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LOOK: Thurston Moore and Others Pay Tribute to KURT at Art Basel Miami Beach

By Jessie Askinazi (Words and Photos) on December 11, 2012


LOOK: Thurston Moore and Others Pay Tribute to KURT at Art Basel Miami Beach

For some, the past week of December at Miami’s Art Basel equated to a barrage of exclusive parties where wealthy and good-looking folk rendezvoused amongst the palm trees (or, shoved each other—elbows everywhere—shouting at PR representatives as they fought their way into Soho Beach House).

For a handful of others, the last few days were really about the magical art from more than 260 prestigious galleries from North America, Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa: It was about discovering progression in contemporary art, and having the opportunity to view exhibitions from the world's most respected art dealers.

For artist Adarsha Benjamin, Thursday night meant Kurt Cobain.

KURT, “a multi-discipline exhibition and abstract study of the late Kurt Cobain,” was cultivated by Benjamin and included collaborations by Ryan Heffington, Guy Blakeslee and Thurston Moore. The exhibition premiered at the antiquated Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center in downtown Miami; far away from all the plastic surgery smiles, ceaseless lounge music and pastel nightclubs.

Benjamin, a statuesque, shiny blonde with black tattoos, appeared onstage in a white jumpsuit, and explained, "It's about the unspoken, it's about feeling," in her short-but-sweet introduction of KURT.

In an interview following the performance, Benjamin said, “It's just about inspiration, and the will to survive, to transcend the pain into light. I saw in him as an artist who desperately wanted to, but never let himself walk all the way through the fire. I myself have these insecurities, these fears, but I am also dumb enough to be totally fearless and just do and with the doing you build a strength and really, a love for life...and living.”

Much like a play, the exhibition was split into three parts; the first being a 12 minute film shot on 16mm and directed by Benjamin herself (with cinematography assistance from Brendhan Bowers). Imagery included a little blonde girl shaking cheerleader pompons, grainy shots of the gray-skied Northwest, the mysterious sea, mops of blonde hair flipping in slow motion and lights orbiting across the screen. An abstraction, as well as an intimate perspective about Cobain, the motion picture flowed beautifully as narrator Henry Hopper read familiar Nirvana lyrics such as “Take your time/hurry up/the choice is yours.”

Naturally, one might be curious about how a dance piece based on Kurt Cobain would look: Heffington orchestrated a visceral performance that left interpretation up to the audience member; the only evident relation to Kurt was the infamous ’90s suit of armor: plaid. The soundtrack was an appropriate documentation of madness; gasps, grunts and orangutan noises filled the speakers as the five dancers struggled across the stage in Greek tragedy form, cutting like a knife. The dancers were primal vehicles that illustrated the Shakespearian-suffering of humanity; sometimes moving under a junk-death spell and other times resembling an exorcism by way of nuthouse gestures. One notable segment featured two of the performers circling the stage with a long, nude, nylon fabric slung over each of their heads, connecting them as they moved through the space. 

Says Heffington: “The piece of fabric we called ‘the experience tube.’ The idea was that through this apparatus one would have in-depth conversation with one’s psyche—an intimate, alarming and honest dialogue of one's willingness to live. Within this dialogue I illustrated both sense of peace and in juxtaposition, anger and fear. Our pieces were not about retelling history, but to be inspired and influenced by Kurt and his world. Kurt is so iconic in so many ways and I did pay tribute to some of these details, but it was the act of taking himself out of the physical world that really influenced this particular work.”

Blakeslee surfaced toward the end of the theatrics, tackling the crowds' ears with a combination of psychedelic, experimental distortion and high-register vocals; the wailing a staple of all the tortured souls that filled the theater seats in front of him. He closed the set with a song called "Prayer for Death."

The highly anticipated closing act was spoken word and a musical number by Thurston Moore (whom Cobain referred to as a “punk rock Elvis”). Moore began with stories about his repressive youth in Miami (i.e. nuns washing out his foul-mouth with soap). Of course, in true Moore style, he refused to take the obvious road of addressing Cobain weeps and woes and instead offered an artistic contribution Kurt would’ve respected; think Gus van Sant’s film Last Days. As Moore rattled on, he poked fun at his self-centered verbosity and joked, "This is turning into a Henry Rollins kinda thing." 

The first poem he recited was fittingly entitled “Olympia”, both the name of Cobain's hometown as well as the theater at which the event was held. Words included: “The wrong idea meant to be/The obscene strut of your exit is where I choose to drift.” 

In regard to Benjamin’s film screening, Moore confessed, "I love the idea that we can just be expressionistic in our feelings towards people, whether we were intimate with them or not, as long as they brought beauty and feeling into our lives."

Finally, he went on to perform his only “real” song of the night, “Psychic Hearts,” alongside noisy drummer Steve Bristol. The tune was written in 1993 and was, to some degree, motivated by Moore’s own interactions with the Pacific Northwest community during that time. Raised iPhones filled the room as alternative kids recorded Moore shredding his guitar baby.

Moore concluded with a simple yet wise message from his final poem, which boldly stated, “Be a warrior. Love life.” (We’ll try.) F

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