Sunday, June 14, 2015

New York Streets and public spaces, Tom of Finland, the First Amendment, and a Bare as You Dare Ride for the Ages #NYWNBR

Snapshot from the opening party of Touko Laaksonen "Tom of Finland:" The Pleasure of Play at Artists Space38 Greene street, floor 3, New York  Jun 14 - Aug 23, 2015

Steven Love photos and caption. “Bare as you dare bike ride!! Living free, having fun, spreading peace and love! Awesome day with a wonderful group of people.”

There are days when New York sparkles.  Yesterday was it.  From a meeting at the Commons to talk about Gundrisse to First Amendment and Bare as You Dare Bike rides,  with an impromptu drop by at the opening of the the Touko Laaksonen "Tom of Finland:" The Pleasure of Play at Artists Space 38 Greene street, and then back to hanging with the gang, the day was everything I could have wanted.

Naked bikers invade Tom of Finland

Finishing class at the Commons, I rode to meet Brennan in the Lower East Side and then we zipped West to Christopher Street Pier, to join the Public Space Party First Amendment Dance Party at Christopher Street and the water.

As Monica wrote:
“It's that time of year when we do the hard work of celebrating our First Amendment rights by dancing in public space and swimming in public fountains. Yes!

The invite for the event was simple enough. “All over New York, public spaces are privatized and so are ideas. We are left to wonder, is this a free speech zone or a speech free zone. On - June 13th, we'll meet at Christopher street pier to test the possibilities of free speech by dancing and reciting the First Amendment in Privately Owned Public Spaces, fountains, parks, bank lobbies, and the streets of New York City. Bring your dancing shoes, megaphone and possibly a swimsuit!

After the ride, some of us may join the Bare as you dare body autonomy ride in solidarity with world naked bike ride.”

First Amendment moments and tests. Photos by Owen Crowley.

Throughout such events, we explore what New York is and can be.  The highs and lows, the tolerance for difference and deviance, this is what New York has always been.  But today its contested.  At its core, such an event is also a meeting of a city of friends, in which old friends who’ve been here before, connect with those we’ve just met, to smile, and become fast friends.
I’ve been doing first amendment and fountain rides with these people for years now.

JC recalled first coming here when he was 14 years old and there were people lined up in jock straps among the dying piers. 

Today it is a public park, open to everyone, yet some feel more welcome than others to enjoy it.

New York bike dance started the day.

We rode up the West Side, stopping across from the Whitney Museum, where the Spectra Pipeline was planted just West of the Whitney Museum.  Several of the riders along the way had been part of the Occupy the Pipeline group which fought to have the pipeline stopped, before it blows, causing irreparable damage.

A few of us explored the space along the piers. 

Along the ride, we stopped at fountains and plazas, part of privately owned public spaces, where we recited the first amendment in between splashing in the water and reminding everyone public space is for the people.  Use it or lose it.  These buildings got huge increases in height and bulk for making these bonus plazas for the people to access.  

Yet over time these regulations are restricted and forgotten about, and the spaces are viewed as private, that is until we remind the world these are spaces for everyone to enjoy.  So we have to use them. And use them we did. 

We stopped in several fountains along the way, doing a little yoga at the fountains at Columbus circle.    

After saying goodbye to friends from the public space party, we zipped across the city, over to the Williamsburg Bridge, and up to Grand Ferry Park, where the Bare as You Dare Body Autonomy Ride was converging.  Why Body Autonomy?  Our bodies are contested spaces.  From reproductive choices to HIV prevention, the world is hell bent on controlling everyone’s bodies. 

“The first form of control was with clothes,” noted my friend Steven Love, who helped organize and propel the ride. He sees the ride as a way of connecting with others and throwing away our chains, walling us in with our gadgets and electronic media.  He quoted from the WNBR wiki on a facebook post before the ride.

“From Wiki- Participants claim that non-sexualized, colorful and creative nakedness in repressed societies is a refreshing way to remind people of some fundamental freedoms of life that people have collectively handed over without really thinking of the consequences. They claim that the WNBR is about body-positive values: living a healthy life in tune with, not against, the environment; respecting the natural beauty and diversity of human bodies; establishing and projecting a positive self-image; and rejecting shame. Organizers feel that WNBR is not just a ride against oil dependency; it is a ride for self-empowerment.

Body autonomy is a contested in any number of ways.  In past years, we’ve gone to abortion clinics and supported women accessing health care, via clinic defense. 

My friend Dulcie rode along with everyone.  She knows body autonomy is a contested.  She was hit by a car on her bike a year ago.  This was her first ride back.  She had a huge smile on her face to be free and out in public space.

Several asked why the ride is in solidarity with World Naked Bike Ride and not just world naked bike ride.  New York police arrest naked cyclists.  So unlike Philly or London, few want to ride very far completely naked, although there are exceptions on the bridges and throughout the city. 

We rode across the Williamsburg Bridge into the city, stopping along the way in on the bridge, in the Lower East Side, and at Washington Square.

"This is my favorite part of the ride, just riding over the bridge and into Manhattan," recalled Steven. 

Jomo who had visited Walt Whitman’s home earlier in the day, suggested we stop by the opening party for the Tom of Finland show on Greene Street.  There is something beautiful about the images of people riding through the cobble stone streets of the City.  The show was about play, just as our ride, and so much of experience in public space can be. 

Tom of Finland: The Pleasure of Play
June 14 – August 23, 2015

Opening: Saturday, June 13, 6 – 8pm

Leading exhibition support provided by:
The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, through its Curatorial Fellowship Program; The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; Finnish Cultural Institute in New York, through its Mobius Fellowship Program; The Friends of Artists Space; The 40 Years Artists Space Program Fund; David Kordansky Gallery; and Galerie Buchholz

The Tom of Finland Exhibition Supporters Circle:
Philip Aarons & Shelley Fox Aarons, Shane Akeroyd, Beth Rudin DeWoody, Elmgreen & Dragset, Nicoletta Fiorucci (Fiorucci Art Trust, London), Greene Naftali, Robert Gober & Donald Moffett, Mark Grotjahn & Jennifer Guidi, Wade Guyton, Michaeljohn Horne, Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, Robert Longo, Bjarne Melgaard, John Morace & Tom Kennedy, Lari Pittman & Roy Dowell, Jack Shear, Cindy Sherman, Brent Sikkema, Gordon VeneKlasen, Danh Vo, and Jordan Wolfson

Artists Space Exhibitions Program is supported by:
The Friends of Artists Space; Lambent Foundation Fund of Tides Foundation; Cowles Charitable Trust; The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation; New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; and the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency

Media Sponsor:

We would like to extend our gratitude to the the Tom of Finland Foundation, especially, Durk Dehner and S.R. Sharp; John Morace; and Richard Hawkins and to all of the lenders to the exhibition.

Works from the Tom of Finland Foundation, Permanent Collection courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles and Galerie Buchholz, Berlin.

Tom of Finland’s biography parallels pivotal moments of 20th century (gay) history, bearing witness to the disasters, the turmoil and the radical changes that took place during his lifetime. Indeed, his work stands in dialectical relationship to these events and the often oppressive culture that surrounded him.

Starting from an early age, Tom of Finland played with the iconographic conventions upon which both the representation and the very conception of masculinity are based. His emblematic, larger-than-life drawn phalluses threaten not only the existing symbolic order of heterosexuality, but also reorganize the principles by which (homo)sexual desires are structured. This fearless portrait of sexuality can also be read as a portrait of the sadomasochistic relationship that is at play between culture and subculture itself, an aspect that runs through gay culture of the 20th and 21st centuries as much as it is present in Tom of Finland’s biography and work.

Working from 1956 to 1973 as senior art director at one of the first global advertising agencies, it is likely that Tom of Finland had access to a range of global mainstream publications as well as illegally published early gay magazines – both from which he would meticulously cut out details and compose on single pages to later use as studies, or as he called them, reference pages.

It is telling that many of these cutouts are taken from global print campaigns; Tom of Finland seemingly studying and taking apart the representations of maleness and gender-assigned attributes in mainstream media, and fusing them with cutouts from gay periodicals. Originally separated into binders, the majority of these collages were sorted by distinct taxonomies: leather jackets, motorcycles, uniforms, beards, hairdos and so forth. On rare occasions he also drew directly onto these cutouts,to either amplify or reduce the existing attributes.

In some respects the collages are key to an understanding of Tom of Finland’s work. During the day (at least until 1973), as an acclaimed advertising executive Tom of Finland was involved hands-on in creating the hetero-normative vision of the happy suburban family of the late 1950s; while at night, he would cut up the very basis of his own work (print advertising) to study, to analyze and to categorize – turning these reference pages towards the exact opposite of their origin. One aspect of Tom of Finland’s drawings is that the faces of his protagonists feature a familiar, recognizable likeness – these bold, grinning faces, while in the act of sadomasochistic play, present a fearless vision of sexuality pointing towards the culture that constructed the relationship between sexuality and fear in the first place.

While living life as an adman in Helsinki, his global career as an iconic gay figure was jumpstarted in 1950s Los Angeles, through his ongoing contributions to Bob Mizer’s publication Physique Pictorial. From the 1960s onwards, he frequently published his now well-known comic series with the Danish publishing house DFT, COQ International and the Swedish Revolt Press, and later through his own Tom of Finland Company.

In 1978, Tom of Finland had his first New York exhibition at Stompers, a boots store in the West Village. His first gallery exhibition was at Feyway Studios, San Francisco, where Tom of Finland was befriended by Robert Mapplethorpe, who in 1980 helped him get his first major New York exhibition at Robert Samuel Gallery.

During his 17 years at McCann, a job he quit in 1973, Tom of Finland started traveling extensively throughout Europe. On his many trips, particularly to London, Hamburg and Berlin, he would take his drawings to sell or to gift to men that he met in the local gay scene, thus proliferating his work while establishing an underground distribution network, and with it a network of friends and admirers. From the 1970s onwards Tom of Finland began to visit the US more frequently. While he never permanently resided in the states, during the last decade of his life he spent equal time between Helsinki and Los Angeles.

Romping through the Gallery, the bare as you dare ride felt like a stark contrast with the effete art crowd.

“People used to come to his shows in leather,” explained Jomo.  “And some did today.”

Still, we enjoyed mostly smiles. 

I ran into my friend, artist Hunter Reynolds, who seemed happy to see the bare as you dare crowd. Hunter and I talked about Tom’s work, its birth in Berlin, and the responses to the fascism of the era. Tom was moved and terrorized by the Germans serving in Finland in 1940 during the war.  "In my drawings I have no political statements to make, no ideology," he explained.  "I am thinking only about the picture itself. The whole Nazi philosophy, the racism and all that, is hateful to me, but of course I drew them anyway—they had the sexiest uniforms!"

Hugo Boss, of course, designed those uniforms, representing sex and power.The Bare as You Dare ride enjoys a little loss of the hyper masculine tone, but every bit of the biker rebelliousness, minus the macho.   I like to think we are all continuing the exploration of freedom that those bikers began in the late 1940's   as they created a new world for themselves through their journeys through the California coast and around the world.

As the day finished, we rode down through the sunset in the Statue of Liberty, where we greeted her and enjoyed the magic light of the New York evening.

The ride ended at Christopher Street, where the day began.  Seven hours of riding earlier, another glorious day, cutting through the cracks of our prohibitive culture, opening a space for a community of friends to expand and explode across identities, cultures, and spaces.  The police seemed busy with other parades today, not even bothering to surveil or tag along.  Instead, everyone talked about how freeing the day was to just be riding through the city together, with less clothes or restrictions on our mind or bodies.  Free your mind and your ass will follow.  Funkadelic said it.  And hopefully, we live, putting the fun between our legs as we bike, exploring the relics of sexual cultures past, present and hopefully future in this naked city.  WNBR now and forever. 

No comments:

Post a Comment