On an icy Friday evening in January a small crowd has gathered on Bowery outside DCKT Contemporary's former space. Groups of homeless men stand outside the shelter next door. Two doors up, the entrance of Crash Mansion hosts a fashion shoot. The distinct urban tribes share the sidewalk happily, the cold eliciting a friendly atmosphere. A few gallery-goers clutch what look like tightly rolled posters. Nobody looks into the darkened gallery, but across the road towards Spring Street.
Around 6:15 we hear a Mariachi band—faintly at first and then more distinctly—and spot a coyote's silhouette in blue neon bouncing above the last few cars turning onto Bowery. Irvin Morazan finally comes into view, sporting one of his trademark headdresses with metal crown, spongy sculptural swirls, the aforementioned neon light, and a dreadlock-like rope tail. The Mexican band, dressed entirely in black, follows him fearlessly into gridlock, trailed by a small crowd of bearded men and women in fake beards brandishing the unfurled rolls: white flags emblazoned with bearded faces. Morazan takes his performance, "Coyote Procession," up Bowery to Houston then east on the median, leading 100 or so of us to DCKT's tiny new space at 237 Eldridge Street, where he hangs "Neon Coyote Headdress" with the help of three bearded assistants.
Two days later, when the gallery isn't wall-to-wall with flag-bearers, the sculptural costume hangs inert alongside photos and a video of previous headdress performances and talismanic abstract collages and photograms. Taken as an installation, Temple of the Bearded Man (through February 13) is a shrine of sorts to the creative spirit that breathes life into these wearable sculptures. Viewers familiar with Nick Cave's Soundsuit series will note some similarities, though on balance Morazan's postmodern tribal accoutrements are much stronger. Shame they're often only exhibited one at a time.
Just off his procession route another set of ritualistic costumes and performances were about to go on view for TRIIIBE's New York debut at DODGEgallery (through February 13). As the spelling intimates, the Massachusetts collective TRIIIBE consists of identical triplets Alicia, Kelly and Sara Casilio and photographer Cary Wolinsky. Large-format photographs on the gallery's main floor show the sisters in Cindy Sherman-esque costumes and makeup posing for deadpan funny and sometimes somber portraits—as a rabbi, Catholic priest and Imam in "Table for Three"; as the suburban couple posing in their living room in "Homeland," the third triplet appearing as a soldier in a framed photo on the wall.
Those two images in particular—along with another scene wonderfully set- and costume-designed by collaborator Rae Bertellotti, in which two sisters prepare to execute the third, who's seated in an electric chair—foreshadow TRIIIBE's even more powerful performances. Those screen on the gallery's lower level alongside two massive triptychs. Playing on the triplets' uncanny ability to simultaneously signify sameness and difference—chameleonic transformations that'd put Woody Allen's Leonard Zelig to shame—TRIIIBE's performances on Wall Street and during an Iraq War protest in D.C. are the young collective's most impressive works. The latter, "Inch by Inch" (2007), where they dressed as an Iraqi civilian, a U.S. soldier and a dust-covered 9/11 victim with respective death tolls written on their foreheads and unfurled a red cloth representing the total number of dead on the steps of the Capitol, is astounding. As with Morazan's procession, it makes the still pieces seem all the more like accessories or byproducts of more vital performances. At a time of false social proximity and increased fragmentation, both artists make powerful pitches for joining their tribes.
(Morazan images courtesy the artist, DCKT Contemporary; TRIIIBE images courtesy the artists, DODGEgallery, Gallery Kayafas)