Performance explores transparency

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Photo by Brianna Loo.

On Monday evening, a woman calling herself “Dynasty Handbag” walked on stage at the Whitney Humanities Center wearing nothing but a clear rain poncho and clear plastic heels. Her performance, she said, was going to be all about transparency.

“Dynasty Handbag,” a stage persona of Brooklyn-based performance artist Jibz Cameron, performed “The Transparent Trap: A Power Pointless Presentation,” a show structured as a PowerPoint presentation. The performance constituted the final event in this semester’s Postwar Queer Avant-Garde film series. The series, sponsored by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies at Yale, Films at the Whitney and the Film Studies Program, has been presented in conjunction with Film Studies Professor Ronald Gregg’s course titled “Postwar Queer Avant-Garde Film.”

“Through Dynasty, I’m exploring whether the queer avant-garde had a lasting impact on future queer film, performance and art practice,” Gregg said. “This performance is out there, even for film studies.”

Gregg explained that Dynasty Handbag’s performance illustrated themes from postwar avant-garde film, including elements of shock value and absurdity, as well as a focus on failure that appears prominently in the queer films of the 1960s.

Much of queer film tries to escape from the cruelty of the real world by constructing an alternative, fantastical world, Gregg said, often through the use of color, costume and camp. The Dynasty Handbag character uses that strategy, he said.

“Most systems that we live in are impossible to live in a successful way,” Cameron said during Monday’s question and answer session. “That frustration and anger is what’s behind most of my work.”

Dynasty Handbag’s performance centered on the story of how she sold her video short, “Eternal Quadrangle,” to MOCAtv — an art video channel sponsored by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. The show also included a short film parody of Beyoncé’s “Life is but a Dream,” entitled “Dynasty Handbag: A Dream is not a Life,” as well as another of Dynasty Handbag’s short films, called “Remote Penetration.” Stand-up comedy, improvisation and comic musical numbers were also interspersed throughout the performance.

Gregg explained that PowerPoint is a medium through which people present material as polished and indisputable fact. Handbag’s show, which explores transparency as it pertains to artistic integrity, acknowledges the artificiality of that kind of neatly packaged narrative, Gregg noted.

“Why can’t something as quotidian as PowerPoint explore real problems of the art world, like art-making, censorship, and funding issues?” asked Bradford Nordeen, the director of Dirty Looks, a monthly queer and experimental film series whose board Gregg directs. Nordeen introduced Dynasty Handbag and spoke with Cameron in a question and answer session following the performance.

Nordeen suggested to Gregg that “The Transparent Trap” be the final event in the Postwar Queer Avant-Garde film series, he said, because a film screening might be too literal and proper a way to end a series on the avant-garde.

The film series has featured weekly screenings of films by queer artists throughout the fall semester and has mostly focused on New York City queer avant-garde film from roughly 1945 to 1968. Dynasty Handbag’s performance was the only multimedia event in the series.

Jibz Cameron’s next performance will take place at The Duplex in New York City on Dec. 17.

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