The New Social Environment#877

Kathy Acker’s The Birth of a Poet (1985): A Play Reading / Reading Play

Featuring Sophia Giovannitti, Elliot Reed, and Ethan Philbrick


1 p.m. Eastern / 10 a.m. Pacific

Ethan Philbrick curates our 146th Wednesday Poetry Reading with Sophia Giovannitti and Elliot Reed

In this talk

In the fall of 1985 The Birth of a Poet premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Opera House as part of BAM’s Next Wave Festival. Billed as a landmark operatic collaboration between prominent figures of the New York avant-garde (with costumes and sets by David Salle, music by Peter Gordon, direction by Richard Foreman, and a playtext by Kathy Acker), the piece quickly became infamous. Allegedly most of the audience left during the first performance and those that stayed for the curtain call booed aggressively. Artforum referred to the performance as “confusingly incoherent” and an “empty Warholian fart of impotent hooey,” while the New York Times called it “a mess” that “fails decisively.” For this iteration of the Brooklyn Rail’s New Social Environment, the musician and author Ethan Philbrick gathers the artists Sophia Giovannitti and Elliot Reed to revisit this notorious collaboration by staging an informal remote reading of a distilled version of Acker’s libretto before having a conversation about collaboration, performance, politics, and sex.

Sophia Giovannitti

Black and white photo of Sophia Giovannitti
Sophia Giovannitti is a conceptual artist who studies the total commodification of the parts of ourselves we hold dear, positing, from a materialist perspective, that there is no way out but through. She is interested in: choreographic failure; money; the ongoing distortion of reality through images and language; autonomy; revenge; the disappointments and casualties of modern feminism; narcissism. She attempts to exploit, transgress, and re-choreograph traditional modes of value extraction from artists. Her work has been shown at Recess, the Athens Biennale, Duplex, PPOW, and the ICA London, among others. She is the author of Working Girl: On Selling Art and Selling Sex (Verso, 2023). Her work exists largely in the through-space of sale, scam, betrayal, and reflection.

Elliot Reed

Black and white photo of Elliot Reed
Photo by Hao Zeng
Elliot Reed is an artist working in performance, sculpture, and video. Their art starts from the body, making a choreographic language through objects, installation, and sound. Using an intra-media approach, Elliot’s projects aim to capture the idiosyncrasies of live performance through physical means. Reed is the founder, director, and sole employee of Elliot Reed Laboratories, a production office located inside the artist’s body, which holds a copyright with The Library of Congress and a Los Angeles County business license. Reed has performed and exhibited internationally, including, at the Studio Museum Harlem, MoMA PS1, OCD Chinatown, and the Hammer Museum, among several others. His text manifesto “Performance Art Is…” was printed in The Drama Review, published by MIT Press.

Ethan Philbrick

Photo of Ethan Philbrick
Photo by Amelia Golden
Ethan Philbrick is a cellist, artist, and writer. His book, Group Works: Art, Politics, and Collective Ambivalence, was published in April of 2023 by Fordham University Press. Projects include Slow Dances (with Anh Vo, Tess Dworman, Niall Jones, Tara Aisha Willis, nibia pastrana santiago, and Moriah Evans) at The Kitchen and Montez Press; DAYS, Mutual Aid Among Animals (with Ned Riseley) at the Armory; Song in an Expanding Field at The Poetry Project; Case at Rashid Johnson and Creative Time’s Red Stage; The Gay Divorcees (with Robbie Acklen, Lauren Bakst, Lauren Denitzio, Paul Legault, Joshua Thomas Lieberman, Ita Segev, and Julia Steinmetz); and March is for Marches (with Morgan Bassichis) at Triple Canopy. Philbrick holds a PhD in performance studies from NYU.

❤️ 🌈 We'd like to thank the The Terra Foundation for American Art for making these daily conversations possible, and for their support of our growing archive.