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Keith Hennessy's Crotch Is Experimental Art, Capitalist Critique, and Mystical Inquiry

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Get out of the house and into a seat at the Colony Theatre: San Francisco-based interdisciplinary artist Keith Hennessy performs on Saturday as part of Out in the Tropics, South Florida's first gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender performing arts festival, now in its second year. Among the pioneering artists addressing HIV and AIDS since 1985, and speaking to current and historical social situations in the attitude of queer performance, Hennessy creates in the realms of dance, circus, theater, and more. 

His work Crotch (all the Joseph Beuys references in the world cannot heal the pain, confusion, regret, cruelty, betrayal or trauma...) premiered in 2008 at L'Arsenic in Lausanne, Switzerland. We caught up with Hennessy before he arrived in Florida via email.

He first described what speaks to him about avant-garde German artist Joseph Beuys. "I dig Beuys, because he talked to a dead rabbit, lived with a coyote in

New York City, planted 10,000 oaks, broke the rules at an art school by

letting everyone attend his classes, co-founded the Green Party and then

was rejected for being a visionary freak, gave lectures as art, linked

Dada to Fluxus to performance to activism, had a persona as recognizable

as Warhol (for a while), and used honey to show life in action, flow,

circulation, and magic.

"Beuys is an art history giant in Europe and I wanted more of my friends

to know who he is. Even though I made this piece in Switzerland, if I

lived in Europe I would never have made it, because he's been exhibited

too much, written about too much and quoted too much. But I figured that

if Matthew Barney can quote him over and over and it's rarely or never

mentioned, then I can revisit Beuys' work and siphon his images for some

fuel of my own."

New Times: Do you feel your work shares a context with the work of Beuys? Or a common thread?

Keith Hennessy: My work shares three interconnected lineages with Beuys:

the European/U.S. avant-garde of the 20th century, artists engaged in

political resistance and social justice, and people whose mystical

concerns are more commonly associated with shamans and alchemists.

However, long before I'd heard of Beuys, my life and work engaged these

braided influences of experimental art, capitalist critique, and

mystical inquiry. Crotch is a personal archeology that digs through

layers of historical sediment to reveal a few artifacts.

You and Beuys have demonstrated strong commitment to justice in your

histories as artists and activists. Does Crotch comment on justice?

Not as directly as most of my work. The work emerges from a very

personal place and uses Beuys almost as a shield to protect a direct

gaze on my heart. I cannibalize Beuys for my own survival and

entertainment. As for justice, LGBT people are always working on

visibility on our own terms, and in our own frames. Thus, Crotch is

unabashedly gay, queer, and radical in its efforts to make space for

queer desires and queered artistic re-presentations.

Do you have a history of performing in Miami? Do you hope to reach certain people with Crotch on this visit?

I've never been to Florida! It's one of the few states I've never

touched as tourist or touring artist. I don't even have retired

relatives there, because my parents chose to be winter Texans to escape

the Canadian cold, rather than winter Floridians. I hope for an audience

that is diverse in their expectations and experiences with art. I like

to spark and inspire young dance and performance artists, I like to

engage those who are queer -- those whose desires and play do not

conform with heterosexist norms -- and to share my version of living on

the margins of both straight and gay presentations.

Keith Hennessy/Zero Performance's Crotch takes place Saturday at 8 p.m.

at the Colony Theater (1040 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach). Tickets cost $20

general and $15 for students or seniors. Visit fundarte.com.

-- Emily Hite of artburstmiami.com

Follow Cultist on Facebook and Twitter @CultistMiami

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