For four sweltering evenings in July, New York artist and musician Sadie Laska hot-boxed the Lower East Side's CANADA Gallery. The sessions she curated, called "Slummer Nights," were music and visual art performances that seemed impartial to polish and were all the better for it. The night Art in America visited, a selection of short films chosen by Brooklyn project space Cleopatra's were buttressed by two dark comedy performances.
Frankie Martin, an artist who works in both comedy clubs and art venues, was on first, pitching a routine of carefully botched stand-up. "Who here wants me to give them a tattoo? I don't have my license yet!" Was her opener. A nervous laugh was her audience's response. Martin's performances are usually a trial of endurance: for a recent project at the NADA Callicoon Art Fair—a "one-on-one" stand-up show taking place in a tiny teepee—she offered free admission, but only allowed those paying an exit fee to escape before the show ended.
Immune to the crowd's reaction, Martin launched into her next bit, a matter-of-fact tale about how unpleasant it is to be stuck in a tunnel with an ambulance. She supported her argument by cranking a loud ambient composition of ambulance noises from the space's cottony speakers. Her friend Rose Marcus joined her from the audience, and the two (who sometimes perform under the name Frose) sang a duet that may have mentioned the The Little Mermaid. Picking up an axe guitar for accompaniment, Martin's hand managed power-chords up and down the neck. . The artist stripped to a tank-top crocheted with trompe-l'oeil tan-lines, and began to throw plastic breasts at audience members, generously offering, "You can keep those."
"Future Tense" was the theme of Cleopatra's selection of black-and-white silent films, and in Canada that night we observed omens of our ultimate demise: in the ominous doppler weather patterns sped-up by Birgit Rathsmann, and a return to the Ice Age by Loretta Fahrenholz, who made the children's animation all the more terrifying with kaleidoscopic CG manipulations. The band Hex Message, (artist Andrew Kuo, Dan Hougland of Excepter, Abigail Portner of Rings, Pascal Spengemann of the Taxter and Spengemann Gallery) provided a dark ambling score, while ladies in the audience fanned the air with Netflix envelopes to keep themselves from fainting.
Two hours into the show, much of the audience had perished from asphyxiation. The intrepid few who remained for second comedian, Brian Blomerth, were masochistic completists; a group of his friends clumped to the right of the stage, a sweaty art critic, Martin, and Laska herself. Wearing roper boots, cuffed jeans with sequined back-pockets, mismatched socks and a wife-beater, Blomerth recited a litany of his father's quirks as a tape played a cheery organ grinder's soundtrack. Blomerth recounted dad's pastime of "foaming" his school friends with Budweisers and then his subsequent arrest. Chugging a Bud in paternal homage, Blomerth staggered backwards and mistakenly hit another tape deck, triggering the first three bars of "No Rain" by Blind Melon. "Woops!" Steadying, he turned it off, assuring the audience, "I am back! I am back and this comedy is worse than ever before!"
Proving himself, Blomerth then changed into a tiny bumblebee costume and put a blonde wig on. His friends howled in laughter. Flushing in the heat, Blomerth announced then, that he was going to perform a trick, and called for a pack of cigarettes from the audience. An uninhibited young lady supplied American Spirits, but only three remained in the pack, and Blomerth was disappointed as his trick had required more. "That [expletive] didn't work out." He lit one instead, and switched the subject: "It's the 90's, [double expletive], we're smoking inside!" As smoke from this small transgression filled the room, we wondered if we had ultimately been transported twenty years past-tense. Blomerth hit the tape deck and "No Rain" started playing again.
He laughed hysterically, and lighting her a cigarette too, danced with the assistant."You know what the funniest part about this is? You know what the funniest part about this is? I'm just kidding!" Blomerth's friends cheered, and the other bleary-eyed audience members smiled widely, coughing. "I'm Brian Blomerth I do comedy all the time; no one is ever laughing. Goodnight!"