Even to the jaded New York eye, it was difficult to enter ABC No Rio Friday night and not be bewildered. Over loops of brash R&B and his mother's anecdotes of his childhood, artist Michael Alan methodically applied just about every incarnation of paint, glue, paper, fabric and to the otherwise nude human instruments of his Living Installation.
Simultaneously doting and distant with his physically and emotionally drenched performers, Alan methodically roved the room, sometimes altering a performer's hand with a subtle touch or drastically changing their place in the piece with a dollop of glue or a flurry of motion.
"This piece is a story about change and accepting it," Alan says. "You can't relive it, what's there is there. So I'm pushed another inch, and then another, and then I'm forced to make it change further." Occasionally the Living Installation could make you feel uncomfortable. Limbs awkwardly twitched and the music, in part scored by Japanther, gave the piece the impression that it was glowering at the audience. But a few minutes later, everything would shift, and so would the mood.
Change is apropos for Alan's piece, as ABC No Rio as it has stood for more than 30 years may be demolished as soon as March to make way for a wholly new $2.4 million building. "Us losing ABC how it is, it just sucks. I don't think the new place will have me back," Alan says, staring down at the wreckage of paint and plaster, all of it "activated" with the energy of the piece. "But you have to be hopeful."
Alan notes that the show is his last in the old space. The space's director, Steve Englander, will continue to book events through March, and has admitted that the building could come down before then if donations increase.
Shortly before intermission during the six-hour exhibition, Alan drapes several cuts of cloth, heavy with dried paint, over the back of his most trusted performer, Steve Perez. ("It's like, I'm not Steve anymore," Perez tells us later. "I'm possessed by Mike's energy.") A man in the back of the small audience shouts, "Hey, is this art yet? Is it? Or am I just an asshole?" Alan leans against the wall and turns to the man. "Is it art? He smiles. "Not yet. Not yet."