/ July 13, 2010

"Taste Buds"


“And that’s a fake penis . . .”

The withering judgments, delivered with unshakable authority (and a dose of affection) by two men seated behind me at the Swiss Institute’s makeshift multiplex, were directed at Mike Kuchar’s Splatter Movie. A highlight of the film program at the nonprofit’s Saturday night Battle of Bad Taste party, the lurid short moves with alarming rapidity from close-up blow-job action to unsolicited amputation by chainsaw, the latter moment eliciting howls of laughter from an enthusiastic house. Over-the-top is the California director’s m.o., so it made sense that his work was paired here with not only that of his brother George, but also—filling in the Swiss quotient—four characteristically unhinged videos by artist Olaf Breuning.

By 9:30 PM, the SoHo gallery, divided for the occasion into three separate viewing rooms and a flower-decked reception area, was crammed. Fueled by “green spider” cocktails (swampy-looking mint vodka) and blue ices (don’t ask), the young crowd moved, continually and en masse, from screen to screen. An unsettling side effect of this ongoing drift was that you could find yourself suddenly alone in a darkened room as an actor blew chunks or dribbled blood on-screen, either repeatedly or in extreme slow motion. Splatter Movie was the most popular choice on my arrival, but attention soon shifted to Breuning’s Home 1 and 2, in which the flame-haired, cold-eyed Brian Kerstetter roams the earth, playing the role of the ultimate culturally insensitive tourist.

While Breuning’s contributions, which also included Ugly Yelp and King, were a bit familiar (the Home cycle was featured at the Whitney two years ago), Kuchar compositions such as Gates of Gomorrah and Uncle Evil (the clues are in the titles) are arguably lesser known. Beloved of John Waters and championed by Jonas Mekas, the self-taught duo have produced a vast body of work, George concentrating on gonzo movies and Mike on videos documenting the real-world passions of various oddball personalities. Both siblings’ output comes with swinging dicks and nausea-inducing psychedelic SFX. Active and influential since the mid-1950s without compromise—or a sniff of mainstream attention until the release of a documentary, It Came from Kuchar, last year—they are the very definition of “cult.” The prospect of a Q&A with the pair was, then, a fascinating one, but the reality didn’t quite stack up.

Around 11:00 PM, staffers wheeled out an overhead projector, and attendees were invited to write questions thereon for the heretofore retiring artists to respond to in kind. One viewer wanted to know whether the nudity and vomiting in Mike Kuchar’s movies were “second-degree”; another compared Breuning to Werner Herzog. As the session wore on, the acetate projector sheets began to overlap, eventually resulting in a near-unreadable palimpsest of red-marker scrawl. By the time artist Jim Drain and friend added their oblique inquiries to the mess, the cinematic auteurs seemed to have lost patience with the process and the questions went unanswered. As the crowd began to thin out, the prospect of a Bad Taste Award Ceremony, originally scheduled for midnight, seemed to recede. Dawdling for half an hour after technicians shut down the projectors, I followed a disappointingly courteous Kerstetter into the elevator and out into the night.