criticismFilm/Music/Performance
Saturday, July 9th, 2011

“The Wall of Vagina” at (where else?) The Hole


Kembra Pfahler and The Girls of Karen Black: The Wall of Vagina at The Hole

Monday, June 27, 2011
312 Bowery, between Bleecker and Houston streets
New York City, 212 466 1100

Performance of "The Wall of Vagina" by the Girls of Karen Black, The Hole, New York, Monday, June 27, 2011. Photo by Rosalie Knox

Performance of "The Wall of Vagina" by the Girls of Karen Black, The Hole, New York, Monday, June 27, 2011. Photo by Rosalie Knox

Just one day after NYC’s monumental Gay Pride Parade, the flag shed its cloth and lent its colors to an evening of naked horror.  A sizable crowd of sexy misfits gathered Monday night at Bowery’s newest venue, The Hole, for a brief yet remarkable piece, The Wall of Vagina, a rare performance by The Girls of Karen Black (GOKB).

Prior to the highly anticipated performance, the bare breasted GOKB cavorted under bright scrutiny of the gallery’s 7-11-style fluorescent lighting, mingling with guests while painted head to toe in either red, blue or purple and sporting thigh high stiletto boots, a towering red-glittered black bouffant wig and an occasional pair of black undies.  In contrast to the typical NYC “whaddya lookin’ at!” attitude, these stylish shock monsters welcomed the gaze of curious oglers.  One fellow crouched behind a GOKB to take a close up snap of her crack.  After the admirer gained her attention from a light tap on the back, she giggled and nodded in approval at the photo as her vanished lips widened, exposing a mouth full of painted-upon crushed black teeth.  A blend of Alejandro Jodorowsky and John Waters, the scene was a refreshing mix of sex, camp and horror.

Eventually the lights lowered and the sweaty crowd swiftly gathered towards a platform, constructed specially for the performance. Cell phone cams quickly shot up to catch the unique event (I had a partial-view seat between a Nokia and an IPhone) as the ladies strutted through the audience onto the stage.   Photographer, video artist and GOKB member Bijoux Altamirano photographed from below as five ladies (the highest pileup to date) climbed one by one facedown, spread eagle on top of each other, exposing their colored cheeks and shaven cherryless pits to the audience, last one on being the much adored Kembra Pfahler (lead singer of The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black from which the GOKB and their newest transgender member, Siobhan Meow, are recruited).

The remaining member on stage leaned over and squirted the crack pile with a turkey baster filled with thick white cream.  Immediately, the arching spurts of goo beautifully married ideas of infection and sexuality, a delicious combo.  Pfahler, who prefers the more delineative titles Anti-naturalist and Availabist to commonly used “performance artist” (rejecting the title, she believes “performance art” should rather be called “_____”), explains a bit of the comical yet purposefully disgusting intention behind “The Wall of Vagina”, “It’s important to have a different paradigm…we’re making fun of female sexuality.”  And her well orchestrated rejections to standards of feminine beauty and seductiveness resonate even during quiet moments of the act as the women stood still, horrifying, wide-eyed and robotic, conjuring semblance to an army of demonic inflatable sex dolls.

Cast Member of "The Wall of Vagina" by the Girls of Karen Black, The Hole, New York, Monday, June 27, 2011. Photo by Rosalie Knox

Cast Member of "The Wall of Vagina" by the Girls of Karen Black, The Hole, New York, Monday, June 27, 2011. Photo by Rosalie Knox

The attentive crowd cheered as the ladies unpiled, knelt down on one knee and raised their hands high in the air, an appropriate bow from so glorious a group.  And just like that, they trotted right out the door and the simple and saturated gesture was over.  As it was a loosely enforced invite-only event, I assume a good portion of the audience were fans who had a general sense of what to expect, so I was happy to see the brief resplendent horror satisfy their eager expectancy.

After the show, the ladies ventured back in the gallery posing for pictures while straddling one of their own handmade sculptures…real art on art action!  The piece, a larger than life black cat, meshed well with the gallery’s current exhibition, simply titled “:)“  A colorful playground of inflatable beings and cartoonish sculptures, the first NYC solo show by Miami duo FriendsWithYou provided a nice backdrop to the fun and playful feel of the night as well as setting precedent for what will fill The Hole in the future.

In keeping with its Soho predecessor, the sensational Deitch Projects, The Hole is a charming antidote to the usual hoity-toity gallery vibe.  “I want to provide a space for all of us,” proprietor Kathy Grayson, a former director of Deitch, tells me, “and that includes the big community of people displaced by Deitch closing and all these great young artists that are part of my network… I mean to stick by those guys and continue to present great works by them.”  Pfhaler, whose latest album “Fuck Island” will be released this October, described Grayson as, “…heroic and very intelligent, a huge talent.”  Defibrillators of our time, these ladies are set on shocking the pulse back into Manhattan.

By the end of the night, happy attendees piled onto the streets bearing residual bits of glitter and colorful streaks.  The brevity of the actual performance made the mixing and mingling of the unique personas seem as much a part of the event as the actual performance.  Personally, my love for the city has always been about these brief, fantastic moments where a varied crowd can come together and pay witness to the joy and horror of it all.   Please excuse their beauty.

Performance of "The Wall of Vagina" by the Girls of Karen Black, The Hole, New York, Monday, June 27, 2011. Photo by Rosalie Knox

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