‘GoNightclubbing’ with Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong at The 72 Gallery [INTERVIEW]
Thirty-nine years ago, a new nightclub called Danceteria featured a video installation which recreating a suburban living room. The twist was that the giant old-school TV, housed in a mid-century wood cabinet, wasn’t playing reruns of I Love Lucy. Instead, there was a live feed of bands such as Iggy Pop, The Dead Boys, and Blondie who were, not coincidentally, on stage in another area of the club, interspersed with art videos. At the time, it was cutting-edge technology.
The installation was supposed to only last one night, but it wound up being so popular that Danceteria asked the designers of the lounge, Emily Armstrong and Pat Ivers (who were also the videographers), to make it a permanent installation.
That is, until the club got raided, and the staff – which included Armstrong, Ivers, and a young busboy named Keith Haring – were arrested and spent the night at the Tombs together.
Armstrong and Ivers recently recreated this video lounge as an installation at the 72 Gallery (located in the back of rock and roll jewelry store The Great Frog). The exhibit opened on the 39th anniversary of the bust.
Entitled “She Got a TV Eye on Me,” in honor of the Stooges song, the installation at 72 Orchard Street includes rare videos from GoNightclubbing, a multimedia archive the lifelong team created of their work, along with still photographs of the many performers they filmed in the ’70s and ’80s.
This reporter, who attended some of those live performances and remembers the original Danceteria (and its later incarnations), recently spoke with Armstrong and Ivers about their life’s work and current installation.
They met while working at Manhattan Cable’s Public Access TV which, as Ivers describes, was like the wild west at the time. The programming was extremely diverse, to say the least. Much of it reached levels of David Lynch and John Waters weirdness. (Ironically, many of the artists and performers who had shows on public access couldn’t afford cable television at the time, so they would go to a nearby bar with friends to watch their own shows.)
Through her day job, Ivers had access to film equipment and decided to go to clubs with some of the people from work in order to film the bands. She described their start:
In 1975, CBGB held the “The Unrecorded Band Festival” and we decided to film it. The first night, we filmed Blondie, the Talking Heads and Richard Hell. I knew that this was an incredible moment in culture.
After a year, the guys didn’t want to go out all night and film anymore. Soon after, I met Emily at Public Access. I brought her to Max’s Kansas City to see Patti Smith, and we started working together.
After five years of filming downtown bands at CBGBs and elsewhere, they wound up designing a video lounge for the new club Danceteria. “Everyone loved the lounge,” said Armstrong.
Some people never left [that area of the club]; they stayed there and watched the bands on television instead of on the stage.
We rented TV consoles from a store literally called ‘The TV Rental Store.’ We found the place in the yellow pages. It was run by two little old guys.
People would make out in the video lounge. Some snorted cocaine off the tops of the televisions. One of the televisions broke because all the cocaine went into the vents on the top. So, we went to Canal St and bought sheets of Plexiglas and little round discs for legs. We put them on top of the television sets to fix the problem.
Pat and I didn’t partake in all of that drug scene. It wasn’t me chopping up the cocaine on top of the TV set!
We had our own sound system, and we had our own bar, there was no reason for people to leave to go down to the stage, there was always something on the TV: crazy art videos by people like Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf. Haring would ask us: ‘Can you play this video of me in the shower with three boys?’
Aside from Keith, artist David Wojnarowicz was a busboy, and the glamorous and sexy [poet/performer] Max Blagg was the bartender. The photographer Zoe Leonard was the coat check person downstairs. One of the greatest things about Danceteria were the DJs – Mark Kamins, Ivan Ivan, Sean Cassette. They pioneered blending music in and out.
It was such a great club, except it was all illegal – who knew?
Ivers described the technology at the time. It was a pre-digital, pre-MTV and pre-YouTube era. She recalls,
“I wanted people to be able to see the bands while sitting in the lounge. I remember that it was very exciting, very high-tech. It’s hard to explain how different technology was then, compared to now.
Seeing local bands on TV was unheard of. And we wanted to do it in a subversive way – in a setting which looked like your parents’ basement.”
When we asked them about the bands who blew them away, Armstrong and Ivers had similar favorites:
The Dead Boys were an amazing live band, we saw them a million times. I loved The Erasers. They were an all-girl band, never got recorded. There is one single of theirs on the ORC boxed set. They practiced back then like crazy. There’s footage of The Erasers in our current show.
I also loved The Student Teachers and the Offs. Their drummer was in Hot Tuna. The lead singer Don Vinil was the first openly gay singer in a punk band.
My absolute favorite band was the Dead Boys, I saw them dozens of times, we became friends with them, they were the most unrecognized, unappreciated band.
I loved all of Richard Hell’s bands, The Heartbreakers and The Voidoids, and loved James Chance.
When NYU acquired our archive and digitized it, we got to view videos we hadn’t seen in 40 years. That was when the Cramps became, after the fact, one of my favorite bands. I fell madly in love with them.
Accompanying “She Got a TV Eye on Me” is a second exhibit of Armstrong and Iver’s work entitled “Alone at Last.” Unfinished at the time, it was a 1981 video series depicting various people telling seductive stories to the viewer.
As Ivers described the concept:
I wanted to create the feeling of a Times Square style peep show booth where the viewer was alone with a person who was trying to seduce them. It represented a last gasp of freewheeling sexuality before the AIDs crisis decimated the community. At the time, bath houses and no-string sexuality were the norm.
Ivers and Armstrong videotaped it, but realized it was too expensive to produce at the time.
When NYU Fales Library acquired our library, I started getting calls from scholars about this project. Jane Friedman, executive director of Howl! Gallery, got fundraising. This enabled us to hire a programmer who took it to another level, designing an interactive interface which allowed a person from the original videos to come on screen and seduce you.
“She Got a TV Eye on Me,” and “Alone at Last” are currently at the 72 Orchard Gallery and are on view until November 27.