CHERYL, the artist collective made up of Destiny Pierce, Stina Puotinen, Nick Shiarizzi, and Sarah Van Buren, sits somewhere on an axis that joins Mike Kelly and David Byrne, a mix of earnest absurdism and a regard for abjection that seems squarely a product of early-80s investigations into participatory dynamics and DIY spectacles. Lately, the crux of CHERYL’s production are obsessively orchestrated video works loosely composed around a theme that involve lots of fake blood, cat masks, choreographed dances, glitter, and gloopy food. As one part of the overall work, the videos are completed by chaotic dance parties held in a nightclub, gallery or museum. The entire affair comes off rather like the up-cycle of a bipolar swing, a manic rush to the top of the roller coaster hill fully aware of the drop to come.
The heated, frenetic, and sloppy parties, which are capped by a choreographed CHERYL dance performance, combine with the projected video to make the final work. “Large-scale guided interactive events” is how CHERYL describes them, where the participants assist in spatializing the gap between the meticulously absurd videos and anarchic social environment. Partygoers are shown the entire library of CHERYL videos projected on stage, which serve as a continuously expanding video performance work.
Most recently, CHERYL held a two-week stint at Williamsburg’s Rawson Projects, which they converted into an ad hoc video set and swag shop for the following party, titled White Cube, a riff on high-art-world tropes and iconography. Gallery visitors were invited to pose in front of a green screen, which became part of the video for the party.
That the most recent party scrutinized art world cliches helps clarify what the group is up to, since the comparison of architectural and social relationships among galleries and nightclubs exposes a central aspect of the work. At CHERYL events, the spatial and social architectures of the party become problematics, complex arrangements of forces and possible solutions that encourage extreme behavior and reconfigurations of social codes. The videos serve as new models for social transgressions that partygoers tend, more often than not, to adopt.
“There’s an aesthetic and also the point of view wherein we want to create a space where it’s okay for other people to let go and somehow participate with us and with each other. Whether that’s in the context of a video or a party or an immersive installation, that underlines everything we do,” said Destiny Pierce.
The complimentary relationship between video and party also serves to heighten the problematic of the various architectures where the events take place. Galleries and nightclubs are more similar than different, after all. Both are dedicated spaces for the willing, who arrive to be transformed and carried away. And both have normalized systems of spectatorship and participation that are actually fairly rarely transgressed. CHERYL does its best to attack those norms, by being neither quite a party nor a performance work, and proposing new extreme limits of interaction that people then find themselves participating in.
CHERYL is drawing from histories of performance that have sought to break down distinctions between participants and directors. In a certain way, this work bears some resemblance to Martin Kersels’ or Roman de Salvo’s participatory sculptures, but without the intensely solitary self-reflexiveness of those two bodies of work. CHERYL’s problematic is one of group behavior vis-à-vis appropriateness and freedom, not necessarily subjectification, and that matter is reinforced by the group’s semi-anonymous costumes. The main proposal of CHERYL’s body of production is that we have yet to exhaust all the possible modes of social interaction, and there are always new things to try.
“I actally think what we do doesn’t make sense with a nightclub or a gallery. I don’t know what our ideal venue would be… maybe an airplane,” said Stina Putainen, which makes sense considering the extreme proscriptions of in-flight spaces. The group’s works are most activated when they rub up uncomfortably against sacrosanct codes of behavior. “We’re somewhere between [Lindsay Buckingham’s song] ‘Holiday Road’ and [The Outhere Brothers’] ‘I Wanna Fuck You in the Ass,’” said Nick Schiarizzi.
Another difference between CHERYL and other strains of contemporary performance is that CHERYL members aren’t performing their good time at parties, they’re having it. They may be highly scripted onscreen, but in person the group is loose, with the exception of the performance of the CHERYL dance.
Also adding to the complexity is the group’s tactical nature – they refuse to work strategically, preferring instead to take each upcoming event as an opportunity to apply new tactics and attempt new kinds of failures, or as Sarah Van Buren said, “The thing about the direction we’ve taken is it’s been less about having a vision of where we’re gonna end and more about how far we can push to see what happens with it.”