Where can you paint your face like a beauty queen with a raw, bloody, monster’s maw? Sculpt a vulva on your bald head? Perform in a cow suit, complete with udder, and feel completely at home? At Club Scum, of course, the Latinx queer punk club in Montebello. The monthly party celebrates its third anniversary with an exhibition of photographs, video and ephemera at the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena.
We hear much talk about “safe spaces” and “brave spaces,” where people are empowered to bring their whole selves without fear of discrimination or harassment. Club Scum was conceived by Rudy “Bleu” Garcia and Ray Sanchez as an alternative to the white-dominated drag and punk scenes in L.A. But “safe” and even “brave” don’t begin to capture the energy and spirit on view in this exhibition. Through the eyes of its documenters, Club Scum comes across as a “fierce space,” defiant and unapologetic. It doesn’t just cross boundaries; it transforms them.
The show opens with two display cases of fliers, postcards, photo booth photos, set lists, even a bathroom sign warning against “policing gender” that has been blessed with several sets of lipstick prints. One particularly striking flier by Taco Guillen features a shirtless, tattooed figure holding what looks like a reliquary box. One of the figure’s eyes is blissfully closed; the other is staring and bloodied, its surrounding skin lined with cracks. The graphic sits perfectly at a nexus of horror, punk and transcendence.
Most of the exhibition is given over to photographs. Daniel “Chino” Rodriguez contributes a wall of snapshots overlapping in an unruly onslaught that echoes the abundance they document: crowded dance floors, teased hair, bombastic makeup, plus an accordion player. Anthony Mehlhaff’s images are more dramatic: Printed larger, in high-contrast black and white or saturated color, they elevate subjects like the crowd-surfing drag queen in “Drag Surfin’ USA” to beatific heights.
Amina Cruz’s photographs capture more intimate moments. “Blaue Tara” from 2017 depicts a mustachioed figure in full makeup and a mesh tank top, topped off with a jeweled collar and bralette. The subject holds a cigarette and looks to one side, lips parted, caught in a moment of stillness. Against a nearly solid black ground, the figure’s long blond hair forms a soft, fuzzy halo.
At the end of the gallery, in the center of a wall plastered with fliers, is a video compilation produced by Brian Johanson and Sarahjane Pattwell. Here, the performers, dancers and revelers really come to life as we get a better sense not only of the humble, crowded space in which these celebrations occur, but of the fierce, free spaces they create.
When: Through Sept. 15; closed Tuesdays
Info: (626) 792-5101, www.armoryarts.org