On Thursday September 20th, I arrived at Mount Sinai Hospital at 5:45 AM prepared for surgery. By noon, I was home and in kinds of pain I’d rather not put down in words. The Unspeakable: A Dark Show curated by Peter Clough and organized by RE: Art Show’s Erin Davis & Max C. Lee was opening on September 22nd. For two days, I told myself, convinced myself, had others insist that I was NOT going to the opening. I texted Peter to apologize for my absence, I texted Erin to apologize for my absence, and I texted Max to apologize for my absence. I was not going!
At 8:53 PM on the 22nd, two days after surgery, I took a large dose of my pain medication and called an Uber to take me immediately to Bed Stuy’s Pfizer building where the RE: Art Show is held. Buy the ticket, take the ride. I’d already missed two hours of the opening and I wasn’t going to miss any more. I was compelled to do what I knew I shouldn’t.
Entering the Pfizer building, you can hear your own footsteps. If I had to guess, I’d say that the inside of Clough’s mind is like the glorious depravity of Francis Bacon’s. Entering into The Unspeakable, which will be on view through October 21st, was exactly like walking into a Bacon painting. It starts so simply. The welcoming sounds of deep breathing, and the off-tone playing of a totally unmelodic, yet completely symphonic, air organ played by a stuffed polar bear. Strange steps followed that first communion into The Unspeakable, feeding into the frenzy of a space engulfed by darkness and populated by the flashlights of what felt like a million patrons. I’m not sure if it was those extra pain pills or just the rapturous joy of oddity, nudity, wonder, and adventure in the transforming pharmaceutical building, but the feeling was pure electricity all over my body. My mouth watered and my eyes wandered over the clumps and cocks and running water and the unexpected presence of a eight-foot ostrich.
What you have to understand, before we go any further, is the RE: Art Show isn’t like anything you’ve ever seen. Being inside the Pfizer building makes you feel a kind of loitering that our most teenage delinquent dreams only wished of being able to do. Peter Clough is one of the most forthright, accepting, affirming, intelligent, welcoming, talented artists and human beings I’ve ever met. That fact is made evident in the care he applies to his curatorial endeavors, and how deeply personal his actions and colleagues are to him. The Unspeakable is comprised of artists who are as much of a part of his history and influenced his development as they are collaborators, and people he has helped express themselves and realize their works potential. And Erin Davis and Max C. Lee are the two craziest, wonderfully driven people ever to take a chance on anyone who has ever been thought less of, or not good enough, and raises those voices up, giving them a space to utterly completely destroy and smash any expectations of what we call the art world.
In the darkness, things are allowed to become illuminated. Guests who come to The Unspeakable are provided flashlights to enter into a labyrinth full of night, to carve the shape and size of works of art. Nothing I’ve ever seen has ever so fruitfully fulfilled the potentials of space and the wonderful imagination of show. All around is the evidence of relics and imprints. The body has so much potential and the ways we can express, through hopeful gender, glorious fornication, and evolving understanding, feed the acceptance of a space brimming with experimentation. Clough has curated an environment where others can say the things that maybe they never have felt comfortable saying before. And through the accumulation of so many different mediums of art and ways of making, a space of elaborate and layered possibilities is realized. The works are sculptural, photographic, performative, painterly, loud and quiet. Just like people who are happy, angry, tired, hungry, and horny, depending on the day, but with the affirming play of self-worth and fraught desire, people become a whole picture. The accumulation becomes an environment.
I’ll never forget watching humans feeding their holes with cake naked on a putrid floor, or the sight of a cocooned body strung upside down, or The Little Mermaid, lip-syncing sycophant who we all marveled at, staple-gunning her tips to her soft hairy flesh. Sitting down with Clough days after was a treat, a chance to expound on an evening unlike any other: “I wanted to curate a space, and a show where people would be able to feel comfortable enough to say, ‘That’s how I feel too!’” Clough is a prodigy in his motivation towards the body and the things people want for themselves. The imagination can allow individuals to claim their fantasies. Art has a boisterous bowel. That voice is a rebellion in the hands of the forty uninhibited enthusiastic artists from The Unspeakable.
Clough makes it sound like curatorially things happened very organically and that this show is a deeply personal labor of love. When we sat down in the space, he explained, “‘The Unspeakable’” was a class I took in college taught by Adam Putnam, one of the artists in this show. The Xeroxed text (of the same title) in the curatorial statement by Samuel Delany is actually a copy of my original copy that Adam gave me in his class. The class was important to me as a person coming to grips with my identity and sexuality, with myself. The class introduced me to many new ideas and thoughts, but also brought me to the writing and works of David Wojnarowicz.”
Clough is informed by queer histories that he feels compelled and connected to, as are the artists in the show. They all further this history with complex feelings and a fearless voice that we all share about our bodies and ourselves. WE ARE HERE! The social aspects of The Unspeakable create an urgent protest in a time of an incredibly oppressive regime. Now is a time to act up and be on our own terms. The norms of a society cannot dictate the reality of individuality. Open-ended ideas are generative, forcing the self to have its agency. In closing our chat, Clough told me: “I have my perspectives on the show, but I’m sure there’s a lot in that room that I don’t know about. The exhibition is its own authority. I don’t claim to know exactly everything that’s going on in there or how individual viewers or the artists will walk away from the show.”