Kembra Pfahler: On The Record Off The Record: Volume Two

Pioneer Works is pleased to present a newly commissioned performance by artist Kembra Pfahler, titled On The Record Off The Record: Volume Two.

Curated by Jane Ursula Harris, the performance centers on a sculpture made to resemble a larger-than-life black vinyl record, conceived to function as a musical instrument. As it spins, members of The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black (TVHKB), a band started by Pfahler and Samoa Moriki in 1990, use their bodies to activate the sonically rigged sculpture. Donning the group’s traditional costumes comprising exaggerated wigs, full body paint, blackened teeth and stiletto boots, the performers amplify cracks, heart beats, pokes and swishes.

Pfahler and Moriki created performances and Super 8 films in the 1980s before they decided to start TVHKB as a way to create music that would score their visual artworks. The band has worked together consecutively since its formation, in clubs, concert halls, museums, and conceptual locations that include Liberace’s parking lot, where Pfahler staged one of her most enduring works as part of a 1998 ceremony titled Blatholosism; the artist famously stood on her head, while a band member broke paint-filled eggs onto her vulva against the sound of their classic rock songs. Known for pairing musical sets with extreme gestures, TVHKB’s tours brought performance art to concert venues across the United States and Europe. Their iconic costumes and makeup confronted the dressed-down art rock that was popular at the time, as a contrarian move to enlarge the vocabulary of images. At this performance of On The Record Off The Record, the full TVHKB band is present, with Gyda Gash on bass, Joe Darkside on drums, and Cornelius Loy on theremin. Alice Moy and Jackie Rivera—two women who have worked with Pfahler for over twenty-five years—will appear alongside special guests.

Taking place on May 19th and 20th at Red Hook Labs, On The Record Off The Record takes inspiration from TVHKB’s new album, considered by the artist to be a visual and musical diary—a continuation of the vocabulary of images that has been developing and ever changing since the band’s inception in the late eighties. In Pfahler’s own words, “One of the songs we’ll do during this invitation by Pioneer Works is titled ‘Hole With A Heart Beat.’ To me, it describes an actual vinyl album, but unfortunately it was shade that I overheard on the subway one day, describing some of the female population. Many songs in this body of work are about triumphing after harm. The hole is whole, and has a right to exist.”

Kembra Pfahler: On The Record Off The Record: Part Two is commissioned by Pioneer Works and curated by Jane Ursula Harris in the first installment of her HERETICS series presenting works by performance artists who straddle a music-fine art divide.

About the artist

Kembra Pfahler (b. 1961, Hermosa Beach, CA; lives and works in New York, NY) is a legendary figure of New York’s underground scene. With a practice spanning music, performance, acting, film and visual arts since the 1980s, the image vocabulary she has built informs the countercultural aesthetics of the Lower East Side. Drawing references from monstrous fetishistic femininity, she founded a death-rock band The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black. The band’s cult performances incorporate handmade costumes and props created along the lines of her philosophy of availabism–making use of what’s available–with the aim of fostering a radical view of femininity and beauty. The ceremonial treatment of her body in transgressive acts continues to mark the contemporary cultural landscape through her collaborations in film, photography and fashion.

About the curator

Jane Ursula Harris is a Brooklyn-based writer who has contributed to Artforum, Art in America, Bookforum, BOMB, Cultured Magazine, The Paris Review, Flash Art, Frieze, The Believer, GARAGE, and the Village Voice, among other publications. Her essays appear in catalogues including Carnegie Mellon/ICA Miller’s Jacolby Satterwhite: Spirits Roaming on the Earth (2021); Kunsthalle Hamburg’s Werner Buttner: The Last Lecture Show (2021); Participant Inc.'s NegroGothic: M. Lamar (2019); Hatje Cantz's Examples to Follow: Expeditions in Aesthetics and Sustainability (2011); Kerber Verlag’s Marc Lüders: The East Side Gallery (2005); Phaidon’s Vitamin D: New Perspectives in Drawing (2005), Universe-Rizzoli’s Curve: The Female Nude Now (2003); Phaidon’s Vitamin P: New Perspectives in Painting (2002); and Twin Palms' Anthony Goicolea (2003). Harris curates on a freelance basis, and is an art history faculty member at the School of Visual Arts.