Published Sep 01, 2003The day of Visions of Excess, the endurance performance event based on the work of Georges Bataille taking place in the unlikely location of Birmingham, England, has finally arrived. After a typical English breakfast of eggs and blood sausages at the Holiday Inn, our ragtag group of troupers sets out en masse to Demon, the nearby titty bar that has bizarrely agreed to host the 18-hour event. The visiting artists, including Kembra Pfahler and Yaroslav Mogutin, begin to decorate their designated spaces like Snoopy sprucing up his doghouse at Christmastime, using whatever material they have excavated from the location and its vicinity. Some artists have been assigned lap-dancing booths, while others, like myself, have been given little rooms where God only knows what goes on when the ecdysiasts are on duty. A gaggle of techies from the Fierce festival are setting up the stage and PA system in the open courtyard of this dodgy lap dancing bar while some local musicians do sound check in the adjacent garage. There's a lot of hustle and bustle going on, with an emphasis on the former.
At around noon Slava slinks in with his dancer boyfriend Raoul, who is currently working for a dance company based in Cardiff, Wales. Unfortunately for me there seems to be some high lesbian drama going on between them. The two of them are supposed to be performing a live sex act later in the evening in my room, which I am now dutifully decorating with the found wooden letters I've found in the attic that spell out HORN DOGGY, but Slava takes me aside and informs me that he and Raoul had a big fight the night before and have split up. "Couldn't you have waited until tomorrow to end your relationship?" I ask selfishly before he fills me in. Apparently it all happened after we'd left them at one of the local gay watering holes, an establishment chillingly but somehow appropriately called Missing (free entry for serial killers before midnight). Actually, it had begun earlier when we were having dinner at a brand new over-priced Italian restaurant and Raoul announced that he'd lost the eight hits of E that he'd bought the previous evening. Slava almost had an embolism before strongly suggesting that Raoul return to the bar where they'd dropped out of his pocket to see if some Good Samaritan had turned them in. Fat chance in this drug-addled land.
While he was gone Slava began to flirt shamelessly with our extremely cute, butch waiter, asking him if he was from Italy. I almost spat out my tequila sunrise considering that the poor boy, a Colin Farrell look-alike, had one of the thickest Birmingham brogues I'd ever heard. "No, I'm a local bie, unfortunately, bairn and bread," he responded gamely, and adamantly heterosexually. Of course Slava has such brooding Russian animal magnetism that mere sexual orientation is usually no impediment to his advances, so I kick him under the table, reminding him in a hoarse whisper that he has just sent his boyfriend out on an errand. Then again, they're into threegies and fourgies and all that sort of orgiastic behaviour, so what do I know. It's amazing how positively square I can be for an international pornographer.
Raoul had returned without the lost booty, so Slava was already in a foul mood, even though I arranged for some more E through the organiser of the festival with very little effort. Slava continues his story to me on the day of the event, recounting how he left Raoul at around four in the morning, and how Raoul stumbled into their hotel room at about 9 a.m. after ingesting around four hits of E that someone had given him at the club. The pair of them seem to be barely on speaking terms, which does not bode well for hot, blood-splattered sex in front of the camera.
I try to take my mind off my petty problems by throwing myself into the décor of my room, which Kembra tells me is quite reminiscent of the work of famous New York artist/photographer Jack Pierson, who photographed me long, long ago giving head to a hot Atlanta muscle boy in his studio above a seedy storefront on 42nd Street. Those were the days, my friend. We thought they'd never end, but they did. Kembra has pulled it together beautifully, adorning herself with her trademark blue body-paint and black fright wig. Her booth consists of plain white walls and white paper on an easel in front of which she will stand wearing a white lab coat, explaining her theory of Allism. I love minimalists. They came in with nothing, they have nothing, and they're going out with nothing, just like the rest of us.
The event begins in Earnest Borgnine at about 4 p.m. with the three exotic women of the Velvet Hammer Valentina Violette, Bobby Pinz and Scarlette Fever utilising the poles at the front bar of the club to beckon the audience inside. Each girl later does a solo performance of extraordinary old school burlesque based on gender, class, and historical prototypes that totally justify the resurrection of the genre. Ms. Bobby Pinz is a littler person, standing a few feet tall, but her burlesque is X-large, and Ms. Violette does a black widow number as sexy as it is inventive. Unfortunately, I miss Ms. Fever's presentation owing to the homosexual histrionics going on over in the Horn Doggy room, but I hear she was also a knockout.
Some of my other favourite acts that being to unfold include Marisa Carnesky (aka the Jewess Tatooess), whose unusual piece, "A Notion of Expenditure," consists of turning herself into a human slot machine (you put a coin into a slot that lights up in a coil into her ass, then she tells your erotic fortunes) and Slovenian artist Davide Grassi's video installation Body Mapping, created in collaboration with the Ljubljana Clinical Center, which uses multiple screens to show the artist's own colonoscopy. Which, I have it on good authority, is a much more fully realised work than Vincent Gallo's The Brown Bunny.
But of all the talent that Ron Athey and Vaginal Davis, who perform their own miracles of performance in the courtyard, have imported from all over the globe, my biggest thrill is meeting and hanging out with Mr. Udo Kier. Fresh from walking the red carpet at the Cannes film festival with Lars Von Trier, Nicole Kidman, and the rest of the Dogville cast, Udo has gone, as Glenn Belverio succinctly puts it, from Cannes to trash can, but he attacks both events with equal élan. His performance, polemically entitled De-sanctioned: The Evil of Genet, consists of the actor sitting in a booth against the backdrop of photos of Bataille and Genet pontificating about whose evil is more genius, but this is merely a pretext for his true art talking ad infinitum about his life and career. For some this might seem self-indulgent, but when Udo speaks, people listen. He's a brilliant raconteur.
But back to the Horn Doggy room. Unlike Platinum Oasis, an event that was steeped in sordid sexual activity, Visions of Excess, owing to the smaller venue and the absence of a hoard of horny Los Angeleans, is relatively chaste, except, of course, for my room, which turns into sex central. Wacky Hawaiian lesbian artist Stacy Kimishi is in the process of applying very authentic-looking bruises and gashes on my models, Slava and Raoul, as people begin to gather at the door in anticipation of the debauchery to come. I'm supposed to be photographing a recreation of Bataille's The Trial of Gilles De Rais, in which the author describes the sex slayings of young boys by the demented blueblood, including slitting and then coming into their throats as they die. Unfortunately, due to the lack of sexual chemistry between my models, who have taken too many E's and have been bickering as if they're in a substandard road production of The Boys in the Band, we never get that far. Raoul's fake slit throat keeps falling off, and neither of them seems to be able to get it up. A cute young volunteer for the event does jump in and liven things up for a short period of time, so it isn't a complete disaster, but my performance mostly consists of people lined up wondering what is going on behind a closed door. It does have an appropriately sadistic quality to it.
Later on in the evening I end up spending four hours or so in Udo's booth with Glenn Belverio and Violette of the Velvet Hammer. Udo has somehow gotten his hands on a large bloody butcher knife that I had been using as a prop in my room, and he whips it around in the air as he regales us with stories from his checkered past, almost decapitating Violette several times in the process. I snap some great shots of him looking demented with the bloody knife while clutching a cracked framed portrait of Samuel Beckett that he found in the attic. If it sounds sort of insane, that's because it is.