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Peeling the cover from capitalism

Performance artist Alexis McKee brings her message to Portland

From Rubens to Annie Sprinkle, T&A has had the power to focus the mind of the art lover. Postmodernism made no difference: Nothing makes a neo-Marxist critique of globalization more palatable than a 24-year-old California girl in a bikini.

OK, she's actually from rural Missouri, but when San Francisco performance artist Alexis McKee does her piece called 'Meet Miss Capitalism 2002' outside Portland's feminist bookstore In Other Words, she'll be making her point in the flesh.

Weather permitting, McKee will set up a voting-booth-cum-confessional at which anyone who shows up can 'declare their capitalist fears, sins and yearnings (on paper) and then get exonerated.'

Her trip here is sponsored by Portland's 2Gyrlz Performative Arts, whose first Enteractive Language Festival consists of more than a dozen disparate, thought-provoking events running through Nov. 29. The performance has been created especially for Portland and for Election Day.

Miss Capitalism 2002's goal is to make voters consider the funding behind the candidates, with the emphasis on 'big corporations.' In conversation, McKee mentions the Bush and Cheney families' connections to Big Oil and is suspicious of the likes of Monsanto Co. and Enron. She isn't only subject to immersion capitalism like the rest of us: She has to do her homework.

'When I hear of a big controversy I usually get online and see what kind of ties they have,' she says.

This means browsing Web sites such as indymedia.org and the CNN for performance artists, Guerrilla News Network, at http://www.gnn.tv.

As Bio Bikini Girl, another one of her characters, McKee has used her assets in performances such as 'Shopping For Patriotism' in which she walked through the financial district of San Francisco last December wearing a gas mask and her star-spangled bikini. She also posed on a bench, legs spread, with the president's declaration, 'America is open for business,' written on her thighs.

Another piece consisted of sealing herself inside a bus shelter ad shell with the words 'YOUR AD HERE' on the glass.

Sex sells. But can it educate?

'The white female body is the most commonly used tool to perpetuate capitalism,' she says. 'Of course, I realize that people are going to be looking at me like É ahuh ahuh ahuh É (she pants lustfully). But I am wearing a star-spangled bikini to symbolize the eroticizing of patriotism that is used as a capitalist strategy to provoke desire to sell product, and the gas mask as a symbol of our culture that lives in fear.

'For example, say some guy sees me on the street and gets excited. Ideally, later when he goes home he will question why he was turned on by a girl in a gas mask. It is all about making people think about the commodification of sexuality and patriotism to promote capitalism.'

To remain a double-edged sword in the war of the sexes, as opposed to an old battle-ax,

McKee stays in shape. 'Sit-ups at home, stretches, jogging,' she says, giggling. 'I'm not a member of a gym.'

She talks fondly about growing up in a trailer park in Missouri with her dad, a 'hippie carpenter activist.' He made sure she went to a good school by lying about where they lived despite the long commute every day. After moving to St. Louis, she fell in with the matted hair set, met people from Food Not Bombs and learned about class war.

'You'd have to be blind not to see it. Talking about capitalism is unavoidable,' she says.

These are the days of the ironic radical, not the angry radical, and McKee seems quite happy. Is she angry at all? 'I'm angry about the state of the world. But it's good to keep a good attitude in your personal life.'

McKee's work shows feminism straining to keep up with our accelerated culture. Another piece of her art involved entering video chat rooms online and holding up a Barbie doll dressed as Bio Bikini Girl to a camera, while typing comments to the people in the chat room.

'The men were just going crazy!' she says, referring to the lewd requests they typed. 'To a doll!'

Contact Joseph Gallivan at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..