December 8, 2021
One in a series of 25 first-person narratives of offense, outrage, innocent transgression or principled affront, in attire, display, speech or spectacle.
THE HATS OF CARMEN MOFONGO
I once was (and still consider myself) an Art Star, a card-carrying member of the NYC performance underground. From 1996 when I first learned about the now-defunct Lower East Side performance space Surf Reality, until its sister space Bowery Poetry Club finally closed its doors in 2012, I performed in upstairs art holes, down-below basements and black box theaters too numerous (and sometimes too torturous) to mention. I was in a sketch comedy group called “The Bondage Theater Players.” I witnessed flames shot out of vaginas and a Jack Daniels bottle picked up by an anus. As the performance artist and burlesque emcee Carmen Mofongo I hosted shows in a corset and g-string, and spanked people on (and off) stage with their choice of a riding crop, cooking spatula or 99-cent store chancleta (grandma slipper). Some of the above was considered quite outré at the time, if not downright WTF. But out of all of it, I think the best thing about that time were my hats.
Oh those hats… created and constructed by my ex-husband, the artist known as Gothic Hangman, they were known far and wide (well, all over NYC anyway) for their extravagance, social commentary and “oh hell yeah.” There was the Holiday Hat with a combination of fully lit menorah and Christmas regalia; “Carmen’s Brain,” which featured a Halloween Adventure rubber brain under a clear dome with signs pointing to its content: Boolean Mathematics, Eastern Philosophy — and Pork. And there was one of the simplest (and one of my personal favorites), a functional bong that yes, was employed on stage.
I carried myself differently when I wore them. I was a magnet for photographers and soon learned to expect being a center of attention wherever I performed/appeared, whether it was marching in (or judging) the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, a flash mob dance-a-thon with the Dance Liberation Front, or simply walking down Ludlow Street from one show to another. Those hats even got me featured by PBS in the documentary Latino Americans of NY & NJ.
But like the first bloom of youth or the cycle of a neighborhood’s gentrification, certain things unfortunately come to an end. In 2013 I had to suddenly move from the apartment where I’d lived for 20 years, and packed those hats (I believe there were 21 or 22 at that point, in various stages of wearability) in three plastic trunks… where they remain unopened to this day.
I’ve done many other creative things since then: I became a storyteller, wrote a book, and still am a solo theatrical performer and sometime actor. And I still love to wear hats. Every now and then, I walk down the street and wonder why no one is noticing me, no one is taking pictures. But then I carry myself like I’m trailing a 30-foot extension cord with a fully lit menorah/Xmas extravaganza anyway. Those hats were a part of me, and who knows, the time is coming when I may just break open that trunk again, so stay tuned!
Photo credits (top to bottom): Gordon Balkcom/Dan Mayers/Tom Tenney/Larry DesGaines
PROJECT:OBJECTIONABLE: INTRODUCTION by Adam McGovern | Adrienne Crew on MAKIN’ BACON | Lynn Peril on BABY’S FIRST ASHTRAY | Lisa Levy on TOILETTE-À-TÊTE | Maria Swisher on STEALING GENIUS | Oliver Baer on CTHULHU SEX MAGAZINE | Yelena Tylkina on A DRINK TO DEATH | Elke Claus on URINAL SHRINE | Jeff Lewonczyk on SUSPENDERS OF DISBELIEF | Jenn Mehm on TWIN SKIN | Marlon Stern Lopez on SOUVENIR OF THE LAPD | Lauren Curtis on NAILED IT! | Josh Glenn on K-TEL TRUCKER TAPE | Fran Pado on THE BRIEF LIFE OF FRANCES POTTER | Nikhil Singh on HASHTAG FASHIONPOLICEPROBLEMS | Adam McGovern on PERSONA NON GRATA | Crystal Durant on LICENSE TO SHOCK | Dean Haspiel on DIRTY DOORKNOB | Justin J Bowen on UNKLE KRAMPUS | Annie Nocenti on STICKY FINGERS | Michele Carlo on THE MANY HATS OF CARMEN MOFONGO | Alice Meichi Li on BEDTIME FOR CATWOMAN | Whitney Matheson on GYNECOLOGICAL GOODFELLA | Ran Xia on PROJECT GREENCARD | Mimi Lipson on MEIN KITSCH | Art Wallace on ELECTRIC KOCH.
MOVIE OBJECTS: INTRODUCTION | Ramona Lyons on EYE OF THE SERPENT (CONAN THE BARBARIAN) | Faythe Levine on BEDKNOB (BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS) | Gerald Peary on CUP OF COFFEE (THE BIG HEAT) | Christopher Orr on TOM’S HAT (MILLER’S CROSSING) | Lynn Peril on TRANSISTOR RADIO (DR. STRANGELOVE) | & 20 MORE.
LOST OBJECTS (vol. 2): INTRODUCTION | Joe Yonan on MACRAMÉ ART (ill. Theo Ellsworth) | Ben Katchor on LUCITE CARRYING CASE | Debbie Millman on GLASS POODLE | Lydia Millet on ROCKY HORROR NOVEL (ill. Berta Valló) | Ben Greenman on WARHOL CAN (ill. Clara Selina Bach) | & 20 MORE.
FETISHES: INTRODUCTION | Josh Foer on DEATH MASK | Beth Lisick on MURDERED-OUT KFC BUCKET | Christina Couch on LEECH ACTION FIGURE | Kenneth Goldsmith on THEWLIS SOCK | Abby Rapoport on MAGNATILES | & 20 MORE.
FOSSILS: INTRODUCTION | Allegra Huston on SKATAWAY JACKET | Kevin Obsatz on HOMEMADE NUNCHUKS | Ian Bogost on DESKTOP TELEPHONE | Jeff Lewonczyk on CHA-CHA JACKET SCRAP | Kelly Horan on VOLVO KEY | & 20 MORE.
FLAIR: INTRODUCTION | Cliff Kuang on ROLEX DATEJUST | Ethan Zuckerman on LAPTOP STICKERS | Ann Shoket on LEATHER JACKET | Kembrew McLeod on KEMBREW MERCH | Paola Antonelli on MERMAID TEARS | & 20 MORE.
LOST OBJECTS (vol. 1): INTRODUCTION | Kate Bernheimer on MULLET WIG (ill. Amy Evans) | Dan Piepenbring on COLOGNE (ill. Josh Neufeld) | Doug Dorst on STRATOCASTER (ill. John Holbo) | Paul Lukas on VANILLA BEAN (ill. Allison Bamcat) | Mimi Lipson on DODGE DART (ill. Mister Reusch) | & 20 MORE.
ILLICIT OBJECTS: INTRODUCTION | Kio Stark on PEEPSHOW TOKEN | Sari Wilson on TOMBSTONE PARTS | Annalee Newitz on CAR-BOMB REMNANT | Tito Bottitta on MOONINITE DEVICE | Eric Bennett on DIRTY MAGAZINE | & 20 MORE.
TALISMANIC OBJECTS: INTRODUCTION | Veda Hille on CROCHET SHEEP | Gary Panter on DINOSAUR BONES | Jami Attenberg on SELENITE CRYSTAL | Annie Nocenti on MINIATURE DICE | Wayne Curtis on CLOCK WINDING KEY | & 20 MORE.
POLITICAL OBJECTS: INTRODUCTION | Luc Sante on CAMPAIGN PAMPHLETS | Lydia Millet on PVC POLAR BEAR | Ben Greenman on MATCHBOX CAR | Rob Baedeker on PRESIDENTS PLACEMAT | L.A. Kauffman on WHEATPASTE POSTER | & 20 MORE.
ALSO SEE: PROJECT:OBJECT homepage | POLITICAL OBJECTS (1Q2017) | TALISMANIC OBJECTS (2Q2017) | ILLICIT OBJECTS (3Q2017) | LOST OBJECTS vol. 1 (4Q2017) | FLAIR (2Q2018) | FOSSILS (4Q2018) | FETISHES (2Q2019) | LOST OBJECTS vol. 2 (4Q2019) | MOVIE OBJECTS (2Q2020) | SEMIO OBJECTS (2Q2021) | SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS (cross-posted from Significant Objects website). ALSO SEE: SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS website | LOST OBJECTS (Hat & Beard Press, 2022) | SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS collection, ed. Rob Walker and Josh Glenn (Fantagraphics, 2012) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY, ed. Josh Glenn (Princeton Architectural Press, 2007) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY excerpts.