Languaging with CHERYL about free mobile dance parties

image: @CHERYLDANCE “the littlest CHERYL”

CHERYL, “the dance party that will ruin your life”, is a “semi-anonymous” art collective based in Brooklyn known for its prescient/innovative use of fake blood, fake hair, glitter, and cat masks in social sculpture and nightlife. Semi-monthly since 2008, the four-member group has staged parties at the Bell House that shift behavioral paradigms and propose absurd thematic self-fashioning (eg. Plague, Future, Superstition, Pizza). Their post-Fluxus event planning/party revisionism is accompanied by robust video and installation work that subverts bourgeois sociality and encourages collective transformation and euphoria. This summer, they’ve pushed their practice outdoors, throwing On The Waterfront at Pier 16 for the R2R festival and, in an especially Debord-y move, driving through Brooklyn in a minivan: bringing a traveling dance party to the streets, their performative interventions becoming interactive public art. CHERYL is awesome and here is their semi-anonymous e-interview with Culturebot.

i feel very interested in how your work this summer seems to be addressing the tensions and boundaries between “nightlife” and “relational aesthetics” or the club and the gallery by using non-traditional outdoor public spaces: Pier 16 at South Street Seaport and A VAN. CHERYL once said an airplane would be the ideal venue (besides a moving bathtub or Segway parade(?)): does the pier/street/mobile vehicle feel like home?

one CHERYL: pretty much anywhere can feel like home, or can be made to feel like home – i think that’s part of the van project too is that we can set up camp anywhere and get people involved in what we’re doing.

another CHERYL: agreed with above. we are interested in the unorthodox. the more unusual, the more likely we will surprise people into engagement, and the more likely we will interact with people outside our typical CHERYL community (generally, young-ish, arty weirdos). already we have had a LOT of interest in the mobile dance parties from the over-50-mom/grandmom set. we also decided to do outdoor parties and the van thing because we want to keep things interesting for people in NYC, as well as for ourselves. new york is many things – overly expensive, sometimes overly “cool” or even douchey and snobby. but it’s also a place of artistic innovation and constant renewal. so we wanted to remind ourselves and our community what was possible in a place that sometimes feels a bit stifling. so far, it seems to be working.

how does CHERYL survive or mutate as it moves into public space or between public space(s)?

one CHERYL: public space (and especially, new york city’s public space, which in many ways is a microcosm for the U.S.) has been on our minds these days, with good reason. privatized development on brooklyn’s waterfront, the flaunting of eminent domain, the bureaucratic difficulty of staging outdoor events, and public space interference in the form of artists and of course, the occupy movement. public space is a hotly contested issue because what it IS and what it ISN’T is no longer obvious to the average citizen. big money and big brother are pushing for more privatized, exclusive, regulated spaces. if you quizzed random people on the street, it’s likely they won’t know what rights they have (and what rights they don’t have) when it comes to using public space. which is all the more reason why we should try to do whatever we can to keep it and make it ours, in whatever way we choose. so this spirit informs our mobile party squad as we take to the streets of our beloved city. and to be honest, we have encountered 97% goodness wherever we go. even the cops have been pretty cool. once, during a particularly weird late night at one of our london parties, someone described the scene as anarchy. and that was correct (from a “personal freedoms” standpoint, as opposed to the political party). and i think no matter what space we’re in, we bring that mindset, facilitating that safe space for others, along with the fact that we are staunchly anti-exclusivity. so really, doing this outside in public and quasi- public spaces is the greatest demonstration of freedom and inclusivity that we could possibly do.

another CHERYL: i never thought of the project in this political light, but this all makes sense and is a new way of thinking about it. i was more envisioning that we can do what we do whenever and wherever – in a museum, on a boat, midday, midnight, under an overpass – whererever – and that the spirit of CHERYL is compelling enough to counteract people’s public behavior and concerns and get them to get into it anywhere, anytime.

how is the transience of the van reconfiguring the live experience – is it feeling more like your video practice or a performance for people on the street?

one CHERYL: it’s really not either of those things. we are just wilding out, sometimes with cat masks and a big colorful parachute, and sometimes looking like “normal people.” in all cases we are inviting people to join us. sometimes people elect to watch instead of dance, so in that sense it’s a spectacle.

another CHERYL: not really either – it’s more like the very early parties we threw, or the very start of the night in a city outside of New York, where we’re running around going crazy, encouraging people to join in.

how are unprepared passersby engaging? Are your audiences changing? Who are you wanting to engage with?

one CHERYL: we want to engage with everyone. it’s a mixed bag. we were in the heart of arty weirdo bushwick with the van and no one wanted to dance with us. we went to grand army plaza and the majority of people on the street danced with us and shook our giant parachute around. and for some reason, every time we’re in williamsburg we attract a lot of older ladies who get really into it.

another CHERYL: equal opportunity! we’ve danced with Mormons, a baby, families, hipsters, anyone and everyone.

 are you surprised/confused/inspired?

one CHERYL: we are inspired, of course! but maybe not too surprised or confused. the people that generally get into dancing are the ones that don’t really care what other people on the street might think of them. so kids on bogart street in bushwick are apparently a little self conscious.

are you planning longer trips?

one CHERYL: not yet. our goal was to go to all five boroughs. we still need to get to all of them. then we’ll see if the van is still operational. if it is, maybe we can take it on a road trip or a regional tour.

another CHERYL: next phase is turning into an amphibious vehicle so we can take it to Europe too.

do you feel like your work is political? Is it becoming political in the street?

one CHERYL: we didn’t start out with that intent, but yes, i think our mobile dance parties could be considered political subversion. see answer about public space above.

 some more general questions I have are: do you ever feel shy?

one CHERYL: of course. i was painfully shy growing up and had to get over some serious social anxiety. i still feel it sometimes. but i force myself to do things and that makes it easier. also, as a lifelong performer i think i am just naturally pretty self-conscious, which can be a good thing and a bad thing.

another CHERYL: i used to be crazy shy as even into college but people never believe it now. CHERYL really helped. once you run around in a nuditard in front of 500 people it’s hard to stay shy. it’s a good challenge.

how do you deal with party-poopers or bullies?

one CHERYL: i usually ignore them, but sometimes they get to me. at a party we did in madrid i started screaming at the top of my lungs when no one would dance. it made me really angry. but then you need to have the CHERYL moment-of-perspective and realize what you’re doing is ridiculous.

another CHERYL: we’re open to everyone but some people aren’t open to us. if people don’t like fun then that’s their problem. some people are too cool or snobby or whatever so it doesn’t always work out. we don’t have time for or interest in party poopers. bullies, absolute zero tolerance, especially for homophobes and misogynists. we’re creating safe space for everyone so anyone who tips that balance it just doesn’t work. you do you. as long as you don’t mess with someone else in a demeaning or derogatory way. our policy is generally do whatever the fuck you want. 

what do you want your work to do? What does ruined mean to you?

one CHERYL: personally, i want CHERYL to serve as a safe space for people from all walks of life to engage in freedom, loss of control and artistic/personal expression. i want to facilitate an experience where anyone (and from experience, it seems to be many people who are or used to be extremely shy) can lose their shit and do whatever they want, and learn a dance and make a wig and belly-flop in fake blood. doesn’t that sound like a nice world to live in? this general idea can take many forms, which is why we don’t try to define what we do too much. as for what “ruined” means, well, that can take just as many forms, usually hilarious. and sometimes it means ruined, LITERALLY. as in, i had to go to the hospital because i injured myself badly at CHERYL. or, i am in massive debt because as a member of CHERYL i don’t make any money. but generally, we mean it in a facetious way.

another CHERYL: yes to all of the above. “ruined” i also think can mean “completely destroyed from FUN overload” or “i can’t move my legs cause i did 1,000 high kicks last night” or “there’s glitter falling off my scalp onto this meeting agenda right now even though i showered” or “i’ll never be able to listen to miley cyrus the same way ever again”

do your aesthetics/props evacuate sex(iness)? Or is it reconfigured?

one CHERYL : i think it’s reconfigured. we really wanted to be as un-sexy as possible, but now (after discussions with other people about this), i think maybe that’s not true. i think it’s more about just doing what you want to do. i think we all detest “lowest-common-denominator” sexiness (as defined by a patriarchal system), but there are times during our events and parties where the atmosphere could be considered “orgasmic,” all while there is a sasquatch dancing onstage and a girl dressed like miley cyrus in the corner. so that’s something.

another CHERYL: we try and be as un-sexy as possible but people definitely get sexy at our events. but not in an “i’m going to relentlessly hump you on the dance floor whether you want to grind or not” way, more in a “makeout with anyone” sort of way. but people choose it – i don’t think we intentionally or specifically foster that environment, it just happens. people love sex. sex is fun. CHERYL is fun. it’s natural that it might happen here and there. there’s been sex alluded to in our videos, and we’ve used an enormous dildo onstage, but 99% of the time for the funny value. if nothing else, we don’t take ourselves too seriously.

 i’m curious to hear how your collaboration is generally structured, are your roles set, mutable, project-specific?

one CHERYL: our roles are somewhat set and somewhat mutable. things we do on a project basis have a lead CHERYL assigned to them, and we try to evenly distribute that load. but for ongoing administrative things, we have specific roles for continuity’s sake.

another CHERYL: we’ve been figuring it out as we go, it’s evolved based on people’s interests, skills, strengths, and availability, just like anything else. we’re very casual creatively, but we’re definitely a business. it takes all of us to manage all the stuff we get up to while still juggling jobs, LIFE and everything else. we tend to be proect based but we often have several projects going on at once, not all of which are public facing. we are busy cats.

are you more influenced by DJs or artists or neither? Are there any issues for CHERYL surrounding notions of trends or your reception therein (via “surreal meltdown kitsch”?) – is that something you ponder?

one CHERYL: we are influenced by a wide variety of things, including DJs and artists, but also including childhood nostalgia, random pop culture, and pretty much everything else. “the state of the world today” included. we recently found out that all four of us had impressive Garfield comic book collections as children. like, big stacks. we don’t know of any other people who did. are you out there? we do ponder trends. when we started CHERYL more than four years ago, the whole CAT thing wasn’t a mainstream trend. now it is, and it’s made some of us wonder if it’s time to let that go. at the time it was random and funny, but now it’s starting to seem obvious. same thing with glitter, fake blood, hair. even our name, CHERYL, in all caps. for some reason, all of these things were way less obvious when we started, and happened because of serendipity combined with our collective weirdness. now there are other things going on which include these elements. this might also have a lot to do with the idea of the collective unconscious. it also has given us a unique perspective on how trends emerge. and yes, there are times when somebody just plain rips us off. we have talked about the importance of trademarks and intellectual property copyright so we need to make more efforts with that. it sounds lame, but it’s our art, and when a marketing company approaches us asking if they can basically steal our ideas for some industry publication, it becomes obvious that there IS something there to protect.

another CHERYL: i think we’re influenced by culture and general life out in the world. we’re individually varying degrees of involved with contemporary art, DJ scene and that sort of thing – the magic is in where our personal interests intersect and get weird and evolve. if you asked us each to make a list of influence i’d bet there wouldn’t be a repeated name or film or what have you in the group — but we get each other.

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