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Michelle Handelman, Dorian

Participant Inc.
253 East Houston Street, 212-254-4334
East Village / Lower East Side
April 26 - May 31, 2009
Reception: Sunday, April 26, 7 - 9 PM
Web Site

Opening reception and performance by Armen Ra and Sequinette

From April 26 through May 31, 2009, PARTICIPANT INC premieres DORIAN, a multi-channel video installation by Michelle Handelman. DORIAN is an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s 19th century novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray: “It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.” Presented as a non-linear narrative on four screens, Handelman’s DORIAN employs the queer undertones of the original novel as a starting point for a feminist reworking of the tale through a new queer identity. Told by means of fragmented dialogue and music, each character utilizes their own instrument: Theremin, synthesizer, viola, voice.

Inspired by Wilde’s themes of decadence, beauty, and the meaning of art, Handelman’s Dorian is a young woman discovered by a fashion photographer, then catapulted into a world of high celebrity. Falling under the tutelage of a renowned drag queen, she becomes a downtown nightclub luminary, constantly followed by the paparazzi. Media images become the infamous portrait, grotesquely mutating as she grows more beautiful and famous, culminating in her own narcissistic destruction. Dorian exists as a contemporary superstar, a mirror to our own narcissism—desirable, unknowable, destroyed by vacant ambition.

Like films of Warhol and Godard that blur the line between performance and reality, all of the performers in DORIAN are playing some version of themselves: Wren Kistler aka Sequinette (Dorian) is a gender-bending drag impresario; Armen Ra (Lord H) is a drag queen and renowned Theremin player; Quin Charity (Basil) is a media artist; and K8 Hardy (Sybl Vain) is a performance artist and co-creator of the queer art collective LTTR.

Handelman makes confrontational works that explore the sublime in its various forms of excess and nothingness. Her background is a study in opposites—raised during the late 60s-early 70s, Handelman split her time between Chicago, where her mother was a fixture in the art world, and Los Angeles, where her father was a player in the sex industry. Over the years, Handelman has traversed both these worlds, developing a body of work that incorporates video, performance, photography, and various forms of digital media. She has noted, “My work can be best described by theorist Helene Cixous’ ideas of Visceral Feminism: aggressively traversing the corporeal landscape in its various forms of excess and undress, while simultaneously giving it up for the viewer in an overflow of visual and psychological sensations.”

DORIAN is created as a living project that transforms every time it is exhibited. Its premiere at PARTICIPANT INC will be presented as a four-channel experimental narrative. Future incarnations may include a single-channel film with live music and performance; an installation of ambient/abstracted moments representing each character; viral videos of Dorian’s portrait released online.

Music by Armen Ra, Stefan Tcherepnin, Vincent Baker, Lustmord, and Nadia Sirota. Cinematography by Ed David.
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