If you’re like me -- which unless you are an elf-eared performance artist who lives in a Troll Museum with a Chihuahua named Reverend Jen Junior, you are not -- you know how tough it is to get a job. Luckily, the U.S. Census Bureau appears every ten years to magically divvy up employment to the unemployable. To those with limited skill sets, the census is like Santa Claus and the dawn of each decade is Christmas morning. All that’s required is the ability to pass a math test designed for seven-year-olds (smart seven-year-olds) and the masochistic willingness to visit the homes of strangers.
Therefore it’s no surprise that yours truly became an "enumerator" on the Lower East Side, knocking on doors in an effort to help the government "make informed decisions." When first hired, I brainstormed how I might incorporate avant-garde performance into the job. At training, I suggested we dress, walk and talk like robots just to make the census more fun for everyone. My second idea was to dress as a Girl Scout because everyone likes Thin Mints, more than they like answering questionnaires.
"That’s a great idea," my friend Henry said, "Then you could ask, ‘If you were gonna buy Thin Mints, how many people would you be buying them for?’"
Given that both ideas involve complex costumes, which I have neither time nor money for, I’ve yet to see them through. However, I have created my own government "uniform," which includes blue hot pants, heart shaped-glasses, elf ears and red platform shoes. Despite this fabulous ensemble, I’ve had many doors slammed in my face by hung-over hipsters who, though they somehow have 15 hours a day allotted for facebooking, cannot spare two minutes to talk to me. It seems that almost overnight, the formerly artistic, ethnically diverse residents of the Lower East Side have been replaced with snarky white 24-year-olds who are unwilling to talk to a census worker even if that census worker happens to be an elf. They have no curiosity about anything unless it comes in the form of an iPhone "app."
"Generation Z might actually be robots who are only capable of communicating through tweets," I said to my friend Katrin. "I’m not sure they even have any interest in sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll."
She agreed. "If only we could come up with a ‘vagina for iPhone’ application, we’d be millionaires."
Still, someone is going out on the Lower East Side. I know because every night I am forced to listen to the "Douchebag Parade" march down Ludlow Street outside my bedroom window. Maybe these robots are programmed to enact scenes from "Girls Gone Wild Cancun" or maybe they fall down drunk and "woohoo" at the top of their lungs of their own free will, but I can no longer stand this neighborhood. Therefore my "plan," once the census gig is up, is to leave the city altogether and go hobo.
Until then, I have been spending inordinate amounts of time in Brooklyn. When you live on the Lower East Side, visiting Brooklyn is like going to the country -- peaceful and quiet.
But with so many galleries now on the Lower East Side, this makes my job as a roving Artnet Magazine columnist more difficult.
Luckily there is MF Gallery, nestled in the far-off reaches of Boerum Hill, where there is not a "woohoo" within earshot. Despite this, the scene inside is far from quiet. In fact, after only two visits, it appears the gallery’s mission is to preserve the ancient trifecta of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. If you’re wondering where all of the pierced, tattooed freaks who used to hang out downtown went, they can be found here.
My introduction to MF Gallery was as a participant in the first annual "Crack-a-Thon," a live, star-studded telethon in which Oderus Urungus, lead singer of famed metal band GWAR, attempted to pay off his massive crack debt. Other illustrious performers included Kembra Pfahler, Andrew WK and the Toxic Avenger. Sadly, the event was a total failure, doing nothing to alleviate Oderus' debt, which grew to four times its pre-Crack-a-Thon size during the show.
Even so, MF Gallery’s latest offering is yet another fundraiser. In "I Need Your Skull," artists were asked to present work depicting a human skull, with all money raised from sales of the art going to the construction of a giant skull on the facade of the MF Gallery building. According to the show’s press release, "the 20-foot 3-D skull will be reminiscent of an old Spook House ride." Sorta makes the New Museum’s rainbow "Hell, Yes" seem kind of uncool, don’t it?
And lest anyone doubt the seriousness of the effort, MF gallerists Martina and Frank Russ, were on hand at the opening with concept sketches. Also at the opening was Martina’s mom (working the keg), Martina’s grandma (visiting from Italy), Frank’s mom (bouncing the door) and about 60 heavily tattooed people, at least three of whom had skulls tattooed directly on their heads. Along with beer, skull-shaped cake and focaccia were served.
In terms of skull art, the show had a little something for everybody. A plush Abominable Snow Skull by Jenny Harada would be perfect for Goth homebodies, while a skateboard deck by punk artist Joe Simko featuring a melting green skull would be just the thing for extreme athletes. Another skateboard deck by Anna Semenova, aptly titled Skull And Rats, featured a skull being molested by rats. Meanwhile, printmaker Dennis McNett, whose prints can be found on both skateboards and Vans shoes, also contributed a skull to the show, this one carved from wood. There were realistic skulls, cartoon skulls and a rendering of a hyena skull devouring a human skull.
"Oh yeah, that’s a drawing of the hyena skull I gave to my boyfriend," said the artist Kristen Flaherty. "I wish I could afford more skulls, but they’re really expensive."
"I know," I said. "That’s why, after I die, I plan on donating my skeleton to the School of Visual Arts. Then students will say, ‘I got to draw Reverend Jen today!’"
While skulls are terribly expensive, the art in "I Need Your Skull" is not, and given the plague of normalcy besieging New York City, I can hardly think of a better cause.
REVEREND JEN is the author of Live Nude Elf: The Sexperiments of Reverend Jen (Soft Skull Press, 2009), available on Amazon for $10.17 ($14.95 list price).