking them to create a subversive alternative reality to the normal reality of fragmentation and isolation. Within this culture and artistic environment, what I did was less ôsensitive" ...and hence less subversive.

But some galleries step over the line into looking at both the artist and the art as a packaged commodity by telling the artist what changes have to be made in the art in form, style, content, subject, time, to make the art suitable for the gallery. This assumes the artist has a choice or the power to mold the art.

This is a basic misunderstanding of the process of creating art. As a person, I have always needed to break out of personal and physical isolation. To do this, I need to bring other people into an altered reality to play in an expanded/extended "sexuality." All the forms and contents of the art flow uncontrolled from this depth of need. I am sure this is true of all good artists who are drawn into taboos areas. We do not see what we do as "dealing with sensitive issues," but as things we must do.

William Burroughs Passing by S.A. Griffin (September 1997)

it's kinda like letting somebody know who you really are, like hello. it's about vision, having something to talk about like the night I woke up for the first time right about the age of two in a room full of animals, the night I felt with my eyes the first knowledge of another world as it pierced my forehead; the peaceful animals all different. nothing predatory about the lions no different than the giraffe. nobody knew but me then. the room filled with all animals as we all sat calm and even in the night without fear and it's about flying, sleeping, almost dying when reaching for the loaded watermelon laughing at the way we play like dolphins churning in the clouds like slick bright silver jets leaping and dancing, poking out and in and out of the dense cotton clouds, the bodies of the leaping things we are kissed by the sun and the dark navy blue victory of space, and yes, Burroughs dead at 83 and we cook reality naked, don't forget the mustard. I was in Salt Lake City when I heard the news. got it on my machine. salt lake city, Utah, where everyone lives underground so that they can never feel the sky falling and I heard talk at the big feet of a dead prophet that the world was going to die again on May 5th two thousand or so when I guess all the planets will be lined up and Nostrodamus will show up at the winter olympics with Blue Suede Elvis doing the slopes as the fastest hips in the cosmos and Burroughs as the supreme light with a voice that scratches the floor on its way up. first time I heard the world was going to come to an end was in l971 from the next door neighbors out back behind the house past the woodpile and thru the trees. acid head white trash teenagers born again as way gone psychedelic Jehovah's Witnesses, baby in tow and an honest to god knowledge that the world was going to go down in flames in 1975 sometime. I was in Alaska in '75 working for Uncle Sam. it's 1997 in the here and now, and I am no longer owned by the government except at tax time, and Alaska is still there but they don't let you grow your own pot anymore out that way so I guess it is maybe a matter for debate as to the real end of things but do you think that there will be Burroughs sightings maybe at the 20th anniversary of the death of Elvis out at Graceland August 15th? the night they have the candlelight vigil to call Elvis home with their TLC so The King can TCB? they all gently whisper and chant love me tender as everyone melts into a hunka hunka burning love and weeping faithful see Elvis hand in hand with the Madonna on the side of a bank and young girls masquerading as old women masturbating to their black vinyl recall wave sweat scented scarves in the air hollering, "This is from Elvis!" or marching about with their young daughters in their tight skin and curls, claiming some kinda blood to Elvis The King, pointing at their genetic prizes and shouting "It's his LOVECHILD! Look at her, she looks just like HIM!!" and they writhe and scream for their Elvis like Jesus from the dirt of Mississippi, from the Nazareth of Memphis, Tennessee, and the factories of Hollywood, junky dogs with neon pompadours and drive thru sideburns curl the air from behind the wheel of their pink cadillacs with triple D cup bumpers. dancing bears with microphones do their best impressions. the world like a roomful of plastic Presley. we live in funfur cheeseball interzone time mix hate mail I love you time over the edge with situation sick comedy and lonesome town bluenote slideways miss you. time comes with a ferocious appetite and the force of needles, our arms hang limp like branches on interloan dead world future skywalk. fill 'er up, it's a way to do, to be done. to be. Way to go. clean up your act. go downtown and see doctor feelgood for a cure. fuck you, it'll be allright. all gone. dead. another lost connection we never had. William elvis Burroughs. ginsberg beatnik hangover. bigtime nowhere generation blues...over. the heavens small like rain. who's left?

who's next? the darkness sends electronic mail to be delivered by global postmonster on strike in interzone hiptime wiggling Watusi-like inside talking walls of cybertown justice. crack. don't crack. the nation is crack whore global village letdown. the war on drugs just drafted your tired ass and you're going to serve from the frontlines in the foreign country of your own words. words are a neck tie party in new world order shakedown. burroughs took the last cunt and cock with him to begin again and publish in other eternities packing his puckering pink anus that typed stories of nightmare heart talk. old time attitudes leave a strong scent and hey partner, a posse of bloodhounds are onto you, so give it up, we've got you surrounded with coca cola and the morning news that paves the rainforest. there will be an intermission shortly when we will be serving you your last rights. so wake up, never trust a man of the cloth, he works for the organization. get it in writing and a good lawyer to break the deal. Death on a big horse parades slowly by. the people of the zone turn and face the doorway returning quietly to their other worlds in somber quest. did I tell you? when people die they pass thru me. I don't know why, but I can feel people pass right thru me like a soft green band of light. that's the jazz, the music that never stops. I feel a strange connection. I don't look forward to it when the first one of us goes, but maybe that's why so many of those beat types lived so damned long after all the drugs, sex and anger like the way they showed their love and changed the world. I hope that I go first but I'll probably live to be an old fucker with nothing left to lose, the days like a gun to my head, howling like a dog about the peaceful vision that will pass with me. when I die I want everyone to party like it is the end of the world. say I was an asshole, be honest, say whatever, but fucking mean it. party hard and put my skinny dead ass on a giant pyre...sing mad cantatas about what you think you know and then light the sticks right about the time everyone is completely fried or shitfaced or whatever and shove me out to sea so that the next morning all that anyone remembers is a pretty fire dancing on the water and all that color. like it was all a dream. a dream, like the way we always brought Thoreau with us on the road as it were. the magic that was in us. our high speed sovereign combustible nation of hope. we were the radio, we learned to sing together. the animals on the seats and in the car protected us : the purple panther of poetry vigilant on the dash - the luxurious tiger of obnoxious agreement watching our backs. we roll dicey game of harmony and weave a rubber trail bouncing from coast to mountaintop spacevisit with Wigme Doug and Bruner as pro-active edge man on top of Shasta where we lifted off for stripsearch Canadian border crossing with Los Angeles burning on the event horizon of worldwide media showtime. my talking asshole has a lot to say but can't find the right words. words explode and I argue with my son about any meaning. we are too much alike. he is so different. born with thunder in his chest and I swear he had eyes that could see. instant karma. Burroughs played a deadly game of language and I still miss Elvis and the way he killed the ladies. funny how we keep passing ourselves. the ritual of success.

THE WORD FROM ABEE (October 1997)

I try again. Jack Micheline was deep, deceptive simplicity, words and lines that hook into your eyeball veins and then expand to full planets inside of you. What was the one poem, about selling light, and then being told by the world that the only thing that people wanted to hear about was perversion and sordidness. I felt that poem. I am in the midst of something, making this long piece of fiction, feeling the compulsion to simply write about my own life but then feeling that that is too unfictional, seriously the struggle of art is insane. To be an artist in this part of this century, in this city, is insane, at the level that I am doing it, it is near depravity. Strangeest feeling, I feel left out of something that I don't want to be part of. What is the nature of the movement, have we defined ourselves, are we us? I have always written with the mind that these words were not just mine, but were from the ground i was part of, organic matter coming through my hands, a channel of some shadow force that floated and filtered and bent through and around the lights and the streets and the houses. I recognize this kind of nature in the work of Dennis Cruz. Images carved in bones and madness. He has wracked his soul through the desperate streets, the broken bone strewn around dark mouthed wounds of the concrete river, riddenn dark Angel wind to the bottom of self and silence and worldess hands, destroyed time, destroyed body, raising a sunrise hand to the divine whisper that said live and live well, and with that comes a language derived from visions outside of mind, experience beyond the physical world, experience that is validated in our darkest water without sense of shore, without need of docks, but simply water, simply the stuff of element. In every line? But it was in there and it is coming out and when it is all out, it will be seen.

I hope.

Which brings me to the second point that I want to think about. Who is paying attention? Was last night the extent of the community. I don't know any of these people. I appreciated being part of the magazine. Why not. But I don't feel understood. But that problem has more to do with myself and the world in general. What is understanding, no one feels understood, that's why there is so much spray paint being sold on college campuses these days. What is being understood? People hear themselves. They believe in what they are doing? But what are we really watching, are we even watching? Nelson Gary, a true insane person, a genius, have you read Cinema? That chapbook is the bomb. I have read another little book of Nelson's but the work didn't have the same focus and the language didn't insist on this focus in every line. But Cinema is breakthrough, is excellent on a very high level. "Crackpotted Bohemian Blitz (New York City) is a maniacal rant of lucid passion, Doug Knott compared it to Garcia Lorca's "Poet in New York," which is true, but Gary's work is so intense, flying so hard "we have slept.Yes/We have dreampt beyond the cryptic echoes/of a remote, impersonal voice that confines us to shadows,that cynically flails in authority and points brutal nonsense/in the direction of the future" This poem is the savage rebellion of the soul from the demon chains of myopic intellect . Insane is the butterfly that feels its wings torn in the granite canyons of academic finance and speed. I would say that this book is genius in a way that no other is. Not locally, not anywhere.

So I have these two writers, poets in mind when I think of the genius of our current wind. How do they manifest the Los Angeles archtype? The essential form of our consciousness. I have not defined the image, archtype repells definition, demanding only experience. What I see in these two writers is a violent insistence apon their language to express the very remote and neccesary of human experience. Their poetry is more than passionate, celebrating the heartbeat of life and its fluid of souls, more than Dionysian doom prophets, they are looking for a language that speaks the soul of language, something essential within the experience of our divine nature. I too am searching to understand, but one thing is sure it is "new poetry bound for the calendar planet."

I will say this, and then maybe not so much more, Los Angeles is the City of outsider, and it's most powerful moments belong to those who know this in the spit of their own eye. Does this mean starve artist? I don't know, yes, no, but definently don't give up the day job. Simon Rodia, The Watts Towers, one man and a backyard, creating in response to a vision seen only within himself.

--Steve Abee

An excerpt from "Why Smut Is Important to My Liberation (and Yours)" by Cecilia Tan (November 1997)

"One of the basic tenets of what my mom (a charter subscriber to Ms. magazine and my first feminist role model) called "women's lib" was that we must fight to change this society where our choices are limited, where the image of our gender is defined by men, where our sexual reality is defined by men, where men tell us who to have sex with and when. In such a society women do not have the freedom to control their own erotic lives. As such, some women (and men) can only fantasize that their sexual desires are satisfied if, in the fantasy, they pretend they are powerless to stop the pleasure. It's not a secret that a lot of housewives read (and write) bodice-rippers for exactly this sort of erotic release. Yes, but, why should a liberated, educated, 90s woman like me have to retreat into a sexual fantasy of forced sex to have my itch scratched? When I was young and inexperienced and seemed to have no control over my sexual destiny, I had these kinds of fantasies. Is it simply a matter of telling my libido to forget those, we're above that now? That would be, I think, a naive view of how the imagination and sexual arousal work. One's tastes may evolve, but one does not merely cease to enjoy past fantasies. Also, I don't feel I "have to" fantasize about forced sex; I have plenty of other fantasies, too. But I like my forced sex fantasies and refuse to be ashamed of them. For me, it is in refusing to be ashamed of them that I take the biggest step toward my liberation in this sexually repressive society.

"And it is, most definitely, a sexually repressive society. How else would you define a place where consenting adults can be arrested for their consensual sexual practices because they both happen to be men, where consenting married heterosexual adults can have their children taken away because they practice S/M sex in the privacy of their bedroom, where the women at Camp Sister Spirit live in a state of siege? The only place where we can possibly be free is in our own imaginations, but even there we are being challenged. We are challenged by puritanical outlooks against pleasure, Catholic guilt, "family values" anti-eroticism, and more, but perhaps most damaging of all is the anti-eroticism that masquerades under the guise of feminism. I don't know exactly why that particular young woman questioned the validity of my character's fantasy. Perhaps she had a personal experience or was herself a rape survivor. But too often those who draw the line at forced sex do it under the mistaken impression that they are helping to liberate women. If feminism is the philosophy behind the practice of women's liberation, how can it limit our erotic possibilities and still succeed in freeing us? We have to have the freedom to like, respect, and claim for ourselves our sexual fantasies, or this thing called "women's lib" will never be anywhere but on the surface because we'll still be repressing ourselves."

Links to the Authors

Frank Moore's Web of All Possibilities: HooYaa! Not for the faint of heart!!
The Open Ended It: Poet & Provocateur S.A. Griffin's evolving site!
Circlet Press / Cecilia Tan's Home Page: Feminist Sexual Politique!
Incommunicado Press / Steve Abee: Check out Steve's "King Planet"...

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(This page updated 12/06/00)