A recent Bookforum article ("East Village People") from John Rockwell reminds us of the performing arts explosion that Lower Manhattan witnessed from the 1960s to the 1990s. It was a wild scene, an offbeat and avant-garde refuge for poets, artists, writers, philosophers, and musicians.
Rockwell writes that the entirety of the lower-Manhattan arts scene awaits its definitive chronicler. But there is no need to wait. Semiotext(e)'s Native Agents series has been chronicling performers and characters of Lower Manhattan from that era such as Kathy Acker, Eileen Myles, The Wooster Group, and David Wojnarowicz (the book on the latter—David Wojnarowicz: A Definitive History of Five or Six Years on the Lower East Side—being in fact less a portrait of the man than a portrait of the entire scene that coalesced around him). Semiotext(e) itself played a significant role in that downtown scene era, when founding member Sylvère Lotringer organized the now infamous 1975 “Schizo-Culture” conference that quickly burst out of its academic framework into something of a large-scale performance of theory that proved to be both the last gasp of 1970s counterculturism and the opening salvo to French Theory’s infiltration of the Manhattan art scene in the 1980s.
The latest book in the Native Agents series, Bad Reputation, focuses on Penny Arcade, perhaps one of the biggest icons of that downtown performance scene. As a performer in the legendary NYC Playhouse of the Ridiculous at age seventeen, and an escapee from Andy Warhol's Factory scene at nineteen, Penny Arcade (born Susana Ventura) emerged in the 1980s as a primal force on the downtown art scene and as an originator of what came to be called performance art.
On Monday, January 25th, Penny will be celebrating the publication of her book in her own style, an "atmospheric extravaganza gala of erotic dancers, and performances". The event will feature Debbie Harry among other special guests, and will be held at Le Poisson Rouge on Bleecker Street - the former location of The Village Gate, whose 1993 marquee is preserved as a landmark and still advertises “Penny Arcade: Politics, Sex, Reality.”
Don't miss this one. More information can be found at http://lepoissonrouge.com/events/view/915.
And if you can't make it: Penny will be reading at St. Mark's Bookshop Reading Series at Solas on February 4th, in the From Here to the Corner reading series (focusing on "hidden and vanishing histories of New York City") on January 19th, and more events to be announced soon.
[photo of Penny Arcade © Jasmine Hirst 2010]