- Category: Culture
- Published on Monday, 19 March 2012 21:36
- Written by Caitlin Donohue
- Hits: 3955
Fuck Bay Area performance artist Philip Huang because he already has accomplished my goal for 2012, which was to have Fox News air a hit piece about me.
And fuck how he did it: by designing the beautiful-simple, raunchy safe sex pamphlet with graphic designer Rico Peng that I'm now looking at in Huang's rent-controlled Berkeley apartment. “So you've decided to be a Bottom,” the cover reads, a phallus shape angling towards the anus of the “B.” Inside, short blunt paragraphs on getting STD tested, and the most advantageous sex positions for maximum penetration. Huang designed the booklet while working for a government health agency – he's been in HIV/AIDS education since 1995, and on top of being hilariously vulgar, it's actually really useful if you're learning about anal sex for the first time.
“They aired the segment the day after the Prop 8 ruling,” Huang tells me, sitting at my feet in Dana Street Theater, the weird bare room where he sleeps (a twin mattress is leaned against one wall), and that also serves as a venue in the Huang-created Home Theater Festival. More on that later.
“It was just like, we're going to rain on your gay parade,” he reflects. Dammit, jealous! Any tips on how I can get my big break? I plead. “Well,” he drops his voice to include me in his circle of perversion. “They're always sensitive to stuff around children.”
Huang's art often revolves around making people uncomfortable, or straight up enraged, so it's no surprise whatever homophobe employee at the state print shop where the pamphlet had been in continuous production since it was first designed turned the thing into Fox News. Sadly, the Fox segment lead to the California state government's decision to destroy the remaining 10,000 copies of this beautiful thing at a cost of $4,500 to taxpayers. But happily, the best place to read the pamphlet now is actually on the Fox News website, where it's reproduced almost in its entirety.
Too fucking good. Fuck you, Philip.
Good thing he's my favorite performance artist. Along with the rest of the world of people that care about stuff like this, I first heard about Huang when he posted a video of himself at a Westboro Baptist Church (y'know, the “God Hates Fags” crazies) demonstration, wearing a too-small silver top hat and carrying a sign that reads “No Fags On The Moon.”
“Pink Floyd and Christ together, keeping homosexuals and Jews off the moon!” he screeches in the clip, surely ruining the days of all the well-meaning normies who are trying to use the sidewalk. “You have a lot of balls,” an older woman passer-by in an overcoat says in disgust. “No ma'am, I have the spirit in me,” Huang reels back. His offensivity, for the moment, has overshadowed that of the Westboro freaks. Mission accomplished.
Youtube aside, Fox News aside (bastard), Huang's most exciting contribution to the Bay art scene is the Home Theater Festival. Set to begin its third year on March 29th with an opening performance in Dana Street Theater, the event has grown from Huang's one-man horsing-around in his den to a network of home shows across the earth (well, in the Bay Area, LA, and Berlin, which by some person's reckoning isn't the whole planet, fine). There's pretty much no entry requirement, you keep everything you charge at the door, and you can do whatever you want as long as it happens in your house.
When Huang invites me to his apartment to play test audience for his and Theo Knox' HTF performance, I resolve to not say shit. What possible questions could I pose that wouldn't betray the fact that he's just up there, on another “trans ecstatic retarded” level, as the SF queer impressionist dancer Keith Hennessy once termed his work. I'm the worst test audience ever, in other words.
We keep it moving, though. The man's an artist, so after he and Knox run scenes (I'm not gonna ruin it for this month's Dana Street audiences, but the program does feature an appearance by an armless Chechen ribbon dancer and copious breast cancer jokes) he starts telling me about his philosophy. The infamous “No Fags On The Moon” cardboard placard hangs behind his head as he runs it down.
“If you're going to come at topics like these, you have to do it so that no one knows whether you're for or against,” he says. By Huang's reckoning, it was only right and correct that his “Philip's Holocaust Past” video (“my grandmother's vagina was incarcerated at the Warsaw ghetto. Her vagina was forced to wear an armband with a Star of David on her clit”) turn up on a white supremacist site, and that his “Liberal Case Against Abortion” clip (“fact: an abortion emits more carbon than a Toyota Highlander”) be posted by pro-life crazies. ART.
Which is not to say he digs on the obtuse for obtuse's sake. Were it Huang's choice, much less Bay Area auteurs would be making “29 minute pieces where they only do, like two things.” He calls this overly-worked kind of queer performance “miserablist” art, and wishes that more performers would take their cues from nightlife's focus on entertainment value. During our interview, he gave shout-outs to SF's drag scene, specifically the work of his “hero” of the queen scene, David Glamamore.
“I think the drag scene is amazing. But it's 'low art.' There's this big debate in the performance scene – well, at least the circles that I'm in – about the difference between art and nightlife. Nightlife people are all about entertainment, glitz, spectacle. I would like the movement in San Francisco to be 'theater you want to see.' Can that just be a thing?”
It is. Jealousy swallowed, all I ever want to do is stay stoned on Huang's couch, booing him at his own behest as he does an impression a mother of two with terminal breast cancer.
“If you're asking people to give you any amount of attention, it better be the best fucking thing they've seen all day,” he tells me.
Yeah, well wait for my Fox segment, sucker.