Action #4: VD as VB




Action #4: VD as VB

"I am not interested in entertainment. I am not interested in ENTERTAINMENT. I am not INTERESTED in ENTERTAINMENT!"
(Vaginal Davis)


Vaginal Davis is an Afro-American drag queen, who over the last twenty years has been performance artist, actress, curator, musician and writer. Since 2000, Davis re-enacts in art and hybrid spaces well-known performances by the contemporary art star Vanessa Beecroft, reworking (and subverting) the entire VB phenomenon at the same time.
VD as VB - Erdgeist, Earth Spirit #27-29 10827, performed in June 2007 at the Kapelica Gallery in Ljubljana, was inspired by VB53, produced in 2004 by the Fondazione Pitti Immagine Discovery of Florence. On that occasion Beecroft, in the middle of the Tepidarium in Florence, an elegant, airy 19th century structure in iron and glass, installed a heap of dark earth, upon which models, in the usual sculpturesque poses, and wearing high-heeled sandals and long wigs, offered themselves to the public eye. The image drew explicitly on the Renaissance iconography of Mary Magdalene, observed by Beecroft in a museum in Florence. The artist, as usual, did not take part in the performance. In Erdgeist, on the other hand, the artist is present, right in the middle of the stage, playing with VB as a target of the art gossip and with VB as a brand, and converting a representation of contemporary cult of beauty into a process of self-awareness and self-determination for the people involved.
The Madonna of Laibachdorf (2007), the image produced during Davis's stay in Ljubljana, is a response to Beecroft's White Madonna with twins (2006). While Beecroft's Madonna is the symbol of our troubled relationship with the southern hemisphere, Davis' Madonna is an emblem of our atavic fear of diversity, be it racial or sexual. By breastfeeding the Sudanese twins, the wealthy white woman attempts a gesture of charity, but actually perpetrates an act of colonialism, while by cradling two chubby white babies, the black homosexual reveals the hypocrisy that lies under the thin veneer of tolerance, brandishing diversity like a threat. A genial threat, because the fear lies not in Davis, but in the eyes of the spectator.


Vaginal Davis
VD as VB - Erdgeist, Earth Spirit #27-29 10827

In his piece Vaginal Davis as Vanessa Beecroft Vaginal Davis revisits the work by Vanessa Beecroft, an art-world star most known for her "installations" of scantily clad female fashion models and fully uniformed U.S. Navy SEALs. Her work (often supported by corporate sponsorship) finalizes the marriage of art and fashion, and renders visible the libidinal dynamics of art consumption: gorgeous bodies served up to paying customers under the guise of aesthetic contemplation and enjoyment. In VD as VB Davis, dressed and coiffed just like Beecroft, reading from his handbook of military conduct for marines, calls a small crowd of carefully chosen young men onto the performance area. Unlike the state-approved pressed and manicured men of Beecroft's "U.S. Navy," Davis's boys are soft, skinny, rumpled, floppy-haired aspiring bohemians. While boys are taking place on stage Davis/Beecroft boast, again and again, about having been invited to participate in the Whitney Biennial and iterates that her work is "trademarked and registered, copyrighted by me Vanessa Beecroft of the Vanessa Beecroft brand and entitlement. All rights, privileges, and responsibilities therein reserved."

The differences between Beecroft's and Davis's work are obvious. Beecroft is a white European woman whose career is covered by Artforum and Vogue - magazines explicitly invested in the reproduction of the culture of luxury. Davis is a black drag queen, a "grande dame" of the queer underground in Los Angeles, who took her name as homage to Angela Davis, the radical activist who was associated with the Black Panther Party. Art, as understood by Davis in her citation of Beecroft, is a form of class warfare. With VD as VB Davis positions himself in a critical, dialectical relation to the institutions of the art world as they are expressed in Beecroft's work.
As Prof. José Munoz has detailed in his own writing on the artist, Davis's drag is a carefully staged performance of disidentificatory practices. Unlike "commercial drag [who] presents sanitized and desexualized queer subjects for mass consumption, Davis adopts a "guerrilla style" that functions as a ground-level cultural terrorism, performing the nation's internal terrors around race, gender, and sexuality." Davis's gravitation toward Beecroft's work with the military allowed her to take on a range of these "internal terrors" simultaneously.
For Davis, Beecroft's work is an attractive target because it is an ethically ambiguous homage to the most regressive impulses in art. This is especially true of her work grounded on the explicit display and objectification of women's bodies. Models lined up in rows at the Guggenheim in Gucci bikinis and high heels are subjected to awkward inspection by art connoisseurs. Beecroft's performances appeal to the particular arrangement of guilt, shame, and ambivalence that hovers over "Art" as a social institution. These mixed feelings are often allegorized in the display of the female body-in which a woman's alienation from her own sexuality stands in for art's final compromise to the logic of the marketplace. The women are instructed, in fact, to adopt exactly the posture described by William Dean Howells and Frank Norris in their essays on writing and the market, or the posture of Warhol's hustlers: they are not supposed to make eye contact or interact with the audience; they should look bored, distant, aloof, but somehow, nevertheless, available.

Jennifer Doyle

Vaginal Davis
VD as VB - Erdgeist, Earth Spirit #27-29 10827

Kapelica gallery, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 21 June 2007
Performer: Vaginal Davis
Original music: Tim Blue - the Cheap Kollective, Berlin

Camera and editing: Janez Janša

Photos: Nada Zgank/Memento
Installation design: Janez Janša

  Co-produced by Festival City of Women and Kapelica gallery

  Produced and organized by Aksioma - Institute for Contemporary Art, Ljubljana
Producer: Marcela Okretic

Supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia
the Municipality of Ljubljana
the European Cultural Foundation

Thanks: Andy Warhol Museum, Moderna galerija Ljubljana, OLOOP, Nada Žgank/Memento, Metka Megušar Bizjan, Jure Sajovic, Brane Zorman and all participating boys and girls.

VD as VB
Erdgeist, Earth Spirit
#27-29 10827


VD as VB
The Madonna of Laibachdorf


Jennifer Doyle
The Mother of Invention


Jennifer Doyle
Between Friends
Sexual Generosity in Two Reenactments
June 22nd 2007 at 7 pm
Kapelica Gallery, Ljubljana

Jennifer Doyle introduces her new work Between Friends that builds on her latest publication Sex Objects (University of Minnesota Press, 2006) focusing particularly on her work on Andy Warhol's film "Blue Movie" (1970).
Official clips of this rarely seen film, kindly provided by the Andy Warhol Museum, will be screened during the lecture.

Andy Warhol
Still from the film Blue Movie
Andy Warhol Museum, Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh