Last year, author Chris Kraus (best known for having her early book I Love Dick, recently made into an Amazon television series) published what she terms a “literary biography” of Kathy Acker, a controversial free-thought, free-sex feminist writer and performer who died of cancer in 1997. The book is thorny and fearless and a little bit difficult, much like Acker herself.
In the wake of Acker’s death, Kraus' book tour and a general resurgence in audience interest in works of pioneering feminism, many of the artists, writers and other bohemians in academia and on the edges have been inspired to re-engage with Acker. They're reconsidering not only Acker’s work but that of those connected to one another through knowing her, and especially those for whom the Kraus book prompted fresh stock-taking of their personal and creative relationships with her both long before and right during her illness and eventual demise.
On Sunday, May 6, Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center hosts a Kathy Acker homage double-header. Early in the evening, from 5 to 7 p.m., a special installation of new mixed-media photographs by Aline Mare called “Requiem: Aching for Acker” opens in the upstairs gallery space. The works combine portraits and artifacts of Acker and her operatic life and brash, renegade style, along with elements of nature representing entropy, death and rebirth. Painful, haunting, abstract and saturated with color and texture, this work combines Mare’s interests in the intersection of nature and the unnatural, with the narrative force of grappling with the aftermath of Acker’s life and death to give it form and direction.
Mare crossed paths with Acker many times over the years, starting in New York City decades ago. By the time they reunited for what would be the final time, it was 1995 and Acker was already sick beyond recourse. Mare became a member of her support group in the final months of Acker's life. Around that time, Mare read Acker’s last book, Eurydice in the Underworld, and was “blown away by its pure emotion and the courageous confrontation” of the author’s own imminent death, filtered through the literary idioms of Greek myth.
In 2016, Mare was contacted by Chris Kraus to be interviewed for the book — a conversation that sparked Mare’s desire to make this series. Mare sent the images to Kraus after reading her book on Acker, and Kraus responded, “There’s nothing better than to see my book as an instigator for other work. The glove image you sent is harrowing … it feels like the real thing, and suggests all kinds of unspoken suffering. I can’t stop thinking about what Kathy would make of all this, our extrapolations from her life and her work.” Well, after the opening reception, audiences will have a chance to see what they make of it all, as the art gives way to the writing, in the theater downstairs.
At 7:30 p.m., a ticketed event unfolds in the theater, featuring readings and performances of work written by, and new moments made for, Acker and her legacy. Readers of their own and selected works by Acker include Chris Kraus (who will offer a staged filmed reading), Dodie Bellamy (author of Writers Who Love Too Much), and Matias Viegener (Acker’s closest companion at the time of her death, the executor of her estate and archive, and author of 2018's The Assassination of Kathy Acker).
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Mare, whose photographs are on exhibit upstairs through May 27, is also a performance artist, and she'll enact Acker’s powerful conclusion to her final play, the poem “Requiem” for which the series of new photographs is named, accompanied by a Kris T Force soundtrack.
Beyond Baroque, 681 Venice Blvd., Venice; (310) 822-3006; gallery opening: Sun., May 6, 5-7 p.m.; free. Reading: Sun., May 6, 7:30 p.m.; $10. Artist’s talk on Sat., May 19, 2 p.m.; free. Regular gallery hours: Fri.-Sat., 3-7 p.m.; Sun., 2-7 p.m; through May 27.