The Dessert Table
Five Car Garage
By Genie Davis
Nikki Darling is nothing if not daring. “My brain works in images, text and sound,” she’s said. “Simultaneously.” At The Dessert Table at Five Car Garage, Darling’s performance art piece involved cake – and cake decaying; love and shame; the carnage created accused murderer and sculptor Carl Andre, the putative “O.J. of the art world;” trauma and its inheritance.
Does this sound like a lot? Yes. Was the performance packed with meaning, fraught, limitless in disregard for self and body, fascinating and strange, compelling yet somewhat flat at certain junctures? Yes, to all.
Picture if you will the gallery in the garage, in which a variety of beautifully decorated cakes are laid out in a circle upon detailed, brilliant placemats as collage. Add a large vase of flowers in the center. Flowers and cakes are all in a state of decay a week after the show’s opening March 25th. In short, by the closing performance on April 2nd, there’s a fuzz of mold on the cakes, the flowers are dried, dying, wilted. On the rear wall, film and cartoon images are projected. On the side walls, watercolor and collage works hang framed. One prominent piece shows a dove trailing a hand mirror that contains a photo of Darling; across watery blue sky and clouds, handwritten words read “Mirror in the Sky what is LOVE.”
What is love is perhaps the underlying theme of the artist’s creative act, which involves Darling removing the placemats and hung images, shoving the cakes to the side of the room, strewing flowers about and tossing them away, smoking a cigarette, pacing, stripping violently, and then throwing herself violently and acrobatically about the room, bouncing off the walls, lying akimbo on the floor. Up to this point, the performance is riveting and compelling. A collective breath is drawn and then released from viewers as the physicality diminishes.
Now, still nude, Darling sits on the floor with her laptop, reading from her soon to be published chapbook. Now we are hearing the words about decay and trauma rather than visualizing it.
On Darling’s body she has penned in red the name of Andre’s wife, Ana Mendieta. She refers to her murder, the institutional acceptance of her accused murderer as part of the art world (currently the man has a small show at MOCA). She ruminates on her life, her lovers, pot smoked, loves lost, her Latina heritage.
As the show’s press release relates, the work overall, at least its physical manifestation in terms of the cakes, references Judy Chicago’s “Dinner Party.” The idea of baking as domestic act is intertwined with the idea that the cakes’ decay over the course of a week represents all the loss and frustration that women experience trying to assert themselves in a patriarchal society. These ideas in turn are bound into and included in the readings performed by the artist/author, and expounded upon in regard to Darling’s cultural heritage as a Latina in a society that supports the idea of white supremacy. Her writing, her paintings and collages, and the cakes themselves also explore the idea of trauma. This exploration is both figurative, with the cakes exemplifying a tragic, corrupt destiny, and literal, as Darling read about her own personal traumas, and discussed the violence of the Andre/ Mendieta marriage and the harrowing death of Mendieta. The readings were the least compelling element of the performance, but that is not to diminish the thought-provoking nature of the work overall.
The striking creativity of the beautifully decorated cakes, the collages-as-placemats, the art hanging on the walls; the boldness of Darling’s raw, harsh physicality, and the garage setting together created a live installation experience that will not soon be forgotten.