TOYO TSUCHIYA Invisible Underground Photographs, Paintings and Sculpture Howl! Happening: An Arturo Vega Project
TOYO TSUCHIYA Invisible Underground Photographs, Paintings and Sculpture Published on the occasion of the exhibition November 18 â€“ December 21, 2016 Howl! Happening: An Arturo Vega Project Howl! A/P/E Volume 1, No. 14
Toyo Tsuchiya is an artist and photographer who was born in Japan, but has lived and worked in New York City since 1980. Disenchanted with the academic art world and the dearth of underground artist communities in Tokyo during the late 70’s, Toyo began taking construction jobs that would take him to the Japanese countryside for months at a time. During one of these sojourns, Toyo purchased an inexpensive camera and began his lifelong practice of documenting street life. He was compelled to document culture outside of the mainstream, as he himself always felt like an outsider. Drawn to the New York art scene by enticing reports in the Japanese art magazine Bijutsu Techo, Toyo traveled to New York City on an extended vacation with a friend in 1980. When his friend had to return to Japan due to visa requirements, Toyo decided to stay and fell in love with the Lower East Side, which was experiencing a renaissance of street art, artist collectives, and artist-run galleries. As Toyo describes, “There was something in the air.” The 32-year-old painter/photographer was welcomed to New York by a community of Japanese artists on the Lower East Side, among them choreographer and dancer Yoshiko Chuma, who started her company The School of Hard Knocks in 1980. He was also embraced by Kazuko Miyamoto, the owner of Gallery Onetwentyeight, a locus of the artistic community. His new friends introduced him to other downtown artists like Justen Ladda, who took him to the seminal Times Square Show, as well as Colab member and contributor to the East Village Eye, Christof Kohlhofer. Toyo had found the community of underground artists that he sought. Inspired by the fecund scene of the Lower East Side, he began to compulsively photograph street scenes, nightclubs like the Limbo Lounge and the Pyramid Cocktail Lounge, as well as performance art at St. Mark’s Church. In 1983 he was asked to participate in a show called 99 Nights at No Se No, a former Puerto Rican social club located at 42 Rivington Street. Toyo photographed every performance of the summer of 1983, 8 p.m. to midnight, 7 days a week. When No Se No closed, he would rush home, develop the pictures in his bathroom darkroom, and hang the prints the next day in the bar. It was around these photographs that the Rivington School coalesced. As Toyo said in an interview at Howl! Happening: An Arturo Vega Project, “I wanted people to have my view of the performances, to see them though my eyes.” This essential body of work is not simply documentation of the Lower East Side scene, rather it is the vision of an outsider who found a home amidst the outsiders of New York’s underground. Through his eyes, the Rivington School could be seen, as the vital and prolific movement it would become. —Ted Riederer
Toyo Tsuchiya’s Photos of the Wildlife at No Se No By David Dalton
In the summer of 1983, a couple of galoots I knew— “Cowboy” Ray Kelly, the coolest cowhand from the Rio Grande, and hip-talkin’, sly-walkin’ Jack Smead—took over the lease of a storefront on Rivington Street intending it to be a hipster playhouse. It had been a former drug den run by a pair of Dominican coke dealers who eventually got sent up the river. But not before they’d given the joint its immortal name, No Se No; roughly, “We don’t know nuttin’.” They had decorated the walls in lush, tropical, wraparound dayglo Tijuana murals. It was a masterpiece of Loisaida kitsch, but this did not quite satisfy the overweening vision of the aforementioned gents, so they decided to repaint it in neo-El Paso hallucinatory. The concept of No Se No was pure accidental genius: anybody—and I mean anybody—could perform there at least once. So you knew right then and there that 99 Nights at No Se No was going to be a meta-historical event. They nailed 4x8 foot sheets of plywood onto the bar and made it into an instant stage, where anybody who wanted to could get up and do whatever the hell they wanted to. If Cowboy or Jack didn’t like it, they would hit the fuse box and everything went black. They were brutal critics. The news spread quickly about an after-hours club with beer for a buck, and a great free jukebox stocked with the most dynamite sounds by the “The Hound” (Jim Marshall). You were floating along in the company of punks, drug cowboys, a hooker who stays despite realizing she ain’t gonna find any (paying) customers in there, a neighborhood character who has wandered in from another set (nobody apparently had informed him that the universe was now under new management), some guy singing about Twizzlers and diamonds, and a Polish giantess playing the electric cello (the whole superhuman crew from Desolation Row would eventually show up). It was like Les Deux Magots in Paris in the 20s, or a speakeasy in St. Louis in the 30s, but really better than any of them because we were young and high and had our own idea of what fun was. It was a club straight out of William S. Burroughs’ Interzone. You have just to look at Toyo Tsuchiya’s photos to see what went on. In a review of Toyo’s photographs at the Asian American Arts Centre in 1999, Holland Cotter wrote of No Se No in The New York Times: “Nothing remotely like this scene, with its macho, improvised, beer-drinking brain energy, exists in today’s placid Manhattan art world.” But that’s part of the problem in getting anyone to describe what went down there. Just about everybody at No Se No
was either drunk, stoned, dusted, or just brain-jangled, and is not exactly reliable as cultural historian. Do Japanese hipsters have extraterrestrial antennae for culture-morphing events? How else would photographer Toyo Tsuchiya have found himself present at the opening night of 99 Nights at No Se No? Who the hell knew what this folly of two drugstore cowboys was going to turn into? That first night, if memory serves, offered a kinky taste of what was to come. A seminude “Alphabet” Arleen Schloss was being pulled back and forth across the top of the bar, covered with baby powder while reciting the alphabet backwards—or was she speaking in tongues? No Se No’s policy was all free, always free. Artists contributed by creating instant programs, the neighbors came in and did funny things. There was Dragan Ilic, a Yugoslavian artist, draped in power tools, who hammered pencils into the bar. Why? Sculpture, babe. Krzysztof Zarebski’s performance was very erotic (in a Polish ontological way, naturally). Among other things, there was a frozen penis as a Nobel Prize. He worked with his wife, Krystina Jachimowicz, the two of them acting all this out on the counter. There was Israeli performance artist, Uri Katzenstein, who made sounds from every conceivable thing that cannot speak for itself, including a dried salted fish from Chinatown. Lots of drumming went on inside (by the likes of Lexington and Peter Kotzrofski) and out on the street. You know why, don’t you? To keep God awake: the Devil is out there on Rivington Street leaping with dark joy and setting off cherry bombs. Bruno Esposito did spectacular performances out on the street, hanging from water pipes under “Cowboy” Kelly’s rainbow sculptures. Every club has its resident pain in the ass. In this case, that would be Ed Higgins III, standing on the counter drawing inconclusions on the wall, doing tricks with mousetraps, making a honeydew melon into a bowling ball. A sign read: Phoebe Légère Game Show. And there she was…Phoebe, a stylish mock porno blonde in a cowboy hat. She’d been involved in more genres that can fit in this paragraph. She was fucking famous—for 15 minutes, at least. You can look her up. On a particular night she made a large drawing of a man with a big erect penis, while walking on the bar, titillating, interacting with the audience. As glittery and tinsely as she looked, she was a real trouper. One night she was playing her signature accordion and her period wasn’t gonna interfere with her
act. She just kept playing her squeeze box, letting the blood run down her legs. Diana Moonmade was a topless dancer and martial artist dressed in ninja leather with a bikini bottom. She climbed the chain-link fence of the abandoned schoolyard next door, hanging upside down while playing sax in boxing gloves with mystic letters on her teeth. Dead movie stars came back to life. Nancy Girl was a Monroe look-alike dressed in the iconic white dress she wore blowing up over the subway grate in The Seven Year Itch…but this was a tough-talkin’ 80s broad who had serious ‘tude. Performance art is too tame a word for the feral cabaret at No Se No, featuring uninhibited erotic acts of quirky genius. The tableaux swung between wacky full-tilt selfindulgence to kozmik buzz—performed with the intensity of a pre-Christian reverence for rain. Didn’t much matter which. It was all glory or goofy. My favorite performance there was when my wife Coco, and Warhol superstar Jackie Curtis performed the one-act play James Dean wrote for his audition at the The Actors Studio, Ripping Off Layers to Find Roots—a work of inspired cappuccino Existentialism. No Se No was the local bar on Desolation Row. Getting there was a trip in itself. You had to lurk through your own private Saigon of trash-piled empty lots, chain-link fences, burnt-out buildings, hookers, junkies, drug dealers and cannibalized cars. Every night was a party, basically, with the added jolt of quirky performance art and random unpredictability. From seven o’clock at night to six in the morning the madness carried on. Fourteen hours of lunacy, and then everybody still standing would retire to Brownies for breakfast. Picture 5 a.m. on a steamy hot night, 95° so only the black lights are on. Mikey (P. Michel Kean) gets up to read his poetry, but he’s so nervous he drops his pants. Nobody notices, not even him. He recites for another 20 minutes, then goes to sit at the bar—no shirt, no pants, but the place is pitch black, so…. It’s late 1984 and by now people are coming from the tri-state area to check out this wild and crazy joint. On this particular night, there’s a couple from New Jersey sitting at the bar. Mikey pulls up a stool between them. They’re sitting cracking jokes, getting along famously. Finally, the couple gets up to leave, they’re saying goodbye and suddenly realize they’ve been sitting next to a stark naked guy at the bar for an hour and a half.
Another pre-dawn surprise: Round 4:30 in the morning, a Latino giant bangs at the door, the biggest, meanest-looking motherfucker from East L.A. you’ve ever seen. Jack yells, “We’re closed!” But this cat ain’t going away. He just keeps on hammering on the door. Well, now Jack picks up a baseball bat from behind the bar. He’s gearing up for a Jack and Goliath showdown on Rivington Street when someone says, “Hey, man, that’s David Hidalgo from Los Lobos.” And fuck me if it wasn’t. Idling outside on the street are four stretch limos full of guys from the band and Mexican girls in colorful plastic dresses and ribbons. They march in with their instruments and end up playing there for an entire day. Did I mention Montmerency, the whiskey-drinking rooster who lived on the bar? He loved whiskey and to accommodate him they’d put out a shot glass. He’d keep sipping until he passed out. Local Spanish guys coming in from the street, seeing what they thought was a dead chicken on the bar, didn’t know what the hell was going on…figured it had something to do with voodoo. But eventually the rooster would revive, jump up and let out a big old cock-a-doodledoo, scaring the shit out of everybody. As opposed to 80s mainstream avant-garde clubs, No Se No was so underground it didn’t even come up for air, and after 33 years it’s finally getting its props. There’s even a book about it, Rivington School: 80s New York Underground, and they’re selling it in Walmart, believe it or not. No Se No lasted a lot longer than 99 nights. I mean who was counting? But in 1984 it came to an abrupt end. A social club in Brooklyn had burned down and 90 people had died, so the city set up a task force to eliminate after-hours bars and close their doors. Whoever was at No Se No the night the cops showed up ended in the pokey. But you can’t muzzle an untamed heart, and the wild rumpus continued as an art gallery and sculpture garden. As Holland Cotter said, Toyo’s photographs felt “like reports of life on another, hipper planet, of which little trace would remain were it not for his persistent and attentive recording eye.” Carlo McCormick, No Se No’s wry bartender, ascribes Toyo’s incredible photos to a talent for invisibility. An extraterrestrial? Invisible? Whatever. At No Se No, Toyo Tsuchiya felt perfectly at home, as he always is—in the future.
99 Nights: Wakeful Dreaming By Carlo McCormick
A certain kind of near madness can set in if you go without sleep long enough. While it is somewhat of a myth that protracted periods of sleeplessness can result in insanity, extended exile from the land of Nod can result in hallucinations and psychotic episodes. This is not to say that the marathon festival 99 Nights, which inaugurated the slapdash slum night-clubhouse No Se No in 1983, was entirely sleepless, but it was of a kind of fitful and frenetic restlessness that begged a certain mania. Beyond those telltale signs of lunacy that begin to subtly distort the physiognomy after prolonged revelry, it’s hard to properly capture the likeness of a perpetual festival—its visage too mutable and volatile. Toyo’s pictures get to the totality of 99 Nights because they aren’t trying to capture its moments like exotics in a bell jar, so much as they’re coaxing impressions from the shadows, the clamorous din sounded in the glamorous dim, a poetry of the fleeting. Considering the scope of Toyo Tsuchiya’s immersive journey, it is a remarkably modest record he kept—not the everything so many strive for, but a more personal something, like memory itself, never so much complete as caught in momentary flashes of resonant recollection. I can’t be sure, but I’d guess Toyo was likely just as poor as the rest of us, and in this age before the pictorial deluge of digital photography, the investment of time and money on film and development made the opportunities and decisions of taking pictures rather more precious. But if Tsuchiya was guided in part by CartierBresson’s mandate of the decisive moment, his eye and heart led him elsewhere, to a world of manifest indecision and imprecision. By nature and craft the kind of discrete cat who would stand to the side—everyone will remember Toyo but not so many can actually remember seeing him take a photograph—this is an artist who has a tangential and obtuse relationship to the action. Diving into it but also somehow looking off just to the side, he fills the frame with the incidental, allowing all the world to be a stage. He understood deeply he was part of a moment where there was no real divide between performer and audience. Everyone was a participant. It is easy to obsess on the infamous and important artists who populate the photographs of Toyo Tsuchiya, to be impressed as we can be when encountering the likes of Tehching Hsieh, Kembra Pfahler, Stelarc, Jackie Curtis or Jack Smith, but they are like cool cameos within much more complex and radical theatrics. Toyo was never interested
in photographing the real art celebrities of New York City cultural capital—and there are tons of excellent photographers from that time if you want to see pictures of Warhol, Basquiat, Haring, Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson or the rest of the all too predictable A-list. He was enthralled by the furthest reaches of the avant-garde, the not only lessthan-famous but also significantly removed from the mainstream. Honestly, looking back at these pictures now, I can’t recognize so many of the faces as I should. They are part of a greater recognition of what it meant to be there, at that time, on the desperate edge of a very rough neighborhood: in a place without rules, a club without a guest list, a party without a permit. Yes, this is art without license or permission, not meant for the society of spectacle but for the intimacy of the like-minded. The world Toyo allows us with 99 Nights, as he did with all his ensuing work at No Se No, the Rivington Sculpture Garden and so many other places that have fallen off the historical map and been paved over by the power of progress (or is that the progress of power), is never the center of things so much as the glorious margins—not the emblematic and iconic moments that come to define so much else, but the interstices that resist definition. These are the nights that turn to days, the spot you don’t find on any tour guide, the locale wonderfully filled with artists from all over the world… travelers and creative itinerants who came to New York City for the chance to be in some place like no other, for surely it was only there where we could each and all be ourselves. I love these pictures because they limn the indescribable, unfold less as great narratives than special little secrets, talk of something we don’t really know but understand deep in our hearts, depicting how much the very existence of this outré universe—and all the parallel dimensions where uninhibited creativity is allowed to run wild—matters to the health and vitality of our culture. Like the long-lapsed scene, these pictures remind us not just of who we were, but also of what we might still be. As great as the photos are, I’m kind of glad Toyo put down his camera. Those instances when creativity ignites a community are rare and ephemeral. Toyo Tsuchiya saw and lived them as they mattered, but is not one to spend his life chasing things that have already moved on. Besides, he’s such an amazing artist now, but that’s another story we can tell you next time…
From the outside, looking at the downtown scene was hard to understand, but Toyo’s work was revealing. Ask any artist whose contribution is still relevant…I would say that Toyo was the most important artist making photographs during that time. When he created his 99 Nights photo installation in No Se No, he helped make the ideology of the movement concrete in his own innovative way. I see many familiar people having fun in these photos. Of course, to define the essence of Toyo’s work is not easy, but what is clear is that he has a generous heart, and has dedicated his work from that period to artists like me. Tehching Hsieh—in conversation with artist Ori Carino.
How can I say thank you to the people who have made publishing this catalog possible? It has been 33 years since the 99 Nights was happening. The great news is we are still here; memories are surviving! First, thank you to the amazing 99 Nights organizers: Arleen Schloss, Ray Kelly, R.L. Seltman, and all those who helped and worked to keep the 99 Nights event going that entire summer, like Jack Boy, Ed Higgins, Dennis, P. Michel Kean, and especially Kwok who took me to 42 Rivington Street for the No Se No Social Club opening night. It was the right place at the right time. Without those friends my 99 Nights photo project probably would not have taken shape. Thank you for the great inspiration and strength you gave me. Second, I must thank the Howl! Happening’s executive director, Jane Freidman (who visited my place twice!) and gallery director, Ted Riederer, as well as Susan Martin. Thank you so much for your support. To Carlo McCormick, Tehching Hsieh and David Dalton who witnessed and participated in 99 Nights, thank you for the beautiful essays! My 99 Nights photos got some great back up from you! At last, I must say thank you to Ori Carino who I have known since he was 2 years old. He’s my stepson and he introduced my work to Howl! He is a real believer, and has advocated for my work from time to time…and here it is, he really hit it this time. Thank you Ori, you found the right people at the right time. I think it’s a Home Run! I believe without your help this book may have taken another 10 years!
HOWL! COMMUNITY Arturo Vega Foundation Lalo Quiñones Jane Friedman Donovan Welsh BG Hacker BOARD OF ADVISORS Curt Hoppe Marc H. Miller Dan Cameron Carlo McCormick James Rubio Debora Tripodi Lisa Brownlee Howl! Board of Directors Bob Perl, President Bob Holman, Vice President BG Hacker, Treasurer Nathaniel Siegel, Secretary Brian (Hattie Hathaway) Butterick Riki Colon Jane Friedman Chi Chi Valenti Marguerite Van Cook, President Emeritus Founder and Executive Director: Jane Friedman Gallery Director: Ted Riederer Program Director: Carter Edwards Gallery Coordinator: Liz Cvitan Marketing and Public Relations: Susan Martin Social Networks Manager: Michelle Halabura Videographer: Darian Brenner, Andreas Nicholas Gallery designed by Ted Kofman Creative Consultant: Some Serious Business
TOYO TSUCHIYA Invisible Underground Photographs, Paintings and Sculpture Howl! Happening: An Arturo Vega Project November 18–December 21, 2016 © 2016 Howl Arts, Inc. Howl! Archive Publishing Editions (Howl! A/P/E) Volume 1, No. 14 ISBN: 978-0-9975565-3-7 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Howl! A/P/E. Howl! Happening: An Arturo Vega Project 6 East 1st St. NY, NY 10003 www.HowlArts.org 917 475 1294 Photography Page 6 © 2016 Ori Carino Page 7 © Nancy Carin Essays © 2016 Ted Riederer © 2016 David Dalton © 2016 Carlo McCormick © 2016 Tehching Hsieh—in conversation with artist Ori Carino Editor: Ted Riederer Copy Editor: Jorge Clar Design: Jeff Streeper for Modern IDENTITY
The Arturo Vega Project: Jane Friedman
HOWL! HAPPENING takes its name from the unpredictable, free-form happenings of the 60s and 70s, where active participation of the audience blurred the boundary between the art and the viewer. More to be experienced than described, Howl! Happening will curate exhibitions and stage live events that combine elements of art, poetry, music, dance, vaudeville, and theater—a cultural stew that defies easy definition. For more than a decade, Howl! Festival has been an annual community event— a free summer happening in and around Tompkins Square Park, dedicated to celebrating the past and future of contemporary culture in the East Village and the Lower East Side. The history and contemporary culture of the East Village are still being written. The mix of rock and roll, social justice, art and performance, community activism, gay rights and culture, immigrants, fashion, and nightlife are even more relevant now. While gentrification continues apace and money is king, Howl! Happening declares itself a spontaneous autonomous zone: a place where people simultaneously experience and become the work of art. As Alan Kaprow, the “father” of the happening, said: “The line between art and life should be kept as fluid and indistinct as possible.”
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Photographs, Paintings and Sculpture November 18 – December 21, 2016 Howl! Happening: An Arturo Vega Project