[written for The Wire magazine, didn't make its way to the mag]
If you ever had a dilemma, whether art world is about art or party, the
performance group CHERYL will solve this problem for you. They cannot be
placed neither in the realm of performance (too trashy and silly), nor anything
as sexist as burlesque (not stylish enough) or just a hipster fancy dress disco
party dressed as ‘art’. It’s a gender-bender machine, in which everyone
have a little chance to participate in the exuberant, if they
dare, if not risking making a bit of fools of themselves. But I pity those, who
would be afraid of it - Cheryl are known for their crazy parties/performances
in New York and dozens of transgressive videos, where, to the tune of hacked
older and newer dance hits, they go the way of excessive make up-cum-wigs maxi-esthetics,
remaining somewhere between institutional critique (they did quite a lot of rioty things in eg. NY MoMA or White Cube, to a predictable effect) disco revival groups like Hercules and Love Affair, MGMT, who also like to dress up (or, if we were less generous, Scissor Sisters...), Eurovision and talent shows and the spirit
of films of John Waters, James Bidgood’s Pink Narcissus, Paris Is Burning and Kuchar brothers, clearly expressing a kind of nostalgia after the disco era. In the work of those 1960s-1980s artists, there was a
real risk to the self denigration, that may or may not bring transgression. In the work of New Yorkers, the supoposedly outrageous can at best cause a smile of sympathy on one's face, it's too shamelessly silly cross-dressing not really meaning much, thus perhaps expressing the dying of forms in beyond-retro culture.
How does it differ from an embarrassingly amateurish, average “queer” and “gender-themed” graduate work of a Goldsmith's student, you might well ask? When I entered one of their parties in Salford’s derelict mill turned artist residencies, where Cheryl were trying to engage people in “psycho-aerobics class” (“Pirouette like Jacko!”), it felt like the endless enthusiasm of Brooklynians met the usual I-might-want-to-join-but-better-stand-back-and-stare reserve. For several hours Cheryl were playing disco tunes from the last four decades, from Donna Summer to 2000s dance-punk and synthpop. It reminded me of the work of Paul McCarthy or Christoph Schlingensief, the way Cheryl wants to make everything more ugly, more outrageous, less pretty, less seductive. It’s a freakshow, but one that tells us at the same time, how much this itself has become only an esthetic, cool enough to wow your friends in the ghetto. But even if it's ridiculous, I can't completely not like it, because of how far away from a "serious artist" posturing it is. We couldn't be further from Matmos or Antony, but we're also not in the realm of Diamanda Galas, for sure.
But there’s something to the videos, where the members are covered in heavy layers of paint, glitter and plasticine to the unrecognisability, wearing usually animal masks and fantasy clothes trashed together. Strangely neurotic and come to think about it, not so much mutually unrelated, clips about depression, recession (cartoon stories about artists who had to sell all their belongings), gender confusion are not even trying to obliterate the ultimate truth of their hipsterism. you call us flat and retro? We'll be more retro than you can possibly imagine. Critical art has the power of dissecting something hidden and ugly within the society. What Cheryl does, detects that hipster monoculture reached its absolutely critical point.