Last winter, on the West Coast, Kanye West launched his “Sunday Service” series of weekly musical gatherings. This summer, in New York’s Chinatown, Emily Allan and Leah Hennessey (two of the stars of the web series Zhe Zhe) have just launched their “MXshapes” series of Sunday night performance evenings. Having sold out a four-month run of their homoerotic fanfiction comedy Slash at the gallery last year, they’re now returning with an open-signup show in which everybody’s invited to come up and perform whatever they like. For the opening night they premiered a short piece of their own, in which audience participation was encouraged, but before that came the open mic; beginning with Kyle Russo reading a short poem about Sisyphus.
But that’s not all. The whole event takes place inside an unfinished, ongoing installation by Austrian artist Rainer Ganahl, who’s also just begun an onsite residency-as-exhibition titled “Marx Angels’ Dust—A Summer Night’s Spleen” that involves lots of drawing on the walls and spontaneous talks and conversations. As such, “MXshapes” is really an event inside an event. After Russo’s poem, Amber A’Lee Frost, writer and Chapo Trap House host, gets up to preview a stage show she’s adopting from her own journalism. She tells a story about getting drunk at the opening of a KGB spy museum staffed by Slavic model historical reenactors in Chelsea, and lightly mocks the conspiratorial paranoia surrounding Russian influence on US politics. On the walls surrounding her, Ganahl has scrawled phrases like “A Marxist lol!”, “Manhattanmarxism” and “Adornoscarecrow.” Allan and Hennessey, who host proceedings over a soundtrack of showtunes, wear matching T-shirts that say on the back, “This is all part of a bigger conspiracy.” Everything fits together. A man holding a small basketball stands at the back of the room booming, in a deep and treacly voice, “Excellent!” every now and again. Except when one of the performers talks about how they used to be a crack dealer and he shouts “Bravo!”
“It’s unclear,” says Hennessey in her introduction, “what anybody’s expecting from tonight.” Some parts are riveting, others deadly boring, but that’s just a consequence of hosting a recklessly generous, totally open event and not having any idea of what’s coming next. MX is a gallery that’s often deconstructed into a theatrical performance space, which makes it a more exciting place to visit than most, and both “MXshapes” and “Marx Angels’ Dust” offer a good mix of accessibility and fast-moving, unplanned chaos. They make me want to go again and read something; and, if you’re interested, come along one Sunday and you can too.