BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
Michael Alan is a force of nature. He's New York City's art darling. In his latest art exhibit at 17 Frost on December 19th, which also doubled as a performance art piece with live figure models, he sought to tackle what many artists have been obsessed with all throughout history: depression. Aptly titled “FUCK DEPRESSION / THE LIVING INSTALLATION,” Alan sought to create a safe space for others to cope with their depression, to rid themselves of isolation, and birth something magical and beautiful out of the grotesqueness of loneliness.
When I first arrived, the stage was set—all glittering and neon with Alan’s colorful art of twisted lines and bizarre skeletons and skulls. Then, a woman came. She was masked. She was naked, and she was twisting Christmas lights all around her body, like she was an animal caught within the starry sky. Other naked men and women joined her, their bodies covered in paint by Alan—over and over again, as if he was giving birth to new selves, a new galaxy of planets. Besides all the bodies slowly contorting with paint, music set the tone, most notably by musician Tim "Love" Lee. Sometimes, Alan would take the mic and spit poetry, beautifully melding together different art forms as a way to literally fuck depression.
While the stage brimmed with bizarre, and sometimes titillating, activity, the audience would sketch and paint what was in from of them. Alan’s shows are well known for their numerous performers. In many ways, the show became more than just an art exhibit, as each individual’s own personal history became part of the entire collective group—like a black hole that actually loves you back.
The most notable performer of the evening—besides Alan himself—was artist Nick Greenwald. The Brooklyn based visual artist and painter is one of Alan’s longtime collaborators and friends. His role was fascinating—dressed only in black robes, he echoed a gothic, mischievous Puck—whose sole purpose it seemed was to cause a discord between the other performers, as if to illustrate the duality between isolation and connectivity, depression and joy.
Greenwald described to me how his persona allows him to confront his past, his own isolation, stating:
“My character was about confronting demons from my past, and struggling with sleep paralysis and the insomnia that resulted from it. My costume and masks evolved over the five hours of the performancefrom freedom to confinement. And my interactions with the other performers and audience also tried to reflect that, from curiousity, to angsty isolation, and eventually, creativity and collaboration as way for the character to resolve its issues."
Alan himself has talked openly about his struggle with depression, especially due to his health, stating in Art-Nerd:
"I myself suffer from situational depression due to the injuries that I sustained and due to health situations, so it’s very good to be around other people who are positive and want to make things happen, and THAT is the goal…Laugh with me, escape your mind for a while.”
In an interview with Beautiful Savage, Alan also spoke about how he wants “The Living Installation” to empower others, and make them feel less alone. He also discusses how art can pause time, and really, that’s all humans really want—to momentarily control time:
“It’s an experience where everyone is invited to be a part of a production or watch the creation happen live. You can barely find a fucking seat in the street to sit and think. I want to set the people free and give them hours to escape their routines– paint and draw and laugh and gather. I don’t get a secret joy out of it, but I do get to empower some of my friends and myself. Live now. The past is dead. The future already happened.”
I couldn’t say it better myself. Time is merely a human construct after all, so we may as well bend it by being together.