The Fundamental Problem

So the problem is the same, it’s just (re)presented in various symbols over and over in my life. In Berlin, as of today, it looks like this: You’ve got the UDK, the University of Art in Berlin, where last night I attended my first class in “media and culture” taught by this amazing feminist art professor, katarina sieverding. And this is the “academy,” yet, in my mind, it is a little better than the “academy” as I traditionally think about it because katarina is trying to do something that I am continually seeking, that is, to combine theory into artistic practice, (i.e., her class reads Linda Williams and then they produce art that has a feminist theory backbone). This is what I sought at New College—writing with a critical theory base, political, feminist base—and got some, but not enough, of it. Okay, so that’s the academy. But the academy is inherently annoying. Its annoying because mostly privileged kids go there who dress like hipsters and say ironic things and produce political art about lives they have not lived. And things like “pornography” and “sex work”—I will use these as examples, though I could say “immigration” or “workers” or “terrorists”—are very en vogue, but no one has actually done it. For the most part. Sex workers are studied. Theorists are quoted. New theory is created. There is this divide.

Okay, then there is “Le’Space,” which is where art is practiced, shown, performed. By art I’m talking about Art and by performance I’m talking about Performance. This is where the artists, who are making political art, show their art to other privileged artists (though take “privilege” in relative terms, here, I mean, none of us there are fucking rich, we’re all technically the traditional “starving artist,” I mean if you saw my apartment in Berlin you would know what I mean, its pretty simple to say the least)—Okay. And they all speak English and German and French and Spanish. So that’s “le’Space.”

Then, there’s White Trash and Barbie Deinhoff’s and Dahlia Schweitzer and all the rest and the strippers and performance artists I’ve met there who are performers, I mean, performers, not with a capital p… strippers, prostitutes, pornstars; waitresses, even, if you think about it, working hard for the money and performing something at the same time. An image, a character. These are the “legitimate” ones, if legitimacy means contact with the “real world,” the “studied” … the “en vogue sex worker.” by saying all this I am saying this with a tone of skepticism and even cynicism, poking fun not at any of the participants, but at the entire structure, that grants legitimacy, various forms of legitimacy, and victimhood, and power struggles and all the rest, to these various rungs. And to those who choose, and to those who have no choice but find themselves at one place. And who knows who can choose? What is it “to be able to” choose? And among these people, there are those, many, in fact, who would like to move towards a more A with a capital A approach to their Artwork, that is; Performance, ironic, witty, intelligent Performance. One particular woman that I am thinking of, a friend of mine, she is interested in being subversive through performance art, and though her background is exotic dance, she no longer wants to strip. Is it that the grass always greener on the other side? I mean, prostitutes want to outlaw prostitution (this is a reference to a series of interviews with prostitutes that Jrock has been transcribing), academics want to be prostitutes …

And I want to create performance ART that centers around the question, What is the power in exposure/nonexposure. What is the allure of the body, what do we risk? What is subversive strip-tease? What would it look like? How do I create “Performance Art” out of this question? And I cross into this elitist world every night when I sit in front of my computer and ponder the question, what is subversive burlesque? These things are fascinating to me; these questions, do, in a way, feed me intellectually.

These are the symbols for me, these are the various realms of “legitimacy” in my conception of life, in the world, where, in a sense, all the world is a performance, all of life is this bizarrely relativistic place, where no one person stays along one trajectory, or even one pocket of legitimacy or class or educational background. It’s fascinating. And I waffle among it, within it, trying to create my own legitimacy, trying to put my own art out there, yearning for more legitimacy, yearning to access all of these different pockets, trying to figure out what my soul feels the most, what feeds my soul the most, rather. Billi, my friend to whom I was referring above is hiring me to do “performance art” for her night next Tuesday, and I am going to perform “my body is a performance art piece” (something I did in Oakland in March) it is based on the putting on of clothes, it is in essence the reverse strip tease, but without the tease part. All the while I sing out this poem I wrote. What I’m wondering is, how will this be received? Will it be too much, too academic, boring, too … heady?

And what’s especially interesting, and fundamental to this problem, is that I have the privilege of the mobility, to move somewhat among these worlds, in ways that at least not everyone can.

Today I teach a woman, 25 years old, how to make proper milk foam with an espresso machine. It is the one thing that she has given me any kind of respect about. The rest of the time she is yelling at me, literally, about all of the tiny tiny mistakes I have made while working with her breathing down my neck at the stupid little café that is, ironically, called, “The New York Bagel Café.” For example, today I got yelled out for bringing 2 napkins—not one—to a customer. Then I got yelled out for putting 6 mandarins, not 5, on the “California Chicken Sandwich,” which could never in a million years be sold in a “good” California sandwich shop. Then I got yelled at for accidentally putting butter on one piece of lame-o processed whole wheat bread when that sandwich was only supposed to have barbeque sauce on it. So when I asked, at the end of my shift, if I could eat something, she said that I had to make a sandwich using the piece of bread that I messed up on (No, of course we didn’t throw that piece of bread out immediately. Waste not, want not.) At least I am a German and I have some kind of internal understanding for this absolute abhorrence of waste. Okay, this in itself is performance art—is it not? But now consider the fact that this young woman, my exact age, has been living in East Berlin her entire life, most of which was while the wall was up, and now works for her mother in “The New York Bagel Café” and makes espresso drinks for the new generation of cosmopolitan East-Berliners, post-wall. That she is probably pissed as hell that some American girl can just waltz in and work alongside her and then waltz right out again back to California or where-ever else. And who knows what the hell she is going to do—perhaps work at the café, just like her mother, for the rest of her life? I have no idea.

Later this evening I went to a dance class, a modern dance class in a studio, and I find myself among a whole other set of young people, young people with artistic dreams, at least, 8 euros to spend on each class they take. They are going to create “legitimate” art out of their efforts—will they not? Are they going to create “good” art? Are they going to create “subversive art” are they going to create something that looks pretty? OR … is the girl at the café really creating more interesting art just by her very caricature? I throw up my hands in frustration. I have no idea, I search, seek, for some kind of answer to this, which is essentially a question of where do I belong. I listen to my dance instructor speaking German and I follow along as best I can and these modern dance moves I know fairly well and I think, somehow objectively, or trying to be, why am I complicating things by doing this all in German? (Katie, you lived down the street from Mission Dance Theater for two years and you never managed to spend the money to take classes there the entire time!) And then I think, but no, that’s the best thing about Berlin, “you”—meaning “you” Katie, not my employer who seems to have devoted her life to The New York Bagel Café—can live super cheap and then invest in your art. But what of ART and what of what I am creating? Is it anything?

So I decide not to go to this concert I was supposed to go to tonight, I decide to sit in my little room and listen to the trance music that is being played on the radio, surprisingly good for the radio, and I write. This is what I think of as investing in my art, even though my roommate is playing in one of the bands tonight and he’s opening for the “Vanishing” from San Francisco and they’re supposed to be really great and I “should” go see them because they are “cutting edge” and they are creating “experimental music” and this is the real underground, man, the real struggling artist musician world the edge edge edge …or … But.

I went to dance class and they played music that made me feel, that made me want to dance, that moved me, and it was classic, classic, tango. And then it was Ali Farkatouri from Mali, and it was even Nora Jones, and it was relaxing and maybe not experimental, but it was something that made me move across the floor in a way that this concert will not. And that is just one reason why I have decided not to go and instead I am typing furiously. Though this, I know, will never be published, and this, I know, is yet another component of my invisible one-woman show that is so frustratingly individualistic and “non-legitimate” and all the rest.

Thoughts?


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