The performance begins casually. Whitney Vangrin is behind the counter at the defunct Sunview Luncheonette diner. She’s dressed like a 1950s housewife in mourning. All in black complete with a headband pulling back her bleached blonde hair and open-toed mules with a kitten heel. She’s over the stovetop, mixing melted chocolate as people begin to enter and mill around the Greenpoint space.
There’s a specter of violence that hangs over the performance titled Chocolate Counter. Vangrin framed it as an ode to artist Gina Pane’s 1971 performance in which Pane submerged her hands in boiling chocolate to confront the public’s apathy to a young drug addict’s death. Vangrin updates Pane’s sentiment, calling out today’s indifference to bodies in pain. She doesn’t explicit say it in the press release, but I imagine some of the bodies she might mean are the black and brown ones cops shoot and kill. The ones we see officers manhandle on cellphone videos handcuffing their dead bodies; the ones whose deaths don’t even get their killers fired. In the wake of Freddie Gray’s death, we saw the latest uprising against police brutality.
The performance is made up of two simple gestures. Set to a soundtrack that includes 1950s classics like Mr. Sandman and the song that Snow White sings as she makes a pie in the Disney movie, Vangrin begins by spreading a thick layer of melted chocolate on the diner’s countertop. She makes a complete mess of the American Dream and then tries her best to clean it up. By the end, she’s on her hands and knees breathing heavily, scrubbing the spaces between the stools and the counter, leaving me with the thought that cleaning up this country, with its dirty cops and dirty money, is going to be exhaustingly hard work.