Felix Bernstein and Gabe Rubin: Vomitorium

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Vomitorium is a tragicomic reflection on the history of metatheatre from religious ritual to livestreaming. Part of Felix Bernstein and Gabe Rubin’s ongoing analysis of madness and mimesis in drag and trans performance, this video installation is their largest-scale project to date, spewed via massive projections across Queenslab’s expansive open space.

The work traces the titular structure from its origin as the passageways through which crowds entered and exited Greek amphitheaters to one of its current manifestations as socially reflexive architecture built for Instagram selfie-stories. In both settings, people watch each other watching each other before, during, or after the act of binging and purging media. Vomitorium additionally uses illuminated commentary to map a lineage that spans from the contemporary digital emphasis on comment, fandom, remake, labels, and frames to ancient theatre via the chorus and religion.

Within Vomitorium, Bernstein and Rubin transition between genre, gender, and age. Playing through multiple tropes, eras, and personae, the artists juxtapose baroque complexity with the currently fashionable metaphysics of presence, transparency, and immersion. Bernstein plays Onkos. Named after the tumorous masks of Greek tragedy, the festering Onkos narrates and annotates performance documentation in a degenerative feedback loop. In contrast to Onkos, Rubin plays the cherub-like Erotes, the gods of love and sexual desire—Eros, Anteros, Anti-Eros, and Seraphim. These sparring angels demonstrate a rivalrous split in love between cruelty and tenderness, virtue and vice.

As in Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, where the protagonist listens to old recordings of himself, in Vomitorium, Bernstein and Rubin replay on loop their own digitally mediated grief as it is transmuted and transposed into their embodiment of Greek archetypes. Rubin, often appearing nude within the videos, applies the Beckettian theme of “self”-reflection across increments of age to the context of gender transitioning. But as he enacts the Erotes personae, even the so-called purest vision of self-exposure—the nude—appears buried under layers of performativity, becoming another alienated and impersonal presentation. At the same time, masks, camp, and artifice become intimate, immediate, and revealing.

The expanded installation at Queenslab features a miniature stadium made of screens and risers, as well as a movie poster by artist Nick Mauss.

This exhibition is curated by Tim Griffin and Matthew Lyons.

February 22–March 22

Opening Reception: Saturday, February 22, 7–10pm

Gallery Hours: Wednesday–Sunday, 1–7pm (Vomitorium screens from 1–4pm and 4–7pm)

Vomitorium takes place at Queenslab, 1611 Cody Avenue, Ridgewood, NY

Click here to view the press release for Vomitorium

The Queenslab building is wheelchair accessible, and an ADA compliant restroom is available. All bathrooms are gender inclusive.

Felix Bernstein and Gabe Rubin: Vomitorium is made possible with commissioning support from Marta Heflin Foundation; annual grants from Lambent Foundation Fund of Tides Foundation, The Cowles Charitable Trust, and Joseph and Joan Cullman Foundation for the Arts; and in part by public funds from New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

Image: Video still from Felix Bernstein and Gabe Rubin, Vomitorium (2019–2020). Courtesy the artists and David Lewis, New York.

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