Liz Ferrer showed up to her New Times photo shoot looking like a scary clown: eyebrows hyperarched, flame-red hearts painted on her cheeks, her nose and lips haphazardly smeared with black ink. “I didn’t want to take just another pretty photo,” Ferrer says, acknowledging that people would probably find her image “weird” or even off-putting. That was exactly the point for the artist. “By altering my image, I was reclaiming an exploitation of myself. Maybe it wasn’t pretty, but at least I had ownership over my identity.”
Ferrer isn’t interested in what’s normal, and the artist doesn’t want to talk about all the different kinds of projects she has worked on. The multi-dimensional creator, who is sometimes curator and more often a performance artist, thinks it’s unwise to classify or label.
“Nobody is just one way,” she says, “and my work is about initiating different ways of being.”
The artist refuses to stick to one medium, frequently collaborating across disciplines and getting her hands on as many projects as possible. Ferrer has shown that her identity as an artist is, quite simply, kaleidoscopic.
Her work is driven by themes that sometimes make people uncomfortable — dissecting institutionalized racism or homophobia by forcing people to confront actions that don’t make sense to them, Ferrer disrupts societal norms by creating works in which the viewer “doesn’t know what’s real or not real.” She recalls one recent performance — in which a plate of spaghetti came toppling out of a piñata and one of the artists spontaneously started eating it off the floor — as an experience that “completely shocked the audience.” It achieved exactly what she was trying to do.
“It was an intervention on my colleagues and an illustration of how everyone responds differently,” she says. “No one knows how they’ll behave in every situation.”
Her latest endeavor, Ningun Solicitar Inc., a group of artists, curators, and activists interested in subverting the traditional white-box gallery and art institutions, has taken its practice to a crumbling North Beach hotel. There, each artist has his or her own room and provides an untraditional service to its guests — like intimate services. “For some, that means talking about emotion or giving a hug,” Ferrer explains. “For others, it’s a bathroom escort service, so they’re never alone.”
Charged with issues of race, homophobia, and institutionalized bigotry, Ferrer says she likes working with collectives because it makes the work more powerful.
The artist hopes her message will resonate on a much larger scale. “We’re still so backwards socially. We have to change the way people see the world.”