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Review: Dina Martina 

The Seattle performance artist/drag queen and the “pathetic aesthetic"

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Photo by David Belisle

The "pathetic aesthetic" was a short-lived but influential art movement of the 1990s, with artists like Cary Leibowitz and Mike Kelley presenting sad, soiled, inept works that commented on the creator's lack of self-esteem and skill. Kelley's stuffed animals and sock puppets became famous (one was used on the cover of the Sonic Youth album Dirty), while Leibowitz created poorly lettered signs with messages like "SORRY, I HAD BROCCOLI FOR LUNCH."

  To the pathetic-aesthetic tradition, add Dina Martina (the creation of Seattle performance artist Grady West), a performer completely without singing or dancing talent and whose between-show patter is best defined as "stream of unconsciousness." (Her own website describes her as a "tragic singer, horrible dancer and surreal raconteur.") Though Dina has existed for nearly 20 years, her show last week at One Eyed Jacks was her first appearance in New Orleans. ("New Orleans has a beautiful Radio Shack!" she tweeted upon arrival. "Someone's going shopping tomorrow!")

  Songs? She had 'em, but how they were chosen was a mystery, like the lounge cover of The B-52's' "Legal Tender." Some were abbreviated; midway through Duran Duran's "Rio," she announced, "This song is long!" and wandered to the side of the stage, where she ate a plate of spaghetti while the music continued. Then there was her cover of Bette Midler's "The Rose," which set a record for brevity: "Some say love ..." she began, before concluding, "...becomes the rose." (Time: five seconds. Huge applause.)

  Between the musical numbers, Martina rambled about various subjects, from climate change to her house being chosen for an episode of Hoarders. Her lack of felicity with song and dance carried through to her anecdotes; "Seattle" was constantly pronounced to rhyme with "fetal," while she swapped hard and soft Gs with impunity — "gifts" became "jifts." At one point, she described a neighbor family as being "very poor," catching herself and adding, "I'm sorry, I know that's racist." There also were video vignettes, with Martina's head poorly spliced on to characters from It's a Wonderful Life, The Brady Bunch and what looked like a vintage porn film shot on a swamp boat.

  Martina's closing number — a melange of Whitney Houston's "Greatest Love of All" and Dead or Alive's "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)." The rewritten lyrics to the former summed up her philosophy: "Old people are the past," she warbled. "Turn around and leave them far behind."

  Why any of this was funny, much less for an hour, is inexplicable (drinking helped), but it was a riot. Judging from the packed club and the ovation, Martina will be back in New Orleans again, bringing her many jifts with her.


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