Gregg Bordowitz Performs Some Styles of Masculinity in Eliot Chapel
Over the weekend, artist and author Gregg Bordowitz performed his original series of performances, titled Some Styles of Masculinity, in Reed’s Eliot chapel. Presented in three parts, “Rock Star,” “Rabbi,” and “Comedian,” Bordowitz’s performance was part of the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art’s Time-Based Arts Festival. Each evening ran for approximately 90 minutes, and the three pieces could stand alone or be seen together. This weekend was the West Coast premiere of the series, as it was originally commissioned by the New Museum for their exhibit Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon in 2017.
Billed as a “monologic journey,” Bordowitz perfectly described the show as a “lecture-performance.” The stage was decorated with the Talmud (the central text of Rabbinic Judaism), a chair, stacks of reference books, food traditionally served at Rosh Hashanah, a laptop, and a microphone. Using only those items, Bordowitz wove a rich environment each night. He told stories from his childhood, talked about his work as an AIDS activist, and pondered moral quandaries. Each time, he slowly unpacked and enacted what masculinity and identity mean to him while never explicitly addressing the topics.
Central to each style of masculinity was the artist’s identity as a Jewish man. As Bordowitz explained during the performance, he designed the show soon after the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally in 2017. After learning about the rally’s extreme display of anti-Semitism, Bordowitz decided to do a show focused on his relationship with Judaism. He discussed his personal ideas about God, the story of Moses, and cultural differences between Hebrew and Yiddish. In “Rock Star,” he played music by Jewish punk artists and shared how they impacted his childhood, especially Lou Reed’s album Transformer, and in “Rabbi,” he dealt with the difference between performing his ethnicity and performing his religion.
The Time-Based Art Festival strives to create community and celebrate risk-taking artists, and with Gregg Bordowitz, they knocked it out the park. It was a successful meld of religion, education, and performance; the non-denominational chapel was simultaneously a temple, a classroom, and a theater. Within the chapel, the audience sat rapt during his stories, laughed at his jokes, and danced to his music. Through simple yet elegant storytelling, Bordowitz created a sense of something almost spiritual that made the chapel feel transcendent, even if only for 90 minutes.
The Time-Based Art Festival runs until September 16. For more information on the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art and the Time-Based Art Festival, visit pica.org.