Juliana Huxtable and Tongue in the Mind

Harry Burke

June 7, 2023
National Sawdust, New York

As a teenage indie fan, I spent countless hours on peer-to-peer file sharing platforms like LimeWire and Kazaa, and later blogs and MySpace pages, on which I discovered bands like the Velvet Underground, Boredoms, and Gang Gang Dance. Each products of art scenes, these acts not only soundtracked my adolescence but, by showing me alternative ways of listening and living, sparked my curiosity for contemporary art.

In their New York City debut at National Sawdust early last month, Tongue in the Mind forged a novel branch in the art-rock lineage. The project follows almost ten years of collaborations between artist Juliana Huxtable and multi-instrumentalist Joe Heffernan, also known as Jealous Orgasm, who are joined by DJ and producer Via App on electronics. Huxtable’s art practice spans creative registers, and muses on themes including furry fandom and the psychedelic edges of queer desire. An acclaimed DJ, her inventive sets defy genre and expectations, whether she’s playing Berghain or the basement of a bar. Tongue in the Mind synthesizes these pursuits, and evidences the trio’s musical and artistic maturation.

The performance was the finale of “Archive of Desire,” a week-long ode to the Alexandrian poet Constantine P. Cavafy (1863–1933), programmed by the Onassis Foundation. Cavafy’s forthright writing offers a window into gay life at the turn of the twentieth century, in modernist verse peppered with occasionally sublime Augustan symbolism. His voice is a fitting precursor to Huxtable’s own poetry, which is by turns comic and carnal, lucid and ludic, and marked by a daring precision.

“TRAIN,” the opening track, featured Heffernan on grand piano. His waltzing riff merged a classical timbre with a show tune swing, as Huxtable’s spoken lyrics, filtered through delay and echo effects, climaxed into the melodious reprise of “oh sweet one, you!” A couple of songs later, Heffernan was shredding doomy, unresolved chords on a star guitar embossed with imitation diamonds. “Didn’t really mean to act like, feel like, act like, do all that,” crooned Huxtable, dipping her shoulders to a driving, stadium-sized beat. The outfit’s virtuosity invoked the studied expertise of avant-gardists like Ben Patterson, the iconoclastic Fluxus co-founder, and the outside-the-box flair of jazz experimentalists Sonny and Linda Sharrock.1

“Pretty Canary,” forthcoming on Bill Kouligas’s imprint PAN this summer, is a nearly seven-minute-long psych-rock gem. Half-rhyming lyrics (“pretty canary, color of cherry, in my garden blue”) paint a picture of innocence lost to a surreal suburbia of “a stripper pole from Walmart” and “Buckcherry and a fucked-up tattoo.” Heffernan’s drums rap-tap breathlessly in the song’s first half, and crescendo into thudding kicks and thundering cymbals toward its end, as Huxtable choruses: “It lost its shield and fluttered and squealed and now it won’t stop laughing!”

By “in a manner of speaking,” the audience was rapt as Huxtable, backed by Via App’s upbeat synths, moaned and gasped into the microphone, exploring the membrane between speech and sound. There were echoes of a young Morrissey’s wit and range, meanwhile, in “Piss Poor Taste,” with its outrageous refrain: “Mocking the piss poor taste I displayed in letting you fuck my face.” The track’s transition from a sparse, reverberating ballad to a glam, hell-for-pleather rock-out was gorgeous.

Huxtable has observed that art permits her “to pull people into a more focused world” than some of her other endeavors, like nightlife or writing.2 Listening to Tongue in the Mind, it’s tempting to conclude that rock music—extravagant, ephemeral, and emotive—offers even richer means for worldbuilding. Yet this betrays the full scope of the band’s vision. The late feminist philosopher María Lugones praised the value of traveling between worlds, a practice that, she posited, is the foundation of “loving perception” and coalition.3 Tongue in the Mind gives sonic form to this notion, modeling the rare gift of innovation without assimilation.


Huxtable has expressed her deep admiration for Linda Sharrock. See Juliana Huxtable, “Praise Poem for Linda,” This Woman’s Work: Essays on Music, eds. Kim Gordon and Sinéad Gleeson (New York: Hachette Books, 2022), 41–58.


Caroline Busta and @LILINTERNET, “Juliana Huxtable on zoosexuality, furries, and the fetishization of outrage,” Art Basel (2018), https://www.artbasel.com/news/juliana-huxtable-project-native-informant-art-basel-hong-kong.


María Lugones, Pilgrimages = Peregrinajes: Theorizing Coalition against Multiple Oppressions (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003), 59.

Music, Performance
Sound Art

Harry Burke is an art critic and a PhD candidate in art history at Yale University, New Haven.

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National Sawdust
June 7, 2023

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