Poorgrrrl is a persona that arouses pity in her audience. The Miami-based artist’s performances are fragmented, confessional, musical, and often incorporate lighting, costume, and installation. They are always accompanied by sound, produced by her collaborator, byrdipop. For Poorgrrrl, the music entertainment industry is a platform for performance art. The unease she generates onstage can sometimes leave the audience feeling confused or disappointed when her performances purposefully don’t match up with the typical concert-goer’s expectations.
This week, Poorgrrrl will perform for the opening of Fair., Miami Art Week’s new women-only art fair, which curators Zoe Lukov and Anthony Spinello have ambitiously organized at the new Brickell City Centre, a large 5,000 square foot shopping mall in downtown Miami. Presented by Swire Properties Inc., the press release states it “aims to address gender inequality in the art world and beyond, highlight[ing] activism in contemporary creative practices” and to “inspire and empower women.” Running from December 7–10, the booth-less presentation will be located throughout multiple spaces within the shopping center.
Photo: Vanessa Turi
While the fair’s mission is to address gender inequality, nothing is for sale. Artists were paid a fee for their participation along with the production of new work as per W.A.G.E. guidelines, but I can’t seem to wrap my head around why it is “fair” to bar any work from selling, affecting earning potential and preventing collector base growth for participating artists. The fair’s name and emphasis comes across as puzzling: an artist should always receive W.A.G.E. fees, have their cost of production covered, and retain the ability to sell their work. Nevertheless, it’s important to reiterate that this is the first contemporary art fair exclusively showing work made by women, making this a definite must-see Basel satellite event, even if it grapples with inequality issues in a complicated and contradictory way. In this context Poorgrrrl’s performance at Fair. feels aptly curated as the artist co-opts pity as a form of feminism.
The inaugural Fair. and my conversation with Poorgrrrl, below, are not untimely. Much of Poorgrrrl’s lyricism is rooted in larger systemic inequalities and addresses a bigger intersectional picture. Speaking from a marginalized position, she deliberately uses the tools that oppress and discomfort her to discomfort and oppress her audience. The result is a raw recounting of the pain, anger, and gaslit reality that emanates from womanhood. Her lyrics turn sharply at the edges of byrdipop’s bass and pop-filled beats in a schema similar to and as deftly crafted as the upbeat melodies of Johnny Marr’s guitar laid up against Morrissey’s words and heartbreaking and sardonic delivery in The Smiths.
Lyrics from Poorgrrrl’s latest song and music video, “F :) :) K S O N G,” directed by Keanu Orange, and premiering on ArtSlant below, go like this:
finally / finally fucking me and / you’re finally fucking me /
and trapping me / and you’re disgusting / you wanna do it all the time
“F :) :) K S O N G,” Directed by Keanu Orange @keanuorange. Shot by Sally Hunter @sallyhunterrr. Styled by GAMI @yasgami. Edited by CJ @th3gayagenda http://emmyandcj.com
Audrey Phillips: What you are going to be doing at FAIR.?
Poorgrrrl: I will be performing there, with my collaborator byrdipop, for the opening along with Virgo and Suzi Analog. The performance I’m doing is sound based. The sound and the performance will be maybe aggressive, or, pathetic at times. We plan on producing an uncomfortable stage presence while creating a variety of soundscapes that weave in and out of unreleased songs we have made.
AP: When you say pathetic does that relate to the performance or the sound?
PG: Both. I want the viewer to feel that pity, like when you watch something live and “life happens” and for a moment the veil is lifted. The scene is broken and you can see through it. The character failed and it feels awkward. We will use both our bodies, the way we interact, and the way we sound to provoke the viewers in all types of ways. It isn't interesting for me to just entertain people. I want to challenge the viewer’s expectations of performance.
Photo: Sarah Moody
AP: It’s interesting in relation to FAIR., because it’s for women but they aren’t allowed to sell their work. I like the idea of a fair where art isn’t for sale but I don’t know that a women-only fair is the right context for such a venture. I feel like they are two contradicting forms of activism: the inequality and lack of visibility women face in and outside of the art world and an anti-capitalist fantasy. Women artists already make less than men, so why put us in a situation where it will perpetuate these inequalities? Tying it to how you describe your performance, even the name you perform under—Poorgrrrl, is already full of pity within the FAIR. context. It’s conceptually connected on some level.
PG: The other side of that, for me is that if it weren’t for this opportunity I wouldn’t perform at Basel at all, which is maybe part of the whole issue. As far as there being these two separate ideas you mentioned—not having visibility or equal pay—those things confuse and upset me and I guess inform the performance.
Poorgrrrl is bipolar as fuck. Like, there is the pity, this poor girl, and then there is the rage that goes hand-in-hand, repressed or not. Poorgrrrl is this contrast between a really strong powerful stage presence and sound, and this pathetic looking and weak sounding experience. There is always both.
“the bluézZz…rn:” Written by POORGRRRL. Produced by DJ BUDDY BOY. Mixed by Andrew Byrd. Directed by Biagio Musacchia. Director of Photography: David Cabrera. 1st ac: Jose Trujillo. Styled by Madhavi Ghiotti
AP: Is there empowerment in evoking pity from the audience and playing with their expectations? Can pity be a feminist tool? You mention this being the only opportunity you’ve been given this year despite you being a prominent figure in the local Miami arts community. I personally don’t ascribe categorical statements to feminism in contrast to earlier waves because with marginalized folks, I don’t think that reversing the roles in the power struggle necessarily yields equality. I often find using the tools we’ve been given to work with within the patriarchy as marginalized groups (as in this case of evoking pity to attain something), presents a richer and maybe more honest form of feminism and possibly what real power could look like within the system.
PG: I’m really into unpacking this trope of “the damsel in distress”—it is something I come back to over and over again with the work that I am doing. I agree completely in thinking reversing power roles is not the answer, not the only answer. The damsel in distress performs this helplessness and in return she is usually tended to, taken care of. The performance works to manipulate someone to help basically, support, save. So this makes me feel a few ways.
First of all: good for her [laughs]. She figured out a way to support herself, to be “saved” but then it’s also like, hey c’mon girl get off your lazy ass and save your damn self. I feel kind of the same about, a lot of things. Back to what you are saying about the power struggle, I see women (and basically any “oppressed” party) and feel two ways. I’m like fuuuck this is so challenging and then I’m like, but it’s also unfortunately reinforcing how we see ourselves in a way, like this condemned position. Everything seems to perpetuate it, internally and externally.
I am kind of exaggerating here or going out on a limb to bring up a point, but if we continue to let ourselves be oppressed or marginalized, it will just go on forever. This is really challenging though because no doubt, the position of the oppressed is totally unfair but I guess seeing people continuously having to address themselves as such makes me feel like how can this change? Without the oppressed there is no oppressor or whatever. There is no master without a slave.
Directed and produced by POORGRRRL. Filmed by David Cabrera
AP: But it’s difficult because we are not choosing to be oppressed, and the whole system is geared to perpetuate our oppression. I mean there are attempts now with Fair. for example, or with all the men in power in the film and television industry getting called out and actually facing consequences for predatory behavior. I understand that we need to remain active to shift the paradigm, but people in power are never going to willingly give up their seat. I guess it’s just overwhelming what we’re up against and I suppose pity comprises a big part of that awareness.
PG: I feel open in this conversation to bring something up that is kinda off topic but on topic and I have been thinking about it a lot lately. Primarily because of this movement of mainly women outing dudes, but, really just outing anyone that made or makes another person feel uncomfortable or totally violated by way of power dynamics and intimidation for sexual misconduct. I have this situation I am in the middle of figuring out how to use, to help other women and other people in general, to understand an unspoken truth. But—and herein lies the huge problem—when I unpack this, I end up feeling, at the “end of the day” that it will actually hurt me more to share it than to keep it to myself, and this really bothers me.
To put it bluntly, I was raped by someone in the art world, in my art world and community. Someone I trusted and considered a friend. This happened six years ago. I have to see them or their name all the time, and there is just so much about the situation that I want to… share, just because I think what happened and why I couldn’t process it or react the way I wish I did is something that needs to be addressed.
It’s shit like this that makes it so clear to me how very much we (as women) did not ask for “this” and how very fucked up this whole situation is. I can’t even out this guy because people will find ways to make me seem like a crazy bitch. The worst and most annoying questions: “Well, did you do something to provoke it though?” or “Do you really want to ruin his life?” are really hard to navigate and make me feel like I need to downplay it to myself and think it’s not important enough to share. This is mega problematic and basically IS the whole problem with all of this. It’s so frustrating.
Photo: Carlo Cavaluzzi
AP: I am so sorry to hear that happened to you. Your experience makes me think of #MeToo. While I greatly appreciate the solidarity shared openly online by survivors of sexual harassment or assault, I also see that not everyone is ready or feels comfortable speaking out—nor should they have to. Poorgrrrl lays flaws of tidy narratives bare. There are still revelations to be made, and they aren’t all hashtag ready. Coming forward can be uncomfortable, stumbling, imperfect, dangerous.
This revelation from your personal life also seems to loop back into Poorgrrrl’s conceptual makeup, like throughout the course of this interview, you’ve managed to evoke pity from me. Is it hard to draw the line where Poorgrrrl ends and you begin?
PG: No matter what I do I can’t escape the ancestral tragedy in my bloodline. I’ve never been able to make anything that doesn’t end up being about it. I don’t even realize at first, but then there it is, staring me in the face. It’s all I’ve ever known. I needed a way to take that bullshit out of me, like a garbage dump, and put it next to me, so that I could at least imagine existing without it. Without all that trash. I needed to break the curse. Poorgrrrl is a crucible for all this pain and pity and shit. She is the martyr. The whore. The disgrace. I can fill her up with all my fucking trauma and throw her to the wolves, and then at least, they won’t eat me.
Photo: Courtesy of III Points
Poorgrrrl will perform at the opening of Fair. on Thursday, 6:30pm. She has a limited-edition record and zine being released on Natalia Zuluaga and Gean Moreno’s NAME publications this month and a full-length album for Parachute Records slated for release in 2018.
Audrey Phillips is a Toronto-based writer. She is a regular contributor to AQNB.
(Image at top: Photo: Carlo Cavaluzzi)