Art in the world of wadded-up Kleenex.


The Lusty Lady, 1315 First, 25 cents for 40 seconds open 24 hours ends Thurs., Feb. 21

WHAT'S THE BEST TIME to go to the Lusty Lady? Ten a.m. offers itself daily: That's when I go by on the bus every morning. To slip, blinking, from the morning light into the womb of the Lady will be surreal, I keep thinking—but also kind of a cop-out.

Thus I find myself Saturday night at 1:30 a.m., fortified by a couple hours at the Nite Lite, standing in the entry of the L.L. doling out a bunch of dollar bills to the friends with whom I have also fortified myself. I feel like some sort of perverted den mother; I wonder if anyone else has ever asked the cashier for a receipt. "Only one person per booth," he says, and he continues to broadcast this at intervals over a loudspeaker in a manner that is like nothing so much as a Skate King DJ. We abandon our plan to stealthily cram in two or three at once; he's on to us—he sees girls.

We each disappear to watch not engorged, greased body parts but "Peepshow 28," on exhibit offering dozens of super-short videos by artists ranging from Canadian director Atom Egoyan to pro-porn feminist Annie Sprinkle, works lurking at the corner of sex and art and showing in all the Lusty's video booths on channel 28.

This venue poses problems as an art space: the sound of screeching hinges and constantly slamming booth doors, the music from outside drowning out the sound of your video selection; you turn it up to its weird maximum volume of "7," but there's no actual change in the sound at any point. I do not want to touch anything or lean anywhere, and so I stand hunched over in the dark, stabbing fruitlessly at the volume button with (in an act of extra-prudishness I cannot help) the ass end of my pen.

Interpret these problems as symbolic: The voice of the art is drowned out by the relentless slams of the dominant male sexuality exerting itself all around; the machine itself, purportedly an impartial vessel for its contents, holds out the promise of control and thwarts it; all that is left to do is look, mute, by yourself in the dark, pushing more money into a hole in the wall—you can choose to flip through the dozens of other channels offering not "art" but the lingering camera of Assman #18 or 9021-Ho! Episode 2, with its gaze like love or horror, but you are still consuming, powerless, a body with holes you are trying to fill.

I'M PLEASANTLY LOST in my theoretical bullshit when a pair of eyes and their corresponding pate appear over the top of the door. They look to belong to a more manic version of Michael Keaton. "Can I come in?" the man attached to the eyes says. "I don't think that's allowed," I say, not wishing to be rude. "Are you sure?" the eye-man asks. I see I must be more firm. "I don't want you to come in, and it's not allowed," I clarify. The eyes say, "I'm sorry," and disappear.

I watch a short about the Love Teller, the old-timey arcade game you put your hand on for it to rate you from "Cold Fish" to "Valentino"; the narration seems interesting but is sadly inaudible. Then Ed. 101/Exotic Dancing offers a tutorial, with a voice-over like a school filmstrip. Then there's a hand with jeweled fingers creeping along the edge of a bed accompanied by sultry striptease music; a supremely disinterested watching cat is somehow indicative of the banality of pornography. Then a frantically moving male elbow in black-and-white, the arm muscular and sexy—the elbow turns out to be attached to a hand that is drawing.

Then, "Hi again," and the eye-guy is back, looking in. "Let me come in," he says. "No, thank you," I say. "Are you sure?" he persists. "YES," I say, and the eyes are gone.

I'm a little wigged out. A new short is starting: Porn Star, it says, and all it shows is a grainy video camera, pointed right at you—that is, me.

Then I'm standing on the sidewalk under the marquee, back safe in the bosom of my entourage. We're in accord that the art benefits greatly from the context of sexual weirdness and wadded-up Kleenex, while simultaneously the context threatens to completely overwhelm the art (as well as the viewer); we suspect this is the point. We're also marveling at the cartoonesque staggering of drunk people walking down from the Showbox. A fellow patron emerges from the Lusty and asks us something unintelligible—his English is not so good. The wag among us inquires as to whether he saw the art exhibit: "Did you see the art? What kind of place is this for an art exhibit?"

"I look, but I don't touch," the man shouts. He laughs with maniacal glee and walks off into the night.

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