By Jennifer van Alstyne
Kevin Killian’s performance/photographic series entitled Tagged, where male models pose with a male genitalia drawing while nude, was the subject of his lecture Colors in Darkness. The drawing models held in front of their own genitalia was called, cock and balls on a mannequin by Raymond Pettibon, a New York based artist famous for the band Black Flag’s logo.
Killian also taught a class over the weekend which focused on the Bay Area poet Jack Spicer. Killian noted in his lecture that Spicer himself conducted a similar photographic experiment with nude male models. Unfortunately, the poet died indigent, but was buried in a mausoleum a few yards from the newspaper mogul Willian Randolph Hearst, a setting Killian used in this series—young poets offering their bodies to the dead poet. He was also inspired by Allen Ginsberg, visual artist David Wojnarowicz, famous for his series Rimbaud in New York, and other both distant, but subtle sources such as Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge or William Holden’s body in Sunset Boulevard.
Models range from artists to novelists to young poets. The series questions not only what the phallus has become but allows models and viewers to explore the mask of the drawing, whether placing it over their own genitalia or gazing upon it. David Brazile says, “Photos can act as mere signifiers of masculinity.” Thus, the viewer is seeing a signified version of masculinity through the drawing, which is, in itself for the subject, a signifier of masculinity. Killian himself admitted a drawing of a phallus is a perfect example of Freud’s over-determinism.
He had a ritual with his subjects to place their clothing on a table, and photograph, or record, what they came in with and what they would walk out of the studio or residence wearing. Killian, trying to explore “the gaze in [him]self,” opens up authorial agency creating a temporary but safe dominant/submissive relationship where models can experience the mask without commitment. One can choose to see the subject performing masculinity, or rather condensing it into what society believes differentiates gender. The intention of the act is to draw attention to different points of cultural reference for a viewer say, in an art gallery, to be taken by surprise at the oddity, and also surreal poses, of the men’s stares and different contraposto poses. It is both multi-layered and characteristic of a camp style consciously, although wary of revealing itself as such.
Tableau vivant translates from French to mean “living picture,” and was mentioned by Killian in his talk. This was another goal of his artistic practice, which dates back to American frontier towns in the 19th century, where paintings and royal coronations were recreated, but also were a form of erotic entertainment. Photography has long been used to capture people living in a present moment of history, from Julia Margaret Cameron’s portraits, to Ansel Adam’s landscapes, to Robert Franks The Americans. Killian hopes to eventually recreate a collection of nude photographs of men which originally appeared in Koff Magazine curated by Maggie Dubris and Elinor Nauen in the late 70s.
The lecture was followed by a reading and reception. Killian is the author of Poet Be Like God: Jack Spicer and the San Francisco Rennisance (Wesleyan University Press, 1998), editor of My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (Wesleyan University Press, 2008) and The Kenning Anthology of Poet’s Theater: 1945-1985 (Kenning Editions, 2010), as well as several books of poetry.
We hope you join us at the Naropa 4×4 Reading on March 10th at 7:30pm in the Performing Arts Center (PAC) on the Arapahoe campus. Please click here for a listing of 2014-2015 Jack Kerouac School Events.
Jennifer van Alstyne has been published in the Eunoia Review, Crack the Spine, Midwest Literary Magazine, The Monmouth Review, The Foundling Review, Paper Nautilus, Poetry Quarterly, and Whiskey Traveler. Her collection, “Scansioned Music: A Glenn Gould Collection”, was published in Crossroads 2013 for which she was the winner of the Jane Freed Grant. She is currently an Associate Editor for Something On Paper and Book Reviews Editor for Bombay Gin.