The Living Installation: the last authentic old NYC jaw-dropping experience
Once upon a time there was a wild and raw city of punks, funk and spunk. CBGB’s, Palladium, Limelight, Danceteria, Andy Warhol’s Factory, Keith Haring’s Pop Shop, Liqid Sky, and Kenny Scharf’s Cosmic Cavern were just some of the many venues that provided visceral experiences and brought together a wide ranging crowd of artists, poets paint covered trains, musicians and art enthusiasts. That was the NY art scene of the 70s and 80s. That’s what separated NYC from other cities, yet it’s now a thing of the past as these spaces no longer exist.
The rent and laws changed, gentrification became intense and really set in pushed people out. The new city is filled with cameras that take away freedom. You might still see an original NYC tagger or an authentic Giz and Ghost mural, or a rare wacky street show in Bushwick, but the old New York artistic energy is hard to find. I’m happy to report that you can find it now in the upcoming Living Installation, Sat. NOV. 23, titled “Female Joker." Jadda Cat brings all that and more to a “transformative body art endurance performance where (she) morphs into 100 various Jokers live on stage” as stated on their flyer. It takes place in Bushwick, NY and is streamed live so anyone can view the performance from their device.
The Living Installation project started in NYC in 2000 at artist Michael Alan’s studio at the School of Visual Arts. Then it quickly progressed to venues and galleries, both locally and across the world. Nineteen years later, the Living Installation is still growing and going strong.
What is a Living Installation? In short, it’s where a person or people transform themselves into living, breathing artworks over four hours. This is performed by art duo Jadda Cat and Michael Alan. They change into a live process painting, a character driven transformation, morphing between multiple aspects, sounds, shapes and flowing from one intense visual to the next. It’s intentional, practiced magic. Many people have described it as watching freedom. There are many aspects of intense 60’s 70’s 80’s performance art, method acting and endless live creation to view, hear, feel and smell.
It’s not a party. There is no bar. It’s not an event or a sex show, or a club, or a drawing class. It’s not traditional theater. It just simply is. It’s unfunded, with no real institution acknowledgement. This beyond vast, die hard project has gained worldwide recognition and offers audiences an intense, long lasting, surreal and serene experience that shouldn’t be missed. It’s beyond anything going and runs on the funding of Jadda, Michael, and their fans and friends.
The art duo, and occasionally some ongoing cast members, are the driving force behind these performances. Watching them perform together is lovely in itself, but what Jadda Cat has brought to the shows had left me wondering who is Jadda Cat? What motivates her, and why isn’t she acknowledged as famous actress yet?
Jadda Cat is an enigma wrapped in a conundrum wrapped in a mystery. I was first tipped off to the performance by a splendid article in Bust Magazine, which made me want to check it out. Her photos, especially her deep big eyes, struck me. I was caught into the spell of one of her unique works that took place at their space, The Living Installation project in Bushwick. I loved that it was in their own space, versus a trendy venue. It brought me into their world. This prepared me for an anti-show titled “Vampira”. I was hooked by Jadda’s abilities to become something that I had never seen before. That left me wondering and wondering, like a great novel that you want to read over and over.
I learned that Jadda Cat comes from a different perspective than what I'm used to seeing. During her performances I saw a lighthearted kid play and transform over and over with mesmerizing intensity. She switches from one state to another with ease. In the past three years, Jadda Cat has become teammate of Michael and the principal performer, taking the group's signature process and interjecting her own unique takes on it. She uses elements of clowning, miming, puppetry, painting, costume design, makeup and ritually crafted objects, (often created on stage) to engage in a whirlwind of changes to her appearance. She transforms into evil clowns or towering archetypal space Madonnas and monstrous creatures straight out of the Id, which stem from drawings Michael creates in their studio, and then she transforms them live.
The performance takes place inside an intimate and elaborate art installation. The installation is a three dimensional collage, comprised of Michael Alan’s paintings, sculptures, projected imagery, theatrical lights, and materials. They are intricately woven into an eye catching setting which becomes animated by the performer.
The sound leads us in, an emotionally intense soundtrack composed by Michael Alan and many of his famous buddies, like the Residents, Tommy Ramone, and his recently deceased dad, to name a few. The sound looks like Jadda. It’s another layer. If that’s not enough she adds her own voice live along to the tracks!
Then there’s the matter of time. A Jadda Cat performance typically runs for four hours straight, and she captivates her audience for the whole duration of the piece. Time becomes another element, as you sit in amazement wondering what’s going to happen next. The combination of rapid transformations, hypnotic visuals, riffs on each show’s theme, and kaleidoscopic tableaux makes each performance a spectacle not to be missed.
I wanted to know more about this fascinating and obscure performance artist before her upcoming show "Female Joker" and got her to speak with me about what makes her tick.
Hi Jadda Cat!
Oh, hi Mark.
Can you tell me about what makes you perform? What is it that keeps you motivated to act for four hours straight on stage?
Performing is a meditative escape, a free place where I can express myself. In normal life you’re expected to act and look a certain way. Everyone is forced to be self-conscious of what they do or say in society. The Living Installation is a place I feel no judgement. I can be as silly as I want. I don’t need to speak English. I can make squiggly sounds, wacky noises or not talk at all. I can put a shoe on my head and make a sculpture talk. I can run a marathon around in circles or take a nap. The longer the performance the deeper I go into this meditative state where I forget about the world around me, and all that exists is this installation with paint, materials, and toys where I can create and play however I choose. It’s a dream world.
Did you always express yourself through performance? How does a person develop into this form of self-expression?
No. I would have never expected that I’d become a performance artist because I generally am pretty shy, and don’t like strangers to pay me any attention. I have however always been a creative goof with friends. I guess I was a performance artist for a select crowd long before I knew it. When cellphones came around my friends would record me doing some of this, or I’d make my own videos on Photobooth. It’s what we did for fun. I’d love to make strange faces, or make silly costumes from items around me, or just do wonky stuff in everyday life that I can’t quite explain. Clowning around!
How do you develop and create the assortment of diverse and strange objects that you interact with on stage?
The objects on stage come from all places. It is quite literally a melting pot. Some are sculptures, masks, and costumes that Michael Alan made years ago. They’ve been in hundreds of performances, and transformed through the years. Some are sculptures that we have created during performances. We save and recycle these sculptures. Some are found objects that catch my eye as something I’d like to use for my next performance. A lot are specific costumes, toys, or musical instruments that we purchase. Then there are the staple materials that we purchase, like tons and tons of paint, an assortment of lighting, backdrops, tapes, fabrics, plastics, papers, foil, balloons, and collage items.
As a woman you have a unique perspective to share, your art speaks to creative transformation of self and stretching the limits of the body, time and space and appearance. Can you tell me about the themes underlying your work and what you want the audience to take away from your performances?
My work speaks about the expectations of image that our culture puts on women and what we put back into our culture. We are expected to, and even more importantly, we put an extremely harsh expectation on ourselves to look a certain way. We are brainwashed to try our best to look like Barbie or Beyoncé or Cinderella or whoever the next plastic female idol is. We feel less than beautiful if we don’t wear makeup or put on clothing to look sexy or hip. My performance challenges this way of thinking. I turn myself into strange creatures over and over. I break free from these expectations that culture puts on me, becoming disgusting, fat, short, tall, feminine, masculine, or slimy. This can be beautiful to some or terrifying to others. Some of my performances exaggerate the “getting ready” routine of a woman, where my lipstick application starts out “normal” and then ends up all over my face. I want the break the audience’s expectations of what a woman should look like. Performing in public, on a subway for example, is a very effective way of doing this.
The Joker is a traditionally male character. How do you plan to bring your own take to this role?
I plan to bring feminine aspects into the character. The clown makeup will be combined with a woman’s daily routine of makeup application. My joker will go through many, many different looks, emotions, and personalities. Some will be extremely feminine, where others will have no intended gender, and even become unrecognizable as human. I want to strip down the Joker character to lose its gender and focus on the essence of the character itself. I have a loose understanding of the actual Joker character, and am performing it as my own version.
Your work is very pure in terms of content, you don’t indulge in deliberate attempts to shock or incorporate overt sexual elements, but still manage to generate shock and awe in your audience and mesmerize them for hours. What enables you to consistently create this kind of connection?
I try not to overthink my performance or overact so that it remains fresh and genuine. I enter the Living Installation ready to transform myself into an ever changing sculpture, to become a piece of art. I have no intention of looking attractive, using my body “sex sells” or scaring the audience. I build my image with costumes and materials vs. becoming sexualized. I have nothing against nudity. We have nude performers join us in the installation, which adds an interesting contrast. I personally find it more challenging or interesting at the moment to get people to come out and watch performance for all ages.
Everyday objects get transformed into you as you morph into a human sculpture. What is involved in preparation for a performance?
The preparation is very time consuming and labor intensive. Michael and I sort through the materials we have and search for new props, costumes, paint, etc. that we want for our next performance. We carefully set up the installation. We create it as an art piece itself, even before the performance starts. We set out all of the materials to be organized, accessible, and pleasing to look at.
What goes into choosing the themes for your performances?
A lot of brainstorming. Many are inspired by drawings that Michael does. The starting point is to make the drawing come to life. Others are inspired by a cultural theme as we make loose statements about our society.
What does the Living Installation mean to you?
Transformation from forced ordinary life into fun dream world.
What are your plans for future performances?
We have no budget and no funding but we are creating a movie that we are gathering funding for. We are in the stages of production.
Time bends and stretches during your performances. How do you interact with time in such a unique way?
Its subjective as each performance is different. I lose myself in the actions and I don’t use a clock.
What do you do besides performance art?
During the day I manage a design studio where we create custom cakes. I sculpt and paint very intricate pieces made with edible materials. I like to watch movies, make process photos of my painted face, and take walks.
What do you see for the future?
I want a sugar glider and a little house with ivy on it.
What do you think of the world now?
Scary and fascinating.
Do you like working with anyone?
I feel the most in the zone when I’m performing alone. Michael is equally entertaining to perform with. Tim “Love” Lee, a wonderful musician, is always a treat to have in the performance. All my other girls each add their unique spirit into the performance. Pirate my cat is a great performer too!
On Saturday, November 23rd from 8pm to midnight you can see Jadda Cat and the Living Installation performing live in Bushwick or you can view the show online. Tickets are available at www.michaelalanart.com/thelivinginstallation
Michael Alan and Jadda Cat’s Instagrams are