A five-foot tall vagina hangs overhead, the name “Larry” tattooed into the ample nest of some seriously 70s bush. Someone’s taken to the banner with a red paint gun, splattering the whole thing with red. Little red dots have rained down on the concrete steps below, creating some visual dimension between the cigarette butts and broken glass.
From the outside, the c/o Gallery looks like an opulent crack den.
We stand beneath a building three-something stories high, thick and weighty and firmly planted on the corner of a city block. Back in the late 1800s, the space was the imperial post office. I envision uniformed men pushing around carts of fresh dates and exotic spices addressed to Sir Chancellor of Germany, month-old letters from the Orient just reaching Western Europe. Now, it’s the host of photography exhibitions. Larry Clark, heroin documentarian extraordinaire, has his work up now.
The air inside is three degrees hotter than bathwater and the deeper you get into the exhibition, the more stifling the whole viewing experience becomes. Shot after shot after shot of kids shooting heroin, young boys sitting with enormous flaccid dicks falling from their shorts, junkie mothers, naked lovers, babies born into wrong families. Drugs and passion and more drugs and then the desperation because that’s all you’ve got in the middle of nowhere. Oh, to be young and grossly irresponsible because who the fuck cares if you die? You’re not missing anything if you go anyway.
We sit in a dark room watching silent footage of a young man shoot up and then wipe the blood away with a paper towel. His eyes go glassy and he smiles a bit, nervously. He sits at the edge of a bed and looks around the room for some sort of confirmation of his own ecstasy, a collective validation of his singular, lonely experience. There’s that twitchy smiles again. He scratches his hair with a fidgety hand. And in his eyes there is both sublimation and extreme vulnerability, never power. These kids may have taken life into their own hands. They have danced around naked and covered in mud and screamed at passing cars, but they were never powerful. At the root of their lives was fear, just like everyone else.
“Pretty, uh, intense,” Jonas says, passing me on his way to the glossy photographs by a more contemporary Russian photographer, displayed along the walls of what used to be a basketball court at some point (recreation for bored post office workers?).
There’s more upstairs, Larry’s newer stuff. Mexican kids in Los Angeles, collages mixing crime and pornography and those teeny bopper magazines like Tiger Beat that I didn’t realize were so goddamn bizarre and grotesque until just this minute – twelve year old teen dream celebrities wearing white shirts with rolled cuffs, tight acid wash jeans clinging to parts girls shouldn’t even be thinking about at that age. A cheap and ill-executed precursor to Abercrombie & Fitch by Bruce Weber.
Paint peels off the ceiling above, curling back like warped paper. The air has stopped circulating almost completely, oxygen particles pushed around only when forced by a moving body. After an hour, I feel like I’m suffocating on someone else’s life and the horrible possibilities that come with ever being born at all.