The (Dada) Massage Was The Message

Allan Appel Photo Ted Efremoff is an artist. He had never given a massage before—until Saturday, when but between noon and 3 he’d already performed ten. Each massage was accompanied by a dramatic reading of a manifesto of a famous group of artists: Dadaists, feminists, you name it.

If the manifesto was angry, his hands worked in keeping with that tone. And when the reading was done, the massage was too.

Welcome to “manifesto massage” one of six services offered by artists at the former SERA nail parlor.

A customer who wanted only be identified as Mary (pictured above) gave him very marks.

On this last weekend of Open Studios, ArtSpace transformed the old SERA nail salon at 206 College, emptied and left in limbo by developers, into an acronymically same but radically new Social Experiments Relational Acts salon.

In the salon, artists like Efremoff, using materials left over in the time capsule of the salon, performed “relational art” events .

They used an old frame of reference and transformed the expectations and likely the outcome of the customers—that is, members of the public like Mary who walked into what was now a gallery.

When Mary arrived in Efremoff’s room, she expressed an interest in the Futurist Manifeso, promulgated before World War One and famous for its belief in the machine age. That and five more manifestos were festooned to the wall above the beckoning table with its shiny satin sheet.

“It’s going to be a little violent,” Efremoff said of the Futurists.

Mary, an artist herself, was a little nervous.

Efremoff felt the moment was right for full disclaimer: “I’ve never done this until now.”

“Will it hurt?” she asked.

Efremoff had a calm manner. Did he have insurance? Of course not. But, hey, artists take chances.

There were limits. He said he certainly wouldn’t attempt anything like the bikini waxing ($15) that was offered on the original placard from Sera Nails still on the wall of his transformed massage room.

Efremoff was all massage all the time. The negotiation with Mary continued. The heavy incense he had lit filled the space.  A low, aural hum of a what appeared to be a kind of new age preacher speaking incomprehensible Korean emanated from the radio in the corner and filled the room with a calming, massage-type atmosphere.

Mmm. Which manifesto to be massaged by? There was the Situationist Manifesto. And then there was the Cyberfemnist.

Whichever you choose, the artist told his client, “The massage lasts the duration of the manifesto. I also try to use my hands to mimic what I say.”

In the end Mary decided on the Dada Manifesto massage. “I’m a Dadaist anyway,” she said, trying to put Efremoff at his ease. (Click here to read the Dada Manifesto text.)

Good choice. “Dada is a little fun because it has a beat,” he said.

After it was successfully completed, Efremoff said that “I’m massaging the manifesto into their bodies.”

As Mary was a Dadaist already, it was hard to tell as she left the room if she had changed in any newly noticeable Dadaistic way.

She did say, “The voice and the massage blended” nicely.

Recalling other massages she’d received, she said in those instances the masseur was silent. Not Efremoff.

Down the hallway, other transformational acts were being performed.

Artist Rebecca Parker was doing the nails of Diane Grams (pictured). This artist-turned-manicurist-for the day was also a bit like a priest, seated behind a curtained box that concealed her face.

Without visual facial contact Grams had to trust enough to send her hands into the control of the anonymous artist who was applying the white color she chose from SERA’s aged supply.

Parker said from her screen that she had had only to throw away a few of the gazillion bottles of nail polish left behind in Sera.  “A few were too gooey.”

“If you weren’t here,” Grams said to a nosy reporter, I would confess a lot [to Parker].”

In fact exploring the degree to which intimacy unfolds in these service situations is precisely what Parker was exploring in her art.

“When I get my hair done, they [those service personnel] are terrific at social skills,” Parker said.

Grams said she had actually wanted a pedicure. She said she would have gladly trusted Parker with her toes as she was doing with her fingernails, but sticking her feet up onto the table top would have been difficult.

As it was, this experience turned out to be Grams’ very first manicure. A scholar from Chicago visiting Yale researching contemporary art, she was obviously in the right place.

Grams said she found the exhibition intriguing. “We think of artists as being ‘elite’,” but that shifts when they perform these temporary services for us, she said.

All told, 45 artists like Parker and Efremoff were exhibiting in the SERA salon and adjacent buildings.

Now that Open Studios has concluded, Helen Kauder, who heads ArtSpace and Open Studios, said she hopes to keep making use of the space urban-renewal left behind by linking working New Haven artists and possibly writers with the students of Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School across College Street. (Read about that in this article.)

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posted by: Pinelands Mary on October 11, 2010  8:53pm

Would have appreciated seeing more coverage of the other artists who participated.