FESTIVAL OF NEW JAPANESE FILM: HENGYORO (QUEER FISH LANE) (変魚路) (Go Takamine, 2017)
333 East 47th St. at First Ave.
Saturday, July 15, 2:30
Festival runs July 13-23
“Has my head been emptied? No matter how I cut this film, the blood of Okinawa spews forth,” iconoclastic Japanese auteur Go Takamine says about Hengyoro, his first film since 1989’s Untamagiru. The Okinawan-born writer and director has been making shorts, features, and documentaries about his home island since 1974, including Okinawan Dream Show, Okinawan Chirudai, and 1985’s extraordinary Paradise View. Hengyoro, which is having its international premiere July 15 as part of Japan Society’s annual Japan Cuts Festival of New Japanese Cinema, is set in Patai Village (Ifepataijyo) on Okinawa, where despondent souls who have survived death reside. Aging actors Tarugani (Taira Susumu) and Papajo (Kitamura Saburou) are putting on the “chain plays” Tomaiaka and Kurukanizashi, which combine film and theater. Meanwhile, Kame is making a plaster cast of a partially nude woman, hard rocker Missiler dances madly, serenading folksinger Ryukyu Lewd Bug leads a pack of unusual animals, and shop owner Shimabukuro Seitoku sends his trio of ear-cutting wives, the Bibiju, after Tarugani and Papajo. There is also an underwater plastic surgery lab, dragonfly spy planes, illegal aphrodisiacs, cranial ant insertion, a magical red cord and matching bag, and explosions that go “Pshoo.”
Along the way, Go references Bruce Conner, Bill Morrison, Ingmar Bergman, and Alejandro Jodorowsky, so don’t expect to make much sense of the story. Gorgeously photographed by Takagi Shunichi and Hirata Mamoru, showing off the landscape as well as Sakata Kiyoko’s dazzling costumes, the film roams from black-and-white to color, from regular speed to slow motion, incorporating multiple genres and narrators amid changing film stocks as Go and editor Shun’ichi Takagi imaginatively mix in decomposing celluloid and archival footage Go shot years ago; he also populates the film with superimposed miniature people on brain coral and ghostly faces in trees, all set to a wildly diverse soundtrack by Nobuyuki Kikuchi. So what’s it all about? Is it a surreal commentary on WWII and the dropping of the atomic bombs? A sly take on the discrimination Okinawans have encountered from Japan? An exploration of storytelling itself? Does it even matter? Hengyoro, whose English title is Queer Fish Lane, is a visual and aural treat, an artistic feast that is as strange and confounding as it is entertaining and endearing. “We’ll follow wherever our path leads,” Papajo tells Tarugani; we’ll follow wherever Go’s path takes us. Hengyoro is screening July 15 at 2:30 in the Experimental Spotlight section of Japan Cuts; the festival runs July 13-23 with such other works as Yuki Tanada’s My Dad and Mr. Ito, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Daguerrotype, Sion Sono’s Anti-Porno, and the North American premiere of the restoration of Seijun Suzuki’s 1980 Zigeunerweisen.
Rubin Museum of Art
West 17th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Sunday, July 16, free (including free museum admission all day), 1:00 - 4:00
The Rubin Museum plans to make some noise at its annual block party, taking place July 16 from 1:00 to 4:00 on West Seventeenth St. This year’s fête is inspired by the new exhibition “The World Is Sound,” which explores the impact of sound in Tibetan Buddhism in the creation / death / rebirth cycle, with ritual music, immersive installations, and the largest “Om” ever, recorded by visitors to the Om Lab. The block party will have spaces for meditation, hands-on art activities for adults and children, a silent disco with Nepali pop curated by Dorjee Dolma, Himalayan snacks, bubble painting, the Wheel of Sounds and the Wheel of Feelings, and live performances by the New York Suwa Taiko Association, the Blue Angels Drumline, poets John Giorno and Tenzin Dickyi, MSHR (Birch Cooper and Brenna Murphy), and Dana Flynn of Laughing Lotus Yoga in addition to a Kirtan concert with the Bhakti Center. Partyers can also stop by “Drawing Sound,” a live painting and sound collaboration curated and hosted by Rhiannon Catalyst, and check out presentations by ACHA Himalayan Sisterhood (music selections), Adhikaar (oral histories), Grassroots Movement in Nepal (Nepali children’s songs), India Home (Garba dance), Tibetan Community of NY/NJ (musical instruments demos), and the United Sherpa Association (translating English names into Tibetan). As a bonus, the museum will be open for free all day long (11:00 am - 6:00 pm), so you can experience such exhibits as “Henri Cartier-Bresson: India in Full Frame,” “Masterworks of Himalayan Art,” and “Sacred Spaces” asw well as “The World Is Sound.”
“Okwui’s job is to scare people, just to scare them to get them to kind of wake up,” dancer, choreographer, and conceptualist Ralph Lemon says of his frequent collaborator and protégée Okwui Okpokwasili in the powerful new documentary Bronx Gothic. Directed by Okpokwasili’s longtime friend Andrew Rossi, the film follows Okpokwasili during the last three months of her tour for her semiautobiographical one-woman show, Bronx Gothic, a fierce, confrontational, yet heart-wrenching production that hits audiences right in the gut. Rossi cuts between scenes from the show — he attached an extra microphone to Okpokwasili’s body to create a stronger, more immediate effect on film — to Parkchester native Okpokwasili giving backstage insight, visiting her Nigerian-born, Bronx-based parents, and spending time with her husband, Peter Born, who directed and designed the show, and their young daughter, Umechi. The performance itself begins with Okpokwasili already moving at the rear of the stage, shaking and vibrating relentlessly, facing away from people as they filter in and take their seats. She continues those unnerving movements for nearly a half hour (onstage but not in the film) before finally turning around and approaching a mic stand, where she portrays a pair of eleven-year-old girls exchanging deeply personal notes, talking about dreams, sexuality, violence, and abuse as they seek their own identity. “Bronx Gothic is about two girls sharing secrets. . . . It is about the adolescent body going into a new body, inhabiting the body of a brown girl in a world that privileges whiteness,” Okpokwasili, whose other works include Poor People’s TV Room and the Bessie-winning Pent-Up: A Revenge Dance, explains in the film. National Medal of Arts recipient Lemon adds, “It’s about racism, gender politics — it’s not just about these two little black girls in the Bronx.” Rossi includes clips of Okpokwasili performing at MoMA in Lemon’s “On Line” in 2011, developing Bronx Gothic at residencies at Baryshnikov Arts Center and New York Live Arts, and participating in talkbacks at Alverno College in Milwaukee and the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, where the tour concluded, right next to her childhood church, which brings memories surging back to her.
Rossi is keenly aware of the potentially controversial territory he has entered. “As a white man, I was conscious of the complexity and implications of embarking on a project that revolves around the experience of African American females,” he points out in his director’s statement. “But fundamentally, I believe in an artist’s creative ability to explore topics that are foreign to the artist’s own background. I think this takes on even more resonance when the work itself has an explicit objective to ‘grow our empathic capacity,’ as Okwui says of Bronx Gothic, [seeking] an audience that is composed of ‘black women, black men, Asian women, Asian men, white women, white men, Latina women, Latina men….’” Cinematographers Bryan Sarkinen and Rossi (Page One: Inside the New York Times, The First Monday in May) can’t get enough of Okpokwasili’s mesmerizing face, which commands attention, whether she’s smiling, singing, or crying, as well as her body, which is drenched with sweat in the show. “We have been acculturated to watching brown bodies in pain. I’m asking you to see the brown body. I’m going to be falling, hitting a hardwood floor, and hopefully there is a flood of feeling for a brown body in pain,” Okpokwasili says. Meanwhile, shots of the audience reveal some individuals aghast, some hypnotized, and others looking away. Editor Andrew Coffman and coeditors Thomas Rivera Montes and Rossi shift from Okpokwasili performing to just being herself, but the film has occasional bumpy transitions; also, Okpokwasili, who wrote the show when she was pregnant, does the vast majority of the talking, echoing her one-woman show but also at times bordering on becoming self-indulgent. (Okpokwasili produced the film with Rossi, while Born serves as one of the executive producers.) But the documentary is a fine introduction to this unique and fearless creative force and a fascinating examination of the development of a timely, brave work. Bronx Gothic opens July 12 at Film Forum, with Okpokwasili and Rossi taking part in Q&As at the 7:00 screenings on July 12, 14, and 15.
New Museum of Contemporary Art
235 Bowery at Prince St.
Thursday, July 13 & 27, August 3 & 10, pay-what-you-wish, 7:00 - 9:00
“I create as I speak. From the beginning of my career in 1989 I have always considered myself merely a reader of texts,” Paul Ramírez Jonas explains in his official artist statement. On July 13 and 27 and August 3 and 10, the California-born Jonas will be creating, speaking, and reading at the New Museum as part of his residency and exhibition, “Half-Truths,” on the fifth floor. He will perform “Alternative Facts” during the pay-what-you-wish Thursday nights from 7:00 to 9:00, serving as a notary (once he uncovers an untruth) as he facilitates meetings with visitors, turning spare change into gold coins that pay for a pair of certification documents, one that becomes part of the exhibition while the other is given to the visitor. A presentation of the Department of Education and Public Engagement’s annual R&D Summers, “Alternative Facts” also takes place whenever the museum is open, facilitated by members of the Teen Apprentice Program, who also activate Jonas’s “Fake ID,” in which participants get a new identification card based on whatever information is currently on their person, from licenses and credit cards to currency and memberships. “Half-Truths” continues through September 17; also on view at the New Museum now are “Carol Rama: Antibodies,” “Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Under-Song for a Cipher,” “Kaari Upson: Good thing you are not alone,” “Elaine Cameron-Weir: viscera has questions about itself,” and “Ugo Rondinone: I ♥ John Giorno.”
Park Avenue Armory
643 Park Ave. at 67th St.
Tuesday - Sunday through August 6, $15 (free with IDNYC card)
Upon walking into the Park Avenue Armory through a small back entrance on Lexington Ave. and Sixty-Sixth St. to see the immersive, interactive exhibition “Hansel & Gretel,” visitors face the following statement on a wall in front of them: “What would be a suspicious text?” The exhibit, the latest collaboration between Chinese dissident artist and activist Ai Weiwei and Swiss Pritzker Prize-winning architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, is all about suspicion. It is both a fun and revealing exploration of surveillance in the twenty-first century, best experienced with no advance knowledge, so I strongly advise you to stop reading now and pick up where you left off after you have made your way through the two parts of the eye-opening show. After walking down an eerie hallway, you emerge into the Wade Thompson Drill Hall, totally dark aside from occasional pockets of light — fewer if you are lucky enough to be there when there are not many other people, more if you are there when it’s busy. You are unsure of every step, as the material under your feet feels unsafe and there appear to be rises and dips, so your physical safety is threatened by the unknown. Soon you reach a series of large rectangular grids on which are cast white and red electronic lines that trace your path, along with distorted photographs of your head and body taken by infrared cameras located across the ceiling. Occasionally a drone whirs by overhead, the propellers sending down a burst of wind while the drones take yet more pictures of you. “Here the breadcrumbs of the famous Hansel and Gretel fairy tale are not eaten by birds but rather digital crumbs are gathered and stored, reminiscent of Ray Bradbury’s poignant 1953 science-fiction, Fahrenheit 451, where an omniscient state surveils its citizens from the skies,” curators Tom Eccles and Hans-Ulrich Obrist write in the exhibition program.
The installation then leads you outside, where you walk around the block to enter through the main doors on Park Avenue and encounter a series of tables with available laptops in the hallways of the Head House, lined with blurry large-scale photographs of the people around you. The computers offer an illuminating look into the history of surveillance and frightening military drone statistics while also providing background information on the creation of the project, including the facial recognition technology by Adam Harvey, the floor projections by iart, and the drones by PhotoFlight Aerial Media and Easy Aerial. Despite having just been surveiled in the drill hall, you are likely to have the computer take your photo, locate your image in its database, and reveal it on the wall — and you’re even more likely to be happy about your face now joining photos of other exhibition-goers and the portraits of American military heroes that regularly fill the hallway. It’s a brilliant commentary on how blithely we leave our personal trail of crumbs now, inured to constantly sharing our email addresses, phone numbers, image, and other facts about ourselves via social media and online purchasing. “I think we all have a personal experience of being under surveillance, but the character of surveillance is that you only see one side of the story,” Ai, who knows what it’s like to be under 24/7 watch, said at the press opening. Ai, Herzog, and de Meuron, whose fifteen-year collaboration includes the Bird’s Nest Stadium at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion at the London 2012 Festival — Herzog and de Meuron are also overseeing the restoration of the Park Avenue Armory itself — have created an immersive environment that is far from a fairy-tale world and instead a dramatic and engaging public space that highlights just how much we have accepted being tracked constantly. A pair of tiny keyholes in the door at the top of the balcony lets viewers move aside brass disks to secretly observe installation visitors below, a down-to-earth analog reminder of the age-old delight humans take in spying on one another, now magnified by today’s technology into monstrous, inescapable form — with an added soupçon of exhibitionistic enjoyment.
Who: Los Vigilantes
What: Free live performance presented by High Line Art
Where: On the High Line at Thirtieth St.
When: Wednesday, July 12, free (advance RSVP recommended), 6:00
Why: For the current High Line Art group exhibition “Mutations,” which continues through next March, Puerto Rican artist Radamés “Juni” Figueroa contributed “La Deliciosa Show,” a funky open-air nightclub in a construction shed on the High Line at Thirtieth St. On July 12 at 6:00, San Juan garage band Los Vigilantes will take the stage there, playing a free set in conjunction with the exhibition, which focuses on the relationship between humanity and nature. Since 2012, Los Vigilantes — consisting of Javier Garrote, Pepe Carballido, Jota Mundo, and Rafael Díaz — have released such albums and EPs as Al Fin, the eponymous Los Vigilantes, and Viento, sereno y el mar, featuring such songs as “Un Dia Nada Mas,” “Un Tono Mas Siniestro” (“Paint It Black”), “Me Siento Azul,” and “Mi Mami Dijo.” Figueroa, who had a solo show at Taymour Grahne on Hudson St. in 2015, has invited Puerto Rican punksters Reanimadores to play the space on September 27.