BY BOB KRASNER | Christen Clifford — writer, performance artist and professor — may have just needed a break from teaching her course at The New School entitled “What is Rape Culture?”
She certainly found it at the “Klown Portrait Polaroid Workshop” at the Howl! Happening gallery, at 6 E. First St., last week. Set up by Katherine Cheairs, the gallery’s director of education, the event was the first in a projected series of free workshops to be run by an artist whose work is showing in the space.
At the moment, the show is “Fugitive Moments,” featuring Polaroid-based imagery by Gail Thacker that draws on four decades of her work.
Thacker, surrounded by her photos and an eager group of participants, let everyone introduce themselves before giving a brief introduction to the Polaroid camera and the idea behind the workshop. She then randomly chose who would dress up and who would shoot their portraits, then let them loose with makeup, props and film.
While the participants jumped into the makeup kits and out of their street clothes, Thacker took a minute to explain the concept behind the evening.
“I met Hapi Phace while working at the Gene Frankel Theatre,” where Thacker is the artistic director, “and we put together a clown troupe, the ‘Kar Load of Klowns,’ ” she explained. It made sense to carry the clown theme into this workshop, she said, because she wanted a free and open atmosphere and “clowns don’t necessarily have a gender.”
She noted that lately she has heard people who don’t want to be classified one way or the other refer to their gender as “clown.”
Performance artist Darke Attoms, who brought a bag of his own garments, wasted no time getting into a pink tutu.
“I fell in love with Gail’s photos at the opening,” he said, adding he signed up as soon as the workshop was announced. Although he was wearing costumes from his own collection, the makeup — courtesy of Sur Rodney Sur — was a whole new experience for him.
“It’s so different from my stage persona,” he said. “It was so nice seeing other people in my clothes,” he added.
It was an equally enlightening experience for Professor Clifford.
“I had never been a clown before,” she noted.
She based her look on an image in the show by Thacker of actor Agosto Machado.
“I loved it!” Clifford exclaimed. “It was so freeing to let someone else do the makeup and costume me.”
Veteran East Village performer Hapi Phace was on hand to assist.
“It went swimmingly,” he said. “It was structured chaos! It was nice because there was room to make mistakes, and that made everyone comfortable.”
The night ended with everyone’s favorite Polaroids being scanned and projected, and a big “thank you” to everyone from Thacker, who made a point of letting the group know how well it went.
“You all stepped up to the plate!” she declared.
Later, Thacker made a point of expressing what the event meant to her personally — especially about the way that everyone worked together.
“I was kind of amazed,” she mused. “As a visual artist, I am used to working alone. But there is so much talk now of collaboration. That word was not in my vocabulary 15 years ago.”
Thacker’s show at Howl! Happening runs through Feb. 6. For more information on the gallery’s upcoming shows and events, visit www.howlarts.org/ .