Given the abundance of performative sexuality that imbues the history of Fire Island Pines, a secluded area of New York’s Long Island long known as a haven and a summer destination for the gay community, creating a performance series for this locale may seem like bringing coals to Newcastle.
Nonetheless, New York-based curators Fabian Bernal (who also works at New York’s Johannes Vogt Gallery) and Samuel Draxler (an artist and art historian) have taken on this task. For the third year, their organization New York Performance Artists Collective will present several works this summer in and around The Pines in the series “I <3 Fire Island.” The artists this year are Juan Antonio Olivares, Jonathan VanDyke, LaFawndah, Nick Weiss, Tamer Fahri Özgönenc, and Gerard & Kelly. Olivares will present his work Kokomo, Aside this Saturday.
The curators met with A.i.A. at a Manhattan café to discuss the benefits and challenges of curating outdoor performance and their hopes to expand to other parts of New York State.
PAUL DAVID YOUNG What did you learn from your first two years producing this series?
FABIAN BERNAL We learned how to deal with the fact that we are presenting these works on an island. There’s no context of an art gallery or institution. Everything is presented outside. That became the challenge.
YOUNG Any horror stories from your first two years?
BERNAL Last year we presented a piece with Tyler Ashley. We had to figure out how to get a generator to the helipad, about a 30-minute walk from The Pines. And then his clothes came off as part of the performance, and people were surprised, which actually surprised me. People were quite shocked. Some people actually left.
YOUNG Would you describe the work that you are presenting as site-specific, site-responsive, or just some cool stuff and we happen to be at the beach?
SAMUEL DRAXLER Site-specific. Part of the idea of the series is that we bring artists out of the city and put them in this intense natural environment. All the artists are considering the natural environment as well as the different cultural environment, the distinct audience as well as the unique setting.
BERNAL For example, Juan Antonio Olivares has used recorded sounds from the island as well as music by musicians who are there to create a soundtrack for his film.
YOUNG Tell me about the musical performance.
DRAXLER LaFawnda, Nick Weiss and Tamer Fahri OÌ?zgoÌ?nenc are collaborating. LaFawnda is a solo artist, and she has worked with Nick before. The music is all derived from different types of queer dance music from all over the world. And then they will make a music video inspired by the island.
YOUNG Why specifically The Pines? Do you regard The Pines as particularly art-deprived as compared with other communities on Long Island and in the area?
BERNAL Many of the people I know there are also art friends from New York, and they expressed a need for something beyond drag shows and dance parties. In talking to these people, I realized that there was room for performance art.
YOUNG Have you considered bringing performance to other communities, like Martha’s Vineyard or New York’s Orchard Beach?
BERNAL We have been talking about bringing performance to Hudson [a small town in New York’s Hudson Valley].
DRAXLER Like The Pines, Hudson has a history of performance, although not necessarily white cube-gallery performance. To bring in this kind of work creates an interesting friction with the history of drag performance on the island. There’s an audience that’s primed to look at and understand performance.
YOUNG Your press release refers to body-based work and queer theory. Is the work you’re presenting representative of that point of view?
BERNAL There are two pieces in this series where the artists will be taking themselves out of the performance.
DRAXLER Gerard & Kelly’s piece involves them together performing live, whereas Jonathan VanDyke is using two dancers that he has worked with for many years. Olivares’s piece uses other performers in the video. They are all taking different approaches to the use of the artist’s body in the work.
YOUNG The first work you are presenting, Juan Antonio Olivares’s Kokomo, Aside, is described as a three-channel video projection. Where will that be? You referred to it as a wooded area between Cherry Grove and The Pines. Is that the cruising ground known as the Meat Rack?
BERNAL It’s the Meat Rack. It’s a beautiful, protected wildlife area. Some of the piece was shot in the Meat Rack, too.
DRAXLER Part of the concept involves the fact that you’re coming across people in the Meat Rack, and you come across these videos in this setting. So it sort of mimics that experience, the history of cruising in that environment.
BERNAL Juan was there working on the film with the actors, and there were people cruising. He had to make them aware that he was working on an art piece. He was not trying to record anyone in a compromising situation.
DRAXLER I believe that there’s a lingering shot that has two naked people in the background.