Nov 11 2008

ATOPOS cvc collection includes a series of six dresses by Travis Hutchinson made of Tyvek, a paper-like material (ATOPOS cvc 2008.02.358-363). The dresses was a promotional material for the Worship book of Travis Hutchinson, USA, 2007. (ATOPOS cvc 2008.02.367).


101, Avenue A

In the footsteps of Andy Warhol and the superstars of his Factory, Klaus Nomi, John Sex or Keith Haring, a small group of performers and artists takes over the East Village. The gay scene has just been decimated by the AIDS epidemic, the heroes are dead, everything has to be reinvented. It is at the Pyramid Club in New York, on Avenue A, that a new scene emerges. “I immediately started taking pictures. It was my obsession. Everyone had their own, for me, it was the photography.” Both witness and actor, behind the scenes or on stage, Travis became one of the most fervent worshipers of this strange cult. Every Monday evening at midnight, Antony (future Antony & the Johnsons), Psychotic Eve and Johanna Constantine, the three eccentrics behind the strange Blacklips Performance Cult, put on shows with bits of string, sets found in the trash cans and handmade costumes. Queens of the night, torch-singers, mutant transsexuals, obsessives in search of the perfect look, bodies transformed into abstract works of art: Travis captures them all in flight. Between portraits taken hastily and photos of happenings, it constitutes a fascinating family album. “All that united these people was their fascination with horror. (Kembra Pfahler, leader of The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black).



CHARLES ATLAS • It all happened at the Pyramid, on the Lower East Side. We were a big crazy family. The members of Blacklips followed a well-established tradition in Downtown.

THOMAS ENGELHART • The first time I went there, I was like, “My god, this is where I want to be, this is what I want to be. “I started going there every Monday night at midnight.

KEMBRA PFAHLER • The folks at Blacklips didn’t try to copy those before them, but they incorporated their vocabulary and pursued their ideas using those codes. I like the idea of inventing a new vocabulary. Blacklips used the old one and added a few new words to it.

MARTI • Howie Pyro once saw a flyer that said, “Worship the devil. It was a show of the Blacklips Performance Cult, where they gave out gifts found in the garbage cans, like a piece of raw meat, etc. at the entrance. Johanna Constantine played records, Antony sang. There was a hard core of about twelve people who attended each week. It was full of personal obsessions and there was a strange atmosphere that I have rarely found elsewhere. I joined the sect (laughs). One day, we put together a show called Most Beautiful Woman in the World. Johanna held the title role. She had to exit at the back of the stage then cross the basement of the building to enter from the front. Antony was killing time because she had to attach a fifteen-meter train to the back of her dress. He launched into a big bombastic speech and suddenly announced, “What you are about to see now will change the course of world history. And Johanna walked through the audience, and there weren’t many people there. I realized he was right. In a way, the course of world history was altered. It’s crazy. I believed it.

CHARLES ATLAS • I saw Antony for the first time at some sort of charity show. He was with Johanna and Eve, and he was singing e Star Spangled Banner. He was reading the words he had written on his forearm. I thought that it was a joke, but in reality he didn’t know the lyrics at all. Antony is not very ironic by nature. It was both beautiful, touching and hilarious.

SCOTT EWALT • Flloyd was interesting because he always did scary things. Clark Render’s pieces were also brilliant because they were so well staged. He succeeded in having Tokyo destroyed by Godzilla thanks to very simple means, using lighting, sound effects, lightning, miniature buildings. Marti and Herr Klunch were brilliant actors and could make even the dumbest thing believable.

TWINKLE • I don’t like drag kings in general. They often caricature the most grotesque aspects of virility, like machos, big jerks, etc. Herr Klunch was the first drag king not to. She practiced cold humor. She wore men’s clothes, but I never thought of her as a man. It was a third gender that transcended gender identity.

THOMAS ENGELHART • Page was the first totally original character I met, the most eccentric of eccentrics. She gave a lot of importance to forms. It only blossomed at night. She embodied that time and that scene. He was a transsexual and she had all kinds of expressions to describe her operation, like: “I needed a little change in my life. One evening, she decided to go to the shop across the street to buy milk completely naked, except for a pair of dark glasses and high heels. Kabuki liked strange costumes, like Indian divinities, androgynous things. He was doing his makeup – and it was always something incredibly elaborate – in front of a piece of broken mirror. We became inseparable and that’s when the doors opened for me.

MARTI • Kabuki’s make-up was superior to anything seen in Hollywood movies of the 1930s. As for Johanna… She put anything and everything on her head, a book, a typewriter, etc.

CHARLES ATLAS • Johanna is a totally free spirit. I like the way she dances, she moves in an impressive way. Everything about her is totally unbelievable and contrived.

MARTI • At the end of each show, Antony came to do a musical number, a bit like an ancient choir, on a pile of corpses or all alone, a cigarette in hand. He was singing and you would have thought he was possessed, it was very moving. He often cried. And made everyone cry, it was a real catharsis.

ANTONY • At the time of Leigh Bowery’s death, to everyone’s amazement and horror, a sort of memorial had been held at the Pyramid during the Blacklips party. I had met Leigh briefly, but was a huge fan, and Charles Atlas was our mutual friend. For its tribute evening, the show ended with a huge pile of corpses, each lying on the body of the previous person against a backdrop of Dark End of the Street by Diamanda Galas. I wore a pale copy of a Leigh outfit and sang for the occasion. I had the word yes written on my forehead, especially for Charlie and in reference to Yoko Ono, her strange way of clinging to the slightest hope, even in the worst circumstances.

TWINKLE • At Blacklips’ last show, 13 Ways to Die, everyone felt it was time to quit. It was good, in a way, because it didn’t end smoothly, or on a false note, or bored. The end was glorious. JOJO • At the time, in the 1990s, there were three cool little islands: the drag queens, the people of Blacklips and those of Squeezebox, the club of Michael Schmidt.

SCOTT EWALT • I met a certain Michael Schmidt who said to me: “If you want to be part of it, you have to participate. Find yourself a function. “I realized that people were needed to put artists in the spotlight. And that became my role. JOJO • Miss Lauren was the most amazing person I knew. This girl was walking down the street in neon fishnet tights, a huge purple tutu, a tight little bolero and purple hair in a ponytail, all perched on platform shoes. She had the most outrageous and gorgeous makeup ever. Her eyebrows were gorgeous and she wore about ten pairs of false eyelashes. I believe she was living in Queens at the time. And, every day, she had to take transport in this outfit. How did she not get killed? MISS

LAUREN • Everything was very visual and I always went where my eye was drawn. I was on the periphery of this whole scene, except for two shows. I preferred to stay in the shadows, wear makeup and shine in my own way in my corner.

KEMBRA PFAHLER • I came to New York because I wanted to settle in the scariest place in the world. I lived on Avenue D and the fourth next to a heroin store. My first performance was doing a handstand while breaking eggs with my vagina. I continued on this path, created the concept of availabism. Make the best use of what I had. I was there to invent another character. It all happened unnaturally, through deprivation, the hard way, and I formed my band, e Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black.

Travis Hutchinson , 2007 ,  Worship , Tournon Carabas , trans. Travis Hutchinson

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