Performance artist, guru, shaman and activist Frank Moore opens the door to life’s possibilities.
By Cathleen Loud
You approach the entrance of the Burnt Ramen, an old warehouse-turned-performance- venue near the railroad tracks at 111 Espee Avenue in Richmond, Calif. There is a nervous, excited energy rumbling in your stomach. This is your first Frank Moore performance. You’re intimidated. You’ve heard about this guy and his performances with the Cherotic All-Star Band and you’ve seen the fliers posted around San Francisco, flapping in the wind. You’ve heard about the nudity, the exploration, the lack of political correctness, the delight, the tackiness but you’re still not quite sure what to expect once you cross the threshold into the unknown world. Challenged by curiosity, you grab the handle of the door, about ready to charge in when you notice the following sign is posted: “Warning! Enter at your own risk! This piece may be threatening to your everyday reality. This piece may cause questioning of the common reality. These symptoms may appear days after the piece, without warning… Even during the piece, you may feel as if nothing is happening…or you may even enjoy it. But, the above symptoms may still appear, leading to restlessness and even radical change.”
You take a deep breath, lower your head and walk in. The door slams closed behind you as you enter Moore’s Web of All Possibilities.
Born with cerebral palsy and unable to walk or talk, Moore believes he was born a lucky guy. Until the age of 17, he lived shut out from the rest of the world because he couldn’t communicate and because his negative attitudes and low self-image alienated him. So, at age 17, he invented a head pointer and a board with words and phrases on it. He learned to speak by pointing to the words and phrases on the board. (He still communicates this way today.) It took patience on his part and the part of the listener to have a conversation but, at last, he could communicate!
His next battle was to overcome his low self-image. He was allowing the society’s expectation of what a “crippled” person should be, to shape his reality. Society’s expectation was winning. But not for long.
Around age 28, Moore’s life turned. Something happened that made him look at the way he viewed himself. He couldn’t get laid! Women viewed him as “the nice guy,” the guy who would listen and give advice, but never the guy who they wanted to have sex with. He accepted this because he thought it wasn’t right to burden a girl with his ugly body. Eventually, after one more failed relationship, Moore had had enough. He had identified himself for too long with a reality that thought of him as ugly, unfortunate or “crippled.” He wasn’t happy. He decided he could either accept the “reality” of his ugly body and an asexual role he played or he could change the way he thought about himself. He wanted to be happy and beautiful, and not feel like a burden to anyone. So, he started to believe he was a beautiful human being. He didn’t think of his “crippled” body as a burden; he viewed it as a tool. He viewed it as the mark of a shaman. Historically, the gods marked shamans by their deformities or abnormalities, to set them apart from the rest of the tribe. They would bring back messages for the greater good or to heal those in need.
Physically, Moore could do things with his body that most people can’t. He could bend, move, twist and contort himself. Socially, he could break the norm. The possibilities before him were endless as he was without the fear of living up to any expectations. “I was never under any pressure to be good at anything, to make money, to make it in ‘the real world’, [or] to be polished. I could focus on having fun, on going into taboo areas where magical change can be evoked,” Moore says on his web site, the Web of All Possibilities (www.eroplay.com).
To subvert reality, Moore began creating art in 1965. His first experience was playing with oil paints. Since he was in the business of breaking taboos and pushing limits, nothing was too extreme for him. He’d meet strangers on the street and ask them if he could paint nude pictures of them. Many people agreed and he saw how art allows people to do things that are generally forbidden. There is willingness, he says, to push beyond comfort and safety in art and this openness brings about change.
As he performed the magic of art, more possibilities opened up for him. He began experimenting with different types of theater, performance, and workshops and with shamanism. Shamanistic art includes public and private rituals, audience participation and apprenticeship. It allows people’s dreams to become realities because there are no limits with regards to time or space, no moral guidelines and no rules. With the ideas of normalcy suspended, anything, even magic, can happen. “Frank’s art inspired me and showed me how far it was possible to go in the direction of art as an engulfing experience, and of doing genuine, no-bullshit magic in the modern world,” says Fred Hatt, a visual and performance artist and photographer who has attended many of Moore’s performances and who is also a featured artist on Moore’s web site.
In the mid-1970s, after an unsuccessful all-nude play at California State University, relocating to Santa Fe and New York, and then finally settling in Berkeley, Moore met Linda Mac. Frank rolled into Don Travel, the agency in Calif. where Mac worked. He came right up to her. “The moment I had eye contact with Frank, I ‘saw’ him,” she recalls. He invited her to come to his house because he was casting a play. He wanted her to audition (later, she found out there really was no play). She went to the house, read some of Moore’s writings and she was hooked. “I knew immediately that this is what I had been waiting for,” Mac says. The two have been together, working and playing, for over 25 years.
Moore’s performance experimentation eventually led to the creation of a joyful community based on freedom and closeness. The community was an alternative to the way society isolates people. With an entourage of 30 people- friends, performers and students, Moore and Mac began doing workshops and private performances “just for fun.” These experiences created intimate relationships and altered states among everyone involved. Silliness, hidden fantasy, child’s playfulness and creativity became a part of their normal lives. Public performance pieces evolved from the workshops and private performances. One of the first public performances was a costume parade through the streets of Berkeley. The performers were dressed in elaborate costumes of brightly colored skin paintings and risqué outfits made from net and lace.
In the late ’70s, Moore and his gang, which had now been together for four years, started doing longer ritualistic performances. He created a rock-and-roll cabaret-style show, called the Outrageous Beauty Revue, which ran every Saturday night for 3 years at the Mabuhay Garden Nightclub and various colleges and clubs in San Francisco. Moore describes the O.B.R. as “an unpolished show that flaunted nudity, eroticism and gore in a silly, child-like playfulness — an ever-changing show with pregnant sex symbols, nude girls, crippled rock stars, men as women and women as men without any sexual meaning.” It was outrageous, shocking, and different. On the surface, the performances appeared to be entertainment laced with a kind of shock value. But Moore describes the shows as having a much deeper meaning than just shocking entertainment. They were, in fact, another way in which Moore fought against the societal “norms” of the time.
The community that performed with Moore eventually broke up. He realized, after they tried to incorporate sex into their lives that it was not the answer to the physical connectedness they were searching for. Moore continued to focus on the energy that resulted from the intense, playful, physical involvement he had with them and from this, an important physical aspect to Moore’s work began to evolve. He coined this element “eroplay”. Moore describes eroplay as “intense physical touch and play among adults that is not sexual but has no limits.”
Today, Moore incorporates eroplay in many of his performances. In creating this alternative reality, Moore tries to expand and break down the way sex is viewed in our culture. Says Mac: “Eroplay is a way of having a depth of interaction with someone that is fun. The whole social structure is set up to keep people feeling like they are not free. With eroplay, one has a direct visceral experience of that not being true.” She says eroplay is not about sex, but about people connecting with one another on a very deep level and that it gives people hope. “It feels wonderful to be a part of!” says Teresa Cochran, a performer in the Cherotic All-Star Band and a student of The University of Possibilities, Moore’s shamanistic performance school.
Cochran, who first met Moore at a block party five years ago, remembers the magic she felt the first time that she met him. She told Moore and Mac that she wanted to play music. Of course, they invited her to a jam session! The jam was very improvisational and free form and, while playing, Cochran realized the dynamics between the audience and the performers. There was no distinction between the two. Playing with them and feeling the freedom of expression liberated her. “My stage fright totally disappeared when I saw Frank doing exactly what he wanted to do,” she says. “If he can do whatever he wants to do, I can do whatever I want to do.”
“I saw Frank right away and said ‘This guy knows how to live’,” says Michael Labash who met Moore in 1988. At the time they met, Labash says he was a yuppie, well-dressed, freshly combed hair and not one you’d expect to be open to Moore’s reality. He played in a band called Mr.Dog (which later became the Counting Crows). At one particular performance he met a woman named Leigh Gates who happened to be one of Moore’s apprentices. After talking with Gates for some time after the show, she invited him to read some of Moore’s writings. He said when he read them “the floor fell out from under my world.” A few weeks later, Labash attended a small gig of Moore’s at Rather Ripped Records in Berkeley. “I sat there with my mouth open the whole time. I had never seen anything like it. Nude bodies, Frank singing, saran wrap. It was wild,” he says. Not much later after the record store gig he attended a 12-hour performance and also got to meet with Moore. After a few meetings, Labash decided to quit Mr.Dog. He realized that it wasn’t fulfilling to him. Soon after, Moore asked him to be an apprentice at the University of Possibilities. Now, 13 years later, Moore, Mac and LaBash live together as partners in San Francisco.
Moore averages about two public performances (rituals, music gigs, poetry readings, etc.) a month. The shows are mostly free form and when the Cherotic All-Stars have a performance, they don’t even rehearse. They just show up and play! When Moore performs, anything goes. Sometimes there are nude men and women, sometimes they sing and dance, sometimes rock and touch, sometimes all of it happens and sometimes none of it happens.
The performances allow you to step outside of what is generally accepted in order to explore, question, test and evolve by pushing you to the limit, by making you uncomfortable and by showing you a reality that is usually very different from what you are used to. You as the audience and performers, who are one and the same once the door closes and the performance begins, are exposed to a show that can become whatever your dreams will allow. Audience members watch, some deliciously, hanging onto every movement, every noise, delighted and turned on. Others turn away, not wanting to watch, sickened to their stomachs, ready to leave. Some people feel vulnerable, some challenged; others are bored and even angered.
“People have very intense responses and reactions. A lot of times people cry”, says Alexi Malenky, another performer and apprentice of Moore’s. “I’ve never noticed anyone not be affected at all by it,” he adds. He explains that sometimes people get up and leave in the middle of a show. He says that it’s easy to think they are leaving because they don’t like what they see. But Moore says that when people leave a show early, it’s because they’ve gotten as much as they want from that performance or they’ve reached a personal threshold they don’t want to go past.
While Moore’s performances change some people’s lives and challenge them to seek authenticity, others are unmoved and disinterested. William Mandel, an activist and author of Saying No to Power (Creative Arts, Berkeley, 1999), has known Moore for about 2 years. “I haven’t attended Frank’s performances because his videos don’t turn me on to them. I don’t think the people are particularly talented. I’m not impressed by the music,” he says.
Since no two performances are ever the same, you never know what the night has in store. Sometimes the performers will take part in all night ritual performances and sacred ceremonies, sometimes music jams, or sometimes more traditional, “scripted” plays. In each instance, it is a different experience because Moore allows the shows to evolve in their own. The magic is different each time depending on who is there, who participates, how the audience feels and how the performers interact with each other.
In 1994, Moore directed and produced a scripted play called No Tongue Will Live To Speak, No Ears Will Yearn To Hear, written by Native American chief, Distant Eagle. Dorothy Jesse Beagle, a poet and artist who saw the show recalls what it felt like to see the piece. “Much of the play was played nude but was never erotic nor seemed anything but totally natural, spiritual with great lines and acting. No one would think, let alone say, ‘hey guys I’m watching nudes.’ It wasn’t about nudity but about a primitive tribe and we all felt we were part of the play.”
Moore’s ritualistic approach to his performances gives them a sort of secrecy. Mac explains a secret cave ritual that is sometimes performed. She leads you, blindfolded, to the door of a cave that has been constructed out of painted backdrops. There, she gives you a drink called somala. The drink looks and tastes like water but what it really is, is up to you to decide. Mac tells you that the drink is a drug of dreams and dying. It does not have any side effects and won’t make you do anything you don’t want to do. It does, however, make it easier for you to do whatever you do want to do. From there, Mac leads you into the cave. Mac won’t give details about what goes on in the cave and she says you have to come to a performance and find out for yourself.
Hatt attended a five-hour show of Moore’s called “Journey to Lila” in New York City in 1989. He agrees with Mac about the secrecy of the performances. “You need to experience one of these full ritual performances yourself, and the experience will be fuller if you don’t know what to expect,” he says.
Moore does not separate his art from his private life or his public life. It is all the same to him. This is why he spends so much time building relationships, adding dimensions, subverting reality and breaking the norms and taboos of society. Malenky says that in blending all parts of his life, Moore is “creating a life in which people live fully and joyfully in closeness with each other and the world around them.”
Corey Nicholl found this lack of separation hard to become used to when he first met Moore ten years ago. Nicholl who is an apprentice of Moore’s says it wasn’t easy to remain open to the reality that Moore presents. “If you want to keep such a control over things and have this part of reality over here and this part over there, you’re going to work really hard to do that. Everything is struggling against you,” he says. But, he explains, if you surrender and give up trying to control things, you’ll see how life bleeds and melts together, that there are no boxes. You form those boxes yourself.
Moore’s work doesn’t rub everyone the right way. In 1991, Senator Jesse Helms labeled Moore’s art, and a group of other artists’ art, as “obscene.” Because many of these artists had received funding from the National Endowment of Arts, the General Accounting Office investigated and several of them lost their NEA funding. Moore was not one of them that lost funding but he was more or less blacklisted by Helms. He was forbidden to perform at places that received money from the NEA. If he did perform, the venues were at risk of losing their funding.
In a letter that Moore sent to Helms, he asks, “Why are you closing channels of expression and of funding to me without due process of law?” He continues, “It is a political and cultural blacklist under the cover of obscenity. Extortion and blacklists are against the American ideals and spirit.” Moore says because of Helms’ threats, his work became even hotter. It got him more opportunities for gigs. And more gigs meant more magic.
Regardless of who does or doesn’t like his work, Moore continues. His newest call to freedom is a web-cast Internet radio station called Love Underground Vision Radio or LUVeR for short (www.luver.com). LUVeR brings almost all of his art, his philosophy of life and his reality together. Launched on Valentine’s Day of 1999, LUVeR has become a forum for all different types of art and various people. “LUVeR is probably the most eclectic of radio stations, Internet or otherwise,” says Beagle who has her own show on LUVeR called Jesse’s Full Pantry. Weekly, there are alternative news shows and current events shows on politics, oppression and survival. There is erotica, philosophy, lecture programming and satirical and political humor. Original music from experimental musicians, punk rock, folk, bluegrass, and classical musicians are broadcast. There are daily newscasts by a news team, weekly interviews that cover artists and other interesting people and video coverage of live events and news conferences. LUVeR is a playground of totally uncensored, nonprofit, noncommercial expression. Hatt says that Moore is “proudly underground” and has never made any concession to try to be commercial, to fit into any respectable art scene or to be acceptable to any institution.
Moore’s work may not be considered art by some. His performances might scare you and even want to make you run the other way. The bottom line is that his work is an inspiration to people. For those people that it touches, their lives are forever changed. They look at things a little differently and probably a little more clearly. Moore’s work changed me. Call me what you will- naïve, weird or strange. I now believe in the possibilities of life. I now have a fuller understanding of a life without limitations and expectations. I am filled with a deep sense of joy just by knowing Moore. I was looking for Moore and I found exactly what I had hoped.
“This is a ritual, a magical ritual, a ritual of Gestures which will open up a physical, magical force within those who choose to participate. At times the ritual will be very silly. At other times there will be a raw vulnerability, an intimacy that is not limited by social taboos, not framed in by romance or sex.”
“This magical ritual operates on the random principle. Magicians and mystics have used the factor of chance throughout the ages to get past the rational, the logical, the linear, to get to inner knowledge or to universal wisdom. Shuffling the tarot cards and the throwing of the yarrow sticks for the i ching are but two examples of this random principle. In this ritual, the random principle, pulling gestures out of the box, will direct the ritual. Some gestures are silly. Some gestures are intense and intimate. The random principle makes each gesture equal. The random principle will remove the linear limiting taboo, sexual, romance context.”
“Linda will now pair people … to do the gestures.”
The Chanter waits until Linda finishes pairing. Then the Chanter sings:
“Slowness is important and the quiet gentle sounds and laughter will help the magic. Watchers should refrain from talking during the ritual.”
“Each gesture has a special time length. You should keep doing one action until Linda sings the next gesture.” “You will start releasing the physical force of eroplay in your bodies. This ritual will take eroplay out of social, moral, sexual, and romantic contexts, so that the focus will be on the pure magical fun and pleasure. It is important that each act be done gently, slowly, softly, completely.”
The Chanter quietly exits. Linda takes over.
“ART EVOKES CHILDHOOD…HIDDEN PLACES WHERE YOU CAN PLAY AND EXPLORE…IT IS THE KIDS’ UNDER-THE-COVERS WORLD, THE PLAYHOUSE, THE TREEHOUSE, THE CAVE, BEHIND THE BARN, PLAYING DOCTOR, CARS AT DRIVE-INS BEFORE GOING ALL THE WAY, HUCK FINN’S RAFT, TEPEES. PEOPLE ARE AFRAID OF THIS AREA OF LUSTY EXPLORING THAT THEY THINK THEY HAVE OUT GROWN…BUT THEY ARE SUCKED INTO IT.”
“WE ARE IN THE CAVE OF DREAM. WE ARE IN A BATTLE OF AN UNDERGROUND WAR AGAINST FRAGMENTATION. ART IS WAR AGAINST FRAGMENTATION. THE BATTLE IS ON ALL REALITIES. THE CONTROLLERS HAVE ALWAYS TRIED TO FRAGMENT US. FRAGMENT US FROM EACH OTHER. IMPRISON US IN ISLANDS OF SEX, COLOR, RELIGION, POLITICS, CLASSES, LABELS, ETC., ETC., ETC., ETC., ETC. THEY FRAGMENT OUR INNER WORLDS, THEY BLOW OUR INDIVIDUAL REALITIES APART, AND PLAY THE PIECES AGAINST ONE ANOTHER. THEY ARE US, OR A PART OF US.”
“THEY ARE THE CONTROLLERS, THE POLITICIANS, THE SEXISTS, THE WOMEN’S LIBBERS, THE PORNOGRAPHERS, THE CENSORS, THE MORALISTS, THE CHURCH, THE MEDIA, THE BUSINESSMEN, EDUCATORS, THE VICTIMS AND THE POWERFUL.”
“THEY ARE US. THEY HAVE DIVIDED US FROM OUR POWER, FROM OUR BEAUTY, FROM OUR LUST OF LIFE AND PLEASURE. THEY HAVE DIVIDED US FROM MOST OF REALITY…DYING FROM LIVING…SEX FROM LIVING, SEX FROM PLEASURE. WE ARE KEPT IN BOXES OF FEAR, OF MISTRUST. WE ARE KEPT WAITING…KEPT WAITING TO DO WHAT WE WANT…WAITING FOR ENOUGH MONEY, ENOUGH SCHOOLING, FOR EVERYTHING TO BE RIGHT. WE ARE KEPT WAITING AND PROTECTING AND HIDING AND SUFFERING.”
“TIME TO DO BATTLE WITH THE BOXES.”
“OUR TOOLS ARE MAGIC, OUR BODIES, AND DREAMS.”
“IN MAGIC WORDS HAVE POWER. TO CREATE A WORD FOR SOMETHING IS TO CREATE THE POSSIBILITY FOR IT TO EXIST IN OUR REALITY…FOR IT TO HAPPEN.”
“EROPLAY IS A MADE-UP WORD FOR INTENSE PHYSICAL PLAYING AND TOUCHING OF ONESELF AND OTHERS. EROPLAY IS ALSO THE FORCE OR ENERGY WHICH IS RELEASED AS THE RESULT OF SUCH PLAY.”
“IT WAS NO ACCIDENT THAT THERE WAS NO WORD FOR EROPLAY. IT IS IMPORTANT FOR THE PLOT OF FRAGMENTATION TO KEEP THE SPECIAL POWER IN THE ORGASMIC SEX ACT. SO IT WAS HARD BEFORE THE WORD EROPLAY TO TALK ABOUT IT CLEARLY, TO THINK ABOUT IT CLEARLY, AND TO EXPERIMENT AND PLAY WITH IT WITHOUT SEXUAL UNDERCURRENTS AND FEARS CREEPING IN. THIS WAS BECAUSE WE HAD TO USE WORDS LIKE LUSTY, SEXY AND EROTIC TO ATTEMPT TO TALK ABOUT IT. IN OUR LANGUAGE, ALL OF THESE WORDS HAVE SEXUAL CONNOTATIONS. IN MAGIC WORDS CREATE. SO IF YOU USE SEXUAL WORDS FOR A NON-SEXUAL PLAYING, THE SEXUAL WORDS WILL SET A FALSE SEXUAL CONFUSION. THIS IS WHY THE WORD EROPLAY ITSELF IS IMPORTANT.”
“EROPLAY IS NOT FOREPLAY, EVEN THOUGH FOREPLAY IS EROPLAY.”
“KIDS PLAY VERY PHYSICALLY BOTH WITH THEIR OWN BODIES AND OTHERS’ BODIES. THEY GET TURNED ON BY THIS PLAY, TURNED ON BOTH PHYSICALLY AND MENTALLY. THIS TURN-ON IS NOT SEXUAL IN KIDS. STUDIES HAVE SHOWN THAT BABIES WHO ARE HELD, TOUCHED, AND PLAYED WITH ARE MORE HEALTHY AND ALERT, WEIGH MORE, AND HAVE A LOWER RATE OF DEATH THAN BABIES WHO ARE DENIED THIS EROPLAY. STUDIES ALSO SHOW THAT OLD PEOPLE WHO LIVE ALONE, WHO DON’T GET PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL CONTACT, ARE LESS HEALTHY AND DIE SOONER THAN PEOPLE OF THE SAME AGE WHO LIVE WITH OTHERS AND GET THAT PHYSICAL CONTACT.”
“WHEN WE GROW UP INTO ADULTS, EROPLAY IS LINKED TO SEX, MAYBE TO ASSURE PROCREATION. BUT THERE MAY BE DIFFERENT RESULTS WHEN EROPLAY IS NOT CONNECTED TO THE SEXUAL ORGASM.”
“FOREPLAY IS EROPLAY, BUT EROPLAY IS NOT FOREPLAY. WE NEED A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF STRAIGHT EROPLAY (NOT CONNECTED TO OR LEADING TO SEX) TO BE AS HEALTHY AS POSSIBLE.”
“FOREPLAY LEADS TO ORGASM…EROPLAY LEADS TO BEING TURNED ON IN MANY DIFFERENT WAYS AND IN ALL PARTS OF THE BODY. IT CAN BE DIFFERENT EVERY TIME.”
“SKIN TOUCHING SKIN SEEMS TO BE WHAT RELEASES THE FULL IMPACT OF EROPLAY.”
“EROPLAY CAN BE INTENSE. IT IS LIKE WHEN YOU RUB A PUPPY ON ITS BELLY AND THE PUPPY GOES INTO A STATE OF RAPTURE, BOTH TOTALLY TURNED ON AND RELAXED. TO USE SOMETHING THAT IS NOT NORMALLY CONFUSED WITH SEX, EROPLAY IS THE BLISSED OUT, WARM, RELAXED, TURNED ON, TOTALLY SATISFYING FEELING OF A GOOD HEAD RUB.”
“THE SAME FEELING COMES FROM PLAYING WITH EARS. EROPLAY IS THAT INTENSE FEELING THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE BODY.”
“SEX IS CONNECTED TO MATING; WHEREAS THE COMBINATION OF BOTH PHYSICAL AND PSYCHIC FORCES RELEASED DURING AND AFTER EROPLAY ARE CONNECTED MORE TO COMMUNICATION AND ATTRACTING PEOPLE TO YOU.”
“WHAT STOPS MOST PEOPLE FROM PHYSICALLY EROPLAYING WITHOUT CONNECTING IT TO SEX, WITHOUT SEXUAL UNDERCURRENTS OR EXPECTATIONS, IS THE INABILITY TO SEE WHERE EROPLAY ENDS AND SEX BEGINS. FOREPLAY IS EROPLAY, BUT EROPLAY IS NOT FOREPLAY. THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FOREPLAY AND PURE EROPLAY IS ONE OF INTENT…PHYSICALLY THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE. BUT THERE IS A DIFFERENCE PHYSICALLY BETWEEN EROPLAY AND SEX. EROPLAY IS SATISFYING IN ITSELF, IN RELAXING INTENSITY. THERE IS NO BUILD UP OF PENT-UP ENERGY IN ONE CLIMACTIC ACT. IN SEX, HOWEVER, THERE IS A POINT WHERE FOREPLAY (EROPLAY) CEASES TO SATISFY AND ENERGY GETS PENT UP AND BUILT UP TO BE RELEASED IN THE SEX ACT. THIS BUILD UP IS A CLEAR AND BROAD DIVIDING LINE BETWEEN THE TURN ON OF EROPLAY AND SEX.”
“EROPLAY STARTS WHEN THE POSSIBILITY OF THE PHYSICAL EROPLAY ARISES…THE POSSIBILITY OF THE BREAKING OF THE NORMAL RULES, SOCIAL CONVENTIONS AND MORALITY.”
“THE TALKING AND THINKING ABOUT EROPLAY WILL EXCITE, WILL TURN YOU ON, EVEN PHYSICALLY. THIS SEEMS TO BE A NATURAL PART OF EROPLAY, AN INNATE PART.”
“BREAKING TABOOS HAS ALWAYS BEEN A PART OF ART…AT LEAST THE AREA OF ART THAT SEEKS TO CHANGE CONSCIOUSNESS, CHANGE MORALITY, CHANGE REALITY.”
“THE WAR IN THE CAVE OF DREAM IS NOT A WAR OF HATE, PAIN, KILLING, DYING. IT IS A WAR OF LAUGHING, LOVING, TOUCHING, DREAMING, OF PLEASURE, OF BREAKING TABOOS. IT IS NOT A MASS MEDIA WAR. IT IS AN INNER WAR, A PERSONAL WAR. IT IS A WAR OF FUN.”
“EROPLAY IS FUN. EROPLAY IS FUN. EROPLAY IS FUN.”
“EROPLAY IS INNOCENT AND CHILDLIKE.”
“EROPLAY’S FOCUS IS ON PHYSICAL ENJOYMENT AND PLEASURE FOR ITS OWN SAKE. THIS IS ONE REASON WHY EROPLAY IS TABOO IN OUR SOCIETY WHERE RELIGION TEACHES PHYSICAL PLEASURE FOR SELF IS BAD.”
“EROPLAY CONNECTS YOU MORE WITH YOUR OWN BODY AND WITH OTHER PEOPLE. IT DECREASES ISOLATION AND ALIENATION. IT INCREASES SELF-TRUST AND TRUSTING OF OTHERS. IT MAKES YOU HARDER TO BE CONTROLLED. THIS IS ANOTHER REASON WHY EROPLAY IS TABOO.”
“BECAUSE THE AFTER-GLOW OF EROPLAY ATTRACTS PEOPLE TO YOU, YOU GET MORE OPPORTUNITIES IN ALL ASPECTS OF YOUR LIFE. AND BECAUSE EROPLAY RELAXES YOU AND GIVES YOU MORE ENERGY, YOU ARE IN A BETTER POSITION TO USE OPPORTUNITIES.”
“BECAUSE EROPLAY IS NOT FOCUSED ON GOALS OTHER THAN PHYSICAL ENJOYMENT IN MANY WAYS, AND BECAUSE IT DOES NOT LEAD TO A MATING LIFE, EROPLAY WOULD BE MUCH HARDER TO USE TO SELL PRODUCTS THAN SEX. THIS IS A REASON WHY EROPLAY IS TABOO.”
The line between the art and life should be kept as fluid, and perhaps indistinct, as possible.
Allan Kaprow 1966
The infamous performance artist Frank Moore died of pneumonia on October 14, 2013. This was a huge loss to the performance and avant-garde art community. Frank had been a staple of this scene since the 1970s. Adept at a wide range of expressive arts such as poetry, painting and film-making, it was his performance art that he will likely be most remembered for. He was heavily influenced by the performance art that emerged in the late 1950s through the 1960s—spontaneous and non-linear performances exemplified by Allan Kaprow’s Happenings (1966). But Frank’s often long performances–up to 48 hours–could stir controversy. As a National Endowment for the Arts funded artist in the 1990s, he was even targeted by the arch-conservative Republican senator Jesse Helms. Why? Frank performed in the nude, usually with the assistance of several helpers who were also unclothed. As the performance progressed, it was common for many audience members to disrobe and participate in the sensual movements and rubbing of bodies. Although these performances were undoubtedly erotically charged, many people incorrectly label them as pornographic. It is hoped that the following series of interviews I conducted with him from 1997-2009 will provide sufficient context to more fully appreciate his celebration of eroticism and creative vision for art and living. These interviews provide an articulate and detailed chronicle of important events in Frank’s life, his intimate relationships and artistic endeavors up through the late-1980s. They also often morph into conversations we had on a wide range of topics—for example, current affairs, historical events, posts to Frank’s listserv or one of his recent performances. These interchanges interweave into and out of Frank’s telling of his life story.[i]
First Meeting and Interview Process
I first met Frank Moore in recruitment efforts for ethnographic research I was conducting for a doctoral degree in medical anthropology. I was researching the search for sexual intimacy by men with cerebral palsy (Shuttleworth, 2000).[ii] A girlfriend at the time told me she was friends with a social worker who was a caseworker for a disabled performance artist who performed in the nude and who might want to talk to me. She also told me that her niece had seen this man, who used a wheelchair, hanging out at Sproul Plaza scoping out and approaching women on the UC Berkeley campus. My girlfriend’s niece had described him as “kind of sleazy.” Her description immediately struck my interest. This performance artist, a man named Frank Moore, certainly sounded bolder than the few men I had so far interviewed for my research. Luckily, I was able to secure his telephone number from the social worker. Little did I know at the time that my interviews with him would challenge the parameters of my understanding of disability and the meaning of research.
At the beginning of the first interview, one of Frank’s helpers led me into his studio at the back of his house where another helper was setting up a video-camera. It turned out that Frank wanted to tape all the interviews for his own use (he videotaped the first eleven interviews and audiotaped the rest)! Later on, I found out that Frank had been documenting all of his projects for years. Even later on–I came to understand Frank’s telling of his life story and our ongoing conversation as the creative vehicles they were. With our respective recorders turned on, Frank started the interview by saying that he was going to title the book, How to Handle an Anthropologist! I thought this was funny at the time and not to be outdone quickly replied, “Shaman!” In retrospect, this beginning was a clear sign that if I thought I was simply going to be doing a few interviews with Frank about his sexual relationship history, my short-term ethnographic intentions would be subverted.
For each interview the process was similar. I would arrive at Frank’s multi-colored house at the agreed upon time. Mikee or Linda, the two helpers referred to above and the two most central members of his tribe (there were three other members), would usher me inside. Frank would usually be sitting in his wheelchair typing at his computer, which was situated at one of the front windows looking out into the street. We would all greet each other and then Linda or Mikee would lead me to the studio, which was located at the back of the garden, and I would sit down in the chair and wait for Frank to make his appearance. For a few moments, I would sit silent, enjoying the calm before the storm and gaze up at Frank’s oil paintings, which adorned the walls: a series of nudes in various poses. Of all of Frank’s art, I most enjoyed these paintings. Frank told me he had painted them with a brush attached to his head pointer. Their jagged immediacy always made them come alive and in the flesh beckoning me.
Mikee or Linda would then wheel Frank into the room within a couple of feet and face him toward me. Our respective recorders would be turned on to capture the interview. Frank communicated using a head pointer and alphabet board. I would spell out the letters and words Frank indicated, and often repeat the entire sentence or two back to him to make sure it was correct. I had grown comfortable with the slowness of this form of communication while working with other people who used it. Frank’s alphabet board was pointed with the letters upside down to him but right side up to those he was talking with. This was different to the way I had seen people using an alphabet board before with the letters pointed toward themselves and right side up. That meant for a person talking to Frank and interpreting his board, they could be with him face-to-face instead of having to read his board upside down or be by his side reading it. He told me that this set-up, along with the slowness of communication itself, enhanced intimacy, as it focused the conversation, was more comfortable for other people and also drew the person toward him. As I was to find out, in effect this process was a powerful way to deepen and intensify the interviews.
Being face-to-face with Frank combined with the slow pace of the interviews also allowed me a space to closely interrogate his words and phrases. I would ask layer upon layer of questions in order to understand everything Frank expressed, rephrasing what I thought he meant for verification. Frank could sometimes be quite cryptic in his expression, to some extent perhaps a function of the way he communicated, but I think he also enjoyed the chase, as I was often one step behind what he actually meant. At any rate, I believe my doggedness paid off, as more often than not I was able to draw out the meaning behind his words. In reading this book, it is good to keep in mind the process of communication for the interviews in order to get a sense of their rhythm. That being said, the length of time varied from about one and a half to two and a half hours and usually ended up producing 10-15 pages of transcripts.
Eros and Creation
Many people like my friend’s niece immediately placed Frank in a sexual box. Since nudity formed a major part of Frank’s performances ipso facto sex must be at the core of his raison d’etre. In fact, sex with the goal of orgasm had been removed from the equation. Taking off one’s clothes was first and foremost a way to begin peeling off the layers of normative expectations people have of both others and themselves, a way to open up to the creative possibilities that normality tends to stifle or extinguish. Sensual, bodily play without the goal of orgasm or what Frank termed eroplay was a central part of both his public and private performances. He saw eroplay as an avenue for connection and relational bonding beyond societal norms and masks, ostensibly on a sensual, physical level but also on emotional and other levels of experience. A good performance saw the dissolution of egos and a sense of intimacy form between individuals and the group. For Frank, playing together in such a way helped to counter the sense of isolation and alienation that he saw endemic in modern society. Frank’s own sense of isolation experienced at times during his youth had galvanized a desire to be close with people as he got older; and although he enjoyed the physical sensuality of eroplay, he also grew to place a high value on nurturing intimacy and community within these performances and in fact in all areas of his life. Perhaps here it would be good to let Frank himself explain more in depth what eroplay is and how he employed it in his creative work:
Eroplay is intense physical playing and touching of oneself and others. Eroplay is the force or energy released by such play. It is also the happy, playful attitude toward life that comes from such play….Foreplay leads to orgasm–eroplay leads to being turned-on in many different ways and in all parts of the body–including, but not limited to, physical arousal….eroplay is the blissed-out, warm, relaxed, turned-on, totally satisfying feeling of a good head rub. Eroplay is fun! Eroplay is innocent and childlike… Eroplay decreases isolation and alienation. It increases self-trust and trusting of others. It makes you harder to be controlled. Eroplay leads to a life-style with all these characteristics. The life-style looks strangely like the love generation, but without drugs or free sex….What I am doing is taking nudity and acts that are usually considered sexual and giving them a new, nonsexual context. That creates a tension, a conflict, an examining, a leap into something new. That is what I am after….By taking sexual acts and sincerely putting them into a different context, I create another reality, another way of relating. I also create conflict with the normal reality–and that conflict may change, in an underground sort of a way, the normal reality. I think art–or at least this kind of art–should create conflict and change (Moore, 129-130: 1989).
All of Frank’s creative endeavors, not only his public and private performances, were meant to disrupt the mainstream and/or expand the particular art form. For example, his poetry can often be raw and confronting, his band the Cherotic All-Stars stretched the boundaries of musical performance and his internet radio station LUVeR hosted a range of politically radical shows and DJs playing multi-genre tunes. After finding out that I loved blues, psychedelic rock and garage rock, Frank invited me to DJ for two hours a week on LUVeR. For several years, the gruvemeister held court weekly over the musical abyss–Dr Gruve’s Psychedelic Blues & Boogie Revival! Each week’s playlist was approached artistically–where continuity of themes or styles between contiguous songs or interesting juxtapositions were the keys to an engaging set. Upon hearing that I played blues harmonica (not that good at the time I must admit), Frank also invited me to play in his band, Frank Moore and the Cherotic All-Stars. And for quite a few years I honked with the band at gigs in established SF Bay Area punk clubs, hole-the-wall venues and sometimes at Frank’s own house. By generously encouraging me and providing the opportunity to play music in several of his initiatives, Frank helped me reconnect with the muse.
Frank in fact had a generosity of spirit when it came to encouraging artists or would be artists, especially those struggling outside the mainstream. Frank hosted a listserv for underground artists of all persuasions. He would solicit artists and musicians’ work, uploading images to special artist galleries on his website or spinning their self-made cds on his radio station. He would invite artists and musicians to play at his gigs and performances, no matter if you had just picked up the instrument or were a seasoned pro. On Frank’s show, the Shaman’s Den, he interviewed artists, political activists and generally those people who had something to express outside the norm, which was beamed once a week from his house on Sunday evenings.
I played harmonica with Frank Moore and the Cherotic All-Stars from 2001 or so until 2007 when I left the Bay Area for Sydney, Australia. These shows often started similarly with Frank nude on stage in his wheelchair. He would sit gazing out into the audience and singing to them for 5-10 minutes–what sounded to untrained ears like some alien scat singing. Frank, of course, was well aware of the visual and audial shock that seeing him naked in his wheelchair making unrecognisable sounds would have for many in the audience. One by one, the musicians would join Frank on stage and begin playing their instruments. Several members of the tribe would also join him on stage naked, moving their bodies sensually to-and-fro. The interplay between the various musicians and the dancers was sensual and raw. Depending on who was playing, what they were playing and the combination of sounds–the music could go anywhere. There were literally no musical boundaries and the sound would gradually morph from slow and light to fast and heavy, soft to loud. The effect on me was mesmerising and for the duration of the performance I was hooked into what the group and I were creating in the moment. Formless but forming, this kind of creative movement in the moment was the goal or should I say the lack of goal in all of Frank’s performances and creative expression in general. Having a goal for Frank actually destroyed the artistic spirit. It was the lack of a goal that opened up creative possibilities. The very process of creation for Frank was the art.
The Disability Rights Movement and the Personal is not the Political
Coming of age in the mid-to-late 1960s, Frank successfully took advantage of a crack in the normative egg that opened up alternative experiences and over the years forged a unique orientation within his art and lifestyle. In the latter part of that decade while in college, he had written a radical column in a community paper advocating for progressive political, social and cultural change. During the 1970s and 1980s, the major time period from Frank’s life that are covered in this book, he concurred with the struggle for disability rights, and he could at appropriate times, be an activist in the traditional sense of the term. Frank, in fact, was one of the 150 protesters, disabled people and their allies, on April 5, 1977 who occupied the federal building in San Francisco, trying to enforce the issuing of regulations for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This was one of many protests across the United States, but the only one that lasted 25 days!
But whereas for many in disability rights movement, political struggles and personal struggles were inseparable, Frank refused to take up, the feminist mantra of the personal is the political in its strictest sense. Although he could certainly relate to being the brunt of disability prejudice and exclusionary practices himself and was willing to put himself on the line in cases such as the 504 protests, Frank believed living one’s personal life as if it were in continuous reference to oppressive social structures limited human potential and to some extent validated these structures. From his perspective, playing the victim role in one’s personal life often engendered an inability to take risks—and taking risks was essential for the kind of creative lifestyle he was forging.
Similarly, the disability rights movement often held Frank at a distance. The movement, of course, could not deny his role in opening up a space for disabled artists, but it tended to disavow his actual performances. Perhaps too close of an alliance with Frank’s perspective may have seemed like too high of a risk, perhaps a liability, in the movement’s efforts toward inclusion. And although some disabled artists and activists did glimpse the radical, transformative potential of his work, unsurprisingly, most saw Frank’s focus on erotic play as narrowly slotting into the sexual box: “Wasn’t it just his way of getting the girl(s)?”
The disability arts scene began to really flourish in the 1990s, with much of the art implicitly if not explicitly referring back to its origins in disability. Although he acknowledged this art scene and the artists within it, Frank saw himself as first and foremost an artist, not a disabled artist. This is not to say he ignored the fact that being disabled provided him unique opportunities to express himself. In fact, he often said he was lucky to be born as he was with cerebral palsy because it enabled him to more easily take on the role of a transformative force. And he often used his impairment and disability in his work to shock and subvert what he saw as an oppressive normative reality. But Frank believed that continually referring back to his impairment and disabling social structures would limit his art and miss the larger spectrum of human expression.
Frank, it seemed, was often out of step with the disability rights movement. Another point of contention can be seen in his approach to personal assistance. An early experience with a personal assistant pulling a gun on him, was the first and last time he viewed ‘personal assistance’ in economic and transactional terms. Dispensing with seeing this relationship as primarily one of employment, he came to the insight that people actually ‘needed’ to help others. This understanding gave Frank the courage to take a risk and travel across the United States by himself, picking up people who were willing to assist him along the way. When I began interviewing him in 1997, his tribe had been providing him with the help he needed in his daily life for many years. While these services were paid for by California’s In-Home Support Services, this money was thrown into the tribe’s kitty as simply one person’s contribution in getting all their basic needs met.
Frank had grappled with feeling he was a burden on others when he was younger, but he had totally banished the idea that he was burden during his 20s. He came to view his need for personal assistance as relational to others’ needs within the group. On one occasion, government funding was on the verge of being slashed for California’s In-Home Support Services, Frank recognized that a cut in the funding of this program would negatively impact many disabled people’s lives, but he also told me during one of the interviews that this revealed the fragile reality of relying on the system for support. Aside from a diminishment of income, it would not affect the ability to get his support needs met.
With my social science training, I would sometimes challenge Frank for not focusing more on the structural disadvantages that disabled people contend with. After all, many were in dire straits and I thought taking personal risks would have minimal effect on their situation. What of the disabled person who had grown to adulthood in an institution and who had not had any support to be able to leave? Frank knew, of course, that this situation was common. Although never living in an institution, he had known social isolation when he was younger. He had not only written a poem about breaking out of isolation, one of his films also had this title. On several occasions during our talks, Frank conceded that risk-taking was likely more difficult now. In one interview, knowing about the barriers to sexual expression that existed in long-term care institutions and group homes, he brought up the idea assembling a group of sexual facilitators to visit the disabled people living there and provide them with erotic and sexual experiences.
How to Handle a Shaman? The Legacy of Frank Moore
After my doctoral dissertation was submitted, I provided Frank a copy to read. I was feeling apprehensive as I drove to our next interview, not quite knowing how he would react. One thing I was worried about was how one of the other research participants who knew Frank many years previously had characterized his scene as a possible cult. This portrayal was countered by yet another participant who also knew him during this time and in fact had spent several years performing with him. The latter participant talked about Frank in glowing terms and as ahead of his time. In my dissertation, I presented these conflicting narratives to show how people’s interpretations of the same context and experiences can be radically different in order to ethnographically highlight the Rashomon effect.
When I got to his house and asked him what he thought of the dissertation. Frank broke out in peals of laughter. Was he tickled that someone had seen him as leading a cult? What in fact was most amusing to him was I think the mass of concepts I had galvanized to make my points. Frank said that I should dispense with the anthropological and theoretical framing, that the narratives by themselves were powerful. I was caught off guard with this reaction. It was not that I disagreed with him about the power of these men’s stories. But I was not willing to question then that my theoretical framing had added to our understanding of these men’s experiences. After all, exploring these men’s sexual issues with an anthropological lens was the reason for conducting the study in the first place. Yes, anthropology strove to get the insider’s perspective but interpreting this view with theory was also a requirement. It was imperative that I strut my stuff in the dissertation. Frank added that he thought I had captured his perspective well, which at the time was not very consoling.
As the years passed, however, I resonated more clearly with what Frank was saying. Although not totally eschewing theory, I came to more clearly appreciate how it can sometimes get in the way of understanding. Perhaps more importantly, I also came to see that my engagement with Frank in these ongoing interviews transcended any concrete goals or writing projects planned. While I included snippets of his story and perspective in several academic papers I wrote, I gradually let go of the desire to obtain a ‘use value’ from his narrative and gave myself up to the immediacy of the process playing out between us. Letting the process between us take its course led to all kinds of interesting discussions and insights.
There are those who might criticize some of Frank’s methods. In his public and private performances he could sometimes play the trickster, withholding information or secretly planting actors in the audience to play various roles. His uncompromising stand for freedom of artistic expression and ethic of creative freedom in his life might feel threatening to some. But there is no denying that on many issues, Frank was indeed ahead of his time: acknowledging the limitations of narrowly claiming disability identity and disability art, valuing interdependence over independence, realising that personal assistance is relational. These and many of his longstanding views have now been incorporated into critical disability studies discourse as important points of discussion (while others have not).
An approach to eroticism influenced by queer and post theories has also recently emerged in critical disability studies, which has begun to perceive of desire less in heteronormative and orgasmic terms–of bodies as fluid, becoming and connecting in the moment, not fixed in modernist binaries such as abled and disabled. There are differences in this approach to eroplay, but there are also important similarities such as decentralising orgasm and focusing on the sensuality of connection. Both also seek to generate conflict with, disrupt and even subvert an assumed and regulatory sexual reality and to forge other ways of erotically becoming. The new millennium has also seen disabled artists, performance artists especially, who are beginning to express themselves and their bodies as desiring and desirable, erotic and sensual. While these performances still tend to fall under an identity rubric of disability performance art, Frank is their important progenitor.
Although he eschewed the trappings of mainstream success, it is hoped that this book will illuminate for a broader audience Frank’s often misunderstood intentions. Frank knew that unless he risked he would not get what would sustain him in life. In the process of risking himself, he forged unique perspectives on eroticism and the relationship between art and lifestyle. He encouraged others to approach their lives with the same sense of risk and openness to unfolding process as he did. Frank’s enduring legacy will be his ethical commitment to the creative spirit in himself and others.
Kaprow. A. (1966) Untitled guidelines for Happenings (c. 1965). In Assemblage, environments andHappenings (pp. 188-198). New York: Harry N. Abrams.
Moore, F. (1989) Eroplay. The Drama Review, 33(1), 120-131.
Shuttleworth. R. (2000) The pursuit of sexual intimacy for men with cerebral palsy. (Unpublished Doctoral dissertation). University of California, San Francisco and Berkeley.
[i] The interviews in this book are word-for-word as they were transcribed from the video and audio tapes that Frank and his tribe recorded, except for in several places where a word or phrase has been altered to protect confidentiality or reputation. The reader should note that the first of these interviews happened twenty-two years ago and the most recent occurred ten years ago; so my own views may have remained the same or changed on a particular issue.
[ii] All research participants discussed in the dissertation and during these interviews with Frank were given pseudonyms. The original research was conducted in Berkeley and Oakland. The disability community in these cities is quite large in respect to other cities in the United States. Disabled people in this community are often well connected with each other. This is mainly due to the history of the area, with Berkeley being the birthplace of the disability rights movement in the 1960s, and advocacy and other services being provided to disabled people by disability organizations over the years (the Physically Disabled Students’ Program which began at UC Berkeley in 1970 and the first Centre for Independent Living founded in 1972).
The research was ethnographic, a highly descriptive methodology, and I mostly used snowball sampling, which were both hurdles to insuring confidentiality. There were also occasions where I hung out with several of the participants socially as part of the participant-observation component of the study. The fact that quite a few of the participants not only knew each other but had hung out together at one point or another in their lives compounded the confidentiality problem even further. As much as possible, I tried not to use quotes that would identify participants. But description of each participants’ degree of physical limitation was unavoidable in phenomenologically exploring their search for sexual intimacy and relevant others’ perspectives. Nevertheless, most participants in the research did not recognize who others were in the end product. In the case of Frank, it seemed nigh on impossible to disguise several participants who were associated with his communal group in the late 1970s and early 1980s, especially when their stint with him formed a significant narrative in their sexual lives. And true to form, Frank guessed correctly who these participants were. One of the chapters in the book documents this discussion. Another interesting point about the men in this research is that almost half asked me to use their real names. However, in the ethics application that was approved by the university I had already committed to trying to keep participants anonymous. The original research funded interviews from 1997-1999 and was assisted by a fellowship from the Sexuality Research Fellowship Program of the Social Science Research Council with funds provided by the Ford Foundation.
As published in Shades of Grey (1985) & Smut (1991).
Eroplay in Life and Art
A WORK IN PROGRESS
Frank Moore, 1983
Eroplay is a made-up word for intense physical playing and touching of oneself and others. Eroplay is also the force of energy which is released as the result of such play.
Our mind needs labels, words for something to be able to think about the thing clearly. There is such intense physical play, and such a force of energy, which I have labeled eroplay. But before this, there has not been a word for it. Usually the word sex has been the catchword for people to dump on almost everything sensual, romantic, physical, or showing more skin than usual. Cars are called sexy. Poses that do not show the sex act are called sexual. Wearing certain things, moving certain ways are all called sexual even when it is not leading to the sexual act … even when there is no intent to have sex.
In magic, words have power. To create a word for something is to create the possibility for it to exist in our reality … for it to happen. Even for us who intellectually knew eroplay existed as a separate thing from sex, it was hard before the word eroplay to talk about it clearly, to think about it clearly, and to experiment and play with it without sexual undercurrents and fears creeping in. This was because we had to use words like lusty, sexy and erotic to attempt to talk about it. In our language, all of these words have sexual connotations. In magic, words create. So if you use sexual words for non-sexual playing, the sexual words will create a false sexual confusion. This is why the word eroplay itself is important.
Eroplay is not foreplay, even though foreplay is eroplay.
I have a somewhat good idea of what eroplay does to and for people. But the causes of the results are untested theory.
Kids play very physically both with their own bodies and others’ bodies. They get turned-on by this play, turned-on both physically and mentally. This turn-on is not sexual in kids. Studies have shown that babies who are held, touched, and played with are more healthy and alert, weigh more, and have a lower rate of death than babies who are denied this eroplay. Studies also show that old people who live alone, who don’t get physical and emotional contact, are less healthy and die sooner than people of the same age who live with others and get that physical contact.
When we grow up to adults, eroplay is linked to sex, maybe to assure procreation, but there may be different results when eroplay is connected to the sexual orgasm. We may need a certain amount of straight eroplay (not connected to or leading to sex) to be as healthy as possible.
Foreplay leads to orgasm … eroplay leads to being turned on in many different ways and in all parts of the body. It can be different every time.
Skin touching skin seems to be what releases the full impact of eroplay.
Eroplay can be intense. It is like rubbing a puppy on its belly; the puppy goes into a state of rapture, both totally turned-on and relaxed. To use something that is not normally confused with sex, eroplay is the blissed-out, warm, relaxed, turned-on, totally satisfying feeling of a good head rub. The same feeling comes from playing with one’s ears. Eroplay is that intense feeling throughout the entire body.
Sex seems to be connected to mating; whereas the combination of both physical and psychic forces released during and after eroplay seems to be connected more to communication and attracting people to you.
What stops most people from physically eroplaying without connecting it to sex, without sexual undercurrents or expectations, is the inability to see where eroplay ends and sex begins. The difference between foreplay and pure eroplay is one of intent … physically there is no difference. But there is a difference physically between eroplay and sex. Eroplay is satisfying in itself, in relaxing intensity. There is no build-up of pent-up energy in one climactic act. In sex, however, there is a point where foreplay (eroplay) ceases to satisfy and energy gets pent up and built up to be released in the sex act. This build-up is a clear and broad dividing line between the turn-on of eroplay and sex.
Eroplay starts when the possibility of the physical eroplay arises, the possibility of breaking normal rules, social conventions, and morality.
The possibility of physical eroplay is enough to start releasing whatever chemicals and other forces that physical eroplay will continue to release. Talking and thinking about eroplay will excite, will turn you on, even physically. This seems to be a natural part of eroplay, an innate part.
But the turn-on of the possibility of breaking the taboos, rules, and the common morality is not a natural part of eroplay. It has been added on to eroplay by social repression. Anytime you break a social taboo, there is a release of energy that may feel good, almost like a high. But sooner or later you have to go back into the system where that taboo still exists. Then, more often than not, you will get a backlash from the breaking of the taboo. This backlash may take many forms; it may come from inside yourself or from others who have not been in the uncommon experience. This backlash may overwhelm you. This is the only bad side effect connected to eroplay. If you can ride out this backlash – if you have it at all – you will be a stronger person and you can modify the moral system to fit how you want to live. This has more to do with breaking taboos than it has to do with eroplay itself.
But breaking taboos has always been a part of art … at least the area of art that seems to change consciousness, change morality, change reality.
The breaking of taboos ideally should not be a part of everyday eroplay, but it is. Art can slowly take eroplay out of the taboo area. This is one of the functions of art.
Eroplay is fun. This is the most important statement in this outline.
Eroplay is innocent and childlike.
Eroplay’s focus is on physical enjoyment and pleasure for its own sake. This is one reason why eroplay is taboo in our society, where religion teaches physical pleasure for itself is bad.
<Coming soon to this spot: a brief history of the western romanticism and the anti-pleasure morality … what eroplay is up against.>
Eroplay connects you more with your own body and with other people. It decreases isolation and alienation. It increases self-trust and trusting of others. It makes you harder to be controlled. This is another reason why eroplay is taboo.
Because the after-glow of eroplay attracts people to you, you get more opportunities in all aspects of your life. And because eroplay relaxes you and gives you more energy, you are in a better position to use opportunities.
Because eroplay is not focused on goals other than physical enjoyment in many ways, and because it does not lead to a mating life, eroplay would be much harder to use to sell products than sex. This is another reason why eroplay is taboo.
Most of the so-called sex problems in sexual relationships have to do with trying to do with sex what eroplay can do, trying to fill needs with sex that sex can’t fulfill. This leads to the downward spiral of frustration, self-doubt, trying too hard, and blame. Even legitimate marriage and sex counselors advise more play which does not lead to sex as well as more foreplay with sex.
Since eroplay may release certain chemicals in the body, to get familiar with what eroplay itself does, not adding other chemicals will help.
Since in a sexual relationship there is always the possibility of sex, eroplay is always different in a sexual relationship than in a nonsexual relationship, even when the eroplay does not lead to sex … because, as we have seen, possibility is an important factor. So eroplay in a sexual relationship is always in relationship to the possibility of sex.
Since eroplay is not mate-originated, it is possible to have a relationship with a friend in which eroplay is an important part, but in which the possibility of sex and romance is very clearly excluded. This kind of relationship will have good effects on your other relationships.
To illustrate both what eroplay can do, and the difference in effect of eroplay and sex, I offer a page out of my life. In the ’70s, I had a group of about thirty people. It was fairly clear to us that there was a difference between playing and sex. It was not as clear to us as it is in this paper. We saw that it has something to do with sex and “marriage” (the word “marriage” is another word that has negative connotations hidden within it), so we decided to commit ourselves to having sex only with those to whom we were married. But we eroplayed with all of the people in the group. The eroplay became more intense, more playful. We as people got wackier, more physical. It gave us a greater freedom not only within our group, but in the general society as well. By eroplaying intensely, but playfully, it released a certain creativity which we used in many ways. Successful businesses were established. We did several public performances, a stage show that ran for three years, and a wealth of wacky private performances. All of these had the vital energy of eroplay, of unlimited possibility. We were kids playing together even though we were adults. Even though the eroplay could become very intimate, physical, soft, and sexy, there was no jealousy or possessiveness because it was clear that sex would not be involved. This went on for three years.
But … you have been waiting for this “but” … at a certain point, we started questioning the concept of marriage: What was the difference between what we thirty had together and being married? We did not see any difference. (We were using the misleading word “marriage”. I see now that we should have used the word “mating”, which does not refer to child-bearing, but to bonding.) Not seeing any difference between marriage and what we had, the next logical question was, “Why not have sex?” So we started to have sex outside marriage within the group. Almost immediately changes appeared in the group. Jealousy and possessiveness appeared. The playful creativity which came from eroplay dried up. Playing and the physical freedom between the people quickly ceased to be. The spark of our show was not there anymore. The group as a group quickly began to fall apart.
This is why my interest in the difference between sex and eroplay has increased and formalized in my art … why I long to tap again into intense, pure eroplay with people, then use the resulting creativity in art without being derailed by sex.
Which brings us to eroart.
Thanks to the repressive, sexual, anti-pleasure morality, romanticism, and pornography, the traditional area of eroart – art that uses nudity, physicality, and/or sex to turn people on to life – has been ripped off by pornography.
Almost everyone is against porn films. Almost everybody in his right mind. But everybody isn’t in his right mind, which is why there is porn anyway.
But it is fashionable to be against porn. There are many good reasons to be against porn. Fashion is not one of them.
The anti-sex, anti-pleasure, anti-nudity morality is not one of the good reasons to be anti-porn. This kind of repressive morality was the main reason why during the nineteenth century kinky violent porn caught on.
What I am interested in is art that creates in people the desire to go out and play with other people, and to enjoy life. This is the art of eroplay. Historically, one of the tools of this art has been the sex act. But sex has only been a tool, not the goal. And it is just one of many tools. Isadora Duncan is a person whom I would call an artist in the eroplay tradition. She used nudity (especially at private parties where she could dance without feeling moral judgments) and movement to turn people on physically to their own bodies and to passion for life. This is the true goal of eroplay art, which has been called eroart. Most books on eroart miss the true purpose of such art. There has always been sexual erotic art. This kind of art is universal and can be traced back to the caves and beyond.
<Coming soon to this spot: a brief history of erotic performance art.>
This is not true for what is defined as porn. I am trying to define eroart. We are forced to separate it from porn, and rightly so.
It is fashionable to be anti-porn. But it is human to be anti-porn because porn is anti-human, not only anti-female. It is violence between individual people. At times, this violence is graphic. It is personal and intimate violence in a hostile and impersonal form. I hurt you to make me feel turned-on because I cannot get turned-on in any other way because I cannot feel … besides, you like being hurt … if you don’t … who cares …. This isn’t the symbolic or surreal violence in other kinds of films.
Porn is also anti-human because it creates a picture of what sex should be that is unreal and boring. It creates pictures of what you should be like … pictures which are hard to live up to … and if you do live up to them, you will be a big-dicked jerk or a big-titted bimbo.
These are the fundamental reasons why to be anti-porn.
But face it, the main reason that most people are anti-porn is because porn is boring and dumb. The people who make porn (I am talking about straight porn now, leaving the kinky, violent porn in the trash can) think that the main reason why people go to see porn is to see tubes going in and out of holes. So they cram in as many tubes going in and out of holes as possible in ninety minutes … and as close-up as possible. This may be true for some people, but for most people, it gets boring once curiosity is satisfied, curiosity about what it looks like, and once the possibility of seeing everything is fulfilled.
It is fashionable to be anti-porn. But it is not fashionable to offer an alternative to porn. It is not fashionable to admit that people like seeing other people nude, seeing other people getting turned-on and being turned-on. It is not fashionable to admit people are curious to see other people’s bodies, to see what they are really like under those clothes. It is not fashionable to admit people feel cheated whenever the camera moves away, fades away, when the people on the screen are getting intimate. It is not fashionable because it would be putting yourself, your body, and your emotions where your ideals and your politics are.
To make videos that satisfy that child-like need of seeing nude bodies and seeing people playing, making out, and having fun is not as profitable as either what Hollywood does or what the porn-makers do. This child-like need is the healthy human desire that is perverted in porn.
The time is right for an art form that addresses this healthy desire. The women’s movement has changed people’s standards with regard to sex and the quality of relationships. This is true of both men and of women. They have scrapped, or are scrapping the old sexist ways and attitudes, and now they find the old-style porn disgusting … but more importantly, they are finding porn is not meeting their needs and desires. They want to be turned-on in a way that is not sexual; they want to see nudity without stupidity; they want to see new ways of relating between humans both in and out of bed. Eroart in all media can show this way of relating … can show both purely nonsexual eroplay and eroplay as foreplay in sex.
Film and video can do this. But the producers of porn haven’t the foggiest idea of this, and have a vested interest in the meat approach. In its broadest definition, erovideo could be any kind of film – westerns, thrillers, science fiction, etc. – in which the unwritten rules are not followed. The camera doesn’t fade or cut away from erotic scenes before it is logical to do so … bodies wouldn’t be cut off. Cable has made porn so available that it has removed the glamour of the forbidden. As a result, porn has to stand on its lack of merit. As a result, the sales and rentals on adult tapes are going down, and the adult cable systems are going out of business.
The desire to see nudity and intimacy and to be turned-on is not being satisfied. Hollywood is caught between being ruled by taboos and being in the business of teasing. Andy Warhol once said Hollywood has been doing a forty-year striptease, showing a little more each year to get people to come back. The closest Hollywood comes to the erotic/sexual (except for a few maverick directors like Roeg) is the sex-exploitation and youth exploitation films. There seems to be an unwritten rule that if it is sexy-sexual-nude, it has to be dumb. Hollywood does exploitative films because they make money. They make money because they are the closest thing to the erotic/sexual that is offered. But sitting through a dumb movie to see nude bodies of dumb people is not worth it. Hollywood, however, will not take risks.
Hollywood will not make such a risky, daring product as a truly erotic film mainly because of the high money stakes involved. The pornographers will not do it either because of their lack of skill, insight, and morality, or because they too are ruled by money, and by criminals.
But breaking taboos has always been a part of art, at least the area of art that seeks to change consciousness, change morality, change reality. The breaking of taboos ideally should not be a part of eroplay for everyday life. But it is. Art can slowly take eroplay out of the taboo area. This is one of the functions of art.
Here is where art comes in. As I have said, this kind of art creates a kind of bubble in which the forbidden can be done with immunity, releasing energy of the broken taboo … energy which then affects society as a whole. Art makes a clear circle of difference between this bubble and everyday reality; it is a kind of safety valve for society … much as dreams are to the individual. According to the book THE PAINTED BODY, the caves where the first artists did their work where no one could see were such bubbles, as was body painting. Performance art is this kind of consciousness-altering art. It creates a special time and place where taboos can be broken, where new ways can be introduced into the society.
The other way that art can make it easier for us in everyday life, and at the same time fight against the anti-pleasure, anti-human morality, against sexism, against pornography, against romanticism, is by showing us eroplay, both with and without sex, and getting us acquainted and comfortable with eroplay. This can be done in all media. Enter erovision. Erotic projects could be made on half-inch videotape by individual artists to be sold directly by mail from the artist to the individual viewer. This would avoid the power structures that grow up around big money. Half-inch video, home video, is cheap in materials, editing, and post-production, and distribution is much, much cheaper than in any other format. The technical quality is acceptable, and free from the comparison with film or professional three-quarter inch video. Home video is the workable channel for any product that the establishment will not touch … or that you don’t want the establishment to touch, hence control. Such is erovideo.
Whether we as artists do eroart to release magically eroplay into the air (such as through performance art) or to show the non-sexual way of relating that is eroplay (such as through video or film) … whether we choose to use the sex act or not in our eroart … we must not let our work be defined in relation to pornography. There has been a huge amount of time and energy wasted trying to define and ban pornography. The best way to undermine sexism and pornography is to create an alternative to them. Take back nudity, pleasure, sex, and eroticism from pornography. Show pornography up as being drab, inhuman, unfun by creating a fun, human, happy alternative. Create eroart! This is overstating the case somewhat because you cannot do good eroart if it is in reaction to porn … only if it comes from some warm and playful place, can it be good eroart. Unless we put ourselves – our creativity, our minds, and, yes, our bodies into representing eroart as the humanistic alternative, the pornographer, the sexualist, and the moralist will win by default.
Some of the accompanying photographs are of acts within a performance/exhibition called “The Outrageous Beauty Revue”, conducted for several years by Frank Moore in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
This essay was also included in “Caves: a book for a performance tour” for a performance tour in the Spring of 1987, which included performances in Denver, New York City and Philadelphia. It is included in the first edition of “Cherotic Magic” published in 1990 by S/R Press, and also in the revised edition, “Cherotic Magic Revised” by Frank Moore, published by Inter-Relations in 2015.
A very short version of this interview titled, “We Misfits Are Still Needed”: A Performance Conversation with Frank Moore, was published in Adobe Airstream Magazine in October 2013. Also included are the photos that were published in the article.
Audrey: Dear Frank, I wanted to speak to you in person, but that will have to wait until I am in Berkeley or you are in Santa Fe. Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. I admire you and would like the opportunity to understand your performance work in greater depth.
Can you describe the type of performances you are creating now? Has your performance changed/evolved over the years?
Are there any projects that you’ve not yet realized that you are burning to create?
Frank: Ah, “Where is your work heading? What do you want to do next?” It is not my work. It is not my choice. For me, it is not a question of a next thing. It is a growing, evolving vision. I am carried along in this vision. A performance does not have a beginning or an end. It is just a tiny bit of the vision. The vision braids around itself, flowing on. I do not know where the vision is taking me. I have not been down this vision before. I just follow wherever the art and the magic lead. I could not have planned anywhere near as rich a life that following has opened up. I never know what will trigger what, what will bloom into years long projects, etc. I just jam, play, and enjoy!
In a way what I do in my monthly performance series today is close to what I did in my first performance workshop in Santa Fe in the early seventies.
I used my communal family of four as a core to start a weekly drop‑in workshop held in my friend’s Santa Fe pre‑school. I never knew who would show up each week. People from my street performances, free‑spirits who heard rumors about this naked happening, a Wait Until Dark cast of straight actors whose director required them to come, all were thrown into this crazy experiment. I never knew what I was going to do because I never knew who I would have to work with, or what I would have to deal with. This madhouse gave me a flexibility and a trust that the vision would guide me to create a temporary communal reality from those who were there. But the casual drop‑in format placed a limit on how deep the intimacy could get. In my communal family, we were creating a way of being which was an underground base for the art. This base was a powerful influence. But it wasn’t yet the clear focus of the work.
In May 1973, the end of this stage was a twenty‑four hour performance. I became aware of the magical quality of extended time lengths when I attended an all‑night peyote ceremony of the Native American church in Taos. [They dug a hole in the ground in the teepee for me to sit in.] Time was as powerful as the magic medicine in creating a group reality trance. To try this time factor, I took my cast to Albuquerque to do what amounted to a 24‑hour performance. For the first six hours, we approached people on the campus of the University of New Mexico, people with whom we would like to play, inviting them to an audition that night in the College Art Department for a happening. Then, after dinner, we did the workshop exercises with the 12 people who showed up. Slowly taboos were broken, a community of performance magically appeared…which was lucky because I could only book the room until midnight. Then I had to truck the performance across the city to the University of Albuquerque. The sense of community was strong enough that everyone came along. At dawn, as we stepped out of the studio, there was the crisp feeling of being born into a new world. In the late seventies I was doing forty-eight hour performances!
But more about Santa Fe later. What I do in today’s series and what I did in that first workshop look very similar because they are! But the performance is always changing. Sometimes the change is when I see that something has stopped working. Like by the nineties I had developed a loosely scripted ritual. But the audience started to know what will happen, started coming for a social [pickup] shallow scene. There was no magic, risk, push!! So I had to stop using any script and do a totally improv ritual!
I became sucked into performance not to tell stories, not to paint pictures for others to look at, not even to reveal something about myself or about the state of things, and certainly not for fame or fortune. It was simply the best way that I saw to create the intimate community which I as a person needed and that I thought society needed as an alternative to the personal isolation….
I have always wanted to bring dreams into reality.
I was lucky. I was never under pressure to be good at anything, to make money, to make it in “the real world”, to be polished – and the other distractions that other modern artists have to, or think they have to, deal with. So I could focus on having fun, on going into taboo areas where magical change can be evoked. I couldn’t do anything THE RIGHT [“NORMAL”] WAY. But I always have been so dumb that I didn’t realize I couldn’t do whatever I was pulled to do. So I just figured out how I could do things MY WAY! So I have done pretty much every kind of art in every kind of role in almost every kind of venue. And I took it for granted because I thought it was easy and I always had fun! So it’s hard to say what my art is!
There are all kinds of art. There is art that calms, art that pacifies, art that sells, art that decorates, art that entertains. But what I am committed to is art as a battle, an underground war against fragmentation. The battle is on all realities. The controllers have always tried to fragment us. Fragment us from each other. Imprison us in islands of sex, color, religion, politics, classes, labels, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc. ‑‑ they fragment our inner worlds, they blow our individual realities apart, and play the pieces against one another. They are us, or a part of us. They are the controllers, the politicians, the sexists, the women’s libbers, the pornographers, the censors, the moralists, the church, the media, the businessmen, educators, the victims and the powerful.
They are us. They have divided us from our power, from our beauty, from our lust for life and pleasure. They have divided us from most of reality ‑‑ divided dying from living ‑‑ sex from living, sex from pleasure. We are kept in boxes of fear, of mistrust. We are kept waiting ‑‑ kept waiting to do what we want ‑‑ waiting for enough money, enough schooling, for everything to be right. We are kept waiting and protecting and hiding and suffering.
This is the time to do battle with the boxes.
As artists, our tools are magic, our bodies, taboos, and dreams.
This kind of art can be bubbles of childhood ‑‑ hidden places where you can play and explore ‑‑ it is the kids’ under‑the‑covers world, the playhouse, the treehouse, the cave, behind the barn, playing doctor, cars at drive‑ins before going all the way, Huck Finn’s raft, tepees. People are afraid of this area of lusty exploring that they think they have out‑grown ‑‑ but they are sucked into it.
But this kind of art can have a more heavy‑duty magical side to it that shocks, offends, and breaks new ground. This side is what is locked in, the subconscious, the womb, the underground, hell/heaven, pleasure/torture, the coffin, the grave, birth/death/rebirth, dream/nightmare, the hidden world of taboos.
Artists of this breed need to be warriors who are willing to go into the areas of taboo, willing to push beyond where it is comfortable and safe to explore and build a larger zone of safeness. They need to be idealists, willing to live ideals.
Truth is we here always have several projects going at one time and more are popping up all the time. A lot of them turn out to be multi- year projects requiring major work which radically change our life. For example, in the nineties I was publishing an underground zine THE CHEROTIC [r]EVOLUTIONARY, which had become a well respected venue for all kinds of artists over three years. Then I [who can’t talk] got a regular radio talk show on one of the first internet stations. Well, we quickly started our own online radio station for various reasons [I exposed things about the other station]. LOVE UNDERGROUND VISIONARY REVOLUTION [LUVeR] quickly bloomed into a 24/7 community with shows from people around the world. So I had to stop the zine so I could do LUVeR! I did not plan to do a radio station just like I had not planned to do a zine! I just follow! LUVeR lasted for almost fifteen years until the record industry forced me to shut down LUVeR last year! I still do my SHAMAN’S DEN show [which started streaming as live video very early on].
Audrey: I am curious about your childhood, where you grew up? What you dreamt about….
Frank: My first stroke of good luck was I was born spastic with cerebral palsy, unable to feed myself, walk or talk. Add to this good fortune the fact that my formative years were in the sixties ‑‑ my fate was assured!
During the first year, it became more and more obvious that things weren’t “normal”. The doctors told my parents that I had no intelligence, that I had no future, that I would be best put into an institution and be forgotten. This was a powerful expectation with all the force of western science and medicine as well as social influences, behind it. It would have been easy for my parents to be swept up into this expectation. Then that expectation would have created my reality. I would have long ago died without any other possibilities.
Instead, my parents rejected this expectation for the possibility they saw in my eyes, for what for them should have been true. This rejection of the cultural expectation of reality could not be a one‑time choice. They had to passionately live their choice every day, every minute, or the cultural expectation would have sucked them and me into it. It fought them at every new possibility they opened to me. Their passionate commitment to how they thought things should be attracted people to me who kept opening new possibilities for me.
So I came out wanting to communicate with people any way I could… With my eyes at first! But soon with my noises, physical movements, laughing, etc. I just let people know I wanted to be with them, wanted to play with them, etc. This was a great training to be an actor! This was how I communicated until I learned to spell [I don’t know when that was!].
Actually it was my mom, Connie, who insisted to ignore the doctors. Connie was the black sheep of a Mormon family in Utah who had married a non-Mormon guy who was in the air force. Grace, Dad’s step mother…my grandma…supported my mother in keeping me, in treating me as a normal kid. I think they out-voted Dad! We lived in Dayton until I was 8 on the Air Force base. Granddad Frank and Grace lived in Mansfield…over 2 hours away. To give Mom breaks, they took me to their house for a week at a time.
I named my left hand “Mike” and my right hand “Ike”. They have different personalities from each other, move differently, etc. Mike is a smooth dude, somewhat sneaky, but in control if non-linear. Ike is very emotional, prone to outbursts, jerky…and shy. They have always had issues with each other…always the soap operas. Kids live in realities like this. I thought people who talked/thought in terms of “handicap” just didn’t see Mike and Ike…and the other body characters…didn’t understand their inner/inter logics!
Because Dad was in the Air Force, we moved a lot, both around the country and to Morocco and Germany. Each time we moved, Mom had to battle to get me into school [either regular school or special schools which often said I was too severely handicapped for them to take]. So I grew up knowing doing battle/struggling was how to open new possibilities up! Sometimes the school took me, at least with Mom doing something like coming to feed me or taking me home in the afternoons to continue the lessons. Other times, the school refused to take me at all. So Mom had to teach me at home! All of this taught me that struggling with flexibility is a great life style. True, when I was home taught I felt isolated. But even in those times, I made friends and was in the Scouts and went to church and to the teen club just to be with kids!
We moved to Redlands outside of San Bernardino and I got into a special education program. It was in a wing of a grade school campus. There were two classes, one for grade school kids and one for junior high and high school kids like me. There I had a board with the alphabet divided into four lines. The other person would point to each line and I would nod when he got to the right line, etc., a slow process! [My family just said the alphabet.] The doctors dictated I should learn to type with my hand… The normal way to type! I, my teacher, and my therapists all thought it was the wrong direction. But back then doctors were gods. So three times a week they taped a peg in my hand, put me into a standing box [I am not sure how that’s normal!], and for an hour I tried to get the peg through holes on a thick plastic key guard to an electric typewriter… Me sweaty, rubbing my wrist raw. In the year, I may have typed a few words! But I quickly had a practical idea. Put a pointer on a headband… My therapists and my teacher [women] wanted to try my idea. But the doctors [men] vetoed the idea. So for a year I was losing ground on my school work. They were getting ready to drop me from the school because I couldn’t keep up. Meanwhile the news that next year the class would be moving onto the regular high school campus! Then we had a substitute teacher who tried my idea in art class, putting a brush on a headband. It worked! So my regular teacher ignored the doctors and rigged a pointer from tinker toys and an elastic band. It kept flipping down, hitting my nose. But within five minutes I was typing on an electric typewriter, without any key guard or any other special equipment. Everything then changed! So I started to paint and write at the same time! Btw, the first thing I wrote was a paper on a one world democratic socialist government! And the rest is history!
Talking to people through my board has intimate qualities. It slows people down, bringing them into a softer, smaller, more focused reality. It also reveals things about them through Freudian slips, etc. Through the years I have designed the board around the other person who is reading the board, rather than around me.
In high school, I started hanging out with the few leftist students on the campus. And I started writing a political column in the school paper for my journalism class. This started me on commenting on everything. Most people who read my column didn’t know I was disabled, just a radical before being a radical was in fashion. I got shit for debating a G. I. who was in Vietnam. He responded to a column I wrote in the school paper. We went back and forth in the paper… People accused me of undermining his morale. I was sat down and told I was ruining the opportunity of the crips [my word for the disabled] who would come after me [it was the first mainstream special education class on a regular high school campus] by being a radical. They wanted to use me as their poster crip because of my high grades. I didn’t buy it! I said I thought the goal was to procure the right to be fully human for crips [and for everybody else]… Including being political! So I continued doing what I was doing! I was interested in the big deep picture, not in being a disabled artist.
Funny, that was only a couple of years after I got them to try my idea for my head pointer for typing and talking. Now I was causing trouble with my writings! And writing for underground papers opened a lot up for me for years. After high school, during the summer before I went to junior college [which almost didn’t take me because I drooled!], I had my brother drop me off at the head shop THE MIND VENDOR every Saturday. A lesbian couple ran the shop. They also put out an underground paper THE MIDDLE EYE which I quickly started writing for! When the cops shut down their shop, I started hanging out at their house. This included me in the small underground community in San Bernardino! This opened everything up for me! This community was made up of artists, musicians, poets and radicals of STUDENTS FOR A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY, THE BLACK PANTHERS, and THE PEACE AND FREEDOM PARTY.
My personal roots are in the idealism of the ’60s. That was when I broke out of personal physical isolation. I looked for a way to bring about the ideals for me and for society as a whole. The normal channels obviously would not work for me.
So all I had were my fantasies. I read novels like The Magus and Steppenwolf. I started wanting to create other alternative/altered realities just like the magicians in those novels. I read the Beat writers and the French Surrealists, Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl and Abbie Hoffman, listened to Dylan, watched the hippie movement grow. I wished I could be a hip artist living in San Francisco instead of being stuck outside San Bernardino reading, listening, watching, waiting. All of this brewed inside of me. From my high school year days, I had been writing nonsense scripts dealing with nudity and nonsexual eroticism, always with roles for me to play! I read how-to books about directing, acting, film making, etc. I read such books as Toward a Poor Theatre and The Theatre and its Double. I read THE REALIST, published by the Yippie satirist Paul Krassner, who now is my good friend! I read about THE LIVING THEATER, Allan Kaprow, Anna Halprin, etc. Little did I know that I would in a few years meet in intimate ways most of my heroes, and that they would feel that what I was doing was the continuing of their work! When I was doing my OUTRAGEOUS BEAUTY REVUE in the late seventies, it turned out that a writer who was interviewing me was the writer who did the piece in PLAYBOY about THE LIVING THEATER which I read in the late sixties! I took this as a sign I was doing something right! I also read STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND and wondered about the possibilities of group relationships.
[I do believe I just answered your question about who are my heroes!]
But I didn’t think I could get people to let me direct them in the rituals in my head. It was not until 1970 that I started trying to live out my inner visions. I tried to get the ok at Cal State, San Bernardino, to produce my all‑nude play on campus. To my surprise, the college said yes. But I couldn’t get actors. [In the early eighties they had me do a performance there!]
I was offended by such things as body doubles for nude scenes in movies and actors in live plays wearing flesh‑colored tights in lusty scenes. My play was a statement against this perverse attitude. I wasn’t really into sex itself in my art. I just wanted to see nude bodies on stage ‑‑ not sneak them in to a love scene ‑‑ and see them do things like paint their bodies with baby food. I learned it can be hard to get people for weird things.
Also in college, I started doing political pranks. For an example, I had my friend Steve Emanuel [who I still do things with] push me into the Marines recruiting office on campus. I spelled out to the confused recruiter that I wanted to join [I was extremely serious!]. Finally the poor guy said I could not do what the Marines do. I replied I could push “the Button”!
Audrey: Tell me a little about your connection to Santa Fe.
Frank: During the time of the Kent State killings, I saw my life was heading back into isolation if I did not make some radical changes. I was about to get my degree. I knew that once that happened, I would be stuck at home without much contact with people. I had tried to move out several times before. But gravity pulled me back home every time! At the time several of my friends were living at what they thought was a hippie commune. So I was hanging out there on Saturdays. But then the actual owner returned to sell the property. So my friends had to move. But the owner saw things in me and I continued to visit her, showing her my poetry and oil paintings [I painted one for her called VANITY]. Louise Scott had been a Beat in the fifties and transitioned to hippie. I told her my tale of woe. And she said I could live with her and her two kids and move to Santa Fe with them after she sold her San Bernardino property. But I had tried to move out before. I figured I needed a lot of miles between me and home when I moved out again. So I dropped out of college and hitched to hippieland in Santa Fe to wait for Louise to come, which we thought would be in a week or two. It was two months! I stayed in a DIGGER style commune crash-pad THE CENTER which was in an abandoned shopping mall in town. At first I just crashed there, eating the two free meals served every day, getting a different person each day to help me [feed me, take me to the bathroom, push me to THE PLAZA, get me down to the floor mat to sleep, etc]. There were always people glad to do whatever I needed! So I found out I could live in raw life without any money, etc! I even visited quite a few of the communes in northern New Mexico, including THE HOG FARM, MORNING STAR and THE THEATER OF ALL POSSIBILITIES. When Louise and her kids finally arrived, we lived together communally with a few others. We never had much money… But what a fun life!
I was known as UNICORN then because of my head pointer. I wrote a column, UNICORN SPEAKS, in the underground paper. Basically I was hanging out with the artists, musicians, poets, hippies and political revolutionaries in cafes, bars, coffeehouses, etc., helping to plan both political and art events.
But in a year, I found this life too comfortable! So I hitchhiked to northern Massachusetts to a commune, the Brotherhood of the Spirit. There I danced with the communal rock band, Spirit in Flesh, having fun, hitching/touring the East Coast. I even danced on stage at Carnegie Hall and got written up [with a photo] in CREEM MAGAZINE! After that start, it was all downhill from there [just kidding]!
My first major performance began in that spiritual commune in which I lived. This commune was itself a liminal altered state in which 350 people went around doing their everyday duties, but talking about who they were in past lives, going into trances, channeling spirits and other things that I, skeptic, thought were weirdnesses better suited to cheap horror movies than to real life. But the people would not listen to me when I tried to tell them this spiritual business was spacing them out of this human life. But then one day, when I was typing, a spirit who later introduced himself as Reed, came through me, typing, “You are not typing this, Frank.” At the beginning, I thought I made Reed up to get the people to listen, and to start creating my ideals in the world. But I may have been taking more credit than I deserved because Reed and two other spirits/characters/persons took on reality for themselves. People waited for the next “lecture” to come through. The spirits talked to people, guiding them (and me) to create a new personal community. Even when I left the spiritual commune, reading the new lectures for the people around me became performances aimed at them. People started seeing Reed and the others in their dreams. The question of whether Reed is “real” is not a useful question in shamanistic performance ‑‑ that is, performance for change. Reed is real whether he is a spirit floating around somewhere, or my alter‑ego, or a conning fiction which I used as an invisible puppet. His reality is the change he created in the outer world.
Reed lasted for three years as an active performance. He as a performance contained the qualities which shape all my work. It was aimed at building a personal community which by its very existence threatens the established order of isolation and fragmentation. Its parts, the lectures, used the people around me to get to universal concerns. Reed was a framed process running parallel to, but braided with, my normal life.
So after a year at the BROTHERHOOD [during which I had gotten married], I moved back to New Mexico with Debbie my wife to build a personal community. In Albuquerque, because of my REED writings, SILVA MIND CONTROL [a new age outfit] wanted to back me to open a commune. So I, without any money, was driven around in a big RV by a couple of real estate agents showing me huge hotels, etc. for sale for a week! Talk about a surreal performance piece! But the deal exploded when I exposed shady practices of SILVA!
So I went back to college at New Mexico University. Debbie and I developed a relationship first with JoAnne and later with Ray. We four eventually moved in together as a tribal relationship and moved to Santa Fe again!
I was still looking for a way to work with people. I got into the Moving Image Lab at Anthropology Film Center on Upper Canyon road. It was a very intensive in-depth film making course which was nine to five every day for four months. I made films of rolling nude down a hill, smearing bodies with baby food, nursing by a sexy woman. But when the film course was over, I did not have money to make films. I could not see putting my energy into getting money to make films, could not see putting up with the compromises and outside control involved in an artistic context requiring big bucks. For me, the act of breaking a taboo is what is magical, what effects change…not someone seeing it in a film.
This not having money, this not wanting to be controlled and limited by money, was what sealed me into a performance life.
So I again started looking for a way to work with people. I wanted to see people nude, and touch them, and to create an intensity between us.
I had been painting oils for years, painting with a brush strapped to my forehead, painting nudes from magazine photos. One day, when I was selling newspapers in The Plaza as an excuse to talk to people, I told what turned out to be a rich woman I painted oils. She asked me to paint a nude of her. So Debbie set me and my paints up in the fancy living room as the woman undressed. On that day I realized how art can give people permission to do what normally is forbidden. It gives a frame that switches realities from the narrow normal reality to the freeing altered reality of controlled folly. If you go up to a stranger on the street and ask him to show his body to you, you will be lucky if he just walks away and does not hit you. But if you sincerely (and sincerity is a key) ask him to model for a painting or be in a video that involves nudity, there is a high chance he will do it because you are offering him a key to a new, different, and temporary reality.
So I sat on the center plaza, “selling newspapers”. But selling papers was only a context. The context for me was an excuse for watching people, talking to people who had the slowness and the insightful curiosity to stop and talk…a way for me to ask them to model for me. These special people were my real targets for my street pieces. They saw past the mask of the cripple. The masses used the mask of the cripple to relieve their guilt, to reinforce their fragile superiority of being “normal”, to make themselves feel better by throwing money (up to $20 a throw) at the less fortunate at whom they would not even look. The third type of person was made up of the poor and the kids who gave money as a pure spiritual act. When the special person stopped to talk, a crowd gathered around to listen. Money fell on my board while I was asking the special person to model.
The newspaper selling quickly fell away. All I had to do was sit there on the sidewalk, being available to talk. It did not matter that I dressed fancy, or had a sign saying, “I don’t want money; I want you.” The money kept falling. But I did discover that there are special spots and special ways of sitting which attract people. Sit at a slightly different angle, or on a spot a few feet away from the special spot and you become invisible.
I have done these street performances across the country. I have gotten tickets to the Joffrey, filled a couple of workshops, got my cameraman for one of my films, all from the street pieces. I almost caused a riot in front of Caesar’s Palace in Atlantic City, N.J. The crowd did not take kindly to the casino guards trying to push me away because I was taking Caesar’s money.
I painted a lot of the special people from the street performances. I noticed the changes in the people when they took off their clothes; how they relaxed, how they started talking on a deeper level about important personal things. After I got a taste of direct interpersonal acting out of erotic dreams, painting became too static. I began a series of private performances called Nonfilms. I asked the special people from the street performances to come to my home, into my study which was my first cave. Within this cave, cut off from the normal reality, we created scenes which no camera would shoot, nobody would see. Although I had played with my friends before in nonsexual eroticism, this was the first time I tried to use “sexual” acts in a nonsexual art form. I was surprised with the power that this released. Because of these scenes, the people started talking about their lives during these sessions and said it helped their other relationships. Not one person minded that there was no film. These nonfilms were the base for my career in relationship counseling.
I first noticed the nonlinear effects of private performance in these secret rituals. People whom I approached on the street came to me weeks after the nonfilm, the person usually reported changes in his life, in his relationships, in how people were towards him…all of which amazed him (and me too) because he hadn’t told anyone that he had done the ritual. Part of the change in how people related to him can be explained linearly by the change in the person emotionally and even physically caused by the performance. But this does not explain how things “just happened” to him, things that were improbable, things that we both linked to the ritual.
In the eighties I started videoing these nonfilms when the VHS home equipment first came out. I didn’t care that there was no place to show these videos. I got shit for using the VHS [among many other things]! I didn’t care! The important thing for me is always the doing the art with people, not who will see it! So we just put all of my videos in the closet. When the internet finally arrived, I was ready! I was one of the first artists who used the internet to show my videos! Those nonfilms in the closet now get watched by thousands a day!
I don’t have a choice about what the art is like, can’t change it to suit the art fashion to keep up with the times. It is a living monster pulling me along in its zigzag evolution. Real art is like that. Art is a calling, not a career.
The nonfilm pieces were active physical mutations of the psychic, literary lectures of Reed. Both the Reed lectures and the nonfilms were created around the particular people in my life to call forth an alternative reality to the normal one. I do not function all that well in the social, political, casual, sexual, economical, competitive world. So I look to performance to create a world of community, intimacy, and human intense interaction. For me, art is a matter of survival.
But I began to see the nonfilms were magical intense nonsexual one night stands which were not building a sense of expanding community, the heart of the vision that controls my art.
I was not satisfied with these nonfilms because they were brief relationships that did not go anywhere. What I wanted to do was create intimacy ‑‑ that is, a situation in which anything is permissible, where people feel that secure. I didn’t want to connect this intimacy with romance or sex because that would set limits. But that “anything is permissible” did mean a wide open erotic freedom.
I somehow stumbled upon a book, Environmental Theater by Richard Schechner, a book about a theater of active involvement and participation, of nudity and intimate physicality, of risk‑taking and change. It was right up my alley. Richard’s insights and experiments were inspiring to me.
But it seemed to me the Performance Group of Richard’s was not well‑versed in, or committed to, a living communal intimacy, so they retreated from the edge when they were expected to live the personal intimacy they were acting out. My years of communal living and spiritual study gave me needed keys to take what Richard had done forward. The book fit so well with my own experiments, philosophy and vision, it became a base of the next stage of the work.
And I have already talked about the workshop and the twenty four hour performance which came out of all of this. After that performance, my tribal body of four plus around five people from the workshop moved to N.Y.C. to continue the work.
Audrey: You are well known as one of the NEA funded artists that was targeted by Jesse Helms in the 1990s, which resulted in the NEA no longer funding performance art. What do you think about the growing embrace of performance art by large museums, collectors, and the public?
Frank: I have written a lot about what I call THE COMBINE PLOT which leads artists on a chase of college degrees, of skills to operate high‑tech art‑making machines, of money or positions that will give them the opportunity to do art, even when the style, the subject matter, and maybe the content of the art is dictated by this chase, by the combine plot.
When the news came out that I was on the hit list I wrote this:
“I see in the press that Sen. Jesse Helms and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher have nominated me, along with Annie Sprinkle, Karen Finley, Johanna Went, Cheri Gaulke, as well as other unnamed artists, to be the next target in their war on art. By doing so, Dana and Jesse have given us artists a platform from which to fight the plot. Because doing battle with the combine plot is one of the main functions of an artist, I am flattered to be nominated as one of the top ten on the new McCarthy hit list. I was feeling left out. All my heroes in the past were banned, jailed, harassed for their work. Artists such as Finley who I respect have been fighting the censors for years. My ego was crushed when I saw Rohrabacher on CNN label Annie Sprinkle a threat to the established moral order. After all, my work is as threatening as hers. But days later, someone sent me the NEW YORK CITY TRIBUNE (Feb. 5) special report that named names, and my name was there. What a relief! I only wish Dana and Jesse had invited me to testify. Jesse, I am available.”
It was not about stopping funding artists. Annie Sprinkle had not even tried to get NEA funding when we were targeted. And I just had gotten an NEA fellowship of five thousand dollars years ago! It was my first and last spin in the Grant Game. I felt fine about applying because back then they based it on your past work, not for some future project. There were no strings on how I used the money. I always had the iron clad policy of not giving the control of the art away to the government, corporations, audiences, cast members, venues, etc. So I only do art that we here can afford to pay for ourselves. But in the end of the year of that fellowship, I began to have an addicted feeling, thinking about applying for more grants, etc. rather than just doing art. So I said FUCK THIS SHIT and went cold turkey! That addiction to getting outside money really shut off a lot of possibilities!
About five years before this targeting, I was pissing other artists off by warning them they were opening gates for such an attack by giving other artists shit for not doing politically correct enough work. So I was expecting such an attack. But I didn’t think I was a big enough fish to be one of the targeted! But I was ready, ready to ride the bull for years, ready to use the platform and power that being targeted gave me to battle with censorship, repression and suppression, and to have fun doing it! Being targeted is just a part of the job of doing the kind of art I do!
The core goal of this attack was to politically deball all art. All of us targeted artists [gays, women and me] were using nudity and eroticism for radical political social change.
When an artist sets herself up as being an artist who goes beyond the normal frame, who tells the hard truths, who explores the unknown…not to be hip, or controversial, or to be interesting…but because that is how our tribal human being evolves, so it has to be done…when that kind of artist then goes after money, personal fame, and/or glamour while still claiming to be doing avant-garde art, it is denying society the real evolutionary function of the real avant-garde. It tells people, audiences and artists alike, that the avant-garde is just a branch of the entertainment complex with the same rules, goals, reality as television, rock music, Hollywood, and sports. This is like telling people a can of Slim Fast is a balanced meal of real food. It is a lie. And the scary dangerous thing is artists are buying/selling this lie. Avant-garde art is art that tells the truth, explores the taboos, pushes the limits. Obviously this kind of art, if it is honest, cannot be focused outwardly. Historically, often “The People” [who are not the same thing as “the mainstream”] have identified with the avant-garde because it was telling the truth about their lives. The focus of the avant-garde should always be on telling the truth, not on popularity polls and bottom lines. The focus of the avant-garde has been, and should be, on doing art that is as “pure” as possible…not on mass media entertainment of reaching as many people as possible by shaping “the product” to that goal.
The mainstream entertainment, by it sheer mass, has always sucked artists out of the fringe, the underground. That is just gravity. In reality, it takes a lot to enter, and to stay in, the underground. The underground is where the real freedom and the real ability to change society are to be found. This is why artists CHOOSE the underground instead of the mainstream. This is also why, when an artist is pulled into the mainstream, this freedom and ability decay. In my own career, I have worked very hard to stay in the underground…this work has been hard precisely because some of the pieces have turned out to be “popular” [whatever that means!]…attracting the mainstream sharks.
The mainstream has always tried to create a fake avant-garde with fake controversies, fake taboos, fake “hipness”, etc. to give the marks a controlled fun-ride through a Disneyland to keep them away from the real edge of life. This is because the powers-that-be cannot control or exploit what is in the real avant-garde. To pull this off, the government, corporations, whatever need us artists. WE ARTISTS DON’T NEED THEM!
Seeing art as THE PRODUCT, with marketing phrases such as “alternative comedy [a.k.a. performance art]”, is very damaging to performance art because it trivializes art. In fact it avoids “art” all together, selling “alternative comedy” as a weird, consumable form of entertainment which will give you a laugh for your buck. This is not what performance art is. Performance art is the performing/doing/experiencing the act of art. It is going on a physical journey into the unlimited realm of art. Sometimes this journey may be funny or entertaining. But these are not the true goals or rewards. The suggestion [promotion] that these are the rewards of art results in denying people, including the artists, the real full freeing experience of art.
All of this is selling the art, the artists, and the audience way short. Moreover it was misunderstanding the new media such as the internet and zines. In these media, artists can relate to their audiences directly without middlemen, without compromises, without limiting concepts such as “mainstream”…all for very little money…so why sell out?
Btw, I am always willing to sell out for fifty grand a week!
So the NEA became a part of this long before Helms targeted us. But when he forced the NEA to add a clause to its artist contract, the NEA became useless to artists like us. The clause was basically a loyalty oath to the established order, promising to do no art that could offend anybody! Some artists like Rachel Rosenthal sent their NEA money back, refusing to sign! But most artists signed, not embarrassed to admit that they did that weak of art! And that was the death nail of the NEA to individual artists.
Audrey: Your work deals with the body, erotic play and sexuality— themes that a person with cerebral palsy is not usually identified with. Are you able to get away with things that more traditionally able-bodied artists are not?
Frank: Mmmmmm… Who is doing the identifying? Who are the artists with cerebral palsy who don’t deal with the body and sex? And why don’t they? Don’t they deal with life in all of its dimensions?
I have always claimed whole LIFE with all of its issues, etc. as my canvas and subject matter. I have claimed all kinds of art and all channels of communication as my tools! Having cerebral palsy is one of my tools. It is a great shortcut and adds additional dimensions to what I do. For an example, when I get on a stage at a punk club to sing, everything is blown open, the old reality with all the limits have been shown up as lies because a dude like me shouldn’t be a rock star! So my body is like a booster rocket even before I open my mouth! But then I need to deliver, get results! I always do!
There are always all kinds of pressures to change the content, the tools, and the focus of the work. People always say they like the work because it is strong, but I should get over my obsession with sex and nudity, and get on to more important issues; I should not get “stuck” in one vision. I can never figure out why they LIKE the art if they think that!
What they do not realize is what they like about the work, the strength, comes from being committed to a single vision, no matter what the current trends and fashions are. I cannot imagine more important issues than sex and freedom symbolized by nudity. But these are not my ultimate focus. Sex and nudity are powerful digging tools to reach the intimate community. By limiting the tools of art, art itself is limited.
When the artist is rooted in private rituals, it becomes clear that she is not an agent for society, or some political movement, or the art galleries and art “experts”, or even for her own individualistic imagination. Instead, she is an agent of gods, of dreams, of visions and myths. This causes reactions in society, especially when the piece is public. Karen Finley in the eighties was criticized for limiting her audience because she offended them by her words, anger, nudity. An artist who is rooted in the private channels is not affected by this attempt to curb the power of the art by strapping it to audience acceptance and agreement. The power of a Karen Finley is the taboo‑breaking energy she releases into society. This societal pressure to tame art down, which usually sounds very reasonable and comes even from liberal sources, is very hard for the artist to resist who is not familiar with the hidden channels of change.
Audrey: Is nudity and eroplay always a part of your performance?
Frank: Well, in my performances, like in my life, the possibility of nudity, sex, and everything else is always there on the table to appear at any time. This turns up the importance of everything that does actually occur into an intensive altered state. I never know what will happen!
And in reality all my life is my performance, using all kinds of channels of communication [both linear and non-linear]. Funny! I probably have reached a lot more people than any other performance artist. And me, not caring how many people the art reaches!
Audrey: Is the glass half full or half empty?
Frank: My cup runneth over! It always has!
Audrey: As a younger performance artist, I am interested in a dialogue between our generations. What are your impressions of the ’80s and ’90s generation of artists as opposed to your own. This, of course, is a very broad topic, but perhaps you can rap on the subject a little.
Frank: In the seventies and the early eighties, the calling of art became the career of art. The passion and idealism became the studying of the trends of what will be “in” next. The passionate vulnerability that creates magic was replaced by a cool and clever intellectualism. We artists got seduced by high tech. We got seduced by the modern media, by the quest for large audiences.
I think performance was being ruined by trying to package it as entertainment, as off‑beat cabaret. Some performance is entertaining. Some performance is cabaret. That is great. But when you try to package performance into a neat cabaret format, as I think is the trend, to make performance acceptable and profitable, it becomes a hip form of nightclub watching or groovy T.V. watching. If you limit performance in time and space for acceptability, it stops being performance.
I like doing cabaret and video. They are great mediums in themselves. Of course, video, cabaret, computers, etc. have always been a big part of what I do.
But when I am doing cabaret or video, I am always aware of the limitations built into their formats. When someone watches a video, he knows that he will remain passively watching from the outside; the video will not literally pop out into his reality, or physically drag him into the T.V.
When someone goes to a cabaret, he knows there are certain limits involved such as that each act must end before another begins; but in performance, anything is possible. A performance can last for a minute or it can last for days. Performance can start in one space but then move to another. Performance can be storytelling, it can be a guy threatening you with a baseball bat, it can be a guy hanging by his skin, or throwing food, or anything. In performance all things are possible. And that is what gives you an extra edge to create dreams.
Performance, like any avant‑garde art, is the way society dreams; it is the way society expands its freedom, explores the forbidden in safety, loosens up. Society needs its dream art, just as an individual needs to dream or will go insane. Our moral majority society, bent on going backwards into the violent blank rigidity of a censored mind, needs taboo‑breaking dreams to get back to freedom. Performance is perfectly suited for this dream role. At the present time, our society is at a fork in its growth. It can go deeper into high tech impersonal isolation, or it can rediscover the magic that happens when physical and emotional humans actively and directly link up with one another. Art can either just follow society, just recording the trends, or it can take a pathbreaker role. I am talking to you artists who are not as lucky as I am to have a physical reminder that they are misfits of society whose job it is to push back the limits of society. This is a reminder that we misfits are still needed.
Performance art, the art of performance, is rooted in the private games of babies where every move and gesture has its own meaning to the baby ‑‑ it is rooted in the creative and the destructive games that a little kid does when he is all alone ‑‑ games that adults still do, but will not admit to doing, even to themselves.
One of the main criticisms I get is that my art is old fashioned, a throwback to the ’60s. I find this funny because the roots of the art are much more old fashioned than that, going back to the cave.
Performance obviously goes much farther back than 1909 when it became a formal art form. The Futurists were reacting to the bankruptcy of formal art, with its gallery power scene, the elitism of art, the money, the politics, and the social scene of art. This is a true but a one‑sided view of why performance appeared at that time.
I think performance came into existence to fill a void in western life. The void was the lack of magic and inspiration. The two areas of creativity, theatre and religion, that traditionally were the source of this magical inspiration had long ago moved from magic to entertainment and politics. This void also gave birth to psychology during that same time period. I often get the criticism that my work is really psychology and therapy, and not art. When it is realized that psychology as a formal science and performance as a formal art were born at the same time, this criticism can be answered. Performance and psychology are both involved in spiritual healing by digging into the hidden mysteries of life.
The dynamic of seeing art is not the fundamental dynamic of art. The doing of art is art’s basic dynamic. The doing of art and having other people see the art work are two separate dynamics, events, rituals. The seeing of art is what the viewer or listener does in her head. The doing of art is the ritual of creation, is what the artist does. In reality, this ritual has more to do with the act of doing than the act of creating. When a child first draws crazy lines on the wall, he is not trying to create something…but to do something for some effective purpose that our linear logic cannot grasp. The crazy person does his insane rituals, not to express himself but to keep the sky from falling or to make pain go away. And it works. The sky does not fall down. Maybe it is because of the rituals of the insane.
The very act of doing changes the whole universe. This is a key principle of magic. By doing a ritual or by speaking a spell, you can effect change. Painting a picture, doing a dance, writing a poem, any act of art can be a magical ritual, the doing of which has nonlinear effects. Seen in this way, most acts of creation are private rituals done in personal caves. What we usually think of as works of art are aftermaths of art.
The problem with our modern frame of art reality is not that we make art to be seen, but that we have forgotten (or have been made to forget by those who control what is to be seen and what is not) that the power of doing art is the main power of art. The private performance is a way to regain the magical power of the doing of art. Defining what a private performance is is an interesting way to enter the magic. I define it as a ritual that is not for an audience. It is something that has to be done, something you may not even want to do. One of the easiest to frame as a private performance is a shaman going to his secret spot to do rites nobody will see to open himself up for channeling visions that he cannot personally use or tell anyone about. We have seen other obvious private performances ‑‑ the child, the madman, the artist alone doing art. We can add things like doodling, singing in the shower, playing invisible drums to the radio when you are safe alone in your room. It is something that has to come out. It is something too silly, too taboo, too sacred, too intense, too raw, too vulnerable to be done in public, to be expressed. This may be where real art begins. This kind of doing by one person is clearly private performance. It has an element of secrecy and undercover. I can remember singing on my bed along with the radio, quickly stopping when anyone opened the door, not wanting to be exposed, not wanting to lessen the magic. And now I sing in rock clubs.
The hidden ritual not only kept me from insanity (some people will say that makes it therapy, not art), but opened nonlinear routes of possibilities not only for me, but for everybody. The private performance gives the artist freedom from limits and shoulds and morals, so that she can go beyond where the society or culture or the consciousness has reached, to connect to the universal power. By doing this she brings a new universal area into this reality.
Audrey: I think you are terrific Frank. I see that you ran for President?
Frank: Well, are not all political campaigns performances? That doesn’t mean they are not serious. My performances often start with something seemingly trivial then grow by themselves very quickly into forces unto themselves. The campaign started with a t-shirt of The Three Stooges. Michael [“Mikee”] LaBash, who is one of six people I live with within a tribal relationship and who is our graphic/web designer, had a CURLY FOR PRESIDENT t-shirt. For Christmas 2006 Mikee made me a FRANK MOORE FOR PRESIDENT shirt. When I wore it, people started asking me what my platform was. So I wrote a platform up. Everybody who read it got excited, overflowed with hope, saying it expressed what they felt and wanted. They didn’t see a performance artist in a wheelchair. They didn’t check the odds of my winning. Instead they saw someone who they could excitedly vote for… somebody who shared their dreams, who talked deeply about what really affects their lives. Their reactions placed on me a responsibility to mount a serious campaign, to commit and surrender to it…and to hang on no matter where this ride would go. I never know where a performance or a project will evolve to.
In one of my speeches from the campaign I said that I started running basically because none of the prominent candidates were talking honestly and directly about the state of things, were committed to fundamental change, and had a clear plan to create a humane, sustainable, and just plain enjoyable society. So I took on that role. My running for President created an excitement for how possible it is to bring our dreams for our society into reality… to remove fear and isolation; to get the boot of big corporations off our neck; to provide everyone health care, life-long education, a minimum income, and a livable wage; to restore our rights and freedoms; and to bring our troops home! We everyday people know the real state of the union! But more importantly, we have the sense of what is possible! We need leaders who share our dreams and who do not sell us short. Or sell us out!
This excitement extended overseas, and we received much more coverage of the campaign in Europe than we did locally, although there were a handful of great interviews and articles about the campaign here in the U.S.. In Europe, there were great articles written about the campaign in France, Germany, Poland and the UK, and an appearance on Swedish TV!
We did many local events and attended many different local festivals during the over two years that I ran for President, and they were some of the most effective pieces I have ever done … Here is what I wrote about the campaign coming to the “How Berkeley Can You Be” Parade in September of 2007:
“The whole day blew me out. Linda and Mikee took turns pushing my chair close to the lines of people along the parade route so I could shake hands, look into people’s eyes, hear their responses, interact one on one…all of which would have been impossible if I sat on a truck. I was moved when people thanked me for running, when whole sections started clapping and chanting, “GO, FRANK, GO!” Erika, Corey, Alexi, and sometimes Linda or Mikee gave out over 1,200 copies of the platform. And people didn’t throw it away as is common, but started reading it, shouting out planks they were moved by. I can see that “pressing the flesh” can be addicting! And a lot of people are devoted viewers of the public access shows of Suzy and mine. “I WATCH YOU EVERY NIGHT!”, “WE TIVO YOU!”, “I LEARN FROM WATCHING YOUR SHOWS!”
Camping out in our beautiful booth, which we put up for most of these events and festivals, was only slightly less intense. We were a visual magnet, decked out with banners, t-shirts, buttons, bumper stickers, peace flags and platforms. And people got the tribal body that the 6 of us are together!
By the “official” count, I received a handful of votes, spread across a number of states, Maryland, Illinois, Kansas, Georgia, Utah, West Virginia, and of course California. But the “official” count for write-in candidates is always just a small part of the picture, because so many of the states that actually accept write-in candidates for President will never actually count or record the votes unless the number of votes becomes large enough to contend with the “major” candidates. For instance, we know directly that I received votes in New York, but there were 0 votes counted for me in NY.
The campaign also had a direct effect on the electoral process for write-in Presidential candidates in a number of states. We not only forced several states’ elections divisions to learn their own system, we also challenged and/or changed procedures and requirements in other states both before and after the election.
Written March 28, 1998 for P-Form for their “Illness” issue. Published in P-Form #46, Fall 1998.
Chero is the physical life energy. I created the word “Chero” by combining “Chi” and “Eros”. Magic is the science/art of nonlinear change. In Cherotic Magic, it is the practical focus of the person to reshape reality into more humane forms by using the magical dynamics of relationships.
It is funny to be asked to write about art as healing. It is funny because when I went to grad art school, one of the main “criticisms” I got for the work I did was, because it “heals”, it must be therapy, not art. That was news to me! I always thought one of the functions of art is healing.
For the purposes of this essay, my work consists of rituals. These rituals are in the contexts of public performances, of shamanistic training, and of private performances.
There is an attracting, pleasurable, excited, calming, healing energy that I call “chero”. In these rituals of body play, one of the things that often occurs is a healing transformation. One of the channels of this transformation is aroused “chero”.
In the western culture, chero is known as “sexual energy” or as the “sexual urge”. This is because in this culture, adults usually call chero forth by means of sex and use chero mainly for sex. However, sex is just one way to use chero. Moreover, sex is just one of the ways to call forth chero.
Chero is the life force. It is what attracts. Chero is what attracts other people to you. It is what the shamans used to heal and melt other realities into the normal reality. It is what Tantric Buddhists used to reach the higher spiritual spheres. They use the sex act to arouse chero, which they then use in their spiritual quest. Sex is a cherotic act. But Chero is by no means simply a/the sexual energy. There are many ways of calling forth chero, and many ways of letting chero direct or guide you.
Within these rituals, chero is aroused by various physical/magical (“tanpanic”) trances. One of these trances is eroplay.
Eroplay is not foreplay, even though foreplay is eroplay.
Kids play very physically both with their own bodies and others’ bodies. They get turned on by this play, turned on both physically and mentally. This turn-on is not sexual in kids. Studies have shown that babies who are held, touched, and played with are more healthy and alert, weigh more, and have a lower rate of death than babies who are denied this eroplay. Studies also show that old people who live alone, who don’t get physical and emotional contact, are less healthy and die sooner than people of the same age who live with others and get that physical contact.
When we grow up into adults, eroplay is linked to sex, maybe to assure procreation. But there may be different results when eroplay is not connected to the sexual orgasm.
Foreplay is eroplay, but eroplay is not foreplay. We need a certain amount of straight eroplay (not connected to or leading to sex) to be as healthy as possible.
Foreplay leads to orgasm…eroplay leads to being turned on in many different ways and in all parts of the body. It can be different every time.
Skin touching skin seems to be what releases the full impact of eroplay.
There are some physical health and lifestyle advantages of using eroplay to arouse chero in your body. These advantages are caused by the physical and psychic changes in the body started by aroused chero. Over the years of experimenting, we have often noticed that people’s physical appearances change, sometimes radically, after they eroplay. Their physical features soften, the way they hold their bodies relaxes, their bodies have a glow very similar to the glow that many pregnant women have. All of these signs are visual, physical signals which attract open people to the chero‑enriched person…and thus attract more opportunities to him. It is also important to point out that these changes are temporary, lasting from a few hours to a few weeks depending on the physical and emotional environment. Continued release of chero is needed to have these changes be longer and longer lasting.
There are other changes that occur during eroplay. By touching, rubbing, rocking, moving, the energy centers of the body are randomly activated, releasing a flood of blood with chemicals that produce the sense of well‑being in all parts of the body. This is a warming well‑being. This is deepened by the special breathing that is gentle laughing. This is why eroplay is playful and fun at its most healing level. Laughter has its own special healing quality.
Sometimes the release of chero is blocked by confusion and guilt when the person feels the pleasurable, turned‑on feeling which he in the past associated with sex. But now he feels it in a nonsexual, nonromantic situation. If he can just let the pleasurable turn‑on wash over him without thoughts, it carries him to a new realm of relaxed enjoyment.
Eroplay as a spiritual, healing technique balances chero through all the energy centers throughout the body. This is different than other techniques such as Kundalini Yoga in which the energy which I am calling chero is raised through a very dangerous process from the base of the spine to out the top of the skull. In eroplay, chero is called forth in all parts of the body, creating an energy center out of the whole body.
There is a widely held misconception that the physical and the spiritual planes are in opposition to each other, that to reach the spiritual, you have to avoid the physical. This is overlooking a great number of disciplines that use the physical in various aspects to reach spiritual treasures. The physical is one aspect of the spiritual, the aspect most accessible to us.
As we eroplay, many changes take place. The changes are both physical and psychic. We have already talked about some of the physical changes. One of the physical signs that can occur is the male erection when certain energy centers (and not necessarily the cock) are aroused in certain ways. This male erection has become the most sexual symbol in our culture and perhaps the most taboo. The female erection is not outwardly visible, and hence is usually ignored. But in reality, the “sexual” organs are no more or no less sexual than any of the other energy centers in the body. In eroplay, erection should not be thought of as sexual or a turn toward sex. This region of the body is just one of the main centers of energy.
The other physical changes caused by the arousal of chero through eroplay are a slight enlarging of the pupils, a slight change in scent from the sweat glands and nipples, the chero blush, and a difference in body tone. All of these are so slight that they usually are only picked up on the subliminal level. The changes in one body can be transferred to the bodies of others through these subliminal sensory signals. This is one reason why physical nudity is important in this work. It gives these signals a more direct channel to affect others.
But to understand better what is happening when chero is aroused by eroplay, it should be remembered that the physical is only one aspect of what we are. Around our physical body there is a force field made up of thoughts, emotions, and other psychic material. This field is usually a fraction of an inch out from the body, but we have the ability to broadcast this psychic force outward.
When we release chero through eroplay, we focus this force and with the willingness to be unlimited, we radiate this force outward, creating a rapport into which others can be drawn. This rapport has physical, mental, and psychic qualities.
In my performances, this rapport, in the form of an altered reality or a spell, is created by arousing chero between two people by rubbing bodies, by rocking together, moving together, making noises. These two generating people are sometimes isolated in a tent or a box. But the rapport generated physically and psychically by these two leaks out of the enclosed space, putting those on the outside into an altered state. The deeper the chero rapport is between the two, the more complete the outer reality will be.
At first, the generating chero rapport may feel uncomfortable, forced, and/or strange. This is because we are using things that in the western culture are usually contained only in sexual and/or romantic contexts. One should not be thrown by this forced, uncomfortable feeling. It is the breaking of old patterns. It is one of the first stages of this work. Each energy center “breathes” several kinds of energies in and out, very much like the lungs‑nose breathe air in and out. Each center both takes energy in and projects energy out. Some energy centers are commonly thought of as one‑way channels. The eyes obviously let in visually the outer world to our brain, our mind, our inner reality. But the eyes also visually let out what is happening inside us, who we are, and our personal power into the world. All of the centers work on this breathing principle.
Chero healing as eroplay is a two‑way channel whether in play, art, magic, or everyday living. It must be this way to be effective. To create this deep two‑way chero breathing you must be willing to both deeply project and deeply take in chero with anyone who is willing to do the same.
In eroplay, the centers of the body are randomly opened up so that this chero breath can be free and deep. Eroplay creates a complete cycle of chero. This cycle is created when you touch your own body. But it becomes more dynamic when this chero cycle is between two people. This interplay opens and relaxes the centers of both people, letting them both cherotically breathe deeper and easier. This deep, easy breathing is what is healing. (We will get into the difference between healing and curing later.) Both people get healed in this interplay and the energy released through the interplay helps to heal the outer world. This is important to understand because many people think healing is a one‑way helping/giving channel. Because of this, they are careful “not to give too much”. “I must protect myself and my personal power; maintain my own space, my control over the situation.” This attitude is thought to be individualism.
We are now turning to how to use cherotic rituals in healing. The principles are the same whether we apply them to apprenticeship, performances, or bodyplay as a healing method.
Healing is not necessarily the same thing as curing. Modern western medicine is focused on curing illness, solving health problems, restoring normalcy. It is a very logical, goal‑oriented process.
When we talk about healing, we mean becoming better able to cope with and adapt to the life situations we find ourselves in. This may or may not mean curing. When we are healed, we are in the position of actively accepting the situation. This puts us into the realm of all possibilities in which we are more open to cures, if the accepting itself has not become the “cure”, or we find happiness within the situation.
We will get technical in this. But we should always remember that at the root, the student comes to the teacher, the audience comes to the performance, the person comes to the bodyplay to be deeply and intimately with a flesh‑and‑blood person or a group of flesh‑and‑blood people in a way that is usually denied to her in normal polite social life. She comes for touching, holding, rocking, playing, having fun, and healing. This has been usually forgotten under rigid serious rituals, techniques and theories. Again, western medicine is a prime example of this forgetting. But even spiritual methods of healing in our culture have put the rituals and techniques over the playing and fun.
This is why, before we get into the techniques of chero bodyplay, we have to be clear about what we are doing. By doing the apprenticeship, by doing performances, by doing bodyplay, we are calling forth the liminal state of controlled folly. Controlled folly is liminal because it is a combination of the awake reality and dream reality. Rituals make this combination possible.
In the state of controlled folly, the activities of playing and creating fun are intensified and expanded, because rituals take the place of the normal rules, taboos, fears, and inhibitions. This makes it possible to go into the unknown where anything is possible. Ritual is what makes this magical playing safe by giving the playing a living, breathing structure. Playing is only possible within a structure. But when ritual becomes important in itself, rigid and serious, it starts limiting and killing the play and fun. So it is important to remember that the ritual is just the channel of the play and fun.
Playing is a primal state in which things are drained temporarily of their normal meanings. Life goals for a time fade in importance in this state. Tensions and stresses of normal life are safely transmuted into creativity. In play, newness appears. This newness is translated into inspiration, into new ideas, new ways of doing things. The young, both in the higher animals and humans, learn the most through the state of play. Both man and the higher animals use play to transform violent energy into safe acting out. The human mind and civilization were evolved by playing.
In bodyplay, chero is aroused by playing with the body. Fun is created and released by this play into the world directly. Fun is energy focused upon itself, rather than upon some goal. The fun we are talking about in this work is a deep, intense fun that corrects imbalances and induces newness. This kind of fun comes from risk‑taking and work. This deep fun feels very different from the surface, light, fast fun of the world of politeness, glamour, romance, and social rules. This difference confuses people.
In bodyplay, this deep fun, which is focused chero, brings about a balance where there was an imbalance; it slowly moves things into balance. People usually think the healer heals the sick, the teacher teaches the student, the performer entertains the audience. This mistaken concept has the chero that heals flowing from a source (the healer) to a passive container (the sick) for the benefit of the receiving party. The truth is the two, by touching and playing, create a complete chero circuit, allowing the chero to flow freely finding the needed balance in both. When this balance is reached in the two people, the special fun of controlled folly is released into the world, inching the outer world into balance. This world balance is the ultimate purpose of these healing rituals of magical play. This ultimate purpose is usually hidden from awareness by focusing on healing the person.
To understand the nature of balancing, we must understand the true qualities of Yin and Yang. The popular notion about Yin and Yang is they are feminine and masculine with tints of negative and positive. Yin and Yang really are parts of a continuum, called the Tao. Everything has a Tao. When we were talking about the chero breath, inhaling is Yin and the exhaling is Yang. Contractions are Yin; expansions, Yang. The backbrain is Yin with its deep, intuitive, long‑range vision; the frontbrain is Yang with its practical knowledge of how to live day by day. Within each person there is the Tao of Yin and Yang. There is a certain point in each personal Tao where there is a balance between Yin and Yang. This point is different in each person. It is rarely at the middle of the Tao. When a person can find and maintain this balance, he has erour, the vulnerable strength. The vulnerability in erour is Yin; the strength is Yang. As a rule of thumb, in our modern western culture, imbalance is usually caused by too much Yang.
This means “health” is not a fixed point of perfection or normalcy that you reach and maintain. Health is the ever-changing dance of balance among the dynamic taos of the body. This dance of balance is the state the body tends to be. Healing is putting the body back into this dance. Within this picture, “illness” is often one of the paths back to health. Also death may be the natural outcome of health. This flies against the western misconception that holds that health is a static state, something you get to, maintain, or lose…that health is being unsick, untired, balanced, grounded, normal, undying. But the truth is health is a dynamic state of interaction of the seven centers, each operating as close within its Tao as possible. Sickness, contractions, mistakes, death are as equally parts of the state of health as wellness, expansions, doing the right things, and life are. There will be no state of perfection, only the process of living, the art of living.
Through bodyplay, erour is slowly reached by calling forth chero in all parts of the body by eroplaying. This is true not only in the “receiver”, but also in the “healer”. Moreover, through the energy released through these magical sessions, a collective social erour is gradually created for the general world. This is the ultimate reason for this work. The chero released as focused fun “writes” upon the place in which this magical play is performed. It transforms the place into a magical site. The more play is done in a place, the more chero is stored in the physical site. The more chero that is contained in a physical site, the easier it is to perform more intense play.
Each touch and gesture and movement in bodyplay has its own Tao of Yin and Yang…its own qualities of calming and arousal. Each touch has both calming and arousal within it. One of the secrets of bodyplay is finely using these two qualities in the right balance within each firm touch of playing.
The hands are transmitters of chero. This is because your hands are the only parts of your body that can touch almost all of your body. They are healing wands of chero. Laying on of hands is powerful magic. But rubbing body centers together is much more powerful, therefore more taboo. This magic requires two or more people being physically intimate together.
Cherotic bodyplay releases, frees, creates new possibilities. This is true for the people who are actually directly playing together. But this is also true for the society, the people, the world, the outer reality surrounding the eroplaying people. This makes bodyplay not just an individual problem‑solving therapy. Instead, it is a playful but powerful ritual that has effects on many different levels. There is a danger in focusing too much on what it will do for the individual, how it will affect his life, what it means in terms of his life, how it will help him.
You who are reading this are aware to some degree that you create at least your own reality. But you look around at the reality that you find yourself in, and it does not match your ideal of how things should be. This has given rise to bad logical thinking which has sealed many people (especially in the growth movement of the ’70s) back into being victims. According to this bad logic, since a person creates his own reality, he must somehow want the reality he finds himself in. If the reality does not match what he thinks should be, then he must not really want what he thinks should be, what he wishes should be. So he does not really want what he thinks he should want, what he wishes he wants. Just writing down this bad logic is confusing!
This way of thinking is a padded cell. It comes from the premise that there should not be any “shoulds”. This premise originally applied to false “shoulds” coming from outside of the person. But over time, it bled into the personal inner shoulds, what is right inwardly. This leaves no base upon which the person can create. He is left with guilt for creating a reality that should not be…or worse, he proudly takes “responsibility” for doing what he knows he should not do…takes responsibility for continuing to do it until sometime in the future when he magically can start doing his ideal. This is absolutely false “taking responsibility”, the worst kind of double‑think.
It takes one magical fact, the fact that you can create your own reality, and uses this fact as the foundation for a prison of victimization. It simplifies freedom, power, and real responsibility out of life again. If you really do not want what you yourself think you should want, what you wish you want, your only option is to give up on yourself, to see yourself as inferior to your ideas, to settle for less, to be less, to wallow in self‑indulgence within guilt and fear and doubt. So you project guilt, fear, and doubt out into the dynamic interplay of ultimate reality. So you are personally responsible for guilt, doubt, and fear in all reality.
What this bad logic does not take into account is the influences of the dynamic interplay on the person. If a person gets cancer, it does not mean that he secretly wanted to get sick or that he did anything wrong to cause the illness, or that this sickness is a lesson that he has refused to learn in any other way. If he thinks these things, if he thinks in this cause‑effect linear logic, he takes on the illness as himself. This makes healing much harder to take place because there is no place within which to do battle. It is him…it is the cause of his doing, his fault, or God’s wrath.
In reality, there are many, many factors that create such a situation. Many of these factors are “invisible”, impersonal. For an example, in our cultural frame, there is an expectation that has the title of “statistical probability” that a certain number of people within a certain time frame will have cancer and die. Reality tends to fulfill strongly held expectations, so that number of people will die within that time frame. This is just one of the factors. The person does not need to understand these factors.
We have said a major secret in healing is acceptance. What the person with cancer first (as any healer) needs to do is to accept the situation (but not the surrounding expectations) he finds himself in, accept the cancer, accept death, but more importantly, accept living. This acceptance creates a level battleground. Next, he should find out what he envisions should happen (but not just should happen for him, but what should happen)…how should he live, how should he die, what should the cancer do, what should life be like, what should dying and death be like, what should things be like. Then he has to act and live in passion and in faith as if things are as they should be. There is always a risk of failure, of losing the battle. But by doing this healing battle, even if the person “loses”, he is still within power.
I explore these ideas more fully in my book Cherotic Magic. And I’d love to hear from you.
breaking taboos releases a magical freedom if done in certain contexts. this is true and important, but only in the first stages of magical training. taboo can be defined as social or moral forbiddens which maintain a dogmatic power structure by fear of what is outside that structure.
the things that are taboo, and hence are magically charged, in the normal social reality, are not taboo in the reality of the magician. there are no taboos or morals within the reality of the magician. for example, when i eroplay with someone, the eroplay itself is not taboo or transformative for me. the being with the other person in the eroplay is transformative, but not in the taboo dynamic. for me, eroplay, ritual reality, etc. is just everyday living. magicians will not do a lot of things, but this is never from a taboo/moral consideration, but from a practical ethical knowledge of how things work.
in what i do, breaking taboos is important in the first stages. in the public and private performances, as well as in my short-term work with people, breaking taboos plants seeds and time bombs, cracks the normal frame to let in a glimpse of an alternate reality.
but within the apprenticeship, there comes a time where, if the student relates to the magic life as breaking taboos, rather than as her everyday life, it becomes clear that she is taking a vacation from the normal social world, rather than truly living beyond taboos as her own personal reality. the first ring of the chero apprenticeship, introduction to cherotic magic, lasts for 10 weeks. i meet with the student once a week for 2-4 hours. (for someone who lives outside the bay area, this ring can be done as a 10-day intensive.**) this ring focuses on the cherotic basics of the magical work. this is done one on one, focusing on how the student can use these basics in her life even if she does not go on to the advanced rings.
the break between each ring has proven to be vital. the minimum break period after the first ring is a month. there is no commitment to return from the break.
the second ring, practice and performance of cherotic magic, is 6 months. this is an intensely physical training, which includes both public and private ritual. this training will affect every aspect of the student’s life profoundly.
the third ring, living magic, is 2 years and is focused on the student’s devoting his life for the 2 years to the aiding of the shaman in the magic work. because of this, during the break between the second and third rings, after the student hears the calling for this devotion, he should arrange his personal life to make this devotion possible.
beyond these first three rings of magical training lie four deeper rings into the realm of the responsibility of the shaman. but it is important to stress that each ring is complete in itself, reaching a different level of shamanism.
**the out-of-towner may stay at the ashram/salon of all possibilities during this intensive. subject to availability.
Schechner defines performance as “ritualized behavior conditioned (and) permeated by play.”
We will get technical in this. But we should always remember that at the root, the student comes to the teacher, the audience comes to the performance, the person comes to the bodyplay to be deeply and intimately with a flesh and blood person or a group of flesh and blood people in a way that is usually denied to her in normal polite social life. She comes for touching, holding, rocking, playing, having fun, and healing. This has been usually forgotten under rigid serious rituals, techniques and theories. Again, western medicine is a prime example of this forgetting. But even spiritual methods of healing in our culture have put the rituals and techniques over the playing and fun.
This is why, before we get into the techniques of chero bodyplay, we have to be clear about what we are doing. By doing the apprenticeship, by doing performances, by doing bodyplay, we are calling forth the liminal state of controlled folly. Controlled folly is liminal because it is a combination of the awake reality and dream reality. Rituals make this combination possible.
In the state of controlled folly, the activities of playing and creating fun are intensified and expanded, because rituals take the place of the normal rules, taboos, fears, and inhibitions. This makes it possible to go into the unknown where anything is possible. Ritual is what makes this magical playing safe by giving the playing a living, breathing structure. Playing is only possible within a structure. But when ritual becomes important in itself, rigid and serious, it starts limiting and killing the play and fun. So it is important to remember that the ritual is just the channel of the play and fun.
Playing is a primal state in which things are drained temporarily of their normal meanings. Life goals for a time fade in importance in this state. Tensions and stresses of normal life are safely transmuted into creativity. In play, newness appears. This newness is translated into inspiration, into new ideas, new ways of doing things. The young, both in the higher animals and humans, learn the most through the state of play. Both man and the higher animals use play to transform violent energy into safe acting out. The human mind and civilization were evolved by playing.
In bodyplay, chero is aroused by playing with the body. Fun is created and released by this play into the world directly. Fun is energy focused upon itself, rather than upon some goal. The fun we are talking about in this work is a deep, intense fun that corrects imbalances and induces newness. This kind of fun comes from risk taking and work. This deep fun feels very different from the surface, light, fast fun of the world of politeness, glamour, romance, and social rules.
Through bodyplay, erour is slowly reached by calling forth chero in all parts of the body by eroplaying. This is true not only in the “receiver,” but also in the “healer.” Moreover, through the energy released through these magical sessions, a collective social erour is gradually created for the general world. This is the ultimate reason for this work. The chero released as focused fun “writes” upon the place in which this magical play is performed. It transforms the place into a magical site. The more play is done in a place, the more chero is stored in the physical site. The more chero that is contained in a physical site, the easier it is to perform more intense play.
Cherotic bodyplay releases, frees, creates new possibilities. This is true for the people who are actually directly playing together. But this is also true for the society, the people, the world, the outer reality surrounding the eroplaying people. This makes bodyplay not just an individual problem solving therapy. Instead, it is a playful but powerful ritual that has effects on many different levels. There is a danger in focusing too much on what it will do for the individual, how it will affect his life, what does it mean in terms of his life, how it will help him. This kind of focus can turn bodyplay into encouraging individualism which keeps the person in the prison of fragmentation.
To be successful, bodyplay has to be intensely personal between the playing people, but should not be individualistic. It should not push the people inward onto their “selves.” Bodyplay should expand them outward into others.
This is an excerpt from the conversation between Christian Lunch (aka Xtian) and Frank on Frank Moore’s Shaman’s Den, December 9, 2001, right after the Fuck The War Ball at the underground punk club, Burnt Ramen in Richmond, California. Xtian performed with the Cherotic All-Stars that night. He was also at that time the sound guy at the Stork Club in Oakland.
Xtian: Well, I think the wonderful thing about eroplay, when you see it live is that, if you’ve never seen anything like that before, it’s like, hey, it’s a bunch of dancing girls … or, it’s a bunch of chicks, wow. This is cool, man. Let’s watch this! And the thing about it is there’s also that … um … it’s like it’s generating an erotic energy, but it’s being channeled towards something really powerful, like I said before. That’s the thing that makes it unusual. And it would shock a club owner but it turns the stage into performing, into a ceremonial space which is … I suppose the club people would be upset if you’re turning their club into a church. Maybe that’s what they are bugged about.
Frank: I am sneaky. It looks like rock.
Frank wrote this about the Fuck The War Ball performance:
Well, this was the period when I was producing a lot of music shows at the infamous illegal underground punk club BURNT RAMEN. This was the last two acts of a very long show. Traditionally my band closed the shows. Also, traditionally I cherry picked musicians from the other bands of the night to be in my band. But this show the musicians kept leaving during the show [the club was in the most dangerous neighborhood]. So at this point when I was the next act, I had no band except for Xtian [aka Christian Lunch] and a flock of nude women. So in the middle of Extreme Elvis’ set [which I consider one of the top five performances of ALL rock ‘n’ roll history!], I asked Elvis if I could borrow his band. So our two sets melted together! Btw, we performed in what normally passed for the GREEN ROOM there because that was where E literally pitched his tent!
Re: The Drama Review Eroplay 1989
“I have finally read the Drama Review piece and I love it. It is one of the profoundest pieces of writing on performance or theatre or just plain living that I have read ever. Period. Something to read and think about over and over again. I am so tired of the new of the fast of the whats next — they are killing our souls. I can’t call what you have written an essay but a love song to society — makes total sense to me on the deepest most un-speakable levels. How you deal with the unconscious working side by side the conscious — as you say like two films going on at once. If you never write another thing, Frank, it won’t matter because this piece is luminous. And believe me I have read so many manifestos, essays critiques, artist statements ad nauseum over the years. It’s a beautiful generous manifesto and I look forward to reading more — it also has this beautiful slow pace as if forcing the mind of the reader to change pace as well and let the other world come to the forefront — the cartography of the soul is where you take us…each in our own way…rather than your way…which is generous indeed of you.”
Shelley Berc, writer, teacher
As published in The Drama Review (TDR), Spring 1989. During this period, before accessibility software was available to him, Frank typed in all caps. TDR also published the piece in all caps.
MY FIRST STROKE OF GOOD LUCK WAS I WAS BORN SPASTIC, UNABLE TO WALK OR TALK. ADD TO THIS GOOD FORTUNE THE FACT THAT MY FORMATIVE YEARS WERE IN THE ‘60S—MY FATE WAS ASSURED!
YES, I ALWAYS HAVE BEEN LUCKY. I HAVE A BODY THAT IS IDEAL FOR A PERFORMANCE ARTIST. AND I HAVE ALWAYS WANTED TO BE A PERFORMER. WHEN I WAS A KID, MY YOUNGER BROTHER USED TO GET MAD WHEN PEOPLE LOOKED AT ME WHEN HE PUSHED ME TO THE MOVIES OR TO THE TEEN CLUB. HE CRIED. BUT I LIKED PEOPLE LOOKING AT ME. THAT IS WHAT I MEAN BY “I AM LUCKY.” I AM LUCKY I AM AN EXHIBITIONIST IN THIS BODY. ONE TIME, I WAS WORKING OUT ON THE JUNGLE GYM OUTSIDE OF OUR HOUSE—A KID CAME BY AND ASKED IF I WAS A MONSTER. I JUST ROARED LIKE A MONSTER. IT WAS FUN.
I WAS LUCKY. I WAS NEVER UNDER PRESSURE TO BE GOOD AT ANYTHING, TO MAKE MONEY, TO MAKE IT IN “THE REAL WORLD”, TO BE POLISHED—OR THE OTHER DISTRACTIONS THAT OTHER MODERN ARTISTS HAVE TO, OR THINK THEY HAVE TO DEAL WITH. SO I COULD FOCUS ON HAVING FUN, ON GOING INTO TABOO AREAS WHERE MAGICAL CHANGE CAN BE EVOKED. IN FACT, A MAJOR REASON WHY I AM WRITING THIS IS TO ENCOURAGE ARTISTS WHO HAVE NOT BEEN SO BLESSED WITH BODIES THAT MARK THEM AS MISFITS, TO ASPIRE TO BE MISFITS ANYWAY, TO DO MISFIT ART ANYWAY—EVEN IF YOU ARE HANDICAPPED BY YOUR NORMAL BODY. YOUR ROAD IS DEFINITELY HARDER THAN MY ROAD. BUT THAT’S LIFE.
MY ART IS ROOTED IN BREAKING OUT OF ISOLATION. UNTIL I WAS 17, I DID NOT HAVE ANY WAY TO COMMUNICATE EXCEPT THROUGH MY FAMILY MEMBERS. FOR A COUPLE OF MY TEENAGE YEARS, I WAS VERY HARD OF HEARING. MY HEARING CLEARED UP. I INVENTED MY HEADPOINTER WHEN I WAS 17. MY COMMUNICATION ISOLATION WAS THEN DISPELLED. BUT IT TOOK ME ANOTHER 10 YEARS TO SHAKE OFF THE ISOLATION CAUSED BY MY ATTITUDES AND SELF-IMAGE. THIS EARLY ISOLATION ALLOWED ME TO OBSERVE LIFE AND PEOPLE AS AN OUTSIDER. I ALWAYS WANTED TO BREAK PHYSICAL, EMOTIONAL, AND SPIRITUAL ISOLATION—FIRST FOR MYSELF, BUT THEN FOR OTHER PEOPLE.
THERE ARE OTHER ADVANTAGES TO MY BODY. PEOPLE PROJECT ONTO ME CERTAIN MYSTICAL POWERS—LIKE SEEING THROUGH THEIR FRONTS TO THEIR REAL SELVES —SEEING THE PAST AND THE FUTURE—AND WHAT THEY SHOULD DO. THEY ARE REACTING TO SOME SYMBOL OF THE DEFORMED MEDICINE MAN. THEY USE ME AS A MEDIUM FOR GETTING THROUGH TO OTHER DIMENSIONS. BECAUSE OF THE SLOWNESS OF MY COMMUNICATION BOARD, THEY ARE FORCED TO SLOW DOWN. THEY CAN PROJECT WHATEVER THEY WANT, MISREAD ME WHEN IT FITS THEM. I AM A SYMBOL. AND BECAUSE THEY GIVE ME POWER AS A SYMBOL, THEY ARE AFRAID OF ME. IT WAS JUST MY LUCK TO BE BORN INTO THE LONG TRADITION OF THE DEFORMED SHAMAN, THE WOUNDED HEALER, THE BLIND PROPHET, THE CLUB-FOOTED “IDIOT” COURT JESTER.
THERE ARE ALL KINDS OF ART. THERE IS ART THAT CALMS, ART THAT PACIFIES, ART THAT SELLS, ART THAT DECORATES, ART THAT ENTERTAINS. BUT WHAT I AM COMMITTED TO IS ART AS A BATTLE, AN UNDERGROUND WAR AGAINST FRAGMENTATION. THE BATTLE IS ON ALL REALITIES. THE CONTROLLERS HAVE ALWAYS TRIED TO FRAGMENT US FROM EACH OTHER. IMPRISON US IN ISLANDS OF SEX, COLOR, RELIGION, POLITICS, CLASS, LABELS, ETC., ETC., ETC., ETC., ETC.—THEY FRAGMENT OUR INNER WORLDS, THEY BLOW OUR INDIVIDUAL REALITIES APART AND PLAY THE PIECES AGAINST ONE ANOTHER. THEY ARE US, OR A PART OF US. THEY ARE THE CONTROLLERS, THE POLITICIANS, THE SEXISTS, THE WOMEN’S LIBBERS, THE PORNOGRAPHERS, THE CENSORS, THE MORALISTS, THE CHURCH, THE MEDIA, THE BUSINESSMEN, EDUCATORS, THE VICTIMS, AND THE POWERFUL.
THEY ARE US.
I THINK PERFORMANCE IS BEING RUINED BY TRYING TO PACKAGE IT AS ENTERTAINMENT, AS OFF-BEAT CABARET. WHEN SOMEONE GOES TO A CABARET, HE KNOWS THERE ARE CERTAIN LIMITS INVOLVED SUCH AS THAT EACH ACT MUST END BEFORE ANOTHER BEGINS; BUT IN PERFORMANCE, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE. A PERFORMANCE CAN LAST FOR A MINUTE OR IT CAN LAST FOR DAYS. PERFORMANCE CAN START IN ONE SPACE BUT THEN MOVE TO ANOTHER. PERFORMANCE CAN BE STORYTELLING, IT CAN BE A GUY THREATENING YOU WITH A BASEBALL BAT, IT CAN BE A GUY HANGING BY HIS SKIN, OR THROWING FOOD, OR ANYTHING. IN PERFORMANCE ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE. AND THAT IS WHAT GIVES YOU AN EXTRA EDGE TO CREATE DREAMS.
PERFORMANCE, LIKE ANY AVANT-GARDE ART, IS THE WAY SOCIETY DREAMS; IT IS THE WAY SOCIETY EXPANDS ITS FREEDOM, EXPLORES THE FORBIDDEN.
THIS WAS WHAT SEALED ME INTO A PERFORMANCE LIFE.
IN 1972 I HAD JUST FINISHED TAKING A VERY INTENSIVE FILM COURSE IN SANTA FE. I HAD NO MONEY TO MAKE REAL FILMS. SO I STARTED LOOKING FOR A WAY TO WORK WITH PEOPLE. I WANTED TO SEE PEOPLE NUDE, AND TOUCH THEM, AND CREATE AN INTENSITY BETWEEN US. PAINTING WAS THE FIRST ATTEMPT. I USED TO SELL PAPERS ON A CORNER TO FIND PEOPLE TO PAINT. BUT ONCE THE PERSON WAS POSED THE SITUATION WAS STILL, NOT MOVING. SO I DID WHAT I CALLED NONFILMS—FOR WHICH I ASKED PEOPLE I MET WHEN I WAS SELLING NEWSPAPERS TO ACT OUT INTENSIVE EROTIC SCENES WITH ME. ALTHOUGH I HAD PLAYED WITH MY FRIENDS BEFORE IN NONSEXUAL EROTICISM, THIS WAS THE FIRST TIME I TRIED TO USE “SEXUAL” ACTS IN A NONSEXUAL ART FORM. I WAS SURPRISED WITH THE POWER THAT THIS RELEASED. BECAUSE OF THESE SCENES, THE PEOPLE STARTED TALKING ABOUT THEIR LIVES DURING THE SESSIONS AND SAID IT HELPED THEIR OTHER RELATIONSHIPS. NOT ONE PERSON MINDED THAT THERE WAS NO FILM. THESE NONFILMS WERE THE BASE FOR MY CAREER IN RELATIONSHIP COUNSELING IN THE LATE ‘70S.
BUT I WAS NOT SATISFIED WITH THESE NONFILMS BECAUSE THEY WERE BRIEF RELATIONSHIPS THAT DID NOT GO ANYWHERE. SO I STARTED LOOKING FOR SOME OTHER WAY TO WORK WITH PEOPLE. I TRIED TO CAST A PLAY, BUT I COULDN’T FIND ENOUGH PEOPLE. I STARTED THINKING OF AN INTIMATE THEATRE WHERE THE LINE BETWEEN AUDIENCE AND ACTORS WOULD BE ERASED. I STARTED THINKING ABOUT HOW IF THAT LINE WERE ERASED, IT WOULD PLACE MUCH MORE RESPONSIBILITY ON THE ACTORS. THEY WOULD HAVE TO DARE TO TRICK THE AUDIENCE INTO THE INTENSE MAGICAL STATE.
I DIVIDED MY WORK—THE WORD “WORK” IS WEIRD—IT IS LIKE PLAYING—INTO TWO PARTS. THE FIRST PART IS PLAYED IN “REAL LIFE”—FOR INSTANCE, I GO UP TO A PERSON ON A STREET AND ASK HIM TO BE IN SOME PROJECT WHICH MAY CONTAIN SOME NUDITY AND PHYSICAL PLAY. THE NUDITY AND PHYSICAL PLAY AS AN IDEA IN THIS CONTEXT IS A GREAT TOOL TO GET UNDER THE POLITE CHATTER SURFACE TO THE MORE MEANINGFUL THINGS, AND OFTEN MORE INTIMATE, MORE PERSONAL STUFF—WHICH IS, AFTER ALL, THE AIM OF THE PIECE. I CAN SEE THIS KIND OF PIECE LASTING ANYWHERE FROM A FEW SECONDS TO SEVERAL HOURS.
THE SECOND PART IS A PIECE IN A CONTROLLED SPACE, SUCH AS MY STUDIO, IN WHICH THERE IS A FORM GOING ON, GIVING THE PERSON A REASON TO BE THERE WITH ME.
THIS KIND OF PERFORMANCE IS DIFFERENT THAN NORMAL THEATRE. IN THIS KIND, THERE IS NO REAL SCRIPT. EVEN IF YOU HAVE A SCRIPT, IT REALLY IS A PROP. THE REAL COURSE OF ACTION IS SHAPED BY THE PERFORMER SO THE FLOW OF THE PIECE WILL GO FORWARD AND DEEPER.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT IS WHAT HAPPENS BETWEEN ME AS THE ARTIST AND MY AUDIENCE, HOW I CHANGE THEM AND HOW THEY CHANGE ME, THAT MAGICAL STATE IN WHICH WE INTERACT WITH EACH OTHER. I, AS THE PERFORMER, MUST CREATE AROUND THE PEOPLE, BY PLAYING FOR AND TO THEM, BY LETTING THE PERFORMANCE TAKE ME OVER AND GUIDE ME—EVEN WHEN IT LOOKS LIKE THE OTHER PEOPLE ARE DOING ALL OF THE ACTION. THE ULTIMATE GOAL IN MY PERFORMANCE IS TO CREATE A REALITY, NOT AN ILLUSION, WHICH THE AUDIENCE AND I ARE IN—EVEN IF I HAVE TO USE ILLUSIONS TO GET TO THIS REALITY.
THIS RAISES THE QUESTION OF MANIPULATION. ALMOST ANY TIME YOU PERFORM TO AN AUDIENCE, YOU MANIPULATE THE AUDIENCE. LET’S GET BEYOND THE NEGATIVE CONNOTATION OF THE WORD “MANIPULATE”. PEOPLE GO TO THE THEATRE, MOVIES, CONCERTS, DANCE COMPANIES, ETC., TO HAVE THEIR EMOTIONS MANIPULATED. THEY COME INTO THE PERFORMANCE AREA WITH A WILLINGNESS TO BE MANIPULATED BY THE ARTISTS WITHIN CERTAIN LIMITS. BUT IN MY PERFORMANCES, THE ONES WHICH ARE NOT DIVIDED FROM THE REST OF LIFE BY A THEATRE OR A STAGE, THERE IS NO WAY TO TELL THE PERSON SHE IS ENTERING A PERFORMANCE. WHEN I HAVE A FORMAL STRUCTURE, A THEATRE SPACE, AND A SET TIME ENDING—WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON IS NOT WHAT IS SAID TO BE HAPPENING. ALSO IT IS A REALITY THAT IS HOPEFULLY BEING CREATED—PEOPLE WILL BE AFFECTED, INFECTED, AND EFFECTED BY THIS REALITY.
PERFORMANCE OBVIOUSLY GOES MUCH FARTHER BACK THAN 1909 WHEN IT BECAME A FORMAL ART FORM. I THINK PERFORMANCE CAME INTO EXISTENCE TO FILL A VOID IN WESTERN LIFE. THE VOID WAS THE LACK OF MAGIC AND INSPIRATION. THE TWO AREAS OF CREATIVITY, THEATRE AND RELIGION, THAT TRADITIONALLY WERE THE SOURCE OF THIS MAGICAL INSPIRATION HAD LONG AGO MOVED FROM MAGIC TO ENTERTAINMENT AND POLITICS. THIS VOID ALSO GAVE BIRTH TO PSYCHOLOGY DURING THE SAME TIME PERIOD. I OFTEN GET THE CRITICISM THAT MY WORK IS REALLY PSYCHOLOGY AND THERAPY, AND NOT ART. WHEN IT IS REALIZED THAT PSYCHOLOGY AS A FORMAL SCIENCE AND PERFORMANCE AS A FORMAL ART WERE BORN AT THE SAME TIME, THIS CRITICISM CAN BE ANSWERED. PERFORMANCE AND PSYCHOLOGY ARE BOTH INVOLVED IN SPIRITUAL HEALING.
I SEE PERFORMANCE AS EXPERIMENTS IN HUMAN POSSIBILITIES. TO DO THESE EXPERIMENTS, I FORMED IN SANTA FE IN 1972 A WEEKLY DROP-IN WORKSHOP TO DO RITUALS LASTING MANY HOURS. A YEAR LATER, PEOPLE FROM THAT DROP-IN GROUP MOVED WITH ME TO N.Y.C. TO BE THE CORE OF A COMMITTED GROUP. BUT IT WAS IN BERKELEY THAT WE FOUND A PERMANENT HOME IN 1974. THERE, THE WORKSHOP SLOWLY DEVELOPED INTO A GROUP OF 30 PEOPLE.
IN THE LATE ’70S WE STARTED OUR PUBLIC PERFORMANCES BY DOING LONG RITUALISTIC PLAYS. OVER THE YEARS, THE GROUP BRANCHED OUT TO DO MANY DIFFERENT KINDS OF LIVE AND VIDEO PIECES, INCLUDING the outrageous beauty revue .
THE o.b.r. WAS A CABARET SHOW THAT TRIED TO SHORT-CIRCUIT THE CABARET LIMITS OF TIME AND STAGE. IT DID THIS BY BEING A SHOW OF PEOPLE WHO WERE HAVING FUN AND WHO WERE LIVING THEIR FANTASIES—A SHOW THAT INCLUDED THE AUDIENCE DIRECTLY IN THE ACTION—AN UNPOLISHED SHOW THAT FLAUNTED NUDITY, EROTICISM, AND GORE IN A SILLY, CHILDLIKE PLAYFULNESS—AN EVER-CHANGING SHOW WITH PREGNANT SEX SYMBOLS, NUDE GIRLS, CRIPPLED ROCK STARS, MEN AS WOMEN AND WOMEN AS MEN WITHOUT ANY SEXUAL MEANING. THE o.b.r. RAN FOR THREE YEARS AND WAS BY FAR MY MOST POPULAR WORK IN TERMS OF HOW MANY PEOPLE SAW IT. BUT THE SUCCESS OF A PIECE SHOULD NOT BE JUDGED BY HOW MANY PEOPLE SEE IT, BUT BY HOW FAR IT WENT BEYOND THE TABOOS, BY ITS MAGIC POWER FOR CHANGE. BY THIS STANDARD, MY BEST WORK WITH THE GROUP WAS OUR 48-HOUR DREAM PERFORMANCES IN THE LATE ’70S.
SINCE 1983, I HAVE BEEN DOING A PERFORMANCE SERIES AT U.C. BERKELEY WHICH HAS GIVEN ME A LAB WHERE I CAN DEVELOP PIECES BY DOING THEM OVER AND OVER WITHOUT THE PRESSURES OF MAKING MONEY OR ENTERTAINING. THESE PIECES ARE WHAT GOT ME THE N.E.A. FELLOWSHIP, AND THEY ARE THE ONES I DO ON MY TOURS.
IN MY WORK, I ALWAYS HAVE USED NUDITY AND PHYSICAL ACTS WHICH MOST PEOPLE WOULD CALL SEXUAL. IT IS JUST ONE OF MY WAYS OF BREAKING NORMAL REALITY INTO NEW WAYS OF COMMUNICATING AND RELATING. I COMBINE THIS WITH BREAKING TIME/SPACE TABOOS, MY UNIQUE BODY, AND OTHER TOOLS. BUT THE “SEXUAL” CONTENT OF MY WORK GRABS MOST OF THE ATTENTION.
THERE IS A COMMON MISCONCEPTION ABOUT THE DEFORMED SHAMAN TRADITION—THAT IT GETS ITS POWER FROM THE MENTAL AND THE SPIRITUAL PLANE, SINCE THE PHYSICAL AND SENSUAL ARE ALMOST NONEXISTENT. IN TRUTH, THE WOUNDED HEALER USES HIS PHYSICALITY AS A CHANNEL TO UNITE THE SPIRITUAL WITH THE PHYSICAL.
I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN A VERY PHYSICAL AND SEXUAL PERSON. THIS WAS HEIGHTENED BY MY EARLY PHYSICAL ISOLATION. IN THE EARLY ’70S WHEN I WAS NOT YET OUT OF MY SEXUAL ISOLATION, I OBSERVED AS AN INTERESTED OUTSIDER THAT FREE SEX (CONFUSED WITH FREE LOVE) WAS NOT WORKING. IT WASN’T MAKING MY HIPPIE FRIENDS HAPPY. THIS OBSERVATION WAS AGAINST MY PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM. BUT I COULD NOT DENY THE FACTS. I STARTED LOOKING FOR NEW WAYS OF RELATING AND TOUCHING. I WAS LOOKING FOR A NEW FREE LOVE. MY PERFORMANCES, BOTH THE PUBLIC EVENTS AND THE PRIVATE NONFILMS, WERE MY RESEARCH, MY EXPERIMENTS.
I EXPERIMENTED IN USING THE EXCITED, AROUSED, PLEASURABLE ENERGY IN THE CONTEXT OF ART, OF PLAYING, RELATIONSHIP-BUILDING—NOT THE CONTEXT OF SEX. THIS RESEARCH REACHED A CLIMAX IN MY BERKELEY WORKSHOP DURING THE YEARS OF the outrageous beauty revue.
IT WAS FAIRLY CLEAR TO 30 OF US THAT THERE WAS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PLAYING AND SEX. WE SAW IT HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH SEX AND “MARRIAGE” (THE WORD marriage IS ANOTHER WORD THAT HAS NEGATIVE CONNOTATIONS HIDDEN WITHIN IT). SO WE DECIDED TO COMMIT OURSELVES TO HAVING SEX ONLY WITH THOSE TO WHOM WE WERE MARRIED. BUT WE EROTICALLY PLAYED (FOR LACK OF A BETTER TERM FOR IT) WITH ALL OF THE PEOPLE IN THE GROUP.
THE EROTIC PLAY GOT WACKIER, MORE PHYSICAL. IT GAVE US A GREATER FREEDOM NOT ONLY WITHIN OUR GROUP, BUT IN SOCIETY IN GENERAL AS WELL. EROTIC PLAYING INTENSELY BUT PLAYFULLY RELEASED CREATIVITY WHICH WE USED IN MANY WAYS. SUCCESSFUL BUSINESSES WERE ESTABLISHED. WE DID SEVERAL PUBLIC PERFORMANCES, AND A WEALTH OF PRIVATE PERFORMANCES. THERE WAS NO JEALOUSY OR POSSESSIVENESS BECAUSE IT WAS CLEAR THAT SEX WOULD NOT BE INVOLVED. THIS WENT ON FOR THREE YEARS.
AT A CERTAIN POINT, WE STARTED QUESTIONING THE CONCEPT OF MARRIAGE. WE DID NOT SEE ANY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WHAT WE 30 HAD TOGETHER AND BEING MARRIED. NOT SEEING ANY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MARRIAGE AND WHAT WE HAD AS A GROUP, THE NEXT LOGICAL QUESTION WAS, “WHY NOT HAVE SEX?” SO WE STARTED TO HAVE SEX OUTSIDE MARRIAGE, WITHIN THE GROUP. ALMOST IMMEDIATELY CHANGES APPEARED IN THE GROUP. JEALOUSY AND POSSESSIVENESS APPEARED. THE GROUP QUICKLY BEGAN TO FALL APART.
AFTER THIS BREAKUP, I FOCUSED MY WORK ON DEFINING THE UNIQUE PHYSICAL-SPIRITUAL ENERGY WE HAD USED, FORMALIZED IT IN MY ART TO TAP AGAIN INTO THE INTENSE, PURE PLAY WITH PEOPLE, USING THE RESULTING CREATIVENESS IN ART WITHOUT BEING DERAILED BY SEX.
I REALIZED THAT ONE OF THE THINGS THAT WAS UNDERMINING MY WORK WAS THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE. THERE WAS NO WORD, NO NAME, FOR THE FORCE I WAS DEALING WITH. MY FIRST TASK WAS TO CREATE A NEW WORD: eroplay.
OUR MIND NEEDS LABELS. THERE IS SUCH A FORCE OR ENERGY, WHICH I HAVE LABELED EROPLAY. BUT THERE HAS NOT BEEN A WORD FOR IT. THE WORD sex HAS BEEN THE DUMP FOR EVERYTHING SENSUAL, ROMANTIC, PHYSICAL, OR FOR SHOWING MORE SKIN THAN USUAL. CARS ARE CALLED SEXY. POSES THAT DO NOT SHOW THE SEX ACT ARE CALLED SEXUAL. WEARING CERTAIN THINGS, MOVING CERTAIN WAYS ARE ALL CALLED SEXUAL, EVEN WHEN IT IS NOT LEADING TO THE SEXUAL ACT—EVEN WHEN THERE IS NO INTENT TO HAVE SEX.
EROPLAY IS INTENSE PHYSICAL PLAYING AND TOUCHING OF ONESELF AND OTHERS. EROPLAY IS THE FORCE OR ENERGY RELEASED BY SUCH PLAY. IT IS ALSO THE HAPPY, PLAYFUL ATTITUDE TOWARDS LIFE THAT COMES FROM SUCH PLAY. EROPLAY IS NOT FOREPLAY, EVEN THOUGH FOREPLAY IS EROPLAY.
FOREPLAY LEADS TO ORGASM—EROPLAY LEADS TO BEING TURNED-ON IN MANY DIFFERENT WAYS AND IN ALL PARTS OF THE BODY—INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, PHYSICAL AROUSAL. IT CAN BE DIFFERENT EVERY TIME. SKIN TOUCHING SKIN SEEMS TO BE WHAT RELEASES THE FULL IMPACT OF EROPLAY. EROPLAY CAN BE INTENSE. IT IS LIKE WHEN YOU RUB A PUPPY ON ITS BELLY AND THE PUPPY GOES INTO A STATE OF RAPTURE, BOTH TOTALLY TURNED-ON AND RELAXED. EROPLAY IS THE BLISSED-OUT, WARM, RELAXED, TURNED-ON, TOTALLY SATISFYING FEELING OF A GOOD HEAD RUB.
EROPLAY IS FUN!
EROPLAY IS INNOCENT AND CHILDLIKE.
EROPLAY’S FOCUS IS ON PHYSICAL ENJOYMENT.
EROPLAY DECREASES ISOLATION AND ALIENATION. IT INCREASES SELF-TRUST AND TRUSTING OF OTHERS. IT MAKES YOU HARDER TO BE CONTROLLED. EROPLAY LEADS TO A LIFE-STYLE WITH ALL THESE CHARACTERISTICS. THE LIFESTYLE LOOKS STRANGELY LIKE THE LOVE GENERATION, BUT WITHOUT DRUGS OR FREE SEX.
IN RECENT YEARS, OUTSIDE FORCES HAVE AFFECTED MY WORK. EDWIN MEESE’S POLITICAL WAR OF SEXUAL SUPPRESSION AND THE BLANDNESS OF YUPPIES HAVE GIVEN MY ART SOCIAL ISSUES AGAINST WHICH I CAN DO BATTLE.
BUT IT IS AIDS THAT HAS STARTED PEOPLE SEARCHING FOR NONSEXUAL WAYS TO FIND, TO SHOW, AND TO GIVE PHYSICAL INTIMACY. EROPLAY IS A SAFE, FUN, LUSTY CHANNEL FOR FREE PHYSICAL TOUCHING. IT IS SAFE BECAUSE THERE IS NO PHYSICAL INTERCOURSE. IT IS NOT AN AVOIDANCE, AS CELIBACY IS. IT IS NOT SOMETHING SECOND RATE. EROPLAY IS SATISFYING IN ITSELF.
I HAVE DEBATED WITH MYSELF ABOUT NO LONGER RESISTING THE LABEL sexual. BY INSISTING WHAT I AM DOING IS NOT SEXUAL, I AM OPENING MYSELF TO PEOPLE QUESTIONING MY HONESTY AND INTEGRITY. IF I ACCEPT THE SEXUAL LABEL, PEOPLE WOULD JUST HAVE TO DECIDE WHETHER OR NOT THEY LIKE SEX IN ART—DECIDE WHETHER IT IS ART OR NOT. THAT WOULD BE THE DEPTH OF THE QUESTIONING. THEY MAY FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE SEEING SEX AS ART—BUT THAT UNCOMFORTABLENESS WOULD BE JUST FROM BREAKING THE TABOO OF SEX— WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? WHAT I AM DOING IS TAKING NUDITY AND ACTS THAT ARE USUALLY CONSIDERED SEXUAL AND GIVING THEM A NEW, NONSEXUAL CONTEXT. THAT CREATES A TENSION, A CONFLICT, AN EXAMINING, A LEAP INTO SOMETHING NEW. THAT IS WHAT I AM AFTER. THIS LEAP INTO NEWNESS IS WHY PEOPLE WHO ARE NORMALLY COMFORTABLE WITH CASUAL NUDITY AND CASUAL SEX SOMETIMES GET VERY UNCOMFORTABLE WITH THE NUDITY AND EROPLAY IN MY WORK. BY TAKING “SEXUAL” ACTS AND SINCERELY PUTTING THEM INTO A DIFFERENT CONTEXT, I CREATE ANOTHER REALITY, ANOTHER WAY OF RELATING. I ALSO CREATE CONFLICT WITH THE NORMAL REALITY—AND THAT CONFLICT MAY CHANGE, IN AN UNDERGROUND SORT OF A WAY, THE NORMAL REALITY. I THINK ART—OR AT LEAST THIS KIND OF ART—SHOULD CREATE CONFLICT AND CHANGE. AND I LIKE RELATING WITH PEOPLE IN THIS “UNNORMAL” WAY. THIS IS WHY I DO PERFORMANCE.