A woman is center stage in a room full of onlookers, twisting and contorting slowly on her knees as a gold bottle pours slippery liquid over her bare body. She collects a handful of marbles from the floor and showers herself in them. Continuing to collect any number of materials (ribbons, paper, paints) scattered around her and attaching them to herself, she allows them to become part of her growing collection of found objects. Intermittently, she'll take back to moving her arms above her head in a sort of ritualistic dance.
Here, a few artists sit on the floor in front of the scene, sketching, painting, and recreating what they see before them in various mediums. Others sit in rows of chairs split by a narrow walkway in the small gallery space that is ABC No Rio, a collectively run center for art and activism founded in 1980.
This is the first of eight transformations at Michael Alan's recent Living Installation, a performance art piece that he's been doing for nearly a decade. This one, "The Adoration Of Women," metamorphosed eight nude female bodies into living canvases over the course of six hours.
Alan, who's currently represented by Gasser Grunert Gallery, has been a staple of New York City's art scene for over 20 years. His work takes form both in gallery exhibitions as well as performance art installations. This weekend he'll perform at "New Museum Untapped", an afternoon of electronic music featuring artists who boast a shared affinity for experimentation and collaboration. He chatted with us about his performance at ABC No Rio last week and what we can expect to see at StreetFest this weekend.
Let's talk about your installation at ABC No Rio. What a performance!
We have amazing friends, family, and supporters. The Living Installation is like a music video, brought to life for hours in front of an audience of all. I am proud of the brave ladies who rocked with me in New York City, the place I grew up. They helped keep New York City authentic and nostalgic yet raw and new. Live in your face action! I have been all over the world and there is no place like NYC to put on my live happenings, for me its where it all started. We will create action in any space, truck, wall, gallery, or museum again and again. This is D.I.Y. raw live art. It was dedicated to my Michele.
How do you feel about how the installation turned out?
The Living Installation isn't just about the night of the show, it's constantly unfolding. It's a thread that continues on and is woven into the rest of my work. It's about many things. The photos, the video, the music made, the conversations after, the work in my studio, and the reaction to the project is all ongoing from one show to the next. I take the remains from the show and rework them into my paintings, sculpture, and so forth. While I have a plan in place, it is amazing how much of the piece develops naturally and without forced direction.
I'd love for you to tell me a little bit about how the concept came together.
The Living Installation started nine years ago. I was thinking of animating my drawings and at the same time I wanted to open a floodgate in the New York Art scene. It was too plastic, there were not many places for people to gather and meet. Working with people, and turning friends, enemies, lovers, models, artists, the press, and pretty much anyone into a moving sculpture seemed to be the way to bring my art to life.
Could you tell me a little bit about the objects you use in your live installations? The paints, the fabrics, etc. What is your process for choosing which objects to have ready-at-hand?
Majority of the objects, props, prints are picked through time found and altered. Sometimes they are fabrics, or something a model has and would like to put into her transformation process. I look for things we feel a part of. I hand make/alter everything live on the stage. Many notes are taken for who is who and what goes with who. We are not acting, but at the same time [we're] being watched, so it is best that all the material have a connection and the character has a place.
Could you break down the Living Installation for readers who might not have seen the show before?
The Living Installation is the living animation of my drawings and paintings being acted out by people, friends, models. Created live. I meet with the cast, do drawings of them, and plan on how I will build on them -- we agree on what will work. Everything is talked about. It has to be something we are all happy doing, it's an experience and I am mainly doing this to make a fun experience, consider it a lasting memory. We forget too much.
The music -- tell me a little about the music that plays during the installation?
Yes, it's a project I started to get music more focus in galleries, I called it "sound drawing". It is a big part of my Living project and a great way to collab with artists across the world, and brings it along to any show. I play them live, we act them out and sometimes me and Tim "Love" Lee work over them live at the shows. This is what we will be doing at Untapped. I really am lost how Music does not have such a big focus in Fine art. I am trying with what I can to open that door into spaces.
You often refer to yourself as 'Michael Alan Alien'. Could you tell me what that name means to you?
It means more than me. I don't like the system we have of names. The "Alien" is branching out. It is a large music project. The main members are my mom and dad. We have worked with Merideth Monk, Vas Deferens, Ariel Pink all the way to Tommy Ramone, maybe over 700 songs. It is an alien project intended to be played at the happenings, shows and gatherings. We are doing this to connect and bring people together. Music is a big part of bringing people together and in art we can't ignore this any more.
What can we expect to see this weekend?
I will be working with a live model -- Rose Lou, paint, props, costumes and creating live music with Tim "Love" Lee over the course of several hours. For the New Museum Untapped, I will move the installation out onto the streets of New York City. Everyone is invited to be a part of this glorious, gloppy, mutating mass of positivity!
Michael Alan will perform his Living Installation as part of "New Museum Untapped", which will take place at StreetFest in the Sara D. Roosevelt Park on Saturday, May 4th.
All photos courtesy of Joseph Meloy and the artist Michael Alan.