Five nude performers are covered in body paint and positioned in the foreground of a small church attic on Eckford Street. Their bodies are ornamented with glitter, colorful fabrics of many different textures, drawings, feathers, strips of film and paper, Polaroid photographs. Some wear masks, capes, long silken dinner gloves, and wield elaborate multi-media props made of paper mache, wire, plastic, string. A bicycle lies on its back like an upturned cockroach, one of its wheels rapidly rotating. The back wall is draped in black plastic garbage bags, over which red, white and pink spray paint has been splashed and the floor is littered with sculptures on top of each other, spools of yarn, a tower of postal service boxes, crates and buckets—some empty and some full—newspapers, articles of clothing, bunches of tangled wires, a pair of leather gloves, a strand of diamonds, a janitor’s broom, a megaphone. Against the wall, a man sits on an elevated stool covered in tin foil, a floral swatch draped over his eyes. He wears a cacophonous combination of colors and patterns and a pair of diving goggles, slightly askew. He pulls out a frying pan and begins knocking it against the wall. He dismounts, and creeps over to one of the performers, quietly squeezing a stream of thick paint onto her back. This man is Michael Alan. Welcome to his brain—and his Living Installation.
Alan is a Greenpoint-based visual artist, musician, performer and creator of the Living Installation, the first installment of which kicked off last Saturday night and lasted a full eight hours, stretching on into the early morning. Part performance art, part experimental theatre, part participatory open-draw, the Living Installation is all Michael Alan—it is a post-apocalyptic dystopia dreamscape that becomes a universe unto itself.
“People are performing treacherous and beautiful things here,” Alan said. “It’s like stepping into one of my paintings. This is my animation.”
The Living Installation is an intentional departure from Alan’s previous performance-art endeavor, Draw-a-Thon Theatre, from which he gained a great deal of notoriety both inside and outside the art world. Initially designed as an alternative to traditional open-draw sessions that offer artists a single model to sketch in various poses over a specified period of time, Draw-a-Thon Theatre incorporated several nude bodies—albeit decorated with elaborate accessories and body paint—and allowed them to move and change positions regularly. Like Draw-a-Thon Theatre, the Living Installation is somewhat interactive but functions as much more of a focused and meticulously choreographed piece of performance art. Audience members are encouraged to draw, paint, sketch, write and create throughout the performance—two attendees actually volunteered to take off their clothes and let Alan turn them into human art—though that is not the Living Installation’s primary function. In fact, it is so much more.
“It’s a happening,” Alan said, in reference to the alternative art form that rose in popularity in 1950s-1960s. Like the Living Installation, a “happening” is an event or situation meant that often includes elements of planned or choreographed experience as well as improvisation and audience participation. In essence, a happening is meant to break down the barriers between audience and performer by transforming a given space—and moment—wholly into art. “I’m interested in how people become objects within an installation by turning them into sculptures,” Alan continued. “And we’re trying to make the installation come to life. I don’t like limits—I’m sick of them. The Living Installation doesn’t have limits. It’s moving and living and breathing all the time.”
Alan’s interest in obliterating the traditional boundaries of art originated in stark opposition to the options with which he has always been presented as an artist: art school, museums or gallery shows. Hence, the Draw-a-thon Theatre was born. And after that, the Living Installation.
“Drawing is something that has been exploited for so long,” Alan said. “I don’t like the idea of spending $3,000 a credit to draw a naked person. I wanted to give people something different, to provide another place for people to create and for my world to come alive.”
Though The Living Installation shares many of the same elements with Draw-a-Thon Theatre, Alan is quick to point out the differences.
“If you say ‘draw-a-thon’ people are going to assume they are sitting somewhere to draw. It’s the traditional title and narrative. But with the Living Installation you can’t just sit there and draw. It’s for the audience to look at and absorb.”
The Living Installation is certainly a lot to absorb. In fact, it is almost an assault on the senses. But don’t be fooled: There is a great deal of order amidst the chaos. The majority of the performers involved in Alan’s installation are professional performance artists, and each plays a specific role or character developed and rehearsed in advance of the show.
Like his visual art, which often features long fine lines and splashes of color, the Living Installation is a physical and tangible manifestation of Alan’s biggest inspiration: the concept of movement and change.
“So many of my drawings are about motion and change—the changes inside people, in time, in history,” Alan said. “Especially now things are changing so fast that you can’t put your finger on the zeitgeist. But that’s the finger! I thought, let’s cut up this drawing and tape it onto someone’s body and let them live it. The Living Installation is change. We change the environment, we change the space—that’s literally what we do.”
Michael Alan’s Living Installation will manifest once again on April 3rd this time in collaboration with artist Kenny Scharf, who will host the event at his Cosmic Cavern. To learn more visit www.michaelalanart.com