Cara Perlman. Topless, 1979. Video. Courtesy of the artist.
I made the film Topless with Jane Sherry (we were roommates at the time) a year or so prior to the Times Square Show. The film was a good fit for that venue. Topless is a faux documentary in which Jane appears as a topless dancer. That was what she did for work at the time. We used people from Jane's job, like the waitress she worked with then, and asked some male friends to be johns. The film takes place over the course of one night, and is set in the world of the topless dancing trade. Jane's mission is to get a john to keep spending money while she works the room. She talks about the job on the side: Jane feels empowered because she makes money but it's also gross and exploitative. Her character is world-weary: She knows the score, wants to make money, is hip to the game and a willing player in the hustle. The film is a spoof and also an analysis of who spends time there. For a soundtrack, we used the disco song "Push-Push-in-the-Bush" mixed together with electronic videogame noises. One scene shows Jane on the toilet snorting coke just before she heads out to dance on the stage. The film has a goofy sense of humor, but is also serious. The aesthetic is more raw than porn; maybe it's a derivation of porn.
Our idea was to draw on the basic exchange of flesh for cash, and to show that on the flesh end there is a delicate balance. In the film we used dummies and real people to emphasize the anonymity that accompanies those exchanges: "What's your name? How about I just call you John?" In the film, Jane sees the men as cash. They see her as flesh. I directed and edited Topless, and it ended up being about twenty minutes long.
I also made paintings that were shown at the TSS, in which current events and human-interest stories were depicted on rolls of newsprint paper with spray paint. At the time I was particularly interested in showing everyday trials and tribulations, moments of importance and happiness. The idea was to cover a range of topics just like in a newspaper. For instance: workers saving people, empowered women, executives, car crashes, bits of trivia, and touches of celebrity glamour.
I worked with Tom Otterness on the Souvenir Shop and had two multiples for sale there. Both items were plaster casts: One was a "money-tree," the other a woman thinker.
TSS was an experience of blooming. There was room for a lot of folks and plenty of space to play. It was refreshing to make work in a new neighborhood. The rough and tumble stuff, and the plainness of things, is something I carried forward in my work. We in Colab were activists. We were passionate and reshaped some ideas about how to be in the art world.
As told to Shawna Cooper, February 13, 2012
Cara Perlman (b. 1950, New York, NY)
Cara Perlman graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1973. At the time of the Times Square Show (1980), her work primarily consisted of Super 8 films and painting. She also served as a Colab officer. In the 1980s she began to concentrate on sculpture and making sets for contemporary ballets, and her work was exhibited at New York City venues including Alternative Space, Artists Space, the Kitchen, the Mudd Club, and P.S. 1.