The Roof Is On Fire


By Derek de Koff

Close your eyes, focus on your breathing, and let's go on a guided journey. Presently, you're walking up a disused stairwell in a ramshackle industrial building, and you've stepped onto the rooftop. Pause for a moment to take in the Manhattan skyline. A suspicious-looking security guard -- is he cruising you? -- escorts you into a small storage space hidden off to the side. He leads you into the room, and abruptly closes the door. As your vision adjusts to the darkness, you notice balled-up 2(x)ist briefs at your feet, smeared with crusty yellow splotches, teeming with what appear to be gold-tinted turds. American Spirit cigarettes are squashed dismissively into sooty black sand. In the center of the room, a sourly glowing tanning booth rattles unappetizingly at you. You begin to open it, but the security guard suddenly throws open the door and gives you a wary look. Is he cruising you?

Meanwhile, a haunting chorus is blasting from nowhere to the ears, a witchy hymn repeating over and over again: 'Musicians play songs and the writers must write / The lover must practice his art in the night / Some paint and some garden, but whatever you do / You'll do it much better by morning's dew.' Is it a rare Britney B-side'?

Pondering this, you come to realize that the strange apparatus you've been staring at, the one with brown-flecked industrial hoses slithering down into the soiled 2(x)ist briefs, is an old-fashioned colonic irrigation machine.

No, you haven't stumbled into the subconscious mind of a strung-out leather queen recovering from a weekend at the Pines. You're on the rooftop of X, a non-profit art organization in Chelsea, checking out Light Chamber (Part 2), the latest installation by Christian Holstad, whose work involves taking cultural detritus from outmoded gay subcultures and placing them in more mainstream, commercialized contexts. (One of his recent exhibits, Leather Beach, transformed a shuttered midtown bodega into a decrepit S&M dungeon). Although he doesn't like to meet up for interviews or talk via telephone ('Print is permanent and grows like a plague,' he explains), he let us throw him a few questions by email. Below, we ask him about his working process, his taste for 2(x)ist briefs, and, chiefly, What The Hell?

Out: Your last installation was inspired by dank leather dungeons; this one feels more like the apocalyptic remains of a high-end spa. What gives?
Christian Holstad: This latest installment of 'Light Chamber' has abandoned the leather clubs. I want this space to become a fictitious place where outcasts of all sorts can converge, fester, mutate and gain strength.

Would you really like to see people gathering here, hanging out, planning some sort of cultural revolution and warming their hands on the tanning bed?
Yes, and I think they do. At least their emails and letters tell me as much. But because of the volume of the music in here, I would imagine it's a rather non-verbal meeting.

Are you willing to speak about your own intentions with the piece?
I'll speak a bit, but I love what the viewer brings to it. I would like for my work to be a fantasy breeding ground. I was really spooked -- in a good way -- during the whole installation process. The last time I spent any real time on a roof, I was watching the planes colliding with the World Trade Center.

Can you tell me about your artistic process? Do you have an overall idea of what you're going for before you set to work, or are you constantly surprising yourself as you go?
I like to make pies. The trick of the crust is to not let the fat melt at all. To do this, you have to use your hands as little as possible. I made chicken pot-pie yesterday. I thought about how making art is similar. If your ego gets too involved, the piece becomes overworked. I try to convince certain voices in my head to do something else while I work.

Exactly what kind of feelings are you trying to evoke in your viewers?
I really try to put the viewer in the mind frame that they have entered a space where something has, or is, happening. I love the look of a parade or a party when everyone's gone. I like to sift through the evidence of what took place there. It's dirty and shiny and honest.