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© 2016 by Katelena Hernandez Cowles. Proudly created with Wix.com

KISS OF FAME

Commissioned by Women & Their Work for I AM ART, the Texas feminist art organization's 40th anniversary celebration, the itinerant interactive performance Kiss of Fame plays with the joy and ambient glow one feels in taking a photo with a celebrity. I wear all shining silver--dress, makeup, chrome glitter-platform sneakers, even mirrored silver eyebrows--with a 22-foot cape made of interconnected silver mylar balloons. (In an ideal world and with enough space, I think it could be exciting to quadruple that length...) On my head I wear a silver-ombre wig fitted with four shiny speakers that continuously blast the backing track to Prince's iconic song Kiss

 

I move through the crowd, letting them stop me for photos, goading them into impromptu wig-backed karaoke, dancing and tangling them in my metallic cape, flirting and mawking glamorously. For each one who approaches, I offer an art print to take home--a kiss in Lime Crime's glittery Black Unicorn lip gloss--as long as they indicate where they would like it. Requests that first evening ranged from the innocent peck on the cheek to all kinds of racy bodily locations. Surprisingly, no one asks to have the print on a piece of paper to take home...or perhaps that's not surprising/

 

As always, I find the art of comfort-giving to require sacrifice: the glitter lipgloss caked and dried and began, after hundreds of applications with no chance to rub it off, to slice into my lips. The cape caught on every stray limb on tree or human. The ungainly wig was loaded internally with wiring and connecting electronics and required dozens of hairpins to hold it solidly to my own tightly braided hair underneath. The physical sensations were less discomfiting than the way I was treated: while some fawned or flattered, many people assumed I was available at every moment to be pulled out of conversation, to take ridiculous, uncomfortable poses, to fully be turned into an object with no assumed agenda of my own. It's something one hears about from celebrities, but it's quite an experience when one's living it.

 

As lighthearted and playful as the piece is on the surface, it also encapsulates my own and many of my colleagues' fears of aging and perceived loss of relevance as we move away from being able to claim the catnip status of "young artist" (which parallels the battle by W&TW to stay in the public's eye and donors' consciousness, despite their brilliant four-decade track record of supporting and promoting talented Texas artists); and my amazement, as I've spent time in Los Angeles recently and looked over my teenagers' shoulders at YouTube vloggers, at how easily appearances substitute for achievements. In an art world obsessed with blockbuster art fairs and Instagram-worthy presentations, it's both critique and capitulation to present a piece about the pleasure and comfort we derive from proximity to the shiny new thing in the room--and from being the shiny new thing itself. 

 

This piece is available to be performed at events, museums, galleries, fairs, and public settings.