The Multiple Murders of Lady Gilgo
Sex dolls are dressed in the “Hot Dog Hooker” uniform, coated in resin, tinted silicone rubber, blonde wigs, make-up, and a resin cast of the artists face.
“Multiple Murders” Was the inargual show at DUPLEX GALLERY.
May 21 2021 - June 27 2021
On Friday, May 21, Duplex will present The Multiple Murders of Lady Gilgo – the first solo show of artist Jake Brush, and the inaugural exhibition at Duplex’s new Chinatown space, “Ex.” While the show promises to be a celebratory occasion, furthering Duplex’s mission to illuminate young artists’ voices, the body of work therein reflects a dark chapter in recent local history.
A video centerpiece elegizes the Jane Does of New York’s boardwalk towns – the suburban landscape from which its 27-year-old creator hails. At a distance, the setting in which this quasi-cabaret unfolds seems to be a corridor of power – one ruled by a despot gone haywire. Anderson Cooper, “anchor” no more, has left our mortal coil, inexplicably disemboweled and rocking an RBG chest tat. This isn’t your regularly scheduled programming.
Only with Lady Gilgo’s queer arrival – she doesn’t enter so much as materialize via spherical axis, acquiring dimension like a sliver of moon – are we allowed to focus our gaze. Her title invokes a physical place: Gilgo Beach, a lesser-known stretch of Ocean Parkway straddling Jones Beach and Fire Island. In the geography of Brush’s early life in Bellmore, L.I., Gilgo was a place to day-trip and picnic. It was also where, in late 2010, a Suffolk County police officer and his K-9 made a watershed discovery: four sets of human remains, all reportedly belonging to sex workers. This apparent quadruple homicide jump-started the theory of the Long Island Serial Killer (LISK), whose victim tally has since climbed to 16, with several subsequent findings tied to decades-old disappearances.
As this long arc of violence crept to light, the jurisdiction in question was preoccupied. In 2012, a Suffolk police sting operation involving a woman named Cathy Scalia spawned a competing local legend:
“Hot dog hooker offers lunch and a lap dance” - FOX 5 New York
“Alleged hot dog hooker returns to work” - NBC News
“Hot dog hooker insists she just strips” - CNN
Where the news of Scalia’s livelihood – selling beachgoers hot dogs by day, sex in the motels dotting the inland by night – went national, the LISK case has fizzled in and out of consciousness. Reporting new developments last year, the Times called the latter “a chilling lesson in just how far off the grid a person can fall, even in the 21st century, even in the spotlight of New York.” “The most stunning takeaway from this case,” the newspaper continued, “was how unwilling...police seemed [to bring] justice for these women. One senior detective in 2011 even said it was a ‘consolation’ to the general public that the victims were only prostitutes.”
As Multiple Murders throws into low relief, the selective mediatization of sex work and true crime would have the so-called “hot dog hooker” and the specter of LISK exist in parallel universes. But in her carnal regalia, Lady Gilgo forces a reconciliation. She’s sex and death personified. Should we bury our heads in the sand? What would she do without us? She’d probably go on shimmying, vying for our attention like her life depended on it.
- Samuel Anderson