Thursday, January 20, 2011

Masturbating with Bible: The Blow-by-Blow

It all began when my friend Kirk Read learned I had never destroyed a bible before:

When this video was posted, a woman who booked me for a show called with some, well, concerns. She's Christian, she said, and her audience is Christian. Would I be using the bible onstage?

As a response, I made a video of myself masturbating with a bible. I was pissed off, you see, about the Smithsonian pulling David Wojnarowicz's video, and I wanted to make a point about the bible as an agent of censorship, where the bible literally blocks your view of my penis:

I posted that video two days ago and it was picked up by some some of the gay blogs. This is from Queerclick's Sticky Blog (there I am, amidst all that white cock):

This morning I got a message from Youtube. They yanked the video and put me on a 6mo probation:

I also got a letter from a gay Christian. He told me I was "being a disgrace to the gay community."

Anyway, this is not about me feeling persecuted. I go out of my way to offend, this is what happens.

Recently, a number of people have asked me why I'm so offensive. What's the point of shocking people? What good does it do? It's just juvenile. It's not art. Art is supposed to have substance, art is supposed to heal and bring us together and stimulate thought. You're no better than Rush Limbaugh. You're just hurting people. If you're not careful, you won't have a career in the arts.

This got me thinking about my work specifically, queer art in general, and obscene/offensive art in total. Here are my thoughts:

* My queer ancestor, Leigh Bowery, said he only asks himself one question when he makes work: Where's the poison?

* Queer artists are here to end the world as we know it. We're here to be the monsters they say we are. And they should be scared.

* Rush Limbaugh never crack jokes about his extramarital affairs or his drug addiction, just like Glenn Beck never cracks jokes about his being Mormon. That's the difference between me and them. I talk shit about myself before I talk shit about anyone else.

* There's a difference between offending people and hurting people. I'm out to shock and offend you, but I'm not out to hurt you. You have not been victimized by my work. You do not need to be protected from my work. As Keith Hennessy says, "Safe space...continues to frame us all as victims or potential victims in need of protection. And victims are always justified in excluding others, or Others. Safe space is the ideology that supports the prison industrial complex."

* The bible is an object. Objects do not have fixed meanings. I am defiling what the bible means to me, not what it means to you.

* I don't give a shit if I have a career in the arts. Arts careers are lame. Bust my ass and play nice so I can beg for a $2,000 grant and do some shitty 3mo residency for $500? No thanks.

* I don't need to be more sensitive or careful about what I do. Your feelings are your responsibility.

* Lydia Lunch is the prophet. She divides the audience. She offends to separate those merely seeking entertainment from those who will fucking die without her work.

* If your only intent as an artist is to bring healing, your work probably sucks.

* If you're a curator, have faith in the intelligence of the audience. You don't have to pre-chew their food for them. And no, the audience won't conflate the artist's opinion with your own.

* Offensive art starts conversations. Once the worst thing has been said or depicted, the rest is easy.

* To paraphrase Kirk Read, the true evil in the world is fearful, well-meaning people.

* Art never needs to explain or defend itself. Art does not need a reason to exist. Art has no obligation to heal.

* I never said what I do is art.

I did repost the offending video on Xtube. Within 16hrs it was pulled by the website and is currently under administrative review.

Pulled. From Xtube. Really?

Xtube has now even put a block on my account.


Do join Philip's Video Club, and rest awhile at my Youtube channel.

Thank you,

Philip Huang


Sunday, November 14, 2010

My Night With Philip Huang--May day! May Day!
by Bob Siedle-Khan

There were lots of body fluids but none of them were mine.

Saturday May 1 CounterPulse (www. held a fundraising event they called “The Happening.” One of the 11 or 12 events was performances in the bathroom with Philip Huang.

Philip walked through the crowd asking for people who wanted "to poo, pee or make gay porn". I had seen other people go with him but I was afraid to go into the bathroom alone with him. I convinced another man to come in with me. As Philip was describing what he might do I saw that the toilet was already full of piss, shit and toilet paper.

A middle-aged woman came in because she had to pee. She sat on the toilet and Philip asked us to sing. We looked at each other not knowing what to do. Since the other man was from Latin America, I began to sing “Las Mañanitas” and he joined in. We were both toneless and tuneless, “Estas son las mañanitas que cantaba el rey David a las muchachas bonitas….”

Philip told the woman he would sit on her lap and massage her hands. He got out a bottle of lotion and proceeded. When she was finished he forbade her to flush.

I noticed she didn’t wash her hands. Perhaps, like men, women don’t always wash their hands after peeing. We all left the bathroom at the same time.

Was it art? Was it a happening? Was it performance? Yes, but. Yes, it was happening and performance, but I was uncomfortable. As he meant us to be.

Later a group of us left the show together. On the Bart train, going home, Philip opens his backpack and unpacks a scarf full of supplies. He tells us he’s going to do a performance. He asks us for some water, which I offer, and he pours into a neti pot. He takes off one sock and shoe. He’s ready by the time the train leaves Embarcadero and goes through the tunnel under San Francisco Bay; he hands his Flip camera to one of the young women in our party and shows her how to operate it.

Standing up, he wraps the long cotton scarf around his head and shoulders, as he begins to sing “The glory of love.”

“You’ve got to laugh a little, cry a little…”

He leans over a small plastic basin and pours water through his nose as he sings. I’m laughing out loud. I see some people are laughing, some watching in silence and others studiously ignoring him: the usual range of reactions to performance on a train. When he finishes he washes his one foot in the basin then stands up and drinks the water.

Overcome by the dry heaves, my mood swings from laughter to nausea.

Not everyone is able to see the whole performance. The woman with the camera missed the neti pot sinus cleanse as she was panning along the train audience. I missed the foot wash as Philip was crouching in the aisle; I was told about that part by my the woman sitting next to me.

When it’s all over several of us applaud. Two middle-aged women, returning from the opera, begin a conversation with Philip. One asks, “Where else do you perform?” He responds, “In my bedroom.” He tears off a scrap of paper and writes all the necessary information for them before we transfer at 12th St. Oakland.

He hugs me goodbye at downtown Berkeley and the night is over, for me. But I’m looking forward to more, this month, in his Join us.

Philip Huang Takes Performance Art to Whole New Level

by Tehea Robie

The inwardly delicate nature of outwardly courageous people always surprises me, no matter how many times I notice it in myself and others. Philip Huang is fearless, balls out, practical cynicism.

And yet, my heart flutters a little when I think of his vulnerable side. Even still, in a street fight, I'd put my money on Huang. He's got some of that stuff bubbling.

Make no mistake, Huang will be the first fag on the moon.

He frequents anti-gay demonstrations holding a No Fags on the Moon sign. Yes, it’s confusing. It’s just confusing enough to take the air out of a serious homophobic protest.

Huang is a model turned actress and an all-around troublemaker. He received an East Bay Fund for Artists grant and was a resident at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center.

“If nothing else gets said at my wake when I die, let it be said that I was the first artist to give myself a pap smear onstage in Oakland Chinatown.”

On YouTube, you can watch him at Lake Merritt, asking random pedestrians if they think that the new fancy glass church - Cathedral of Christ the Light - resembles female genitalia (below - contains graphic material).

Though Huang’s performance persona is loud, brazen and full of sarcasm, the Huang that I conversed with was measured, polite and surprisingly gentle.

The interview was our first meeting, but there are things that came out of that discussion that I won’t be putting in print, for reasons that only Huang and I will someday understand.

Before Huang joined the panel presentation at the Dynamic Adaptability Conference in San Francisco, his friend took him aside and said, “Philip, I don’t know what you’re planning to do, but there are lots of important people here. There are lots of major foundations from all over the world and every executive director of every arts organization. These are the people who are going to be reviewing grants for the rest of your life. Don’t be too crazy.”

Huang reassured his friend and proceeded to tell the audience of said executive directors that he wasn’t interested in helping them become more culturally relevant.

“If you are dying out, it’s because you need to die out, a forest fire needs to sweep through the forest and clear you out.” He then gave a hands-on, mini-tutorial on fundraising. He had the sedate, refined spectators on their feet, yelling and waving dollar bills like they were at a strip show. I know, I was there. I covered my mouth, choke-laughed, catcalled and almost fell out of my chair.

Huang doesn’t hate the people who make up the establishment.

“Arts administrators are good people, they’re lovely people. But for me right now, they’re the enemy.”

Dana Street Theater, run out of Huang’s home in Berkeley, is one of Huang’s solutions.

“I started a theater in my own house, and I put together the first home theater festival. About two dozen artists, some with really established careers, put on shows in their own house. I want to tell theaters, ‘We don’t need you. We don’t need these well put together, well packaged plays that cost $35 and nobody enjoys anything. We don’t need you.’

"Performers get paid about 5 percent to 10 percent of the time when they perform, the rest is all pro bono," Huang continued. "I tell performers to do a show in their house. Keep everything that they make. No middle man. There’s nothing that an institution can promise to give you that you can’t get for yourself. Even legitimacy.”

Huang was raised by his grandmother in Taiwan until he was 8. He moved to the Philippines with his parents for a year, then Phoenix, Arizona, and eventually landed in Los Angeles. Huang laughed: “I’m the cautionary tale - this is what happens when you bring your kids to America!”

If you’re working out at 24 Hour Fitness on Webster Street and you see a pretty man and a blow up Jaguar outside on the sidewalk, you’re about to experience Huang’s “Witness to Fitness” performance art. The show is coming soon to a gym window near you.

In my view, No Fags on the Moon translates to “I wish you would! Try it ... try and stop us!”

The Provocateur: Philip Huang Foists Art on and Unsuspecting Public

by Rachel Swan

One of Philip Huang's forthcoming projects — and he has a slew of them — will involve a guerilla theater performance outside the 24 Hour Fitness in downtown Berkeley. He'll call it "Witness the Fitness." "It's like, 'What the fuck are those people looking at, on the treadmill?'" asked Huang, who was never one to shy away from a bemused audience. He's taken the public art concept to all sorts of unlikely places, including a bathroom stall at the Coppola vineyard, several gay marriage protests, and a construction site two blocks away from Ground Zero. When it comes to art, Huang confesses to being a bit of a free-market libertarian. He doesn't believe in grant applications or waiting around for someone else to curate your work. He's skeptical of third-party mediators. He also sees nothing wrong with foisting product on an unsuspecting public.

So you might call Philip Huang a living, breathing, walking piece of performance art. Last Tuesday he went to UC Berkeley — his alma mater — dressed in clothes he'd slept in the night before: a faux camel's hair coat from Banana Republic, Converse sneakers with flames, dark-blue long johns, and an orange scarf with tassels. Were it not for the get-up, Huang might have passed for a Cal student. He's 34 years old but looks younger, with his preppy bowl haircut and horn-rimmed glasses. A few months ago he left two part-time jobs — one as an HIV test counselor, the other slinging gelato. Now he writes and performs full time, often staying up until 5 a.m. to work on fiction. (He used to contribute book reviews to the Express.) Born in Taiwan, he grew up in Asia and later immigrated to Phoenix, then to a working-class neighborhood of Los Angeles. He's gay and proud of it, fascinated by all things camp, and into being outré. For Huang, the line between "art" and public disturbance is perilously thin.

"That's part of my thesis," said Huang. "Most art sucks, and most artists with careers shouldn't have careers."

Huang has performed in myriad venues throughout the Bay Area, including Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, TheGarage, CounterPulse, and Oakland Asian Cultural Center — where he premiered Semen and White Lace: A One Woman Show, last year. For the most part, Huang prefers to stage things in his own living room, where he maintains total creative control and collects all the proceeds. Last year Huang held two shows in his south Berkeley apartment building, redubbed "the Dana Street Theater." He said he collected roughly $300 a night. This year, he's organizing a Bay Area-wide home theater festival, which will include local choreographer Keith Hennessy, writer Kirk Read, and porn star Annie Sprinkle. "Artists have always made shows in their own houses," said Huang. "But I want to take it to the next level. Let's legitimize it. Let's call it 'theater.' Let's charge money for it, and let's make a festival out of it. My message to artists is 'You don't need an institution to have a career.'"

At this point, Huang seldom uses the imprimatur of a big company. He's the consummate free agent, and it goes beyond having a home theater. Huang subscribes to the philosophy that anything can be a performance, so long as you have the means to document it. Thus, he always leaves the house armed with a small Flip cam and digital recorder. He has a special talent for digesting life and creating spectacle.

His YouTube videos are a mirror reflection of that sensibility. In "Roe Vs. Wade Vs. Philip" he infiltrates a "Walk for Life" rally. "Let's hear it for 'pro life!'" Huang screams when the camera starts rolling. "Abortions suck. Screw abortions!" After six minutes he gets ejected by one of the organizers. In "Ave Maria" he sings an aria while sauntering down Santa Monica Boulevard. In "Philip Vs. Prop Church" — which was inspired by an Express story about Oakland Bishop Salvatore Cordileone — he stands across the street from the Cathedral of Christ the Light at Lake Merritt and asks passerby if it looks like a giant vagina. In "Mariah Audition Tapes for Precious" he arranges a towel on his head to look like a big mop of hair, and recites Mariah Carey's lines from the film. A minute and a half in duration, the video comprises several close-up shots of Huang, pretending to be a glamour queen, pretending to be a social worker. "Can we talk about the abuse in your household?" he croons. Huang's best video to date is "The Lunar Homosexual Agenda," in which he hijacks a Westboro Church anti-gay demonstration, carrying a sign that says "No Fags on the Moon."

We've seen this type of protest art before, with the Yes Men, Reverend Billy, and even graphic designer Shepard Fairey — all of whom are famous for inverting hierarchical forms. And Huang sees himself as part of the same postmodern lineage. He cites the British graffiti artist Banksy as his main idol. To a certain degree, he's glommed onto the culture jamming phenomenon. But Huang is also a different species of provocateur. His motivations for doing things independently seem personal rather than ideological. He likes having complete control over his work, using theatrical shock tactics, and, above all, getting under people's skin. It wasn't satisfying enough to just get a few Lake Merritt joggers to agree that Christ the Light looked like a vagina. He had to ask if they'd finger it. For his last video, "Drunk White Girls Vs. Drunk Asian Girls," Huang went around Telegraph Avenue asking people which group is more irritating.

Last Tuesday's UC Berkeley excursion provided infinite opportunities for more video shoots. Huang had his camera and recorder in tow. He passed through Sather Gate Plaza and gazed into the window of a men's wrestling club. "That's super hot," he said pointing at the big window, as a pair of half-naked men pretzeled each other on the other side. "It's like when you're in a hotel room and you get the 24-hour porn option. You never know what you're gonna find."

Sproul Plaza was fertile terrain. Huang had hoped to find some Tea Party protestors at the lip of Telegraph and Bancroft avenues, but instead he found a more sedate group of sign-holders, promoting a blood drive. Members of the UC Berkeley Men's Octet were posted at Sather Gate, singing and passing out flyers. A gentleman in an American flag T-shirt held court outside Dwinelle Hall, lecturing about Communism. Huang waded through crowds of students advertising Haiti fund-raisers, Magic School Bus performances, and activist groups. None of them seemed quite worthy of provocation. The singers and blood donors were benign. The American flag guy was too crazy. He passed a "diversity wall" with black-and-white photographs, showing slices of the UC Berkeley population. "I always tell people this is a memorial for the students who died during terrorist attacks," he said.

It seemed like Huang wouldn't be able to leave his mark anywhere that day. Then a girl accosted him in Sproul Plaza. She complimented the orange scarf. She asked if he would pose for some type of student-club promotional photo. Huang conceded. The girl set him up next to a handsome young man and has them both hold signs. Huang lay down on the ground and wrapped himself around the other guy's legs. The guy rolled his eyes and laughed uncomfortably. Onlookers snickered. The girl snapped her picture.


If You Want to Succeed in Art, Leave Your Shame at the Door

by Rachel Rolseth

Last April I found myself creatively stuck, so I booked a weekend trip to Chicago in hopes it would jump-start my imagination. After buying my ticket, I discovered that I would be there for the Creative Chicago Expo, which is a bunch of free marketing workshops for artists. I was thrilled.

I was most excited about a class called, “Cultivating Shamelessness.” I really had no idea what to expect, but for any of you who are familiar with the presenter, Philip Huang, you know that the only thing you can expect from him is the unexpected.

Philip entered the auditorium, strutted up to the stage, and dug right in. I’ll never forget what he said:

“Every other person who gets up here today is going to lie to you. They will tell you that if you have the right marketing, if you have the right website, that you’re going to make it. Bullshit! They are going to tell you that you are entitled to a career. You are entitled to NOTHING!”

The auditorium broke out into applause and hoots, and my jaw was on the floor. Next, he told us that anyone who wasn’t ready to do something really crazy had 10 seconds to leave the room.

We were divided into five groups, and Philip told us that we were going to have 10 minutes to leave the auditorium and hustle money from every other person at the conference. The team with the most money won, and we would have 3 minutes to strategize.

Our team captain asked what our strategy should be, and I said, “Let’s get a head start on everyone while people still have money in their pockets.” The team agreed and we ran off with no plan and a two and a half minute head start.

I walked up to friendly looking strangers and told them I was in a class called “Cultivating Shamelessness,” and that we were trying to win a competition about who could get the most money. Most people (especially in those first few minutes) were more than happy to part with a buck or some change.

I was really nervous at first, but it was second nature by the time the ten minutes were up, and we emerged victorious. (To brag for a minute, our team was composed of about 15 people, and I raised over 25% of our pot. Boo-ya!)

This was absolutely a life-changing experience for me. It made me realize that I already knew how to be a successful artist—I just had to get off my butt and do it. There’s no magic, no mystery.

I realized I could design and redesign my website forever, but unless I went out and told other people about it, it wouldn’t matter because nobody would see it. I could obsess over which galleries I might be able to approach one day when I (somehow) made a name for myself, or I could work my way into some shows at coffee shops, friends’ houses, etc. and keep all the money.

The truth is, great art doesn’t sell itself. Good websites don’t create their own audiences. I realized that the more I tell people about my art and website, the bigger my audience will be. And the bigger my audience is, the more opportunities I will get. Hard work and luck look a lot alike.

Philip—it was an absolute pleasure to take your class. Thank you for making such an important lesson easy, fun and crazy.

And to those of you reading this. . . I can only encourage you to be shameless. Hustle. Pursue your passion. That’s how you’ll succeed.

For more articles and insight from Rachel Rolseth, please visit her blog.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Rveview of This is Where My Life Went Wrong

This is Where My Life Went Wrong

C. Bard Cole


Blatt Books


One wonders upon encountering This is Where My Life Went Wrong how Mr. C. Bard Cole sleeps at night.  This is not to imply that Mr. Cole is morally bereft but rather that Mr. Cole’s new book is evidence of such a restless and remarkable brain that one worries Mr. Cole cannot turn it off long enough to rest.

This is Where My Life Went Wrong is a long bright rant in 106 parts, a vague chronology of prose, poems, rhyming couplets, plays, lists, even a two-act opera.  All told, it’s too much—too baroque, too witty, too imagined, too obscure, too full of folly, too winking with devices and ideas and leaps in logic; the literary equivalent of a Terry Gilliam production—and one doesn’t so much read this book as dips one’s toes into its immensity and hope for the best.

Upon withdrawing said toe, one may do what this reviewer did: close book, possibly exhausted; rub eyes; shake head and laugh while rubbing eyes; shake head and laugh and rub eyes while wondering why so few writers can produce work remotely this alive, that enjoys itself this much, that wallows in language with such porny relish; then sigh at the thought of reading a lesser writer.  (Compared to Mr. Cole, we may all be lesser.)

Case in point: “Cortizonally he had a skin disease of the foot.  Opalikely or not, they had to get married, b/c you know.  Frankly this hot dog is weakly salted.  Charmingly he played the snake flute.  Anally he penetrated her complicated & confusing regime, a cheerful look, a miasma of confusion, a pan-hellenic monstro.  A lesbionic woman.  A fat slut.  God Love A Flat Slut.” 


The whole book’s like that, on and on.  So reliably, insufferably dense and weird and intolerable and amazing, one can spend days unpacking one paragraph until one suffers the same insomnia that Mr. Cole must have surely endured to produce this gleaming pile of a book.

The reviewer understands that in this current economy one’s personal budget for books may not allow for such fare.  But perhaps?  One may consider?  Supporting one lone marvel?  In a world so needing such marvels? 


-Philip Huang