Through CARA’s summer series, five Monday evenings become a sonic playground for eclectic performers
Last Monday, Pauli Cakes slipped in a pool of blood. Granted, the viscous red liquid smeared across the floor was fake—it exploded from packets the artist bit into or tore apart, and a blue tarp had been laid down in preparation. Still, the effect was spellbinding. Performing as Petty Boots for the first time in four years, the DJ and community organizer’s performance was a ditsy, violent burlesque in red light: A lullaby stuttered on the second syllable of amen; a prayer candle was lit, then used to ignite a cigarette; two bejeweled knives scraped against each other rhythmically until they shed their rhinestone skins.
Petty Boots’s scarlet-soaked act was the second in a night of performances held at the Center for Art, Research and Alliances (CARA) as part of its Cooler Nights series. This summer, they hosted a residency by Voluminous Arts, a trans liberation project and genre-fraying music organization founded by the visionary Gavilán Rayna Russom; the center also hosted a residency by youth camp Octavia Project, named for the late, great speculative fiction author. The former is responsible for transforming CARA into an activated performance space for five consecutive Monday nights, as the summer sun slowly takes its post under the horizon.
When I visited, a mix of bodies without any obvious aesthetic cohesion—a toddler wobbling in board shorts here, an older woman in a brown coat and pinwheel-topped hat there— gathered, recess-like. On pockmarked cement floors, adults sat criss-cross applesauce, or perched on wonky foam-stuffed shapes—a purple square, a brown wedge. A sign in the lobby warned there would be blood. And blood there was, along with: a filmic portrait of schizoaffective disorder, written by and starring poet Jodi Lin; Omari Love clad in a feather bolero and noose, hunched on the ground; and a foam mannequin bust animated by its dynamic dance partner, Davon Chance/Miz Jade.
Cooler Nights takes its name (and its chosen day of the week) from an event series Russom used to frequent. From 1993 to 2001, the nearby, now-defunct club The Cooler would host free “Monday Nites,” curated by artists including Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth, David Fiuczynski, and Zeena Parkins. While squashed by Giuliani-era gentrification and social sanitation policies, the dream of those nights remains an enduring inspiration for Russom. “It was artist-curated,” she remarks. “I think that’s an important kinship. It wasn’t curated by promoters of algorithms. It wasn’t based on a genre categorization.”
“CARA is untethered: a set of artists from distinct disciplines, finding catharsis in flux.”
The possibilities of performance without genre are at the crux of Voluminous Arts—allowing for the generative potential of cross-contamination, freeing one’s sound from the rigid labels that streamers demand of their artists. As Russom explains, “[The organization] is focused on the connection between experimental creative forms and their importance to the culture of trans and nonbinary people.”
These Cooler Nights, then, are a space to explore sonic and performance artistries free from the burdens of genre. “I experienced a lot of in-between expressions,” Russom reflects. “The fixed point was the space.” Beyond that, there were no boundaries. CARA is, similarly, untethered: a set of artists from distinct disciplines, finding catharsis in flux.
This flexible approach is what CARA claims as its guiding ethos. Since opening a year ago, the space has delighted in resisting definition. When I spoke to Emmy Catedral, Curator of Public Programs at CARA, the idea of “porousness” kept arising. “That porosity is an openness to different knowledges, different ways of working, different languages,” she explains. “We bring people together to put these practices in dialogue.”
Tonight’s performance—the penultimate of the Cooler Nights series—will explore wordlessness: the failure of language, the border between sound and music, articulations that emerge from somewhere other than words. It’s a far cry from the show I attended last week, where monologues, poetry, and repetition defined the night’s aural experience. Such is the unpredictable magic of a center as embracing of the varied and volatile as CARA.
“People do express that they feel like CARA has a different offering within the [New York art] ecosystem,” Emmy told me. “And I’m not exactly sure what that is yet.”