Lori Der Hagopian Strange Bird Productions
The Village Voice
While many lament the dubious quotas, super-size-me scale, showboat marquees and recycled red carpet art stars unwholesomely coupling with the hydra of bureaucratic curatorial diplomacy that clog, clot, and clumsily commandeer today’s more than 200 international biennalés, few have devised as covert an alternative as has Lori Der Hagopian with her Strange Bird Productions. Rather than endlessly—often enviously—decry the market-driven arrivistes so overexposed in Chelsea, consultants minting bullion from gullibility, Strange Bird practices instead the lost art of invisibility, even a science of silence.
Almost unmarked, nearly anonymous, and conspicuously lacking any online address, Strange Bird is a two-inch-square rented ad space featuring a different artist each week, currently running in the art section of the Village Voice. Der Hagopian, a performance artist, here working on newsprint, who has worked with paper since childhood, recently fashioned clothing from Viva paper towels and designed paper accessories for the haute couture houses of Lanvin and Dior. (She declined a full scholarship at Parsons to remain at Dior in Paris.) Defining art as ‘energy contained within space,’ her Strange Bird Productions permits relatively unknown artists ‘to bring their own energy to a space . . . to tap into a thinking bound by nothing.
If this sounds abstract, it is neither fleshless nor detached; her playing field is framed by 20 years’ training in the martial arts, and charged by an upbringing spent watching the hunting habits, power struggles and obliquely coded sexual gestures of raw meat eaters in her mom’s dive bar.
Unsystematically curated, appearing without explanations, some of these non/site specific works were created expressly for Strange Bird, and do not exist outside its ephemeral realm. Miyuki Tsushima (a friend, who first hipped me to Strange Bird) paints small, sparse canvases using homemade inks depicting prehistoric people and endangered species anxiously contending with contemporary urban life, their endearing naiveté overshadowed only by her trenchant sense of mortality.
Locals serve a Creole dish in New Orleans yclept ‘chicken bon femme.’ It’s a hen with its head cut off, meaning any good woman keeps mum. As ‘what’s good for the goose . . .’ may go for the cock as well, at Strange Bird Carol Nathan Levin offers one gruesome Headless Cock, a decapitated spewing rooster stitched in sequins and beads.
With 44 artists slated this year, Strange Bird will also include photographs of Der Hagopian’s own signally subdued sartorial street performances (carrying a convincing counterfeit paper suitcase, she blends into the crowd, wearing a paper shirt, paper tie, and a man’s paper dress suit); work by an elderly artist who refuses to sell his work but will give it away; a mixed-media cowboy by Robyn Wood; a Goth flamenco mourner (in my take) photographed by Miguel Villalobos; and a drawing by that nameless subway artist whose bright ‘Art Brut’ alien spaceships may be familiar to L train riders.
Dislocation is everything. Lori Der Hagopian’s art, in this case, is the venue itself. We are not likely to draw conclusions concerning a prevailing Strange Bird aesthetic, or concoct any unified field theory to delimit its forays into the fray. Nor can its effects ever be adequately assessed. Yet, in Situationist texts was it not mere displacement that brought back the cobwebbed dead? Parting from the Internet’s neutralized glut, Strange Bird is David’s slingshot, Stealth technology detourned for dimes. Der Hagopian’s is a genius of place (genius loci) gone loco, hidden and speaking in demotic tongues.
The new terrorist cell operates less as part of a network than as an autonomous franchise. Occupation forces in Iraq are evolving unprecedented models of warfare, corporate private armies with an independence exempt from oversight once only dreamt of by feudal lords. If, as in the insights of Homi K. Bhabha, culture currently locates in its interstices, sheer pulverization having pushed pluralism beyond even the polymorphously perverse, the blooming of independent initiatives, Separatist strategies, Peter Lamborn Wilson’s Temporary Autonomous Zones and/or Maurice Blanchot’s ‘inoperative communities,’ hit-and-run harriers, havoc, and such ‘guerilla girls’ in the arts proves a salient 21st-century outflanking tactic. Like the dodo and the dinosaur, the top-heavy art establishment may well sink under its own weight.
Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle is an American poet and art critic. He lives in Paris and New York City.