On The Record, Off The Record: Sound Off — Exhibition Opening

  • Kembra Pfahler

  • Presented by — Emalin

A close up headshot of the artist Kembra Pfahler

First Summer of Covid, 2020 was made by Kembra Pfahler as the invite for her performance Slippery When Dead, shown at The Hole in New York City in the summer of 2020. Faced with the limitations of performance art in times of social distancing, Kembra performed new songs and exhibited a specially made ‘Piñata Cock’ sculpture in the storefront window of the gallery – closed off to the public. This was not the first time Kembra performed behind glass: in 1983, at the height of the AIDS crisis, she spent an entire week in the window of Lower East Side arts organisation ABC No Rio, living in her performance installation, as part of their The Extremist Show.

Framed drawing by Kembra Pfahler with a blue phallus in a noose and a naked blue figure holding a cigarette
Kembra Pfahler First Summer of Covid, 2020 body paint, glitter, pencil and pen on paper 27.5 × 38 cm (10 7/8 × 15 inches) framed: 42.3 × 52.7 × 3.2 cm (16 5/8 × 20 3/4 × 1 1/4 inches) Courtesy the artist and Emalin, London © Kembra Pfahler Photo: Reinis Lismanis

Since the beginning of her career as a performance artist, Kembra Pfahler has created imagery of the acts and costumes that she would later perform on stage or in a gallery. Kembra refers to these as Non Fiction Illustrations. Like with most aspects of Kembra’s integrated yet diverse output, the illustrations serve as memories but also get reused, for example becoming poster invites for upcoming performances.

Framed black and white collage by Kembra Pfahler showing a performer, dressed in leather playing a guitar
Kembra Pfahler 2 Berühmte Photos, 1994 photographs, paint and collage on paper 44.5 × 57.3 cm (17 1/2 × 22 1/2 inches) framed: 69.7 × 57.9 × 3.2 cm (27 1/2 × 22 3/4 × 1 1/4 inches. Courtesy the artist and Emalin, London © Kembra Pfahler Photo: Reinis Lismanis

Throughout the 1990s Kembra Pfahler’s rock band The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black regularly performed in iconic venues of New York’s underground scene. Photocopies of her handmade black and white collages would be used as posters to announce these concerts. Visual elements like the bat with breasts and the repurposing of photographs have been staple motifs in Kembra’s performances from the 1980s until today.

2 Berühmte Photos, 1994 is a collage made for a performance at the infamous New York night club The Limelight. The collage features a picture of Kembra’s former husband Samoa, co-founder and guitarist of the band, as well as a photograph of Kembra, the vocalist of The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black. The collaged text highlights Kembra’s all embracing approach to beauty, which she describes as ‘Beautalism’: a beauty that allows for transformation of all sorts, where “vanity will always be the enemy of interpretation”. Inventing terms like Beautalism or Availabism (making the best of materials available to you) to describe her approach is part of her ironic understanding of historical art movements, leading her to make manifestos or coin words for nearly all of her ideas.