Abby Hertz - LUST NYC
"It’s kind of like a potato print, but with the vulva".
A few weeks ago I attended a party like no other. The LUST NYC Event, held at The House of Yes, was billed as a party where "theater, fantasy and the erotic meet". (You can read the article I collaborated on for The Bushwick Daily here.) The night was like a Roman Bacchanal with food eaten off of models, fetish perfomance-art and a rooftop hot tub. Just another Thursday night for Ms Darling....
A week or two after the party, I became curious about the enigmatic Ms Hertz - the curator/producer of the event, so I tracked her down for an interview. I have to admit, when she invited me over for a coffee, I was expecting a shirtless Adonis-type to answer the door and usher me into a dungeon, where she would be waiting on a throne eating a bunch of grapes. When I showed up however, it was only Abby, smiling sweetly, hair loosely placed over one shoulder, welcoming me into her cosy apartment in Bushwick.
Abby Hertz: I started performing when I was 18. I was more of a fetish performer/performance artist. Mainly the performances were about female sexuality, erotism and feminist pieces. When I went to grad school, I met my now ex-husband who was a fire performer. We started performing fire together. We created a fire entertainment company called Flambeaux Fire and I did that for eight years. We travelled the world doing fire shows. Then I started my own company called AHZ Concepts three years ago. This was more art based, more for art-collector-type clients that didn’t really fit into the Flambeaux Fire brand. They were more my people - I have a Bachelors in Art History - and the contracts were being done under Flambeaux Fire - so I realized I needed to start my own company.
Ruthie Darling: How did you come up with the LUST concept?
AH: In my early 20's I had seen a video of Hunter Reynolds and Chrysanne Stathacos 1992 performance piece "The Banquet" that took place at Thread Waxing space in SoHo. The performance had a naked man eating food off of him and was an homage to Meret Oppenheim's 1959 "Cannibal Feast. So it does have an art background. I expanded upon that. I wanted to turn it into a giant event and feast. A little fetish based, but mostly erotic.
RD: How did you get into the fetish scene?
AH: Just by being a freak.
RD: Fair enough.
AH: Ha, I don’t really know how to answer that. I’d been practicing that in my private life, but I was at an art salon in Orlando, where I lived for five years, and there was a group of women who had just started a fetish performance troupe. I was 21. We started started doing fetish performances every Tuesday night at a club in downtown Orlando.
RD: Are you from Florida?
AH: No, actually I was born in Muncie, Indiana. I moved to Minneapolis-St Paul when I was 8.
RD: What brought you to New York?
AH: I always knew I wanted to live in New York, but when I finished undergrad I was given a grant to go to grad school based on the work I had done for my degree. I created a pop-up gallery on campus because we didn’t have an art gallery.
RD: So you’ve always been a bit of an entrepreneur?
AH: Yeah, I didn’t know how to finish undergrad because I had run out of money, so I had to think fast. I first applied to be the building manager at the Campus Centre and when I got the job I turned the centre into an art gallery. I then applied for a grant from the school to create monthly theme-shows and art openings with food, DJs and performances. Most of my work is based on art history or visual art. It is heavily curated.
RD: How did you have the self-confidence to do this? I know LUST has been running for several years and you’ve no doubt honed your skills over time, but throwing up an entire art gallery as an undergrad - that takes guts no?
AH: Necessity. I was living out of my car. I was homeless. If I had been a rich kid, I probably would have been a lot more meek, but when you’re trying to survive you have to be pretty innovative.
RD: Yes. Although if I were trying to survive as a homeless woman, I think I would have just applied to the nearest minimum wage job, but you said, “I can do way better than that.”
AH: It’s all I know how to do. I looked different. I had a bunch of facial piercings and pink hair. I wasn’t very hirable. One of my professors put me up for a Getty Award, which I won and that enabled me to go to grad school. I hadn’t planned on continuing my education - I was the first person in my family to even go to college. I thought grad school was for fancy-pants people.
RD: Who comes to the LUST parties?
AH: It’s often a really wide audience. The first party was on Valentine’s day, so people were spending more money than they might normally, which meant we had some lower-income guests who were treating their partners to the event. It was fun for me to combine people from different socio-economic backgrounds and have them share in the experience together. I really get off on that. We had a sanitation worker and his wife from Staten Island, we had a Mexican busboy from Bushwick and his wife, we had high rollers from the fetish scene, we has a social worker from the Upper West Side. I could go on. It’s great because a lot of the fetish events that I’ve attended are usually filled with just one group of people from one particular background. Very white, very upper middle class usually.
RD: Why are your parties different, do you think?
AH: I think because it’s not a fetish party, it’s not a play party and it’s not a sex party. It’s more accessible to people. I know a couple of people did end up having sex at the last party, but they were thrown out.
RD: That surprises me. Despite how sensual the environment was (and it really was hot), I didn’t see people making out/snogging that much. It was more inclusive than that - flirtatious glances and caresses at most. Not a free-for-all orgy.
AH: I try to create an intimate, sensual environment without it being overtly sexual.
RD: So, we can’t ignore the fact that, at LUST, the food was not only gorgeous and delicious, but also served off of gorgeous and delicious people. Do you curate the entire experience from food to performer to venue etc?
AH: I do. It’s instinctual. You either have a curatorial mind or you don’t. LUST is a curated night and experience. It’s not a visual art show, its more a cross between performance-art and immersive theatre. I don’t over-organize the night, I want it to feel organic to people.
RD: And it did. At times it felt like: I’m not sure what this is, but I feel that I'm in safe hands. There was a safety net of structure that felt very reassuring somehow.
AH: I’m glad.
RD: Fetish is kinda hot right now right?
AH: It’s very hot right now. I think that I’m more approachable as a producer than actual fetish producers because I know how to draw the lines. I think Fifty Shades has opened people up to the possibilities, but they are really seeking super light stuff like blindfolds, feathers etc.
RD: You are a performer too. In fact I saw your fire show at LUST-
AH: Yes, I performed in three shows - I did the sex magic ritual, the fire show and then I did the pussy painting show.
RD: Ahh the pussy painting - I left before this happened, schoolgirl-error on my part. Can you explain what this is?
AH: Here let me show you…
AH: The paintings I mean.
AH: It’s kind of like a potato print but with the vulva.
RD: Well that’s my headline sorted.
AH: You paint the vulva and then press it on paper.
AH: I came up with the idea at college. I was taking a print making class and I used my vulva to create prints. My teacher was like “What the fuck is that?” I never got good grades in her class…It’s funny you asked about the Pussy Painting because almost no one from the press saw that performance that night.
RD: Ahh. I may be able to offer you an explanation for that. All of us journalists were, at that point, naked in the rooftop hot tub.
AH: The photographer I hired was also gone.
RD: Yeah. Think they might have been there too. Sorry about that.
RD: You know, it took them about ten minutes to convince me to get naked to get in the hot tub in the first place and just as I was stepping in, an employee of The House Of Yes, told me it was policy to shower first. I said fine and asked where the shower was. He then pointed to the middle of the bar downstairs. So off I went, naked through a crowded bar to shower.
AH: I like to create a safe environment for people to explore that side of themselves, in a gentle, easy way, rather than having you walk into a room full of people tied up and being flogged.
RD: What is coming up next that we can attend?
AH: November 17th at The House Of Yes, I am throwing an Alternative Thanksgiving Feast.
RD: Will we be eating turkey off of tits?
AH: I mean, yes.
RD: Are you at a place now where you can pick and chose your clientele?
AH: Oh yes, I often pass on work to other producer friends of mine that run more traditional companies. If somebody just wants a face painter and a stilt walker to smile at a kid’s party, that’s probably not me.
RD: You should put that on your business cards.
AH: Er Yeah.
RD: What kind of parties do you like to go to?
AH: Well, I’m an introvert, so I stay in quite a lot. I like having dinner parties. I like going to House Of Yes of course. I’m quiet. I like living here in Bushwick, because this is where the Brooklyn art scene is now based. Where the kids are. Even though I’m in my thirties, I like to be by the kids - they keep me young.
RD: They keep me up!
AH: Yeah, they keep me up and they keep me young!
RD: You are much more patient than I am.
AH: I try.
RD: Do people have misconceptions about you?
AH: Yes, everything gets sexualized. I could say on Facebook; “I’m going out to dinner” and someone will comment “Oh yeah, can I watch?” If you’re involved in anything erotic, people fetishize you and treat you like a sex-doll.
RD: That has to be tiresome?
AH: It is. I usually just ignore it. I’m a normal human being. I don’t wear five inch heels around the house. I’m usually in my boxer shorts reading Game of Thrones.
RD: That’s probably someone’s fetish.
AH: That’s true. Sigh.
As I was getting up to leave, I noticed some paintings in the corner. "Oh yeah, I paint too".
RD: Tell me about your art?
AH: I rent a space through Chashama - an emerging artists studio. Everything I paint is to do with female reproduction. These patterns are a vivisection of the breast. You can always find little vulvas throughout my work too. Oh and I use my own blood to paint the red.
RD: Wow! Talk about putting a piece of yourself into your art
AH: Yeah I have a vein that I open up and paint with. I’ve used this one since I was eighteen.
RD: Bloody hell. I used eggshell for my bathroom cabinets, I’ve got to up my game.
AH: I use menstrual fluids sometimes, but I’m on birth control right now so, as you know, you don’t bleed as much.
RD: Hate when that happens.
AH: Haha, I know right?
RD: They are really beautiful.
AH: Thank you!
And with that, off I swept back out into the Bushwick sunshine, feeling like I had encountered a local legend. Bookworm by day, Goddess by night, not to mention a savvy business owner. My kinda girl.