Leone Anne Reeves
Megan: Pretty much everything Leone and I do together, artistically or in our daily lives stems from our extroverted personalities. I’ve never taken one of those tests that would tell me for sure that I’m an extrovert, but I do know (especially in our artwork) that Leone and I constantly seek out collaboration and interaction.
Leone: I agree. We have a collaborative style that is the physical manifestation of the term “the more the merrier.” Megan is definitely an extrovert; I am however a test-proven introvert, except amongst a crowd. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why our collaboration works.
M: We have embarked on a multi-year project called YEAR OF DREAMS (YOD) where we travel to famous mass-gatherings around the world. We pilgrimage to these places to fully immerse ourselves in micro-cultures, to myth-bust, document spectacles, and meet the people who attend. We make custom costumes for each event, and usually implore our friends to join in on our adventures (it is rare that anyone take us up on our invitation, which is too bad). Yet, they are always fascinated, and follow our every online post and beg us for details about every experience. We marvel at what holds these seemingly interested people back from ‘walking the walk.’
In 2013, we attended three major mass-gatherings: Mardi Gras in New Orleans, The Mermaid Parade at Coney Island, NY, and Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada (in that order).
Mardi Gras is a week of parades and partying leading up to “Fat Tuesday” a day of feasting and excess before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent. Now, Mardi Gras is less about Lent and more about having an impressive costume (and beginning to drink at 8am). We dressed up as Big Intelligent Brains that we made by hand between festivities.
The Mermaid Parade is a one-day event, marking the first day of summer and the first day that the beach is open at Coney Island. We dressed as white angel-mermaids with wings, bodices in the shape of the symbol of Kansas City, and exaggerated hand-sequined tails.
Burning Man is a weeklong camping trip in the desolate Black Rock desert where over 60,000 modern hippies flock to unplug from society and create interactive theme camps and large scale art installations. Our costume theme for this trip was ‘Hottie Cops.’ Leone designed and hand-sewed our costumes for each day of the week. In a place with very little traditional authority, we figured a ‘party patrol’ costume would be appropriate.
General thoughts on Mardi Gras:
Of all the events we’ve attended thus far, we would say that Mardi Gras was the grossest one. Puke and trash lined the streets, the parades were rife with fierce competition between strangers for plastic objects from China, and the “Crewes” that threw beads on floats were 95% white men, rich enough to pay the dues necessary to ride on the floats while hiding behind masks, cat-calling women to flash them skin.
Accompanying the floats were “Torchbearers” made up of 95% black men, carrying hot fire-lamp lights on tall metal poles hitched into their leather aprons, so the heat is obviously intense. Spectators lining the streets hand the men loose change and drinks to thank them for doing the shit job of lighting the parade. Despite some of the more nauseating aspects of Mardi Gras, we found it to be a joyous time exhibiting an entire city at play, the streets full of music and whimsical nonsense.
What we love most about Mardi Gras is the home-made-ness of the whole thing. Porch décor, costumes, and floats, all incorporate paper, recycled materials, sometimes whatever is lying around the house. Also many of the floats and costumes represent cutting social or political commentary.
We lasted long enough on Fat Tuesday to witness the closing of the streets, when the police act as the “last parade” of sorts and walk through the streets followed by emergency vehicles telling everyone to go home. They were accompanied by a small parade of religious zealots pulling crosses and holding huge signs with bold statements that read “OBEY THE BIBLE” and “HELL AWAITS YOU.”
General thoughts on The Mermaid Parade:
Attending the Mermaid Parade had been a dream of ours for a very long time. It is the largest art parade in the country, drawing nearly 1,500 participants and over 750,000 spectators to Coney Island each June. We thought our costumes would be pretty decent, but certainly no match for the lifers of the Mermaid Parade, the professionals. However, we were more popular than we ever imagined as matching mermaids complete with angel wings and headdresses. We couldn’t walk more than a couple of feet without someone asking to take their photo with us. Once stopped, people would flock and we’d be stuck for a solid 20 minutes. Then we’d scurry a few more feet and be stopped again.
By 6 p.m. we couldn’t take it anymore and at the suggestion of a professional photographer, we started charging for the photos. We charged $1 for a photo with us, and if they said no we’d keep running by. Some people paid us more than that and over the course of an hour we had made $70.
We started the day just registering to walk in the parade, but ended up being asked to be on the float for Lucky Cheng’s, a drag bar on the Lower East Side. Coincidentally, three cast members from the Real Housewives of New York City ended up on the float too. We all had to sign release forms.
We rode the historic Wonder Wheel and waited in line for a full hour to eat Coney Island’s original Nathan’s fast food. It was one of the best days we’ve ever had – and we didn’t encounter even one creepy guy or get one off-color remark from anyone. Considering how many people were in attendance, and how many scantily clad mythological creatures were running around, we found that astonishing.
General thoughts on Burning Man:
We attended the ever-hyped spectacle that is Burning Man for the first time. We didn’t know what to expect, did tons of research, and now that we’re back we’re like, “Did that already happen? Did we really just go to Burning Man?”
When we arrived, long-time burners made us lie on the ground and make dust angels, helped us up, and then spanked us, hugged both of us and said, “Welcome Home.”
It did truly feel like being in an alien landscape, an alternate world. Coincidentally, the annual theme was “Cargo Cult” which has extraterrestrial mythology attached to it (stemming from the story of John Frum, an icon to the people of the island of Tanna in Vanuatu, a pilot who descended from the sky and was worshipped ever since).
“The Man” was built standing on a 75-foot wide space ship for the occasion, and it truly seemed like all burners were there to celebrate him and be their most authentic selves for one week.
There is a lot of jargon used at Burning Man, such as the term “Playa” referring to the open desert the temporary city is built on for the month of August. When asked about a person’s existence back in actual life, you had to be careful not to reference it as the “Real World.” We were always corrected to refer to normal life as “The Default World” implying that perhaps our temporary time at Burning Man is the true “Real World.” We got the sense that the escapism of Burning Man was it’s most attractive quality, and not just as a departure from money-driven society, work and rules, but the opportunity to spend one week a year being exactly who you wished you could be all the time. We spent the week dressing up, being silly, making interesting conversation with strangers from all over the world, and seeing new things.
We felt lucky to realize that this didn’t feel all that different than our normal lives. This isn’t to say that the magic of that place didn’t get under our skin—we talk about it constantly. But we don’t feel like it’s the only place we were able to be ourselves. However, a unique facet of this event that makes it more than just some festival or camping trip is that people feel like they are one immediately-bonded community, at home instantly in the middle of an otherwise inhospitable desert. It is a place that people miss all year, and long to get back to every August. The idea of a temporary city is amazing enough, but add to it a temporary family of 68,000 people just waiting to connect with you and share art and food with you, and it’s easy to see why the concept of home is such a part of Burning Man.
M: Documentation is crucial to this project because it invites an additional audience to our experience, the people who beg to be tourists of our tourism.
L: Tourist photos are a perfect way to document our traveling as a performance. The ever-infuriating problem of documenting performance is that the documentation should be invisible so the performances can stand-alone. We get to bypass this documentation problem completely because the tourist photo is already invisible as it is inherent to travel. Instead, the issue we wrestle with is that of the big T = Tourism itself. We know the implication of that word, and how it frames us as privileged princesses, able to participate in travel for leisure, skimming only the surface of a culture for it’s exotic/erotic qualities without truly understanding it. However, we work hard to prioritize our money so that we can afford the privilege of travel, and we work hard to prioritize our time so that we can fully immerse ourselves in the experience, not just as bystanders, but also as participants. We do acknowledge that privilege allows this project to exist, but we want an E for effort in how hard we work to use this privilege to expand our horizons.
We feel that we are not just fun-seeking vacationists but, perhaps, social anthropologists. We fantasize about the YOD project as an anthropological pin ball, bouncing all over the world, picking up, and leaving behind style, language, arts, religion, ideology.
YEAR OF DREAMS is an ongoing project that’s open for all of you to join us in future installments. This summer we will be teaching a class called Performance Production & Collaboration at the Paris College of Art in Paris, France. While across the pond, we plan to participate in as many of the famous food fights of Europe, as our schedule allows. If you’ve read this far, it probably means you’re obsessed with us and should obviously donate money to what we’re doing. In addition to monetary donations we invite donations of information pertaining to unique mass-gatherings we should add to our list or micro-communities that we may not be aware of. Seriously, we love you…. be our friend.
Butterfly in the sky…you can fly twice as high…take a look…it’s in our Instagram @monamantia
– Love, megan + leone
Megan Mantia is a documentary photographer/ producer that dedicates her time to bringing art projects, films and exhibitions to life while simultaneously capturing the behind-the-scenes process for her clients. She is a 2006 graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute, alumna of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection Internship Program, and works annually in the press office at the Sundance Film Festival. She has produced projects for Grand Arts, Peres Projects, The Hole Gallery, PS1, and the Smart Museum. To see more of her photography visit www.meganmantia.com
Performance artist Leone Anne Reeves, in collaboration with Whoop Dee Doo, the SSION, and filmmaker Melika Bass, has shown at Deitch Projects, PS1 and COIL Festival, New York, Malmö Festivalén, Sweden, The Smart Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, The Ann Arbor Film Festival, Michigan, and Torino Film Festival, Italy. Reeves hails from North Carolina and Minnesota. She is a Full Time Visiting Artist in the Art and Sciences Department at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, MO. To see more of her work visit http://vimeo.com/leoneannereeves