In April 2023, my collaborators Danny DevitHOE, Mississitti Rivaaah, and I performed our piece, “Jell-O Bounce Jiggle Smear Slap Stick Ogle Ooze.” The piece involved three Jell-O cakes, our bodies, and 150 audience members at a party (Rubulad in Brooklyn, NY).
The party was called Fools Mold and was the most recent in a series of absurd art parties at Rubulad, an art space in Brooklyn, NY. The party was curated and hosted by glittermilk. My dear friend Alana Miller is behind glittermilk, and has been organizing these parties since 2020.
Almost a year before, our performance “Egg Fight” laid groundwork for our participatory mess performance explorations at Rubulad — and also crossed an unforeseen boundary with the beloved owner of the space, thirty year NYC nightlife vet, Sari Rubinstein.
The conversations that follow document our journey to sympathize with one another. Conversations were printed with permission of Sari and those involved in the making of this work.
Gilian Rappaport writes to Sari Rubinstein on Instagram (May 27, 2022):
Gilian Rappaport: Hi Sari! This is Gilian, I’ve got a performance that I’m planning for the glittermilk party, which Alana asked me to run by you!
So I’m thinking that it will be a durational performance, happening outside ideally under a tree that is also close to an outlet. I will be wearing a box around my pelvis that is lined with (fake) fur, and has an opening to the front. I will be standing in a fish tank filled with green water which will be lit, and then it will also have bottles in it of a drink that I make. (You might remember me from past parties when I served drinks there from foraged plants!) It will be a very small quantity and not served as drinks but more like part of the ritual.
I will have an Intake Daddy ushering people over to me to put their hands in the box. They will be timed for 30 seconds. Then I will crack an egg into the fish tank. I plan to put a tarp under the whole space.
How does this sound to you? I welcome feedback. I want to make sure it feels comfy for you!
Sari Rubinstein: It sounds messy. I don’t really want drinks served at all so maybe think of something else to serve (cookies) or just do the show without handing out stuff. Also a giant fish tank full of raw eggs, eggshells and water is not something I want in my yard full of electricity. Eggs are gross and hard to clean- so maybe you could modify this to be less gross/ dangerous- I’m sorry but you asked what I think.
Ps. I know Alana likes eggs but I really hate em and last time there were eggs everywhere after the show – it got cleaned the next day but -gross 🤢
Perhaps you can think of something more lovely and less disgusting to do in a durations performance – I would really appreciate that. Sorry to be blunt.
Gilian: Ok I appreciate that! Thank you! Can I give it some thought and send you a modification? I’m so sorry that it was disgusting in your yard!
Sari: Yes pls. I appreciate that! I really do. I don’t love asking.
Gilian: How does this sound? No tank, no eggs, no drinks.
I’ll wear the box, and prompt people to describe the box using cue words that I will either create or prompt other people to give me. Then they will describe the box, and I will record the stories. Maybe they will write them and pin them to a big piece or fabric or write them on a big piece of paper. If it pleases me, I can give them the option to tap or touch the forest box. It’s not fully fleshed out, it could change a bit in terms of how it works, but something like that. How does that sound?
Sari: Yes!!!! Thank you!!!!!! Hang them on a tree maybe. If near a tree.
Gilian: Yea that sounds cool! I’ll see what kind of materials I can find this week. I am missing the grotesque element a bit so I may try to find a way to get that in there in some way but do fully understand to keep in mind the requirements around the space!!!
Sari: Dang girl!
Gilian: I promise no egg smash or water tanks or booze
Gilian calls Sari, with the aim to learn from Sari (May 11, 2023):
Gilian: I wanted to have this call over Zoom, and you said “I’m not going to hop on this Zoom call right now, I just can’t handle that.” How do you set boundaries so unapologetically?
Sari: It’s Mercury Retrograde, all communications are broken.
Gilian: But is it broken? If you’re just able to say “No, that’s not gonna work for me”?
Sari: You have to know your limits.
Gilian: Have you always had a pretty good sense of your limits? Or is that something you’ve been able to understand more over time?
Sari: Definitely over time. I’ve been doing this stuff for a long time. You try things and they don’t work a bunch of times. So then you know.
Sari: It doesn’t work to be super loud outside at my space because then I’d get noise complaints. If we could be loud as hell, that’d be great. But, we can’t and still have this space.
Gilian: I did a performance with eggs in your space and that didn’t feel super good to you. I’d love to understand better about what crossed the line there.
Sari: I don’t like messy things at Rubulad because they stay there a long time. Once, Hungry March Band put gum in their piñata on New Year’s Eve. We were scraping gum off the floor for five years. Now I know. (Laughing). Gum doesn’t work.
Food outside, when I really don’t want rats to be invited, doesn’t work for me. I have no good way to clean gravel.
Also, it just so happens that I’m someone who really doesn’t like eggs.
Gilian: Do you not like even eating eggs?
Sari: Yeah. I don’t like them on my plate. It’s a food phobia or something.
Gilian: Well, I want to say that I’m so impressed with what I’ve seen at Rubulad. I’ve seen some crazy stuff happen there! Wild!
Sari: Oh I’m glad.
Gilian: (Laughing) Why glad?
Sari: Well, despite having certain boundaries that make it so that we can actually function as a space, it’s my very strong opinion that there are too many rules. So, as long as we can not have rules, the happier we’ll be; you do what you want to do, and I’ll do what I want to do.
So many times in life, you come up against someone who says, “Rules are rules,”
and you say, “This doesn’t make any sense, this rule,”
and they say, “I don’t care. Rules are rules.”
People say no just to say no. I try to not be that person if I can help it. But, then there are rules that are not really my rules.
Gilian: When are they not your rules?
Sari: Rules that affect my greater community. If I affect my greater community in a way that upsets them, then I can’t have a harmonious spot, which I so truly desire. All we ever wanted was to be able to do our thing without people interfering.
Gilian: Who’s the ‘we’ that you’re talking about?
Sari: The people of Rubulad. The people who set up and make the art and work there. Some of those people have been there a really long time.
Gilian: When was it founded? I don’t know the history.
Sari: Oh, well, we founded it in 1993. We are 29 this year. So you know, we have a lot of experience with these issues.
Gilian: Speaking of experience, I want to share one of mine with you. In 2011, I helped put on the first live painting action in the US by Hermann Nitsch, founding member of the Viennese Actionism movement. Nitsch’s initial notoriety was tied to his ‘Orgies Mysteries Theater‘ (1960s). During the two day event in 2011, titled “60. Painting Action // 60. Malaktion,” Nitsch and his assistants performed ritualistic painting acts with paint in a gallery. During the acts, one of his assistants peed under my desk. No questions asked, he just peed under my desk. For me, it was my limit, I was like, “I can’t do this anymore.” But for him, it was just part of his day.
How do you navigate when a yes for one person feels like a no for another person? How do you navigate different limits when it comes to extreme art experiences in your space?
Sari: (laughing) If it’s not hazardous to the space, I try to be hands off.
Gilian: Do you think that censorship is the same thing as rules?
Sari: What a great question. I kind of do, but we all have them. There are certain things I don’t want on my stage. So I try to be hands off. But, if someone is actively racist on my stage, I don’t enjoy that. And I don’t want Rubulad to be a place that presents that, even though I want people to be free with what they express. So we all have our limits.
We did a large benefit show for More Gardens, which is a group that was trying to make gardens permanent in New York. One of my artists brought in this tree, and she announced, “I’m gonna kill this tree in the middle of the dance floor so everyone can see how horrible it is to kill a tree.” Well, the audience at the More Gardens benefit went ballistic. People were ready to jump in front of the chainsaw to save this tree, and she was like, “What, it’s my tree, you don’t get to say what I do in my piece.” It was so upsetting for people, they were truly traumatized to see someone kill a tree on purpose.
Gilian: And then what? Was it a riot?
Sari: Almost! Things were getting really crazy. In a sense, it’s not her tree. It’s the Goddess’s tree. It’s a living being.
In a certain sense, I like to see Rubulad being enjoyable for people. I want it to be fun for them more than upsetting. I also like it to have a little depth, and sometimes I put in dark things. But in general, I try to keep it pretty happy because the world is harsh, and people need a place to go that isn’t harsh.
Gilian: True or false: art that pushes limits can also be fun for people to experience.
Sari: Well, it can be really healing for people. I’m a big fan of what we call “indescribable acts.” When you ask, “What did you see at the show?” And the response is, “well, I can’t really tell you because it was too weird.”
Gilian: “Indescribable acts” is something that is too weird to put words to?
Sari: Yes. Even if you told them the components of the piece, it wouldn’t create an accurate picture.
A lot of things at glittermilk are like that. Aside from the messy eggs, it’s pretty much a dream come true for me.
Gilian: I’m so sorry about the messy eggs, Sari.
Sari: (Laughing) Well, last month we had Jell-O.
Gilian: Did you think the Jell-O should happen?
Sari: Well, you all wanted it so I thought it should happen.
It’s an absurd response to an absurd world. We, at this time, are left with not that many great options.
Gilian: What is the intention behind Rubulad now?
Sari: We specialize in the art of celebration. Alana is really excellent at that. And plus, she’s weird. No one else is going to do what she does. No one else is going to say, “I want my theme to be Danny DeVito. Or, mold.”
Gilian: Since last year when you said, “can you please do something more lovely and less disgusting,” I’ve been curious to understand, what is lovely? What is disgusting?
Sari: Well I want to say that your probably-really-beautiful-egg-fish-tank wasn’t just about the eggs, but also about accidents of water electricity.
I would like people to find a gateway or a passage to another world through the experience of performance. This is a difficult to achieve idea, but you can change people’s mood, you can actually change them, you can broaden their horizon, you have this opportunity.
There’s a lot of gross. On my way to work, there’s people puking, there’s rats. There’s loveliness too, but there’s less loveliness and it’s harder to find and access.
For the Dada people, there was this terrible war. And the only legit response was just to be silly and ridiculous. They could be in a protected space and laugh. That somehow is awesomely powerful. Clowning silliness, zaniness, and nonsense are all very powerful to me.
Gilian: I love it. Thank you for making time and sharing your thoughts with me.
Sari: Thank you for being interested in what I have to say. I’m a fan of yours also. It’s a pleasure to get to talk to you and do anything with you guys.
Gilian: Thank you for saying that, I feel the same way!
Alana Miller responds through a phone conversation with Gilian (May 16, 2023):
Alana: One thing I keep coming back to is just how metal it is that Sari said ‘yes’ to our sticky, messy, risky idea. She’s so committed to supporting our art and trusts our vision. It speaks to the intention of the space [Rubulad].
It felt serendipitous hearing her mention Dada and (paraphrasing) how in troubled times, we need nonsense-for-nonsense-sake more than ever. That’s something that is important to me too and we had never directly spoken about it before. I feel so lucky that I am able to collaborate with the Rubulad community, it really feels like a match made in heaven.
Gilian: From what I remember, glittermilk was first about making space to connect, and as it’s grown and evolved, it’s become more about nonsense. How do you see the relationship between those two?
Alana: They’re the same thing. We can be ourselves in our silliness…there is joy and connection in our nonsense. When we can tap into a sense of play, we are free to connect because it’s less about ego or some sort of tangible achievement or future oriented goal. It’s more about asking “What is the fun of this moment? Let’s follow that thread.”
Gilian: Did anything come up for you in hearing Sari’s boundary around eggs?
Alana: I relate to the push and pull between supporting lawlessness in art alongside the need to respect the physical spaces we occupy. When producing an event, I feel incredibly supportive of all the weird messy performance ideas but there’s also the practicality around maintaining positive relationships with Sari and the space.
Gilian: Are there other examples from your art practice that involve that push and pull?
Alana: Immersive performance work can often feel like therapy work — it’s about meeting people where they’re at. I am always trying to balance pushing people out of their comfort zone while being receptive to who they are in that particular moment.
It’s also about knowing the growth zone potential of a particular context. Going too far might mean that something gets cut or is not welcome, and then you’re actually eliminating silliness because it’s too much for the audience to digest. If the right amount of push is delivered with finesse and care, the more impact we can have. I think there’s great skill in this. I think taking these edges seriously can make our public spaces and events more bizarre, surprising, and unexpected. There’s skillfulness in feeling out people’s boundaries, and pushing them just the right amount towards expansion.
My therapist identity gets to emerge in new spaces that you wouldn’t necessarily think of as being therapy spaces, in a way that feels more profound than official clinical therapy work.
Gilian: Are there clear no’s for you, when it comes to art making?
Alana: I’m not interested in creating art that is pleasant for everyone. I think creating something that almost anyone could enjoy kind of feels like no one gets to enjoy it deeply. It’s like creating a food that everyone thinks is OK, but it’s not the bite of food that you actually desire. This is something I’m figuring out–how to balance specificity with surprise, delight, and strange encounters. It’s themes and ideas that aren’t for everyone, which can be transformative because the people who do show up are connecting more deeply…so there’s a greater potential for expansion.
Gilian: What are the wildest artworks that you’ve seen at Rubulad?
Alana: Just last weekend, I staplegunned a $20 bill to Phoenix Fvcktoy’s butt cheek!
At Fools Mold, Lady Bedbug pulled a glass mushroom out of their butthole and put it in their mouth.
One of my all-time favorite moments was at our first glittermilk party, “Disco Fish,” when we served breast milk White Russians and one girl on the dance floor was like “No, I can’t drink that, I’m vegan.”
I really enjoyed witnessing the lifecycle of a romantic love between the clown Connie Lingus and a rainbow dildo at Fools Mold. They taught me a lot about love and marriage and giving birth and tension and separation and rekindling of love — all non verbally with the rainbow dildo!
And the egg performance at Femme Fatale! The feathers, the singing, the crescendo! The way in which that performance built on itself was so epic! I don’t know if I’ve ever smiled so wide.
Oh and how could I forget getting Jell-O-cock-slapped in an inflatable bathtub in the middle of the dance floor at Fool’s Mold – that was a dream come true. Once the Jell-O dick hit my cheek, I felt all of my uncertainties dissolve into a puddle of Jell-O.
Mississitti Rivaah responds through a conversation with Gilian (May 18, 2023):
Gilian: Your creative imagination is so much of what is behind these performances. Where do your ideas come from?
Mississitti Rivaah: Oh, gosh! So much comes from silly conversations and bits. The Jell-O idea started when we were hoping that Alana would do a buffet theme for glittermilk. (Laughing). Then you and I got to Jell-O later at a beach bar that was serving them.
I have always loved getting dirty. I loved playing in the mud as a kid. I have a funny memory from high school of writing a journal entry while mushing a banana in my hands. So that urge existed before. I like messes, and I like moving around.
Gilian: I also have memories like that from childhood. I clearly remember playing in the sandbox in pre-school and making an ice cream stand with chocolate ice cream made of mud, with slugs on top. And trying to feed that to my friends.
Do these performances feel rebellious to you?
Mississitti Rivaah: It actually reminds me of my family! My mom was always playing in the mud and climbing trees, and she was a dancer so there is a connection there. And just dancing in general, my grandmother is a beautiful dancer. She is very contained and proper but there’s a lineage of connection.
Also, people in my family always have big emotions and chaos brains. One reason that I like dance is that there aren’t words a lot of times, so why not just shake it out?
Gilian: You often choreograph dances by writing stories. What do you like about that process?
Mississitti Rivaah: I definitely like a beginning, a middle and an end. And I like climactic moments.
Gilian: Tell us about your stage name, Mississitti Rivaah?
Mississitti Rivaah: For this whole piece, I’ve been asking “How do I bring Mississitti into my everyday life?” It’s challenged me to recognize how I bring my performative, messy, silly, grotesque self that I associate with more private expression or parties into my daily life. It’s reassuring when I fear that my job is stifling my creativity. It is important for me to have some separation, to be Mississitti here.
I have continued to be struck by you choosing to perform this as yourself — consistently being you in performance, or the other things that you do. It’s a funny and very serious version of rebellion, the Gilian Rappaport in a Jell-O dildo.
Gilian: I was closeted for a long time in my queer identities, so it feels important to me to be consistent (and ‘out’ in a way) with one name across my work. This also feels useful given that my work stretches across disciplines, locations, communities, contexts – I like the idea that people involved with one kind of project could come across another one through my name, even if it may feel different or challenges what they have seen before or know of my work.
I also see the fun and the necessity of a stage name. What is important for you about the separation?
Mississitti Rivaah: I worry about my students, and also my family. I work as a social worker at an elementary school and teach students about boundaries. I balance wanting them to learn and wanting them to not feel the bad kind of shame. We talk about how boundaries are different for different people. And how often, we have to make mistakes to discover what we need. And then be kind and forgiving for not respecting the boundary before we knew it was there. Sometimes, I have moments where I ask, “Am I squishing childlike silliness and expression?”
The harder thing would be to figure out a way to enable that expression and continue pushing against all of the people in the school who are so afraid of getting sued. I think a lot of adults lose the silliness that we’re talking about.
Gilian: How do you feel when you see the photos of the performances?
Mississitti Rivaah: I feel super proud. I’m proud of Mississitti, and I’m proud of Gilian, I’m proud of Danny DeVit-HOE. This is who I am, I’m not going to live in fear and not be silly and sexy because of what might happen as a result.
Sari Rubinstein (she/her) is co-founder of Rubulad. Like a tree that grows between sidewalk cracks, Rubulad continues to defy the growing corporatocracy and homogeneity of New York City, persevering in a radical inclusivity, joyful spontaneity, and handmade DIY aesthetic that resists commodification, since 1993. Now approaching three decades as Brooklyn’s longest-running underground art space, Rubulad has inspired a generation. www.rubulad.net
Alana Miller (she/her) is an artist, art therapist, producer, and aspiring clown committed to inspiring connection. Founder of @glitterr.milk, Alana creates a petri dish of unbridled self expression through her weird and wonderful events.
Danny DevitHO (Alana’s stage name) is the leftover pizza crust you put in your pocket for tomorrow’s mid morning snack. Danny DevitHo is the red Jell-O that wiggles right off your grandmother’s plate. Danny DevitHo is the sun tap-dancing with the moon while farting in quintets. Danny DevitHo has the dance floor energy of an inflatable tube man. Danny DevitHo sees and honors the silly in you.
Mississitti Rivaah (she/her), like her namesake, likes to get dirty, flow & thrash. A bizarro burlesque baby, Mississitti has been gracing the occasional stage since 2020. She comes alive in the descent into chaos, and loves making messes with mischievous friends. Legend has it that a Jell-O-slathered Mississitti Rivaah can be summoned by grabbing a loved one, laying on the ground, placing troll dolls on your belies, wiggling all your limbs in the air and loudly singing a gibberish prayer.
Gilian Rappaport (they/them) is an artist, writer, and naturalist. They live in Portland, Oregon and New York, New York. They give nature and movement art workshops for folks who like to get messy. Their interdisciplinary work often connects species together in playful, intimate, contemplative ways. Through invested collaborations with other artists, designers, botanists, and elders, they have realized projects in all kinds of places: beaches, forests, RV parks, bars, cemeteries, playgrounds, libraries, classrooms, backyards, billboards, skin (tattoos), theaters, newspapers, books, homes, and museums. gilian.space
Many thanks to Rachel Traub for her notes on this piece.
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