Post-Paradise (Black Lodge Sweat), 2013

Created and performed by Ryan Brewer as part of Triskaidekaphobia, a group exhibition at Parade Ground (NYC), on January 12th, 2013. Curated by AA Bronson and Bradford Kessler. Documentation by Rafael Santiago.
Original performance duration: 3 hours

Ryan Brewer’s performance project Post-Paradise utilized pole dance to investigate notions of gender identity through the formation and performance of the artist’s sexual persona: a jockstrap-clad, bleach-blond playboy. Brewer’s body and physical ability were conditioned through a six-month period of professional pole dance training. For Brewer, pole dancing’s cultural baggage is in line with the social fringe of LGBT subculture: originally marginalized to shadowy barrooms and alleyway orgasms. Albeit a predominately ‘heterosexual’ dance form, by training to become a pole dancer himself, Brewer at once evokes aspects of gay stereotypes while simultaneously tossing a queer monkey wrench into the gears of the heteroerotic trope of titty bar corporeal consumption. So much for the Champagne Room.

In his three-hour performance, Brewer beat himself with a leather flogger between dance numbers. By alternating between sexual showmanship on the pole and self-flagellation elements, Brewer illustrates the double bind of the human (and in this case, queer) condition: constant craving and subsequent shame. Queer pathology, too, frustratingly reveals its symptoms on one hand as a hypersexualized spectacle; on the other, a fetishized endurance of self-inflicted pain. Run-of-the-mill dungeon antics. However, underworld sleaze is only one aspect of Brewer’s aesthetic. The other is mystical in nature, shamanic.

Confined to an eleven-foot circle of red glass votive candles (notably on loan from a gay priest of a local Catholic church), Brewer performed within appropriated relics of faith, imbued with decades of prayers and, consequently, a community’s hopes and fears. In this way, Brewer uses these materials to designate sacred, ritual space while initiating a circuit of spiritual exchange with his audience and community. Moreover, Brewer’s mystical flogger play (while signifying a sadomasochistic scenario) was doubly used as a trance-inducing mechanism. Flagellation, prior to making its way into dungeon play, has been used historically by monks and other religious ecstatics in ritual practices for piety and various altered states of consciousness.

In the cyclic history of human civilization, the waxing presence of cultural decadence has inevitably preceded social decline. But Brewer’s apocalyptic flesh show depicts decadence from the perspective of post-decline. A carnival within ruins, a paradise within inferno. After all, crawling around ass-up on a filthy concrete floor isn’t necessarily the stuff of renaissance. But perhaps social disgrace also precedes deliverance, as a spiritual exit strategy or merely a faith-bolstered mirage. Regardless, when the show’s over and the lights come up, it’s a queer transcendence that Brewer seeks: a holy communion with the unknown and the very human struggle for authenticity despite, yet ironically through, artifice and charade.

Installation: Steel pole, glass votive candle holders, candles, steel/leather flogger, sheep pelt, bottled water, bottled Pepsi-cola, bottled rubbing alcohol, towels, Ibuprofen, bandages, protein bar, pomelo fruits, Himalayan incense, cedar smudge stick, mugwort smudge stick, books (Sexual Personae, Camille Paglia; The Body in Pain, Elaine Scarry), artist’s notebook, computer, sound system, hardware.

Dimensions: 11 feet (diameter) x 10 feet (height) [Variable]

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