Butt in Ass

The cult magazine launches a video exhibition at Asia Song Society that replicates a porn shop.

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Butt magazine, the sly, witty, sexy gay zine that’s become something of a cult phenomenon celebrated the recent 40th anniversary of Stonewall in its own subversive, idiosyncratic fashion. The US publisher of Butt, Michael Bullock and Yasmine Dubois-Ziai turned Terence Koh’s gallery in Chinatown, NY, appropriately enough called A.S.S. (Asia Song Society in full) into a fake porn shop, complete with three unit video-buddy-booths that showed art films instead of porn. Just as the magazine has come to represent a thought-provoking antidote to shiny, happy gay culture, the exhibition is a part of an ‘alternative Gay Pride’ showing work that ran the gamut of gay artists from the established (Genet, Slava Mogutin to drag artist Kalup Linzy) to exciting up and comers.

In a time where we are celebrating a gay writer, Dustin Lance Black winning an Oscar for ‘Milk’ and excitedly await details of Marc Jacobs and Lorenzo Martone’s upcoming nuptials, BUTT in ASS provides a sobering reminder that we still have some way to go. The exhibition also aims to highlight the NYPD’s unjust practice of entrapping gay men in sex shops and charging them with prostitution. It is scenarios like this, along with the recent shock passing of Proposition 8 in California that finds previously assumed ideas of equality and tolerance tested and found wanting.
Dazed Digital spoke to Bullock about the exhibition.

Dazed Digital: How did the exhibition at Asia Song Society come about? How was it collaborating with Terence Koh on this project?
Michael Bullock: For the last few years we have always wanted to do a gay pride event in New York, the BUTT audience has grown into quite a substantial community here and gay pride doesn’t completely suit us. The parade somehow has become about gay churches and corporate sponsors. Not exactly what I’m proud of. We put these events together to celebrate homosexual history, sexuality and gay creativity. Terence was quite generous; meetings with him are enlightening, he serves vodka on the rocks and then lots of ideas flow.

DD: The exhibit was timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Stonewall. How far have we really come since then?
Michael Bullock: The show BUTT IN ASS was actually created to call attention to how far we have not come in New York. The vice squad (NY cities morality policing unit) was harassing gay men 40 years ago at Stonewall, and are still it today. Currently the Vice Squad deploys handsome young undercover police officers in and around video booth stores in the city to cruise and pick up gay and bisexual men, targeting predominantly those in their 40s and 50s. When the men accept the young officer’s proposal to go home with him for consensual sex, the officer then offers to pay the target money in advance for sex. This unforeseen reversal of roles leaves the target confused, wondering: “Why would this young man make such a proposal?” As the officer and the nonplussed target (most often an individual with no prior arrests) exit the store, the target, despite never having agreed to an exchange of money for sex, is surrounded by undercover police officers, handcuffed, and charged with prostitution. Ironically, the city’s Rainbow Pilgrimage campaign invites gay men from around the world to spend their money here for Gay Pride which commemorates the overthrowing of the vice squad during the Stonewall. It’s ridiculous. That’s why BUTT IN ASS was made, it’s a safe space for cruising and viewing art. A utopia.

Two days after the show opened the city dropped the case against Robert Pinter the only gay man out of the 50 arrested that was not embarrassed to speak out about the injustice. Robert was the muse of the show. Hopefully throwing out his case is the end of this entrapment initiative.

DD: Other than homosexuality, what links the artists you have curated for the exhibition?
Michael Bullock: We approached the video curation by asking ourselves: “What if the magazine was a video exhibition?” The show is a mixture of established artists like Nayland Blake and Issac Julien to new unknown artist like Ely Kim who submitted to our open call. Like the magazine it’s a thoughtful celebration.  

But the project really came together through the brilliance of artist Shawn Maximo’s video booths sculptures. They are welcoming, they take the shame out of anonymous sex (not that our readers have any). And I think it may be the world’s first circular buddy booth, It’s super democratic everyone can play equally.  A friend told me what a treat it was to watch Jean Genet’s “Un chant d'amour” in this setting where a dick may come through a glory hole at any moment.

DD: What often changes the videos and images in the show from being gay porn is it the political subtext and humor of the work. How important is humor in sex?
Michael Bullock: None of it is porn. Me and Yasmine-Dubois Ziai curated it together, and she made sure that all of the work transcended  what one may consider gay art. For me the difference between porn and art is always the intention of the artist. Whether someone uses graphic sex or not, the point should surpass arousal alone. Kathy Garcia’s piece “Sit On My Face” is the only piece that uses real pornography. But she juxtaposes hot macho gay porn with Hollywood clips that put down gays as effeminate queens.
 
DD: While mainstream media is dying down, there seems to be a rise in intelligent gay fanzines. Why do you think that has happened? Please name some of your favorites.  
Michael Bullock: I think it’s natural, at one point being gay was enough to pull everyone together and now that so many people are out and comfortable it makes sense that the gay mainstream splinters into many different groups that hold different interest and values. It’s great that there are so many options now. I remember looking at gay magazines when I was a teenager and thinking: “This is gross!” I love having sex with guys but I never wanted the rest of the lifestyle, I thought maybe I wasn’t gay. I love meeting 21-year olds that have been reading BUTT since they’re 16. My favorite new publication is Fag School, a black punk zine by Brontez, the singer of Gravy Train!! It’s wildly honesty with an utter lack of embarrassment.  

DD: How were the bands selected for BUTT Bang party? (where Salem, Sissy Nobby and Hunx & His Punx played) What attracts you to a band like Salem?
Michael Bullock: We are always looking for new music and are thrilled if the people making it are homosexual. My boyfriend introduced me to Salem and I became an instant fan. I interviewed John Holland (of Salem) for BUTT 24. I love that they pull from juke, hip-hop, and goth and don’t give a fuck – If David Lynch had created a band, it would be them. Also, look out for Sissy Nobby. She and Big Freedia have only just begun.  It was their first time on the East Coast and I was afraid they would be scared of New York but they took down the house. They got the whole crowd shaking their ass.

DD: What’s next for BUTT?
Michael Bullock: After years of an unofficial rule that no straight people were allowed in BUTT, we have dedicated an entire issue to our straight friends. Check it out this August!

BUTT in ASS runs at Asia Song Society, 45 Canal St, New York, N.Y. till July 11

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