Laissez-Faire | In Love & Free Trade

Going Places (Rocking the Block)

Flux Factory’s “artist-led” urban exploration tours are back for its third edition.

For the past two years, I had the pleasure of attending excursions to castle ruins, iridescent quarries and an abandoned subway station in the Bronx. Which doesn’t summarize nearly half of the adventures that can span multiple boroughs in a day. Each tour’s theme is unique. Strangers board a school bus to secret destinations that are revealed only upon arrival. When people sign up for each tour, they receive an email only indicating what to bring and where to meet. The rest is mobile performance art.

This year’s first tour, “Rock the Block”, took place this past Saturday (July 10). The trip was hosted by Yoni Brook, Jason Eppink, Liz Barry and Bill Wetzel (with a few special guests). I received an email that said to meet at 8:15 am and to bring gloves. When I arrived on bicycle (slightly past the 8:15 mark) there was already a cluster of people waiting outside of Flux Factory, kindly handing over the waiver forms we were told to print and sign.

We boarded the school bus, a white and green metal monster powered by veggie oil, which included a curtained off  “bathroom” stall with a bucket (The bus looks like it’s leaking if you pee. Otherwise sprinkle sawdust.). In the back was a full-size bed space, ideal for group lounges; the downside is that your head is closer to the ceiling when the bus hits a pothole (ouch).

A campy sign above the driver read: “If you puke, poop or pee sing Happy Birthday.”

On the bus I met a few first timers like Candace Lunn, who said she had heard about the tours a few years ago but wasn’t able to get on the tours until this year. “Every time I wanted to go it was already full.”

After crossing the Verrazano Bridge and passing a 99-cent store, a Perkins’ Family Restaurant and Zion Lutheran Church, we were in Staten Island. On foot we approached a wooded area enclosed by a chain-link fence, which had a slit that we slipped through one-by-one. Down a sloping path of vines and poison ivy, the group arrived at a compound ruin known as the New York State Farm Colony, a government experiment which previously housed indigents in exchange for their labor. Across the street stood Seaview Hospital, one of the city’s first tuberculosis wards. Inside the Farm lay a landscape of empty windows, rubble and broken staircases. A dark-haired woman dressed in Victorian attire graciously recited a monologue as Alice Austen, the photographer who spent her last years at the colony after bankruptcy. The woman’s name was Yvonne Muro, a volunteer from the Alice Austen House. And the monologue was written by Lawrence F. Schwabacher.

After a friend and I made our way to the basement, where the sewer pipes (and perhaps asbestos) were located, it was time to get back on the bus. A few minutes down the road we are told that we would be entering a private residence. Located on a quaint block called Cottage Place, the house’s immaculate exterior showcases stain-glass windows and black trim. The residence is owned by the artist John Foxell, a simple, humble-hearted man approaching 70 who kindly recites an elegant poem to the entourage, entitled “Vespers”, which he had written the night before during a usual bout of insomnia.

He explains that the house’s colors are in the vein of Halloween. Inside were endless bookshelves alphabetized and all read by Foxell. Silver old timey dial phones were located in each corner of the house. Also throughout the house were absurdist but impeccable arrangements of cartoon figurines (One featured the Catholic church, an “abused” baby and superheroes), skulls and bones (“For company, especially those who are good listeners”), and Gothic ornamentation rooted in religious symbolism. On a wall hung a photograph of Foxell with President Truman, whom he had interviewed as a student at NYU. Foxell apparently knew Sarah Jane Moore, the woman who attempted to assassinate President Ford, and the man who grabbed her arm, Oliver Sipple. While speaking to Brook on the bus, he dubbed Foxell a modern-day “Forest Gump.” I agree.

It was time to leave Staten Island. We finally arrived at Barren Island (known by the Dutch as the “Island of Bears”) in Brooklyn, roughly 20 miles from the Empire State Building. The place is also known as Dead Horse Bay, where once stood a rendering plant that disposed of dead horses. The island became a “primitive” recycling ground. Although people had been dumping their garbage since the 1850s, the location became what The New York Times labeled as the “perfect landfill”, according to Brook, because so few New Yorkers knew about the place. There to guide us was historical digger Dan McGee of The Manhattan Well Diggers (special guest #1), who scavenges for artifacts from similar locations throughout the city. The terrain of the island resembled a porcelain and bottle cemetery with glass fragments dating to the ‘50s. McGee admitted that he uses metal detectors, which he says have helped friends find old coins worth $10,000. Further down the beach, we came across a  “Marry Me” sign in the sand, crafted out of bottles, beside a reply that read: “Ok.”

On the way to our next stop we got stranded in a rain storm; supposedly the bus’s windshield wipers were broken. A handful of people exited the bus in their briefs to play in the rain and suddenly took off running for the nearby field. Luckily I had packed a swimsuit. I stripped out of my dress and ran to meet the group. Together we all played intense variations of tag until the rain stopped nearly an hour later.

From the Island of the Bears we were finally off to the Island of Coney, where the group roamed the boardwalk on a series of scavenger hunts to locate objects like a feather, penny from 1950, and a condom. We also had to locate people from different countries. Before long, we were on the beach playing a fierce game of Tug and War (gloves included).

Suddenly, Howard Richman, a local square dance caller with us (special guest #2), grabbed a microphone. From atop a bench he began instructing the entourage on the art of line dancing, while blasting hillbilly tunes. As we sashayed and dosey-doed, people on the boardwalk seemed puzzled but interested. We later pulled a few strangers to participate.

After an intense square dancing session, we were told to form a crouched line on the beach for a (loose) game of leap frog toward the ocean. While people were walking, straddling their legs through the line, I heard someone yell, “That’s not how you play leap frog!”

It was finally time to dive into the lukewarm, gritty ocean waters for the finale to our glorious day.  A game of  Chicken ensued. And being the professional that I was, my petite frame went down instantly – to the detriment of my gracious partner.

But there’s always next time. With one tour down, there’s six more to go.

More photos via Flickr

Vampirism, Straight Up

Despite the hurricane this past weekend, I finally had a chance to see Straight Up Vampire, a play about the history of vampirism in colonial Pennsylvania, set to the music of – who else – Paula Abdul. The storyline reads:

It’s 1763 and there are vampires in Philadelphia.
Paula Abdul Blackwood is a beautiful young quaker girl being forced into marriage with the wheelwright’s son.
Jack Sheridan, a politically idealistic young vampire, is the man she loves.
Everywhere there is dissent. Fractious parties debate the future of the colony.
MC Skat Kat and Benjamin Franklin vie for power in the Assembly.

Straight Up Vampire is based on the book, The History of Vampires in Colonial Pennsylvania as Performed to the Music of Paula Abdul (by Nick Jones, Zak Vreeland and Peter J. Cook) and directed by Cook. It’s amazing how much of the setting and characterization is conveyed through improvised costumes and stage craft, especially on the modest stage at Joe’s Pub. The decor for Vampire included a band, music stands and chairs for the cast, who would perform their lines with scripts in hand. The script itself was the size of a photo album and at one point, Jones as the wheelwright’s son had to direct the the dark pale-faced vampire (played by Jason Quarles), who had lost his place, to the correct page. “Page 20”, Jones’ character sneered, to which the crowd laughed.

Also, while uncharacteristically sipping overpriced Pinot Grigio on the couch, I met a lovely woman named Michelle wearing realistic vampiric fangs. Apparently she had previously worked as a make-up artist in movies and crafted the fitted fangs from acrylic.

The next performance for Vampire is on March 26 at Joe’s Pub. Tickets can be purchased here.

Paint-splattered photographs by Gerhard Richter
March 11, 2010, 10:53 pm
Filed under: art

Simple yet intriguing, Gerhard Richter’s photographs create the effect of looking through a glass pane. His work is currently showing at WAKO Works of Art for anyone who happens to be in Tokyo. Otherwise, check out Richter’s work here.

Conan Tour Dates!
March 11, 2010, 10:27 pm
Filed under: comedy, television | Tags: , , , , ,

courtesy of

The upside to the NBC nonsense is Conan O’Brien’s comedy/music tour, appropriately titled “The Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour”, which could possibly feature appearances by The White Stripes and Beck. Get ready:

04-12 Eugene, OR – Hult Ceter for the Performing Arts
04-13 Vancouver, British Columbia – Orpheum Theatre
04-14 Vancouver, British Columbia – Orpheum Theatre
04-16 Spokane, WA – INB Performing Arts Center
04-17 Enoch, Alberta – River Cree Resort & Casino
04-18 Seattle, WA – Marion Oliver McCaw Hall
04-19 Seattle, WA – Marion Oliver McCaw Hall
04-22 San Francisco, CA – Nob Hill Masonic Center
04-23 San Francisco, CA – Nob Hill Masonic Center
04-24 Universal City, CA – Gibson Amphitheater
04-25 Universal City, CA – Gibson Amphitheater
04-29 San Diego, CA – San Diego Civic Theatre
04-30 Phoenix, AZ – Dodge Theatre
05-01 Las Vegas, NV – The Pearl Concert Theatre – Palms Casino
05-04 Reno, NV – Grand Sierra Resort & Casino – Grand Theatre
05-05 San Jose, CA – San Jose State University Events Center
05-06 Sacramento, CA – Sacramento Memorial Auditorium
05-09 Boulder, CO – Mackey Auditorium
05-13 Dallas, TX – McFarlin Memorial Auditorium – SMU Campus
05-14 Austin, TX – Austin Music Hall
05-15 Tulsa, OK – Brady Theater
05-16 Kansas City, MO – Midland Theatre
05-18 Minneapolis, MN – Orpheum Theatre
05-19 Chicago, IL – Chicago Theatre
05-20 Chicago, IL – Chicago Theatre
05-22 Toronto, Ontario – Massey Hall
05-30 Atlantic City, NJ – Borgata Spa & Resort – Event Center
06-01 New York, NY – Radio City Music Hall
06-02 New York, NY – Radio City Music Hall
06-04 Boston, MA – Wang Theater
06-05 Boston, MA – Wang Theater
06-06 Uncasville, CT – Mohegan Sun Arena
06-07 Upper Darby, PA – Tower Theatre
06-08 Washington, DC – Constitution Hall
06-11 Manchester, TN – Bonnaroo Music Festival
06-14 Atlanta, GA – Fox Theatre

March 10, 2010, 4:32 am
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The Armory Show this past weekend was a dizzy array of commercial art. As with any massive expo, the results were overwhelming (i.e. last year’s photography exhibit, AIPAD). Notably there was a nude painted lady nonchalantly perusing the corridors as a swarm of amateur photographers surrounded her. Apparently she’s an artist who was hired by Armory to walk. And most interestingly were the conversations overheard: A gallerist expressing that he/she was most concerned with the canvases going into “good homes” (Apparently art is a lost puppy.), a person on the phone said, “Baby, we should buy it now but you should come down and take a look at it first”, “$150,000 is kind of a lot of money” (“Yeah, Honey, money might be tight this month with two paychecks going towards this canvas. However, it might be worth it. Let’s sleep on it”).

for more photos, visit Flickr

And we’re back!

It’s been a  few PLUS months since I’ve blogged.

Some highlights from the offline experience:

I attended all of the Flux Factory Going Places (Doing Stuff) tours. I met an African from Greenland who became my French tutor. I published articles for NY Daily News and Filter. I grew my calves while in San Francisco. I saw Charlotte Gainsbourg live. I appeared in a Marie Losier film, Slap the Gondola!, featuring Genesis P-Orridge, Tony Conrad and April March. I moved to Queens. I attended a ChatRoulette party with a side of RuPaul’s Drag Race. AND I started biking 12 miles a day.

Also, it’s Armory Week – which means not only enough art for your heart’s content (and beyond), BUT a plethora of parties.

Tonight’s agenda: TheDangerNacotheque’s 4th Anniversary Party thrown by my friend, Amylu.

Here’s to the beginning – see you there.



First, the sculpture:

142 11th Ave, New York City, New York.

A presentation of memory, iron and glass.
Built by Emma, curated by David Hunt.

7pm through Midnight.

There are locations in this city with a history and energy so powerful
their story can galvanize a community. 142 11th Ave, New York City, New
York is the former site of the world’s most infamous leather bar: The
Eagle’s Nest. From 1970 through March 5th, 2000, the space held nights of
passion, beauty, conflict and controversy.

This is the story of an icon.

This Friday, March 5th, ten years to the day of the closing of The Eagle’s
Nest, you are invited to experience an art installation exploring the
fragility of infamy, the passing of phenomenon and the power that
memories hold. “142 11th Ave, New York City, New York” is an outsized
installation of 88 pieces of  etched glass, wrought iron and an all
encompassing sound composition hosted within the now vacant Eagles Nest.

Absolutely Free

Located at: 142 11th Ave. at the Corner of 21st Street.
Friday, 7pm through Midnight

[ Note: Just to be clear, this is a presentation of a sculpture, not a
party. ]

Next, the performance: SUPERCONDUCTOR:

Honey Space is pleased to present SUPERCONDUCTOR, an installation by
Daphane Park.  Informed by various alternative Western healing
technologies and shamanistic rituals, SUPERCONDUCTOR is composed of a set
of “objects of performance”, an original soundtrack, and a daily, 3-hour
performance by the artist.

Located at: 143 11th Ave. between 21st and 22nd.

Finally, the art auction/party: Swimming Cities.

Swimming Cities is a diverse and evolving collaboration of artists,
builders, and visionaries who come together each year to embark on a
challenging large-scale project. Originally united through our common
friendship and talent by the international artist Swoon, the group traces
its roots back to the DIY raft project on the Mississippi River, the “Miss
Rockaway Armada”.

Taking a new waterway each year, the project creates a vivid community of
artists floating into towns to present an inspiring, interactive
environment that encompasses art, sculpture, music and performance. Each
year the Swimming Cities conceives new rafts and builds them with mostly
found materials in an organic design process. The multi-layered and
uncommon talents of our members inspire us to continuously lookfor new
ways to materialize our style of unique living art.

This fundraising event will fund the building of the next project.

Music by: $mall Change, Matt Shadetek and 2Melo.
56 Walker St., Tribeca : $10 door, 7pm to 1am.

Vandal (Squad) Vendetta
March 20, 2009, 9:54 am
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Vandal Squad

Last night powerHouse Arena in DUMBO hosted a debate between veteran graffiti artists and NYPD officers who booked them decades earlier. The officers are members of the Vandal Squad, a department specializing in vandalism. Joseph Rivera, one of the officers, recently published “Vandal Squad: Inside the New York City Transit Police Department, 1984-2004”, which as its title suggests depicts graffiti from the perspective of New York’s Finest.

Graffiti, a remnant of hip hop, has been its own subculture since the ’60s. The “illegal” aspects are alluring to a lot of artists – the riskier the graf the more “up’s” or fame an artist gets. It was this concept of “permission” (or lack thereof that fueled the dialogue between the officer and artists.

The officers argued that artists are responsible for their own arrests because it’s graffiti’s illegal – and therefore scintillating – nature (“Mona sucks cock”) that drives writers. Without that element, graffiti would be reduced to the less glamorous canvas-and-color topics of other artists, like painters. They further argued that graffiti makes the public feel unsafe and with graf tags covering subway cars, damages public property. They don’t make the law, they just follow it (“We’re not art critics, we’re cops.”).

The artists countered that the lack of safety is a fabrication by manipulative politicians who unnecessarily criminalize graffiti artists, while artists who wheat paste and stencil are given lenience and the “real crooks” remain on the streets. Also graffiti creates cleaning jobs – to which the officers replied is the same as condoning crime for creating police jobs.

Activist Alan Ket argued that graffiti doesn’t hurt anyone and subway cars run regardless of the graffiti on them.

“Don’t give me that broken windows crap,” he said.

Although many books have already been written about graffiti by writers and graffiti artists alike, it was only a matter of time before a cop wrote one. Despite the book’s illustrious photos and text, “Vandal Squad” fails to mention “tactic” or incidences of police aggression, without which leaves a spotlessness that is uncharacteristic of graffiti’s sometimes dirty history – like the police brutality case involving a twenties graffiti artist named Michael Stewart, whose controversial arrest and death in 1983 raised serious questions about enforcement tactics used by the NYPD.

Rivera admitted that the book did omit cases of police aggression, which are an inevitable part of the graffiti scene, and that such “tactics” are confidential.

Moderator Stern Rockwell described how he previously witnessed artists being forced by police to chew marker tips.

In response to police brutality, Vandal Squad Lieutenant Ken Chiuli responded that people should file a civil complaint if they feel they’re being mistreated – to which the audience of roughly 80 laughed and scoffed.

However, graffiti legend COPE2 said that in his experience, Rivera has been a “gentleman” despite stories of other officers brutalizing artists.

Rockwell then asked the officers if graffiti has been “fun” for them.

Rivera responded that endangering himself and others to catch vandals is “not fun”, especially inside subway tunnels, where one officer accidentally burnt his boot on a third rail.

Nevertheless, like the subways themselves, graffiti inevitably becomes an interwoven fabric of the city whether the writers are seen as “artists” or “vandals”.

“[Graffiti is] an important part of New York City history, ” Ket said.

P.S. 1 for the pool

Leandro Erlich

The P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City is one of my favorite places. As a former school building, the architecture invokes childhood nostalgia at once dreamy and institutionally spooky – a prime backdrop for a museum or as a friend would, say, “projecting.”

Currently, “Jonathan Horowitz: And/Or”, a higher profile exhibition, features “subversive” pop cultural references mingled with politics, consumerism and celebrity. Including a quote from Jane Fonda about not being a “dime a dozen” blonde bombshell, but rather a citizen with a cause. Otherwise, she’d be “dead like Monroe.”

However, if you’re strapped for time, visit the swimming pool by Leandro Erlich, an extensive installation of a transparent pool and deck ceiling, where visitors can hang out below the transparency in a luminous bungalow “under” the water that makes one feel cradled in an unnaturally dry, non-buoyant – but morale boosting – environment.

Suitcase cabinetry (for liquor, vanity and other vices)
February 24, 2009, 11:15 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Vintage suitcases serve a better purpose than harboring moldy clothing and Grandpa’s Yankee card collection. For starters, add light bulbs and an accordion mirror to make a vanity or straps and shelving for a liquor cabinet. Floating along the wall, the suitcase looks like something out of a Dali painting, but in the real world, is mounted using French cleats.

The suitcase cabinets are designed by VanityCase, recently founded by curator and carpenter, Jean Barberis. Barberis scavenges the boroughs (mostly Queens) for vintage suitcases. Each item is one-of-a-kind, can be custom made, and is an exquisite storage solution for stylish urbanites and eccentrics.

Animalania @ Fuse Gallery
February 24, 2009, 12:46 am
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Robin Schwartz

Photo: Robin Schwartz

Lovers of art and living creatures collaborated to deliver, Animalania, an exhibition of quirky vintage animal photographs curated by fashion photographer, Aliya Naumoff. Among the show’s contributing artists are Danielle Levitt, James Iha, Kristin Schaal, Spike Jonze, Karen O and Nick Zinner. All proceeds from the show will be donated to the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). Awhile ago I wrote a piece about another ASPCA-related event.

Animalania is on display at Fuse Gallery through March 14. The works can also be viewed online here.