Zen My Ass

A Review of [H]om[o]/e : BabySkinGlove’s [Reinterpret8ion of California's Reinterpret8ion of India's Reinterprt8ion of] Zen

By Kerry Mitchell

I recently described them as a “queer, transgressive performance art troupe.” And they are surprisingly adorable. A grass roots art collective consisting of a number of extremely sweet young women and a couple young men, BabySkinGlove (BSG) emerged out of the pavement of Brooklyn two years ago. Since that time they have put on over 30 events, including Colonial Bushwick, The Dinner Famine, Popol Vuhlva: A Story of MezoHysterica with Mega Calderos, and others. Their work often concerns historical reenactment in a decidedly loose, amateurish, and earnest vein (“100% accurate according to the internet”) and parody of the cult of celebrity.  

I first saw them in Manhattan at their Dinner Famine performance, a not-dinner theater piece where the performers screeched at each other and threw dirt and potatoes at the audience who sat around the large table that was the stage. The arrangement forced the performers to crawl under, over, and through the audience to get on and off the table. Not something to “enjoy” necessarily, but I found them strangely charming. Their overblown theatricality and reliance on shouting were not easy on the ears and they thoroughly traumatized my date, but the closeness and tactility of the performers somehow won the day. The self-involvement, vanity, and aloofness that tends to infuse “avant-garde” art  (the very term reeks of pretense) dissolved in the whispering “excuse me”s of the actors gently clambering across my lap to join the yawping chorus on the table. In this way they placed the separation of actor and audience, the “fourth wall,” at the surface of the skin, and they did not seek to tear it down so much as act upon it. Here their touch lived up to their name, as soft and transgressive as a glove made of a baby’s skin. 

This latest Zen installation, part of SITE Fest in Bushwick earlier this March, carried much of the same style. The stage was their entire house whose interior and furnishings they had covered with white plastic bags. The floor was sprinkled with talcum powder. Bubble wrap runners led up the stairs. The costumes were white sheets and headdresses. The performance began from the moment I entered the door: an introduction into an intentional community of spiritual acolytes, their soft feminine drones seeping new age cant as we waited for others to arrive. Not quite funny, not near serious, they mixed their soft, angelic features with the manifest and intense weirdness of a group of friends who are willing to trash their home to put on something of a haunted house – except it’s not haunted, it’s not Halloween, and it’s not clear why they’re doing it. The audience arrived throughout the day and were led through the house in groups of one, two, or three every half hour or so. Each room demanded full participation on the part of the audience who were tied together at the wrists: primal scream therapy, growling exercises in search of totemic animals, tantric partner yoga (fully clothed), simulated extraction and consumption of an amniotic sac (a William Sonoma air-pack), vulva cookies on sticks, edible finger paints, fat whispering, chants of “Golden shower! Golden shower!” with invitation to collectively urinate (declined), and self-fingering (dry) with simulated orgasm. At this close of the performance we were introduced to pictures of Dr. Kegel, identified as “God.” This greybeard German doctor (whose name means “cone” in German) had discovered the universal sexual center of humanity that could be reached by pressing two fingers firmly up between the legs. Through running energy through one’s “Kegel” one could achieve the fullness of enlightenment. Or the emptiness of enlightenment. Or perhaps the cone-ness of enlightenment. Vaginal. Anal. None of this is implicit. 

The selection of a German doctor for the conceptual center of this creepy new age satire was perfectly appropriate. The amorphous streams that make up metaphysical spirituality have a strong European component and one that is as white as the walls, floor, costumes, and performers. BSG played up this whiteness to the utmost, heightening the aesthetic of innocence and purity in voice, dress, and skin while diving as deep as they could get away with into perversion. Instructions on how to fist your yoga partner’s soul, scatalogical confessions, and invitations to lick one another were presented as therapeutic and spiritually liberating exercises. They were serious about this in their own way. But whatever they were doing, they were doing the opposite at the same time. So make of that what you will. 

For future work BSG will need to address the selectivity of the audience. Judging based on the three young men in my visitor group, and with a quick glance at the visitor log, I suspect that this last show held a strong contingent of Boyfriends/Suitors/Lusters-After (BSLAs) of BSG’s milky angels who fit the mold of the girl-boy next door. Subjecting these mate-seeking hipsters to the various sensual, homoerotic exercises therefore took on the character of hazing in an initiation ritual. BSG may not be fully cognizant of the fact that these fine young men never rushed a fraternity only because in their culture it is not cool to do so. This was their chance. Fraternity, sorority, soternity, frarority – close enough. As long as they’re in.

But if you are reading this, so may the genuinely disturbed who will not be pushed beyond their comfort zones by BSG’s work, but who will, in fact, enjoy the transgression with such enthusiasm that they will wish to push it further. If the audience becomes less 20-something, hipster, a-little-verklemmt-but-open-minded BSLAs undergoing their trial-by-weird, and more 40-something, online-stalker-stranger, good-to-grope freaks, then I foresee a problem. BSG, if you are reading this, you will want to hire security for your next show. Seriously. I’m not kidding.

Also, I did not notice an age restriction on the invitation to Zen (at Dinner Famine I believe the stated and recommended cut-off was 13). Such an oversight should not be repeated. If a minor were to take up the invitation to autoerotic fingering, no matter how dry,  BSG could be sued if not prosecuted. And they would lose. Seriously. I’m not kidding.

So what does it take to make the most of a BSG performance?  Answer: a willingness to get materially and socially dirty; prudence in inviting others; partial abandonment of trust; a small streak of masochism; a desire to support real, weird art. The shows tread the border between risqué and risky. Perhaps this review will heighten those risks for all concerned. Which is just another way of saying that BSG’s playing with transgression and pushing of boundaries are not without risk. Then again, what is?