AO On Site Interview – New York: Performance Group CHERYL at Move!, MoMA PS1

November 13th, 2010

The CHERYL Group, partnering with American Apparel, at P.S.1 MOVE!. Image courtesy of CHERYL.

The weekend after the closing of the ambitious survey “Greater New York,” visitors once again flocked to MoMA PS1 for Move!, a two-day event featuring 14 collaborations between artists and fashion designers.  Curated by Cecilia Dean, editor of Visionaire, and David Colman of the New York Times, the project featured interactive performance-based installations and saw 3,000 participants over two days.

Participating artists and designers included: Kalup Linzy and Diane Von Furstenberg; Rob Pruitt and Marc Jacobs; Terence Koh and Italo Zucchelli (Calvin Klein Collection); Tauba Auerbach and Ohne Titel; Olaf Breuning and Cynthia Rowley; Brody Condon and Rodarte; Rashaad Newsome and Alexander Wang; Dan Colen and Proenza Schouler; David Blaine and Adam Kimmel; Jonah Bokaer and Narciso Rodriguez; CHERYL and American Apparel; and Ryan McNamara and Robert Geller; and TELFAR + Lizzie Fitch, Rhett LaRue, Fatima Al Qadiri, Ryan Trecartin, and Leilah Weinraub.

The CHERYL Group, partnering with American Apparel, at P.S.1 MOVE!. Image courtesy of CHERYL.

More story, images, and exclusive CHERYL interview after the jump…

Marc Jacobs and Rob Pruitt, MOVE!, 2010. Image via WMagazine.

Marc Jacobs and Rob Pruitt, MOVE!, 2010. Image via WMagazine.

Each performance was vastly different; in one gallery, one could observe Ryan McNamara being taught to strip-dance by instructors whilst clad in Robert Geller.  In another, Kalup Lindzy could be seen wearing Diane von Furstenberg as he performed “Labisha (the diva) in Head Games: A Hip-Hop Jazz Performance.”

Olaf Breuning and Cynthia Rowley created the ultimate fashion nightmare with “Carrie.” The performance featured models in protective goggles and individually tailored denim garments doused from above with latex paint; effectively reimagining the classic scene from the 1976 Brian De Palma film.

Olaf Breuning and Cynthia Rowley, MOVE! 2010. WMagazine.

Olaf Breuning and Cynthia Rowley, MOVE! 2010. WMagazine.

David Blaine was live on the scene performing his slight of hand in the same gallery that screened “Dressed for Dinner,” his collaboration with designer Adam Kimmel.  The video featured Blaine, dressed in an Adam Kimmel tuxedo, swimming unprotected in a sea of sharks against a Jimi Hendrix soundtrack.

Terrence Koh and Itallo Zuccheli, P.S.1 MOVE!, 2010. Image via ArtRuby.

Another high point of the event was Rashaad Newsome’s “Shade Compositions 2010,” which featured performers dressed in garments designed by Alexander Wang.

The project, initiated last year by Director Klaus Biesenbach, seems to mark the continuation of a trend of interactive installation in 2010.  The Whitney showed both “Off the Wall- Thirty Performative Actions” and a Christian Marclay retrospective which invited visitor participation this summer.  Tino Sehgal’s exhibition at the Guggenheim in March was extremely popular and focused on “subtleties of lived experience.”  At MoMA’s “Marina Abramovich: The Artist is Present” in May, the artist performed a staring contest with anyone willing to join her in the Museum’s mezzanine, where she sat uninterrupted for eight hours a day.  Move!, while perhaps equally experimental, seemed less heavy and more inviting than the previous forays into the genre.  Much of the levity was due to the collaboration between CHERYL and American Apparel, who called to guests: “Put Our Face on Your Face” with loud music, hair extensions, glitter, and a fantasy photo shoot.

Image courtesy of CHERYL.

The CHERYL Group, partnering with American Apparel, at P.S.1 MOVE!. This and all following images in this article courtesy of CHERYL.

After Move!, I caught up with three of the four CHERYL members in their booth at the New York Art Book Fair to talk about their experience in the show.

AO: So tell me a little about CHERYL

We’re just a group of friends who met through college and work.  We started CHERYL because about two and a half years ago we were lamenting the lack of interesting parties in our neighborhood.

AO: Where’s that?

Well, **** and I were in Park Slope, **** lived in Winsor Terrace.

****: I was in the East Village.

Generally we were just disappointed that we would go to dance parties and no one would dance.  It evolved organically with us dancing so hard in our living room, **** was a great DJ and it sort of grew out of that, just sort of like, let’s make this happen.

We did the party for almost a year and it was really doing well so we just took a gamble and did it at a really big venue, as a test, and it ended up doing really well.  We’ve now been at The Bellhouse for about a year and a half.  The last party had like a thousand people show up, and maybe 850 got in, it was crazy.

We were at capacity like the whole night

****: that’s not normal.  I mean it’s really normal for it to be packed and full of people, but with this last weekend, with the PS1 thing [Move!] it was so crazy.  Generally speaking, it started as a small party and became a large party.  We make these videos…

****: That’s the other half of it

****: We started doing the videos really quickly, that is to say the second party had one, and since then basically every party has had a video.  So half of what we do is all of this creative stuff with video and performance and then we have the party too.  It’s sort of this multi-media multi-disciplinary thing that’s kind of hard to describe.

****: We’re amorphous and we’re constantly changing.  People keep asking us to define ourselves and we don’t want to because it seems really limiting.  The idea started without any premeditation and this amazing thing has blossomed.  As a matter of fact, the videos started because we had made up a dance and people wanted to learn the dance.  We had this vision of everyone on the dance floor doing the dance with us so we made this dance video, like a how-to, and we got such a tremendous response from that that  we were encouraged to keep making videos.  So they’re really stand-alone pieces.

****: I think we have 22 or 23 videos now, each one is kind of like a little music video and each one is very different.

AO: So when you say stand-alone pieces, that means you envision them being viewed in multiple contexts?

****: Oh yeah, totally.  They don’t make a lot of sense but they’re fun to watch.  That is, they don’t connect to each other in any way.  Each one is different.  You should check them out on our website [].

****: Yeah, it started out as us making promo for the party, but now we make them just to make them.  They’re pieces in and of themselves.  They’re artwork.

****: Right.  Each one is connected to an upcoming party but we’re not calling them promos anymore.  We’ve screened them in PS1.

****: We’ve also done a bunch of stuff that’s separate.  We made a video with a teen program at MoMA and a video shoot with those teens and that was disconnected from any sort of party.

AO: Okay, I’m curious about how you get involved with these museums.  Who approached you about doing Move! and what was that process like?

****: We were approached by David Coleman, one of the curators of Move!, he knew about us from a photo shoot we had done for The New York Times in February.  The article was in the Style section and was about nightlife and sort of “club kids.”  It was actually funny that we were asked to participate in the article; maybe they heard about us through parties.  In any event we were very much the oddballs at that photo-shoot, which was amazing, but we really stood out.  So he knew us and when he started putting together Move! he called and asked if we wanted to participate.  We were really excited.

****: Yeah the article was very interesting because it was just sort of about us, these four friends, who dress up.  It was sort of suggesting that this is how people dress up to go out now…

****: (Laughing) but we’re not “fashion people”!  I mean, he totally got it.  He referred to our aesthetic as “dime-store demensia.”  Our whole aesthetic is dollar store, we also call it toddler nightmares.  It’s not club-kid.

****: It’s not the whole Lady Gaga, high fashion… Our party actually started before she came out, and we’ve been linked to her a lot.

All following images courtesy of CHERYL.

As it so happens…

****: Right, we have this joke that she has a spy watching us.  But our thing is really about dressing up and having fun and not being sexy or hot, it’s just about having a good time.

****: And being creative.

****: And being creative, but not necessarily spending a lot of money to do it.

AO: Alright, let’s get back to MOVE

****: So the event last weekend I think is sort of hard to explain.  People asked us, are you doing a party there or are you artists?  We were invited as artists to do this event.

****: And it was, it was an installation.  We worked all week, it was a collaboration with American Apparel, we were paired with them, the curators paired everyone.  American Apparel worked well because it didn’t necessarily make sense to have a designer make a costume, we make our own costumes. American Apparel was actually a great pairing for us because it was sort of like, basics and building blocks.  They gave us lots of fabric and garment donations, and just sort of talked with us through the concept that we had.  Everyone came to the table with their input and CHERYL installed and actually ran the thing.  We had lots of hair and make-up volunteers that the Move! curators helped us get.  It was just like realizing our vision with all of these components that went together.  There was of course music and it was very euphoric.  There was dancing, so there were elements that you see at our parties but it was sort of translated into a museum context.

****: Nothing that we did for the installation was outside of what we normally do.  Through the collaborative process with American Apparel, it was tailored to suit the event.  That’s why we had the different optional stations for makeovers and the photo shoot at the end.  It was all about being creative with the way you look and the way you can look.  (Laughs) A lot of times people were like, but we want it to look… good.  We were like, but this does look good to us!  But people really got into it, people were walking around with hair extensions and crazy face paint.  Maybe Halloween helped them get into the spirit of it but this is what we do all the time.  We were definitely true to our aesthetic.

****: The wall text read: “Put Our Face on Your Face” and the installation was called “The Makeover You Never Knew You Wanted.”  Our volunteers were great too, they were sort of role playing, saying “welcome to our Psycho Salon, we’re offering identity makeovers today! Are you early or late?”

****: “Do you have an appointment?  Hmm.. I think I can squeeze you in” (Laughing) It was very much a creative environment.

****: In a lot of ways it was a group performance, which is what we very often do.  We invited people to enter this environment we created and participate.  It was through their participation that it became a spontaneous group performance.

AO: Was it realized the way you had envisioned it?

****: Yeah, I mean any plan you have will mutate a little bit but it was so fun, I think it was better than we imagined.

Everyone: Yeah it was even better than we envisioned.

****: We had done things before, public photo shoots and things in galleries where we’ve asked people to participate and perform with us, and people had always been very gung-ho.  But working with Move! The organizers were really tentative, not sure if people would go with it, if they would dance.  We were a little skeptical too.

****: And then they totally did!

****: Yeah!  They were like, where can we change?  I want glitter!  I want fake blood!

****: I can honestly say, people who know our party and know what we do, they know what to expect.  With most dance parties in New York, you get a group of people and everybody just stands around until the first couple of hundred people show up.  Then you start dancing.  At our parties the first ten people run in the door, going crazy.

****: I feel like that’s exactly the parallel between what we do elsewhere at what we did at Move! We as a group, and those who are die-hards are who set the tone.  So you walk in and people are already dancing, they are already bloody, or they already look crazy.  I feel like by us going way out there, it creates-

**** and ****: A “safe space”

(Everyone laughs)

AO: So how was the turn-out?

****: Throughout the weekend we made-over, I don’t know, many hundreds of people.

****: And the point was, even just walking through the museum, if you didn’t come to our installation, you would see people who had.  So that was really cool, just being in the galleries and seeing someone walk by with a crazy hair tower or totally covered in face paint.  We would also go out into the galleries and run around in our outfits.

AO: It was a blast.  Okay so to end, I’m interested in the dynamics of the group.  I understand it’s collaborative but do any of you have specialized roles within the collective.

****:  There are four founders.  Unfortunately **** couldn’t be here tonight, but she is the other core member.  In terms of our roles, the process is totally collaborative.  We all have things that we’re passionate about: I edit the videos and I DJ the parties;  **** is really into the crafts and the costumes;  **** is kind of like all around, hands in everything; **** is really into the choreography.

****: (Laughs) Right, I take care of business and make it all happen.  It’s all about the crossover of all of our skills and experiences and interests.  That’s where Cheryl came from, so it just creates this special magic that helps us stay interested.

AO: I’m curious about each of your backgrounds

****: I have a degree in Philosophy.


****: Alright, So-crates (Everyone laughs)

****: I met **** and **** because I worked in museum education and public programming for many many years.

****: We met at the Brooklyn museum.  I also work in museum education; I have a degree in art history.  So ****, **** and I have been doing public events at museums for our “actual” jobs.  **** and **** did First Saturdays and I do family programs at the Whitney.

****: **** actually has a background in dance and choreography and she came to the museum world.  **** and **** went to college together.

****: In Boston.  I studied film.

****: That’s sort of how we all met.  So we have: fine art, public programs, filmmaking, editing, and art criticism.

AO: Okay so then what’s next?

****: We’re going to perform on December 4th at the Brooklyn Museum for their First Saturday program, and then we have a party on December 11th.  Stay tuned.

****: We have a lot of exciting stuff happening next year that we’re not announcing yet.

****: There are big things on the horizon!

AO: Okay I have to end with that.  Thanks guys!

-M. Phinney

Related Links:

Vampire Weekend: Move!… [WMagazine]
Cheryl: Move! At P.S.1 [ArtRuby]
Weekend Update [ArtNet]
Official Site [MOVE! P.S.1]
Art, Fashion, Action [New York Times T-Magazine]