Touching Our Private Parts 

Frank Moore's performances feature nude grope-a-thons with no plot or apparent point. Is it possible that they're art?

Page 6 of 7

For Moore, tribalism is a way of life -- from his communal lifestyle to the group rituals of his performance art. It makes a lot of sense for a man who is so obviously dependent on others for his survival. To critics who say he's stuck in a hippie time warp, Moore jokes that he's really a throwback to the days of the cave. Many of his performance spaces are referred to as "caves" where "magical" things happen transcending taboos and societal preconceptions. Moore, with his crippled body, is the conduit to that magic.

Shortly after moving to Berkeley in 1975, he and his partners officially incorporated the Church of Inter-Relations with the secretary of state: "The specific and primary purposes are to promote and develop the religious principles and philosophy of 'human melting' ... based on a core of oneness found in each spirit," the articles of incorporation state.

Although the idea of "human melting" sounds like a dated '60s ideal, spend a few minutes with Moore and Linda and the concept seems not only workable but necessary. At times they seem to be engaged in something akin to Star Trek's Vulcan mind-meld, with Linda finishing Frank's sentences for him, and sometimes needing only a look from Frank to know what he wants.

To this day, Moore continues to hold private shamanistic art workshops. And even though the hippies are long gone, he still attracts wounded, searching souls. Take Jennifer Wilson, a young film student from Canada who stumbled across Frank after plugging the words "Toronto shaman" into a search engine. Moore coincidentally had just done his marathon erotic 48-hour Toronto performance, Dying Is Sexy.

Wilson had been unhappily working at a bank, reading Timothy Leary, and going to raves. She concedes she was "looking for something." She eventually signed up for a five-day intensive workshop with Moore at his Berkeley home. At her first session, she says in her testimonial on Moore's Web site, "I did some silly things. Some sexy things. It's like I was tight and Frank was loosening me up. I read one of his poems and started to cry." She later performed at Moore's New York City show in September, beating her pubic region with drumsticks, something she first tried at Moore's house. "I can say that I have begun to feel more comfortable with myself and the world," she writes months later.

And then there's Teresa Cochran, a 38-year-old blind musician whom Frank and Linda met at a block party a couple of years ago. Cochran, who distributes underground zines, now lives down the street from Moore with two of his apprentices and proudly calls herself one of his students, appearing in many of his performances. Often, she relies on Linda to translate what Frank is telling her. Other times, they just communicate by touching each other. "Before I started working with Frank, I constantly and unthinkingly put myself down, placing all kinds of limits on myself," she says via e-mail. "I deprived myself of what I really wanted and needed in life, thinking I was a 'loner' and that I would never express myself through poetry and other art. But now, I'm doing things that I never would have dreamed of."

Suffice it to say that dealing with Frank Moore is powerful. His is an empathy that engulfs us because we know by seeing his pain we've seen one really greater than ours. As Cochran simply puts it when explaining why she chose Moore as her muse: "He is joyous, and that is an irresistible way to live."

In his autobiographical poem, "tortures," Frank Moore describes all the humiliation and pain he's endured at the hand of others: His mom's friends asking her why she hangs onto her freakish boy; his father, unwilling to "hit a crip," beats and yells at Frank's younger brother instead; overhearing nurses comment that "no woman would make love with him" following an operation at age thirteen on his testicles; the daily exercises in which nurses bent his fingers, arms, and legs into painfully unnatural positions; how his high school teacher made him eat breath mints because his breath stunk so bad; his first French kiss -- from a guy who then tried to rape him.

At the end of the poem, Moore deadpans, "but all in all, life has been good!"

And the thing is, he's not just saying that. Life is good for Frank Moore. Not only did he defy the odds and survive this long, he did so without going comatose like so many "normal" people -- content to spend evenings on a couch hypnotized by the TV, ignoring their spouses and kids. Moore, the man, is an inspiration for us all.

Whether his art inspires is hard to say. It obviously does inspire some. To critics who suggest he's stuck in a hippie time warp and should move on already, Moore stands -- er -- sits, defiant. Eroplay and ritual performance are the manifestation of his vision, and a real artist can't deny his vision, he reasons. Because of his stubborn loyalty to that vision, he arguably will never enjoy the acclaim of some of his peers such as Karen Finley. But Moore says he doesn't want to be famous anyway. In fact, he says he's always fought the fame-temptation, because fame, he believes, is the enemy of creativity and takes control away from the artist. Indeed, Moore has chosen to operate in mediums without commercial constraints: Performance art, cable access, and the Internet. "I have a large audience without the fame," he brags.

By Moore's estimate, he has directly reached more than twenty million people over the years through his performances, published articles, movie cameos, cable and Internet shows, and stories about his work.

After spending his entire childhood in near-solitary confinement, Frank Moore is out of isolation. He's here with the rest of us, touching us, touching our private parts.


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