By Mary Reilly
Gavin Russom, the wizard behind the scenes at D.F.A., needs little introduction. His cosmic hits and mixes dominate dance-floors worldwide. Parallel to his steady rise to international dance-hall fame runs a second story, one of a well received and highly regarded fine artist with pieces in the world’s finest institutions and fanciest collections. This Sunday, Russom is slated to introduce his latest piece, Bunkerweltanschauung (Bunker Ideology)- a six hour performance culminating in a dance party- with a cast of fellow doers, dancers, singers, and makers to an audience at P.S. 1 MoMA’s Sunday Sessions.
Over the weekend, I headed up to Gavin’s Washington Heights apartment to find out what exactly is Bunker Ideology. As the A train ran local, I had time to pour over a decade and half of art-world press. The artist’s statements, clippings, and reviews revealed a wildly prolific career snaking through two continents, a wide range of media, and more than a few notable collaborations, all of it bound together by that shamanistic impulse and ecstatic vision familiar to fans of Russom’s music.
Gavin Russom is a man on a quest. Through ritual and repetition, his work explores how sound, vision and space can alter consciousness to reveal what he describes as the “malleable nature of personal reality.” Transmutation and metamorphosis appear as both metaphysical and a material themes often dressed up in a wonky, tripped-out aesthetic described by Holland Cotter in The New York Times as “a combination of Joseph Yoakum and Joseph Bueys, and lovely.”
Arriving at the apartment, I found the door ajar. Pushing inside, I entered a small hallway containing a crystal-lined coat closet-cum-tabernacle and a gilt-leaf mirror draped by a dream catcher. Goddess statues, crucifixes, feathers and knives, all artfully arranged, covered nearly every surface of the space. I followed Gavin’s voice through a tiny living room lined with keyboards to the kitchen where I found him making homemade ginger tea.
We spent the next two hours talking- jumping from subject to subject. He first explained the nuts and bolts of the Bunkerweltanschauung, clarifying that it has two layers. The first is the installation itself. With original soundtracks, video, and a hand-made laser light show, the artist sculpted what he described as a “vessel” for the performances. He noted that the P.S.1 Performance Dome is already something of a bunker in itself and so is perfect for the project.
The second aspect is purely curatorial. Russom projected an end-of-times scenario. In short, the world has become hostile to human life. Society is at a bottom. A group of misfit radicals take shelter inside an abandoned bunker. Here, freed from the constraints of cultural programming, with only their individual and collective memories as reference, they set out to create a new reality, transforming the space with ecstatic worship, dance, and imagination. The bunker (structurally similar to a womb, cocoon, cave, grave) provides “unique conditions for metamorphosis.”
He offered this context and space to eight artist-peers to do what they will. Lucky for the audience this Sunday, Gavin rolls with wild and brilliant crew. Labanna Babalon, Alberto Cortes, Raul De Nieves, Marie Karlberg, Liz Larsen, Stanley Love, Micki Pellerano, and Viva Ruiz are set to wow.
Bunker Ideology pulls from array of sources. Inspiration came first from time spent hanging out in Germany’s repurposed bunkers. Enraged by the 2004 election, Gavin broke for Europe, settling in Berlin, where he found “bunkers everywhere.” He described hanging out at two in particular. “One is in the center of Volkspark Friedrichshain. Drum circles, raves, sex and displays of cycling virtuosity and all the possible combinations thereof often break out.” The second, on the edge of the Humboldthain, offers an expansive view of the city. Russom recounted, “It is one of the most soothing and meditative places I have ever been and a frequent spot for those looking for that kind of experience.”
After seeing the German film Downfall based on Hitler’s last days inside the “pretty decked out Fuhrerbunker (Leader’s Bunker),” “some shit fired off in [his] brain.” In a stream-of-consciousness email, Gavin related the epiphany, “An architectural form that was originally created to protect an elite few from a war that they created, repurposed as a spot for highly individual and radically liberating action. I started to think about a Bunkerweltanschauung, a Bunker ideology.”
Russom explained how the ethos of the Occupy Movement served as something of a muse for the piece, “…to have a group of people saying, ‘This is not working. We don’t know what would work but we can no longer just sit here and not say something about how this juggernaut that’s just continually moving forward and eating everything… has to stop. Even if there’s nothing to take it’s place, it just has to stop… because there is never going to be anything better if that doesn’t stop.’”
Occupy did not pretend to have solution; it began a conversation. With Bunkerweltanschauung, the artist hopes to do the same, though his aims lie in the spiritual, rather than economic, realm. On fantasy’s fertile ground, “we’re using creativity as a way… to imagine new ways to live.”
With performances planned for later this year in Berlin and Naples, Easter Sunday will serve as Bunker Ideology’s international debut- a fitting day for a performance that aims at nothing short of redemption. “I want to create something interesting that promotes healing and new patterns of thought… The idea is also to create something that… leaves people somewhere different than where they were when they entered.” So come Sunday and expect to leave altered. If all else fails, Gavin promised me, “We will have the most fun ever!”