Adrienne Walser Reviews Winter/Spring Collection, a collaborative video work by Narcissister and A.L. Steiner

Artists Narcissister and A.L. Steiner recently unveiled their Winter/Spring Collection on MOCAtv. This Los Angeles–inspired collaborative video plays with the strange and messy combinations of the city—its cold/hot couplings of flesh and plastic, organic and unreal, pretty and grotesque.

Merging together materials from fashion, art, porn, and nature, Narcissister and Steiner create strangely familiar and uncomfortable amalgamations in which the seams show and the parts don’t match up. Bringing to the collaboration their shared interest in forms of exposure, they have made a video that is appealingly alienating—something that might be said of good art and the city of LA. The video’s bricolage of bodies, objects, images, and sounds culled from natural and cultural terrains of the city creates confusion about what is flesh and felt, what is constructed and produced—the lines between these are sometimes distinct and sometimes blurred, as the video playfully utilizes and subverts images of pleasure.

The politics of this aesthetic are present in Steiner’s body of work—her installations, video, photography, collage, performances, and writing. In a 2011 interview, when asked about what she is working on, Steiner replied, “hustling as a cultural worker in a late-capitalist economy” (Wright, New York Times, May 2011). Steiner’s cultural work—and hustle—has produced dynamic forms of art, so it makes sense that she and the equally provocative performance artist Narcissister would come together, and that LA would be in on it.

I recently saw Brooklyn-based Narcissister perform at Human Resources in Chinatown. In one of her performances there, she did a reverse striptease to “I’m Every Woman,” dressing herself up by pulling outfit pieces from her large afro-wig, mouth, vagina, and anus—retrieving heels, earrings, purse, miniskirt, and halter top. The performance struck me as absolutely funny and totally serious in its suggestion that if a woman is her body parts and orifices in a patriarchal capitalist society, then she’ll make use of this—and have fun with you as she does it. Shifting from one identity to another, Narcissister is a pretty white Barbie, a strong black Mammy, a piece of work, a hot commodity, an animal, an advertisement, a fake, a threat, an erotic pleasure. Though she displays a body, her identity is ambiguous. She doesn’t expose herself, she exposes her audience, showing us what we have come to see, want, and love—what we have become or are becoming.

I mention this performance because Narcissister brings this seductive, queer, and discomforting role to Winter/Spring Collection, in which she enacts mechanical self-loving on a Los Angeles lawn. The video opens onto a summer scene with a bright blue pool, green shiny shrubbery, and Narcissister as an LA lady of leisure—wearing her expressionless pretty pink-lipped face mask, plastic jewels, and an acrid-green evening gown with her bottom exposed to the sun. She robotically wields a long tree fruit picker and pool leaf skimmer. Perfect pink flowers and strange dead plants float around.

The menacing, fuzzy white noise that plays as the soundtrack and the too white sunlight are oppressive. Extra legs loosely attached to her body make things awkward. She spreads all her legs and pees in the grass, and against the adobe white walls and backyard bushes. Bathing herself in cut grass, her legs splay and her white-heeled feet flail about as she frantically masturbates her metallic music sampler under a gold bikini thong. She moves inside to the art table, where she poses and is both a model and her own puppet master—manipulating, admiring, and caressing her sexy artificial parts. When she’s back on the lawn, pastel flowers, a pink puppy fetus, juicy oranges and grapefruit, and hordes of gauzy multi-colored tulle spring forth in bulk from the large hole in her delicate pink Chinese-lantern vagina. A white orchid comes out, and she presses it to her nose to smell.

The video makes the fine lines between the erotic and the abject fun, and the excessiveness of these tired tropes of female sexuality, fertility, and (re)production is hilarious—and effectively disconcerting. In this city of overripe, rotting fruit and flowers, within its white-walled overly manicured lawns, there is an abundance of frustrated self-pleasuring and sterile leisure—we are exposed and the exposure is unsettling.

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