June 12, 2009 · 3 Comments
Lastnight I had the pleasure of participating in the ‘Inaugural and Terminal Meeting of the North Philadelphia Puberty Survivors Support Forum’ (TNPPSSF) held at FLUXspace in North Kensington. This ‘Support Group’ doubled as a disguised gallery talk, led by John O’Donnell the Connecticut-based artist who’s work titled ‘Salad Days, An Installage Celebrating Juvenescence‘ is on display through this Saturday at FLUX.
Upon entering the gallery space, the Artist/Moderator who had already begun the TNPPSSF session gave us a warm welcome, and the already established circle of fellow-puberty survivors happily expanded to accommodate new participants. Once re-settled, the group plunged back into its awkward discourse around topics such as the mysterious development and changes of your body during puberty, fashion and self presentation as a prepubescent, and the discovery of media that altered an understanding of your body.
The group was predominately female, however the Moderator did a bang-up job eliciting juicy prepubescent recollections from the males in the group. One topic where the females were unanimously clueless, and the males in absolute secret agreement was ‘The best way to hide a spontaneous erection that popped-up at the wrong time’ – ‘Tuck it under the belt’.
Other topics during the nearly three-hour long meeting ranged from periods to first ejaculations, from training bras to first encounters with pornography, and everything in between. Irony and utter-relief ruled the tone of the room, and everyone seemed to feel lighter as they related to their peers’ recollections of that trying period of young-adult life.
The TNPPSSF session complemented John O’Donnell‘s work in an overt yet pleasantly unexpected way. This ‘Support Forum’ of twenty-somethings held within the gallery space of the installation became a performance of his work, simultaneously informing the work in the way a traditional gallery talk might have done. The Artist chose to focus not on the work itself, but instead on the experiences of the participants themselves.
The tone and humor that the artist used as the foundation for this ‘group exploration’ brought the work to life in a rather impactful way. Standing at the center of the exhibition, one is immediately awash with the schizophrenic sexual discovery of that ‘special time’ in every young-adult’s life.
When the nurturing welcome of the ‘Support Forum’ is placed in the same context, surrounded by the colorful, middle-school aesthetic of the work, the performance becomes a hauntingly familiar re-visitation of health-ed classes of the prepubescent past. This in turn becomes an acted-out reminder that ‘its over’, and with a sigh of relief the work becomes more accessible from that frame of reference.
The installation is largely made of plastic play-objects turned penis jokes, and colorful patterned paper backgrounds reminiscent of the typical bulletin boards that adorn middle-school classrooms. These materials, transparently purchased at Dollar General, come together to form a Hieronymus Bosch-esque prepubescent universe.
Collage-figures, such as the Giant Dinosaur atop the gallery entrance made of cut-outs assembled from ‘Beer Babe’ advertisement stand-ups, are reminiscent of the middle-school chic embellishment of book covers, trapper-keepers, and lockers.
The fervent sperm-like dolphin school diving head-in through a cartoon-like window opening in the paper-brick wall struck me as a statement about how it must have felt to my pre-pubescent male peers on the days when the most popular girl in school wore her tightest sweater.
Sitting among these objects, themselves musings on the discovery of sexuality, and simultaneously reminiscing about that mysterious time in life was an extremely therapeutic experience. My thanks go out to the artist for bringing together a temporary community here in Philadelphia around his work. The TNPPSSF made it possible to see that part of my own personal development from an informed, playful perspective, while having a laugh as I proclaimed “My name is Kelani, and I am a puberty survivor.”
You can catch the exhibit before its closing this Saturday:
Gallery Hours: Saturdays 12 – 4 pm or by appointment.