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Marisela La Grave

New York based Trans Media Artist + Director + Producer. Her conceptual works are based on photography, video art, site specific multidisciplinary performance art for camera, experimental films, works on paper. She is a Co-founder and is the Artistic director at Magnetic Laboratorium™ (2001) a New York + Paris based media art group experimenting intermedia collaborations. M La Grave's installations, productions, creations with Magnetic Laboratorium associated artists as well as her works in photography and video have been screened, exhibited, presented, and published internationally and housed in private collections and museums around the world; e.g. The Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MA - The Whitney Museum of American Art, Live Series, New York, NY - Paris Underground Film Festival, Paris France - The Watermill Center, South Hampton, NY - Art Miami Basel Video Lounge, Miami Florida – Hamptons International Film Festival, New York - Scotiabank Nuit Blanche in Toronto, Canada – Dance Theater Workshop, Movement Research, New York, NY – Dance Space Saint Marks church, New York, NY – PS1-22, New York, NY - 98 Bowery Gallery, New York, Museo de Bellas Artes & Museo Jacobo Borges, in Caracas, Venezuela - Nikki Dianne Marquardt Gallery in Paris, France - Camera Austria, Vienna - Photographies Magazine, Paris - Vis-à-vis Magazine, Paris Magazine Photo, Paris - Extra-camera, Caracas, among others. Grants and awarded residencies include: The Watermill Center (Robert Wilson), South Hampton, NY (2014) - Performance Matters, London England (2010), The Banff Center - New Media , Canada (2009) - New York Foundation for the Arts, New York (2008) - Caldera Arts Residency, Portland Oregon (2005) - Zen Mountain Monastery, Mount Tremper, NY (2000).

Full exhibitions resume upon request // M. La Grave




PIER 34, New York City 1982-83

If there was a place that represented the city's psyche in the early 80'ts that was Pier 34, magnificently industrial over the Hudson River, rusted, blue, ilegal and right off Canal Street.

I spent a year photographing the interiors and exterior contents of Pier 34. During my time inside, I encountered East Village artists such as David Wojnarovicz and Luis Frangela, Marisol 135 and others.

At night it was a dangerously forbidden, very gay and exiting. David made me swear i never show up at night, I never did. During the day I was paradise for the camera and Kodachrome film.

Pier 34 was an epicenter of East Village irreverent artists and for the Aids epidemic that followed.

In 1983 before its total demolition, pieces of huge walls - frescos where carved out and some have already collapsed from the upper floors into the lower grounds of the Pier, touching the river waters. One could see the chaos in twisted rusted steel beams and colorful art works standing still or floating away into the river towards the Atlantic ocean.

Pier 34 was a space where old deteriorated documents could be found in rooms taken over by artists, old files dating all the way back to the 30ts, mountains of documents that testify to the low wages and possitions of port workers. Rooms where turned into installation spaced, re arrangements of public turned private, industrial turned art.

Then and all the way till recent times, the Piers on the Hudson front belong to the underworld of Manhattan.

It's history is larger than the sum of those of us who were there to make art. Greater in the sense that it offered a glimpse of the future in art: art and its role in our society, art's presence in public spaces, art beyond the status quo, art as a way to protest oppression, denounce violence, bigotry, slavery, racism, injustice, aids. Pier 34 was the downtown Museum of Modern Art, the metropolitan universe were Art, innovation, design and politics shared a meta space, deep, abstract, conceptual, figurative and above all, fiercely uncompromising.

What remains of Pier 34 is the ventilation tower for the Holland Tunnel, it can be seen from the edge of the newly renovated and pristine downtown water front.

Marisela La Grave // New York 2016

Inter Media Artist

Recommended reading; The life and Times of David Wojnarowicz - Fire in the Belly By Cynthia Carr // Bloomsbury.




Photography PETER HUJAR

Published 06/18/12

In December 2010, 18 years after his death, David Wojnarowicz became world famous again. The sudden notoriety was due to an uproar over his 1986–87 Super 8 art film AFire in My Belly—specifically, an 11-second sequence that showed Mexican fire ants crawling around and over a crucifix. A Fire in My Belly had been part of the gay-identity exhibition “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, and the outcry—spearheaded largely by the Catholic League—resulted in the Smithsonian deciding to remove the work from the show. For those in the art world, this brazen censorship of a complicated and invaluable work seemed like something out of the culture wars of the last century: Surely, artistic institutions had learned their lessons from the embarrassing Robert Mapplethorpe trial of 1990 and refused to fold under the pressure of a right-wing religious minority who hadn’t taken the time to understand Wojnarowicz’s life and legacy. Sadly, the incident proved that freedom of expression had not come as far as most had hoped.

Wojnarowicz died of AIDS in 1992 at the age of 37, so it is impossible to say with certainty how he would have reacted to the suppression. Nevertheless, the gawky, gay, deep-voiced downtown New York City art-world pioneer who is furiously drawn in Cynthia Carr’s new biography Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz, out in July from Bloomsbury, suggests that he wouldn’t have taken it quietly. Here is what he wrote about a similar rejection in the late ’80s: “I’m in the throes of facing my own mortality and in attempting to communicate what I’m expressing or learning in order to try and help others I am effectively silenced. I am angry.”

Wojnarowicz was fearless when it came to self-expression—fearless about his work and fearless about showing it. The only thing that might have incensed him as much as those who responded with knee-jerk conservatism were those who bought his work as an investment opportunity and didn’t respond to its emotional textures at all. Wojnarowicz proved to be one of the prickliest, most mercurial, hard-to-pin-down experimenters of American art. It is no small achievement that Carr, who first met the artist when he was part of the East Village art scene of the early ’80s, shortly before she began writing for the Village Voice, has managed to portray him in remarkably rich dimensions. Carr’s book takes us through a nearly four-decade roller coaster of contemporary bohemia, beginning with Wojnarowicz’s horrifically abusive childhood, his early life on the streets of New York as an urban explorer and hustler, and his initial explorations of alternative expression. Wojnarowicz’s prodigious talent as a writer (he kept journals and penned monologues in his voice and those of fellow drifters he met) served as a gateway to other mediums—painting, film, sculpture, photography, graffiti, and flagrant combinations thereof. He famously raged and recorded at the inception of the early-’80s East Village art-world scene, a hardcore, down-and-out, and (for a while) truly liberating alternative to the money markets of the SoHo and uptown galleries. There couldn’t have been a better artist to represent that short-lived movement, where neo-expressionism met inner-city dystopia. For Wojnarowicz was not only an outsider by nature, he reveled in that status and celebrated his own fringe view almost shamanisticly. His works address annihilation, disenfranchisement, depersonalization, and dread, but as much as they invoke the big ideas of a world gone wrong, they also record the artist’s own fears, memories, and demons. In a way, all of his works could be read as self-portraits.”

In the early ’80s, the East Village art scene established itself in makeshift galleries along the blighted, drug-infested blocks east of Avenue A—an art world all its own, part postmodern and part punk. Wojnarowicz was involved with two well-regarded galleries that set the tone, Civilian Warfare and Gracie Mansion Gallery. It was in this budding scene of energy and expression (and accelerated marketing) that Wojnarowicz, along with downtown artists like Keith Haring, Nan Goldin, and Kenny Scharf, first got a toehold in the New York art world.

The East Village was the art world’s surly teenager, ready to tromp all over the unspoken etiquette established in “grown-up” galleries. No one would walk into Leo Castelli’s space and ask, “How much is that Rauschenberg?” It wasn’t done. Money and status were the elephants in such rooms where top dealers sold top artists to top collectors. In the East Village, prices were discussed right up front. Often you could get something for $50 or $100. A completely sold-out Rodney Alan Greenblat show at Gracie Mansion had work starting at five dollars. I once saw a dealer get work out of some dinky back room, spread it over the floor, and ask, “Is this the right size? Want something in blue?” Then, the East Village galleries were not just open on Sunday—but that was their big day. At openings, most of the artgoers were actually out in the street, since so few could fit inside. And at Civilian Warfare, gallerist Dean Savard always served vodka, never white wine. What was not yet called “branding” revolved around such superficialities. At the same time, the whole East Village setup was a critique of elitism. When I wrote, in 1984, about what was happening in my neighborhood, I declared that new ideas were being explored here about what a collector, a dealer, an artist, and a gallery could be. Looking at it after more than 25 years, I’m not sure anything really changed. The art world has a magical ability to absorb every critique, and make money on it.

Ultimately 176 galleries would open in the neighborhood (not all at once, obviously). Landlords were eagerly endorsing this unlikely trend by offering former bodegas and social clubs—and sometimes apartments for the dealers—at remarkably low rents. I’ll never forget the young dealer who took me to her filthy, unheated apartment a few doors away from her gallery, served me instant Bustelo in a dirty cup, and then announced, “This is how we live on the Lower East Side.” She’d lived there for six months, after growing up on the Upper East Side. Poverty was apparently a cool new lifestyle, but it wouldn’t be for long. As this dealer proudly declared, “We’re raising the property values.”

Gracie Mansion [formerly Joanne Mayhew-Young] had started her career as a dealer by looking at the mechanisms involved in presenting and selling art, and she set up another sly commentary in September ’83 with her “Sofa/Painting” show. Because when you’re not elitist, you end up dealing with art buyers at the other end of the spectrum, those who say, “I need something that looks good over the sofa.”

David was one of the six artists she invited to create both a sofa and a painting to hang above it. She gave each artist $25 or $50 to help in the purchase of a couch. David found one on the street— a legless banquette that might have come from a diner. He set it on two milk cartons. On the seat he placed a piece of Plexiglas, covered on one side with his complaint about the art world. Yes, he already had one: Too many people wanted to show him. Or, were “trying to seduce him,” as Gracie put it. That meant Civilian and Gracie and Hal Bromm [Gallery]. On the other side of the Plexiglas he obscured those words by painting red, green, and white branchlike forms along with a screaming head and a small image of his own head. On the back of the sofa, he painted a cityscape in black and yellow, with a globe in the sky. The painting on the wall above the sofa showed a figure climbing a tree with one stump of a branch. “It’s him, trying to get away from all of us,” Gracie explained.

David sold work in 1983 through all three of the galleries named and blamed above, earning a total of almost $17,000. He had a gross income of about $26,000 in ’84, but he was never rich. As usual, he embodied contradiction: he was irritated by the art world; he was also relieved that he finally had a way to make a living and worried that the whole thing could evaporate at any moment. David’s strange relationship with money began to manifest as soon as he made some. He would give it away without a second thought to a needy friend. Then sometimes, he’d be nearly broke again. He had no concept of financial planning. He never had a savings account. He never had an IRA. He did not have a credit card until almost 1990. Near the end of his life, he confessed to a friend that he had never known how to balance a checkbook. If possible, he would have avoided using money altogether. He preferred trading. He certainly would not consider making art just for money. But then, he wanted the purity of that intention to be matched by a purity of acquisition in collectors. They should care what the work meant! It made him angry, even disgusted, that people would buy work as an investment once it was validated by certain critics. Though he was never remotely as bad as Hujar on this score, his attitude led him into a certain amount of self-sabotage.
He could not walk easily into his success. He had begun to get very prickly.

On April 15, 1984, artist Mike Bidlo re-created Warhol’s Factory in the attic at PS1. Bidlo appeared as Warhol and spent the evening making silkscreen prints of Marilyn to give out gratis. Silver foil covered the walls. Naturally, the not-quite-Velvet Underground performed. Keiko Bonk—a painter, musician, and friend of David’s—put the band together and played Nico. Julie Hair [a member of 3 Teens] was John Cale while David played Lou Reed and sang a creditable rendition of “Heroin.” He also dropped acid for the first time in his life. Dean Savard wafted through the crowd dressed as Edie Sedgwick. Artist Rhonda Zwillinger appeared as Valerie Solanas. Many who’d been there commented later on the crush and the rhythmic bouncing on the floor—remembered indelibly because they thought it was going to collapse.

That month, David was engaged in finishing work for his show at Civilian. He had made 23 plaster heads with, as he put it, “a couple of extras that were separated from the series,” which he called “Metamorphosis.” They looked like the alien heads he’d started to include in a few paintings. No two were alike. A few were covered with maps or parts of maps, others were painted, the colors of the eyes changing “according to what colors mean spiritually,” he said. Then halfway through the progression, the heads showed signs of distress: bandages, blood, black eyes, incineration, and finally one “fell off the shelf.” A 24th head sat on the floor in a doctor’s bag, an old one. He said the piece was about the evolution of consciousness. With perhaps the attendant consequences. He’d been thinking, 23 genes in a chromosome; a 24th causes mongoloidism. (That was also the reasoning behind the story that was about to appear in Between C & D, “Self- Portrait in 23 Rounds.”) Some of the individual heads were photographed, but the piece as a whole was never documented. David threw one of the “extra” heads into the Hudson as a sort of offering.

He’d begun to refine his private symbol system. He continued to work with maps, which remained forever mysterious to him as an acceptable version of reality. Ripping them could be a metaphor for so many things, like groundlessness and chaos. He’d stopped working with garbage can lids and driftwood. The new sculptures used animal skulls, skeletons, mannequins. To look at David’s early work is to watch him figuring out how to be an artist. A painting he did in 1983 called The Boys Go Off to War is a kind of diptych, and the imagery is simple. On the left half are two men, naked to the waist, perhaps in a bar (since one holds a drink), perhaps lovers but at least friends (since one has his arm around the other). On the right are two gutted pigs. With the paintings he did for the 1984 Civilian show he was really beginning to develop his collage approach. For example, Fuck You Faggot Fucker features, again, a male couple. The background is all maps but the only one clearly visible is behind the couple at the center. Created with a stencil, they stand waist-deep in water, kissing. Directly below them is a scrap of paper found by David, on which some anonymous homophobe has written, “Fuck You Faggot Fucker,” around an obscene doodle. He’s embedded that in the painting. At the four corners are photographs: one of Brian Butterick as St. Sebastian, photographed at the pier; three of David with John Hall, naked at the Christodora.

David’s show with the plaster heads, other sculptures, and new paintings opened on May 5, 1984. Though none of the principals, including David, knew it at the time—this would be his last solo show at Civilian. I remember the opening because everyone stood out on 11th Street watching David inside, finishing the work. He’d hung the show earlier, placing the heads on a wall where he’d painted a big bull’s-eye. Then he left, and the 23 heads started to slide off their shelves. The wall was just Sheetrock with no studs. Savard and Marisa [Cardinale, the gallery’s manager] took them all down in a frenzy and rehung them on the opposite wall, where Savard repainted the bull’s-eye. Then they had to rehang everything else. David, who’d probably been sitting in some restaurant, came back furious. He didn’t like Savard’s bull’s-eye. I remember him standing inside with a paintbrush—opening delayed. What he said to me about it later, though, was that he liked the way that broke the art-world rules. You couldn’t go to an opening in SoHo or on 57th Street and find the artist still standing there with a bucket of paint. (Interview Magazzine)