Mutating The Broad with Mutant Salon

All images courtesy Alicia Eler, unless otherwise noted.

Mutant Salon is an electrifying performance collective fashioned for the purpose of celebrating self-care. On Saturday, June 25th from 8:30–11:30pm, Mutant Salon played, performed and roamed in Oculus Hall, one of the many cavernous spaces in the Broad, and on the street outside the Broad. Mutant Salon is a project founded in 2012 by artist Young Joon Kwak. It is born from love and a desire to foster community and connections between LGBTQ POC, women, and mutant communities. The focus is on “celebrating an ethos of transformation and critical togetherness in the act of self-care.” The salon is transient, meandering and roaming about venues in Los Angeles and elsewhere, creating new experiences along the way. Mutant Salon is amorphous enough to occupy any space it wants, so long as it joins together to make it happen. “In addition to offering haircuts, psychic readings, makeup, nails, tattoos, and other treatments, Mutant Salon embraces a continual metamorphosis of itself with each iteration to offer new aesthetic experiences and experimental modes of engagement,” writes Kwak in an email. Mutant Salon has roamed all over Los Angeles, performing at art venues such as Honor Fraser and music venue The Lash.

Mutant Salon performance

Mutant Salon performance

Like the other Mutant Salons, this one was full of dazzling effects, glowing costumes, and roaming fierceness. Oculus Hall is a space at the Broad located off on the edge of a second-floor crevice. Floor-to-ceiling windows look out into the actual hallway. The performance took place behind those windows, and viewers who wandered could become part of the salon. In one room, performers who wore a variety of elaborate high-fashion high-heels, long wigs, masks of any variety, and distinctive looks. They strutted about, stopping to cut hair, look into mirrors and leisurely apply their own makeup, and hang out by the main fountain-like sculpture. Ambient electric music played throughout the hall.

Documentation of Mutant Salon at the Broad

Documentation of Mutant Salon at the Broad

The performers at Mutant Salon also utilized founder Young Joon Kwak’s new musical beauty instruments (currently on view at Shapeshifters group exhibition at Shulamit Nazarin in Venice) as well as custom cosmetics, which created live polyphonic sound compositions based on movement and gestures. The performers in this installment of Mutant Salon included Sarah Gail Armstrong, Marvin Astorga, Lena Daly, Gaylord Fiend, Elisa Harkins, Veli-Matti Hoikka, Oree Holban, Young Joon Kwak, Isaac Ledesma, Alli Miller and Project Rage Queen (Dalton Chase, Alice Cunt, Travis R-D, Vik Victorious). One could stay and watch these folks applying makeup, cutting hair, or just relaxing, or they could go to the other side of the salon and do their own self-care. That’s where I ended up for most of the time with two friends, Kait, and Armand. We congregated one of the makeup tables. I watched as Kait and Armand applied eye makeup; another group hung out by the nail station.

Kait Schuster and Armand Fields glamming it up at Mutant Salon!

Kait Schuster and Armand Fields glamming it up at Mutant Salon!

Toward the furthest wall, a mutant with six arms performed a reiki-like practice on a visitor services worker. Mutant Salon offered a pleasant, non-commercial break from the world, if only for 10-15 minutes, or however long people stayed. To have a place specifically for relaxation in the midst of a high-energy event like this felt great. It also raised some questions about how to even create space for the vital experience of self-care and relaxation, of taking a break from labor even during economically difficult times.

Mutant Salon. Photograph by Dicko Chan

Mutant Salon. Photograph by Dicko Chan

At this point, it’s important to pause and discuss self-care, which has become such a buzzword. It’s nothing new, however; decades ago, feminist writer/scholar/poet Audre Lorde discussed self-care as an act of political warfare. Writes Sarah Mirk for Bitch Magazine:

“Self-care can be such a buzzword these days, but what’s often not discussed are the race, gender, and class dynamics behind the concept. When we’re expected to take care of others emotionally and physically, taking time, energy, and resources for ourselves can feel shameful. In the United States, women report higher rates of stress in their lives than men and people of color report higher rates of stress than white people—there are a lot of factors for why, including the stress of racism and discrimination.”

In other words, fighting the patriarchy is exhausting. What can a community do than to take self-care into their own hands, and help each other feel some sense of relaxation despite the realities of our terrible economy? How to relax while not debting, or buying into the capitalist belief that you need to be making a certain amount of money to even be able to take a break from work? The leisure class is most certainly classist. Mutant Salon knows this, and has created their group in order to take such matters into their own hands.

Image courtesy of Young Joon Kwak. Clockwise from left: Project Rage Queen, Sarah Gail Armstrong, Gaylord Fiend, Isaac Ledesma.

Image courtesy of Young Joon Kwak. Clockwise from left: Project Rage Queen, Sarah Gail Armstrong, Gaylord Fiend, Isaac Ledesma.

Another class-related issue came up about specifically having this performance at the Broad. Mutant Salon wouldn’t be anything without the community. But anyone who isn’t a corporate professional, a member of the Broad, someone in the art world elite, a member of the press, with the possible exception of someone who is just really great at budgeting, likely doesn’t have an extra $35 lying around to spend on an evening event at the Broad. If Mutant Salon was born of a need for queer POC/mutant/women community, it would be counterintuitive to keep the community out on the street while the performance raged on inside the Broad. It’s frustrating to feel like one is doing well in their art career, but that such a move also suggests exclusion of the people who are in one’s community. Mutant Salon posted this to FB during some frustration, or what they are calling “at a low point,” recognizing the need for queer rage at the institutionalization of art.

Free Mutant Salon outside the Broad. Photograph by Dicko Chan

Free Mutant Salon outside the Broad. Photograph by Dicko Chan

A couple days before the show, things began looking up. I received an email entitled “We Make Each Other Beautiful.” Young Joon wrote that in addition to performing inside the museum, the performance would move “from the Oculus Hall, inside the museum’s anus, through the belly of the beast and out through its mouth, to the outside main entrance of the Broad. We are bringing Mutant Salon outside for our sisters, our community, and audience members to experience this special performance for free, without need for paid admission.” This free leg of the performance included performances by Project Rage Queen, Isaac Ledesma, Sarah Gail Armstrong and Gaylord Fiend. It’s evidence that the mutants’ vibes and agenda are moving along smoothly, continuing to roam, beautify, find love and be completely real about it.

Free Mutant Salon. Photograph by Dicko Chan

Free Mutant Salon. Photograph by Dicko Chan

Mutant Salon occurred at The Broad’s Oculus Hall (221 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles 90012) and on the street outside the museum on Saturday, June 25th.