New York

Take Ecstasy With Me at The Whitney Biennial

“It would deeply heal me,” artist Jorge Cortiñas urged, “if we all sang this song together.” The ensuing karaoke-like moment was the climax of Cortiñas’ performance, Back Room, which re-told the contentious story of meeting a future lover during an orgy in the dark rear of a now-extinct East Village bar—a story that none of Cortiñas’ straight friends ever wanted to hear. Such tongue-in-cheek emotional self-indulgence invigorated the atmosphere of Take Ecstasy With Me, a night of performances organized by 2014 Whitney Biennial artists Miguel Gutierrez and Alexandro Segade in memory of late queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz. Playing out more as symposium than “event,” Take Ecstasy With Me (taken from the final chapter of Muñoz’s seminal text Cruising Utopia referencing the 1994 Magnetic Fields song of the same name) leaned slightly into the potential for queer community. Muñoz’ challenge to envision spaces that would compel participants to symbiotically consume the drug, however, remained unmet.

Jacolby Satterwhite, Reifying Desire 5, 2014 (performance still); duration varied. Courtesy of the artist and The Whitney Museum, New York. Photo: Filip Wolak.

Jacolby Satterwhite, 2014 (performance still); duration varied. Courtesy of the artist and The Whitney Museum, New York. Photo: Filip Wolak.

At NYU, I knew Muñoz within the fairly rigid context of the Performance Studies lectures he often officiated. Take Ecstasy With Me in many ways reproduced this academic setting. Rows of chairs stacked to the back of the museum’s cafe space formalized the event so that it felt more like church, or a wedding. “Welcome to art in a converted museum restaurant,” joked a member of performance collective My Barbarian while waiting for one of the night’s many tech glitches to be resolved.

As we filed into the lower level of the Whitney’s vestibule, video artist Jacolby Satterwhite vogued nimbly around the lobby carpet in a silver suit and helmet, out of which screens protruded like sexualized mushrooms (an iPhone trunk sprouted from his crotch). Under the harsh fluorescents, Satterwhite was one of the most proactive warriors in Muñoz’s army that night. A literal embodiment of theory, Satterwhite’s movements assertively performed queer futurity into existence on the indifferent lobby floor.

Miguel Gutierrez and I.n. Hafezi, p.49 future fuckup, 2014 (performance still); 5:00. Courtesy of the artists and The Whitney Museum, New York. Photo: Filip Wolak.

Miguel Gutierrez and I.n. Hafezi, p.49 future fuckup, 2014 (performance still); 5:00. Courtesy of the artists and The Whitney Museum, New York. Photo: Filip Wolak.

Other performances stuck closer to Muñoz’s dedication to a manifesto-like lyricism in affirmation of queerness. Juliana Huxtable, for example, stalked around the Whitney stage like a vision, reading highly personal prose rich with feverish dissatisfaction about the ways in which the world still does not measure up to queer vision, queer desire, queer necessity for survival. In everyday life, Huxtable reigns as a nightlife personality in that subaltern space Muñoz so lauded, and she has been instrumental in generating such space for a younger generation of queer New Yorkers.

Choreographers Miguel Gutierrez and I.n. Hafezi’s p.49 future fuckup led the duo through a spectrum of gelled work lights to a soundtrack of tinny glistening noise and ethereal discordant bells. In effortless but rigidly staged movements, they would race around the space, then stand stock still, one hand up, quickly waving with tightly wound eagerness and expectation. Perhaps they waved to an alien ship; perhaps at Muñoz’s fantastic future as it glistened on the horizon. Such waves were among the most resonant attempts to conjure queer futurity into the present, but the audience ultimately left the symposium still straining towards a utopia untapped.

Take Ecstasy With Me is a testament to the Biennial’s effort to amplify those queer voices, technologies, and aesthetics that continue to profoundly nourish contemporary art. But these were only gestures toward a breadth of necessary future toils. Muñoz invited us to join him in the spaces he wrote about; to actually perform queer futurity in those essential subaltern spaces, like the back room of that East Village bar, instead of merely staging performances in preparation for it. Take Ecstasy With Me is such a sad title. Like Muñoz’s legacy, it is a plea for communion that hangs in mid-air. It is a call still waiting to be answered.

Take Ecstasy With Me occurred on April 17, 2014 as part of The Whitney Museum of Art 2014 Biennial.

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