Angie Reed at the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, Ohio, Nov. 17 2006 – Jan. 20 2007

Angie Reed, <i>XYZ FREQUENCY</i>, 2005. Music video animation still. Courtesy of the artist.

Angie Reed, XYZ FREQUENCY, 2005. Music video animation still. Courtesy of the artist.

Empress impresario Angie Reed’s performance at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati this November found everyone from sinewy art stars to suburban soccer moms bobbing their heads to the beat of her low-fi electro-rock opera. Dressed in a gauzy space costume reminiscent of the Raelian cult, resplendent in glittery gold go-go boots and bright red lipstick, Reed appeared like a gaudy, interplanetary time-traveling hooker popping up on Earth to deliver songs to Ohioans about the good old days of Satanic yoga and sex crimes in the Weimar Republic.

After her literally electrifying performance, transmogrified spectators filed, Mooney-style, into the artist’s dressing room for some quiet, one-on-one neuro-linguistic programming. I followed them to her door and heard only the muffled mantra, “I am a Cosmo Ho and I have a buzz just becuz. . . .” The Midwest will never be the same.

Even so, the Midwest can also claim Reed as one of its own. She was born in Missouri in 1973, though she soon embarked on a cosmopolitan childhood that would inform her work’s polycultural mish-mash. She grew up in the Azore Islands, Germany, and Italy, where she trained in drawing and painting before studying at the Academy for Fine Arts in Berlin under German artist Katharina Sieverding. While an art student, she played music with the punk-disco band Stereo Total and is currently represented by the Chicks on Speed label.

Since then, this brash avatar of the global pop-culture imagination has pushed her act beyond any convenient categories of musician, artist, or actor. Her Cincinnati performance inaugurated the first full-scale stateside showing of her bawdy one-woman multimedia visions, which revel in black comedy, psychodrama, revenge and camp.

In her first CD, Angie Reed Presents The Best Of Barbara Brockhaus with music for the laZy and not the BureaucraZy (2003), Reed plays a bored office worker who subverts the boss by preoccupying herself with non-work, predominantly fantasies of her own sexual prowess. With the trigger-happy Mafioso in Dancing Tarantella to a Machine Gun and the cocaine-slinging pimp in Gold-Chained Leopard from the Ghetto, Reed spares neither contemporary nor historical subcultural figures, European or American, satirizing their cool façades. In Bend the Truth in the Confession Booth, she invokes a pivotal political moment by playing an excommunicated nun-turned-journalist who escapes Nazi persecution. In Mistress of Grand Guignol, Reed adopts the persona of an aging serial killer who ruminates on her fading glory in the days of the Weimar Republic.

Reed still makes her home in Berlin, which does not escape her satirical dragnet. In Dings Bums Bumst Dings Da, set in contemporary Germany, she playfully mocks street punks who feed off the materialist culture they claim to disdain. With this exhibition, Reed provides clues about each song’s narrative by creating small sets within the gallery space. Using found objects, the detritus of the everyday, she brings a stripped-down aesthetic into the raw look of her music videos and animations, mixing her outlandish characters with a punk commitment to personal expression, creating an exuberant slush of “self” and “other.”

In XYZ Frequency (2005), Reed suffers the ultimate rock death by onstage electrocution. The tragedy gives her the power to time and mind-travel, and the ability to channel different identities throughout the past, present and future. Though her character dies, Reed herself inhabits a perpetual state of rock’n’roll resurrection. She shifts personae like songs in a jukebox but holds onto herself, and always makes something new.

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