Michelle Handelman
April 18 — May 26, 2019


Opening reception: April 18, 6-8pm
Performances: Saturday May 4th & Sunday May 5th, 4pm


signs and symbols is pleased to present LOVER HATER CUNTY INTELLECTUAL, a solo exhibition by Michelle Handelman. The exhibition marks the first in a series of in-depth character studies of video Icons from Handelman’s latest multiplatform project, Hustlers & Empires (2018). Originally commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Hustlers & Empires explores transgression as a mode of survival, examining the complicated relationship between pleasure and risk and how identity is formed in resistance to oppression. Part opera, part manifesto, the project draws on Handelman’s own experience of growing up among drug dealers and pimps during the 1970s, as well as the stories of three real and imagined hustlers: Iceberg Slim’s Pimp (1967), Marguerite Duras’s The Lover (1984) and Federico Fellini’s Toby Dammit (1968). LOVER HATER CUNTY INTELLECTUAL reworks and deconstructs the character of The Lover, presenting a single character study through a multifaceted installation that includes video, text, image, music, monologue and performance. Performances will take place on Saturday, May 4th and Sunday, May 5th at 4pm.


Handelman’s Hustlers & Empires daringly takes us on a journey into the minds of some of society’s most controversial figures. Interweaving the stories of hustlers from three different time periods, the project presents three archetypal characters (The Pimp, The Lover, and The Actor). Handelman explores their fraught existence on the margins of society in their respective time periods and their encounters with issues of identity in order to analyze pervasive issues of class, race and gender. Handelman recontextualizes these historical figures through the three legendary queer performers JOHN KELLY, SHANNON FUNCHESS and VIVA RUIZ, directing each performer to play versions of themselves within her transgressive fiction, while deconstructing the original texts. At the heart of the project is a song cycle and accompanying manifestos that Handelman created in collaboration with each performer through a rewriting of the original texts from a queer feminist perspective. This collaborative rewriting is used as a tool of subversion, questioning existing power structures while illuminating the trajectory of radical queerness within the criminal and cultural underground.


For her exhibition at signs and symbols, Handelman presents a remix of Hustlers & Empires, devoting the entire exhibition to the character of The Lover — a character loosely based on the life and work of French filmmaker and writer Marguerite Duras and her semi-autobiographical protagonist in her novel, The Lover, performed by queer Latinx artist and activist VIVA RUIZ.


Who is The Lover? Is she Marguerite Duras? Is she Viva Ruiz? Is she the child in the novel, is she no one? No One. Yet she is a hustler. She survives. Her life is punctuated by sexual experiences both loving and violent – born of secrets and trauma. The issues she addresses are ones of class, race, wealth, poverty, and fluid sexuality. Viva Ruiz further suffuses The Lover with her own identity and experiences. A layering of persons, both real and imagined, exists within the character. Defiance pulses through her. The character speaks: “My identity is a revolving door of possibilities, If you ask me what I want I’ll tell you… I want everything…because queerness is a borderless state.” These words aptly describe the intertextual sphere of Handelman’s character study.


LOVER HATER CUNTY INTELLECTUAL extracts existential questions of survival and belonging. Looking at unjust systems of social and economic control that are just as relevant today, Handelman and Ruiz interweave their own personal stories of underground survival, sex work and abuse to construct a queer feminist framework in which to look at ways of overcoming oppression in our current socio-political climate.

Hustlers & Empires (2018) was originally commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Frank Smigiel, former Associate Curator, Performance & Film, at SFMOMA. Additional support provided by Art Matters; New York State Council of the Arts; Brooklyn Fireproof Films, and funds from the New York State Council on the Arts in Partnership with Wave Farm: Media Arts Assistance Fund, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts, Electronic Media and Film Program, with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.


michelle handelman uses video, text and performance to make hypnotic moving image installations that push against the boundaries of gender, race and sexuality, investigating philosophical questions of existence about the things we collectively fear and deny: sex, death, chaos. She is a 2019 Creative Capital Awardee and the recipient of a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship. Her work has been shown widely in such venues as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Pompidou Centre, Paris; ICA, London; Eli & Edythe Broad Art Museum; PERFORMA, Guangzhou 53 Art Museum, China; PARTICIPANT, INC, NYC; Lincoln Center; REDCAT, The Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, and The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art. Recent shows include Hustlers & Empires, a commission with SFMOMA (2018), Irma Vep, The Last Breath, featuring Zackary Drucker (TRANSPARENT) and Flawless Sabrina (THE QUEEN); Marking Time: 50 Years of Video Art, curated by Michael Rush, Eli & Edythe Broad Art Museum (2015); and Irreverent, curated by Jennifer Tyburzcy, Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York (2015). Her work Beware The Lily Law, a moving image installation on transgender inmates, has been on permanent display at the Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia since 2011 and was featured in the upcoming exhibition Walls Turned Sideways: Artists Confront the American Justice System, curated by Risa Puleo, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (2019).

Start Date

April 18, 2019

End Date

May 26, 2019


06:00 PM - 08:00 PM


Signs and Symbols, 102 Forsyth Street, New York NY, 10002

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