Hustlers & Empires 2017
Multichannel video installation with live performance, 2018
HUSTLERS & EMPIRES PREMIERES AT THE SAN FRANCISCO MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, MARCH 12-18, 2018
Hustlers & Empires is a new project by Michelle Handelman that has been commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art as part of their 2018 Performance in Practice series. Hustlers & Empires interweaves stories of three aging hustlers from different time periods who each find themselves pushed out of their own game and forced back to confront what their lives have become. It looks at transgression as a mode of survival, examining the complicated relationship between pleasure and risk, and how identity is formed in resistance to oppressive forces.
This new commission draws on the stories of three real and imagined hustlers, inspired by Iceberg Slim’s Pimp (1967), Marguerite Duras’ The Lover (1984), and Federico Fellini’s Toby Dammit (1968). Handelman re-contextualizes these historical and literary characters through three legendary performers—Shannon Funchess, John Kelly, and Viva Ruiz —in a queer, feminist framework, opening up questions of survival and belonging, intersecting with issues of race, class, and gender.
Each performer has written original songs and monologues in collaboration with Handelman that break apart the original narratives, rewriting them from a critical perspective. This collaborative rewriting is used as a tool of subversion, questioning existing power structures while illuminating the trajectory of radical queerness within the criminal and cultural underground. Handelman extracts from these stories existential questions of survival and belonging, looking at oppressive systems of economic control that are just as relevant today.
Hustlers & Empires will be presented as a synchronized three-channel projection that gets activated by live performances within the gallery space.
Shannon Funchess, inspired by the story of “‘Iceberg Slim’, a.k.a. ‘The Pimp’ figure”, is a icon in the underground music scene known for being the founder, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist of the dark, electronic band LIGHT ASYLUM. Funchess developed her powerful contralto singing in a Southern Baptist church choir as a child, adding Joy Division and Bauhaus to her list of influences as a teen. She has collaborated with acts such as TV on the Radio, The Knife, and LCD Soundsystem to name a few; and in 2015, she participated in a Knight Foundation residency in Detroit, spearheaded by the electronic duo ADULT.
John Kelly, inspired by the story of “Toby Dammit” a.ka.”The Actor”, is an award-winning, New York City downtown legend whose works dealing with queer identity and the AIDS crisis have been performed at The Kitchen, Lincoln Center, the Warhol Museum, the Whitney Biennial, PS 122, Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival, and London’s Tate Modern. He has collaborated with composers David Del Tredici, Laurie Anderson, and The Jazz Passengers, and his acting credits include ‘The Clerk’s Tale’ (Spencer Reese), a film by James Franco. His musical gender-crossing performance as Joni Mitchell, brought Mitchell, herself, to tears calling his portrayal, “uncanny.”
Viva Ruiz, inspired by the work of “Marguerite Duras, a.k.a. ‘The Lover’”, is a musician and Ecua Yorquina multidisciplinary performance artist whose work navigates through diverse cultural intersections. As a musician, Ruiz has collaborated with Desi Santiago from the Latin art-house duo, ESCANDALO, and sound maestro Gavin Russom (LCD Soundsystem) in the disco mystic commune, THE CRYSTAL ARK; and as a dancer and performance artist, Ruiz has performed with Debbie Harry, Danzig, THE BIG ART GROUP, the Caribbean queer RAGGA collectives’ 2017 residency at the New Museum NYC, and she stars in Bruce La Bruce’s latest feature THE MISANDRISTS. As a filmmaker, her telenovelas have premiered at Deitch Projects, NYC and internationally.
CREDITS (partial list)
Directed, Produced and Edited by Michelle Handelman
Starring Shannon Funchess, John Kelly, Viva Ruiz
Produced by John Morrow
Co-produced by Kenneth Filmer & Thomas Burr Dodd, Brooklyn Fireproof Films
Cinematography by Ed David
Costumes by Karen Young, Zaldy, Neon Music
Set Design by And Or Forever
Sound Design by Quentin Chiappetta
Still Photography by Mr. Means
Original music by John Kelly & Carol Lipnik, Viva Ruiz & BEARCAT, Shannon Funchess, and Jonathan Kreinik