In the 1990s, Hunter Reynolds became known for performances in which he posed and twirled in galleries and city streets in semidrag (ball gown, makeup, balding pate, chest hair) as a way of memorializing victims of AIDS. Photos by Maxine Henryson documenting Reynolds’s performances, as well as one of his dresses adorned with strips of sewn-together snapshots of flowers, reside in a back room at P.P.O.W.
A long-term survivor of AIDS, as well as of drug addiction, strokes, partial paralysis and Hurricane Wilma, Reynolds has been more recently conducting “fire rituals” upstate, basing them on Mongolian shamanistic traditions (in Mongolian, butur means “cocoon”). Despite the intimations of cultural imperialism suggested by appropriating someone else’s religion, the artist has used these rituals to create compellingly strange works. A video, Fire Glitter Totem, presents one of these events as a hippyish, hallucinatory, kaleidoscopic vision that, while mesmerizing, is unfortunately accompanied by jazzy New Age lounge music. Don the headphones at your own risk!
Symmetrical drawings made from bright glitter and leaden cinders resemble Rorschach blots, mandalas, butterflies and pelvic bones—weighty, earthy, frivolous and glam all at once, like cross-dressing Anselm Kiefers. Stacked sculptures of charred tree trunks and branches, carved and covered in glossy enamel, combine gorgeous, almost psychedelic surfaces with the evidence of a holocaust. Embodying destruction and renewal, these funky, fey totems are monuments to Reynolds’s own trial by fire and transformative journey as a phoenix, rising from the ashes.—Joseph R. Wolin