The handful of people onstage in this tribal music show share at least one attribute: They're all displaying their private parts. Even the guy in the neon-green-and-pink wheelchair is naked -- well, except for his mismatched high-tops and bright yellow socks. His head is clean-shaven, and a microphone is wrapped around his ear so the audience can better hear him bellow like Chewbacca.
Others use anything they can to make noise. An attractive young brunette wearing only Tevas beats her pubic region with drumsticks. An older woman dressed in a provocatively tattered red dress escorts the drummer girl over to the guy in the wheelchair and sits her down atop him. She begins rocking slowly back and forth in his lap, while the other woman gently embraces her. The pace of the rocking steadily speeds up, until it is almost frantic. The woman in red meows like a cat. Meanwhile, the man getting all the attention lets loose his Wookiee-howl.
It's a peculiar scene to say the least, and it's not really, you know, entertaining. But there's something seductive about it -- mysterious even. The man in the wheelchair: what's his deal? Can he actually feel the chick writhing on top of him? Can he get a boner? Is he being exploited? Does he even know what's going on?
Not only does he know what's going on, he's the guy who orchestrated the whole thing. His name is Frank Moore, and he is a 56-year-old Berkeley artist with severe cerebral palsy that left him spastic, unable to walk or talk, and horny for attention. The performance, a two-hour-long affair titled "The Free Tribal Hot Skin Passion Music/Dance Jam" that Moore staged in New York City in September and later aired on his local cable-access TV program, is but one bullet on his thirteen-page résumé. The document also lists academic degrees that include a Master of Fine Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute, dozens and dozens of published articles, feature-length videos he's directed and starred in, teaching and music gigs, exhibits, plus his cable and Internet radio shows. It doesn't even include anything about being a shaman or starting his own church.
During the span of Moore's decades-long artistic career, he's been described as the Stephen Hawking of performance art. He's influenced the likes of porn-star theorist Annie Sprinkle and bass player Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He's performed at New York's Franklin Furnace, an avant-garde basement space that helped launch the careers of performance artists such as Karen Finley, notorious for her use of nudity and grocery items. Moore's works have managed to offend everyone from former US Senator Jesse Helms to liberals on the Berkeley City Council.
Moore's performances have been known to last 48 hours and usually feature nudity and improvised "erotic play" between he and whomever else wants to join in. They have been called "obscene," "outrageous," and "difficult." People always ask him: "What do you say to those who might suggest you are using art as a means to get naked women to rub against you?" Moore has heard this one so often he refers to the query as "FAQ #5." His standard answers:
1. They are jealous.
2. I don't need to work this hard to get THAT.
Yes, Moore has a sense of humor. A wicked one. But behind the funny guy is an intense and serious man. A man who spent the first seventeen years of his life trapped inside his head and intensely isolated, unable to communicate with anyone outside his family or instructors. His erotic performances -- and practically everything else he does -- are triumphs over the isolation that so long kept him hostage. His disability is the driving force behind his creative urge. Although his work isn't really about being disabled, it springs from his long experience as a disabled man -- ignored, stared at, isolated, dismissed as a freak, and told what he couldn't do. Ever since Moore has transcended that isolation, he's made it his mission to inspire, cajole, heal, arouse, stimulate and, quite possibly, piss you off.
Moore's performances need to be understood in the context of his early physical isolation. "My art is rooted in breaking out of isolation," he explains in his autobiographical tale, Art of a Shaman. Evidence of Moore's aversion to seclusion is everywhere in his West Berkeley house -- the purple one with the "tie-dyed" SUV out front. A video camera is always running in the front room where Frank and his partner Linda Mac peck away at their computers, an image updated every thirty seconds on his Web site (www.eroplay.com). Because e-mail allows Moore to communicate like an ordinary person, he is an Internet junkie, hosting an online salon of more than one hundred members with whom he shares ideas. Their house also serves as the home of Moore's radical Webcasting initiative, Love Underground Visionary Revolution (www.luver.com), a kind of low-rent KPFA.
"I can't be modest," a very naked Moore says through his interpreter and partner, Linda Mac, while getting ready for a Sunday night interview for his talk show, Shaman's Den. Frank needs to go to the bathroom before his guest arrives, and for this he'll need help from Linda and Mikee Labash, the third cog in their romantic troika.
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