Pifas is the place to redefine DIY

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As jumble sales and neighborhood carnivals go, The current Pifas Place exhibit (at Pifas, doh) is a bit surreal. But as art goes, it’s a barrel of fun–a mix of performances and installations.

Brandon Joyce, Mini Mambo travel kit, a detail of Joyce's Unique Concepts installation at Pifas
Brandon Joyce, Mini Mambo travel kit, a detail of Joyce's Unique Concepts installation at Pifas

The idea is a Main Street lined with shops. The main street is based on the pre-existing spaces inside Pifas’ building–a pre-big-box big box broken up into lots of little rooms along a circling corridor. This may not be a big box, but, with its haphazard spaces and walls and general dinginess, it’s also not a white box. The space is pure survivalist–Mad Max goes to the office.

Pifas broadcast an invitation to artists to use the spaces as booths or shops. And the list of who decided to participate is intriguing, from Jesse Greenberg (who took the survivalist route with his paper cave, the Paper Grotto Cuddle Bunker) to Liz Rywelski to Nick Payne.

Got a bright idea? Let everyone know about it. Detail of Brandon Joyce's Unique Concepts installation
Got a bright idea? Let everyone know about it. Detail of Brandon Joyce's Unique Concepts installation

Pifas regular Brandon X. Joyce steals the show with his Unique Concepts installation and performance. Joyce makes use of one of those old-fashioned factory office enclosures of glass and dark wood, where he has set up a DIY version of a Sharper Image kiosk. The objects are at least as useless as the stuff in Sharper Image, plus they have a sense of humor and hominess that charms–anti-slick and anti-cool–the duller image.

Joyce in costume as the hyperventilating clerk
Joyce in costume as the hyperventilating clerk

Brandon himself performs, as the hyperventilating, jittery store clerk delivering an enthusiastic spiel about each product as he worries about saying something the boss wouldn’t like. My personal favorite product is the world’s dumbest travel toy–a packing game consisting of a simple wooden box with numerous objects to be fitted inside. (The toy, Mini Mambo, was inspired by Brandon’s own experience working for Mambo Movers–guys who really know how to pack a truck!)

Some of the other products on Brandon’s shelves look like props for a 1930s sci-fi movie. A hard hat topped by a lightbulb signals the chairman when you’ve got a bright idea during that important board meeting. This merging of DIY with sci-fi and retro aesthetics takes DIY beyond deadpan and expands its possibilities for what it can mean.

Part of a collaborative installation, this part by Katie Miller, the other by Audrey Culp. The figures are lifesize (maybe even larger).
Part of a collaborative installation, this part by Katie Miller, the other by Audrey Culp. The figures are lifesize (maybe even larger).

The 30-plus installations at Pifas Place run the gamut. Even without the fog and light show in action, I could see that Ben Phelan’s Cool Devices: Dream Machine 3 is beautiful, a sort of intergalactic chamber for an inner-galactic experience. It is one of a number of pieces with a sci-fi and cosmos vibe. The timing is perfect, 40 years post-Apollo space walk, for Audrey Culp and Katie Miller. Miller’s contribution, the fun-house-ish Observatory, is all mylar reflections with a cro-magnonish space-age couple, the woman with a window into her pregnant belly. The mylar inclubator and figures reminded me of Thomas Hirschhorn’s Cavemanman, but it’s the cavewomanwoman who has all eyes on her and her progeny here. Culp’s blue night sky is celestial matter manufactured of this and that. A lot in this exhibit seems to suggest that it’s better to escape to our dreams of space than stick around the dump we’re all surviving in.

Another part of the collaboration between Miller and Culp, this part Culp's.
Another part of the collaboration between Miller and Culp, this part Culp's.

Pop culture takes on a dark tone in the installations here. Matt Savitsky and Nina Schwanse’s Street DJ videos capture the frenetic and crude sexy sell behind advertising messages.

Jon Karel, detail of his Recycling and Trash Depot installation
Jon Karel, detail of his Recycling and Trash Depot installation

Recycling is a pop culture theme all its own, the true message behind Joyce’s and Schwanse and Savitsky’s consumerism. The highlight of Jon Karel’s Recycling and Trash Depot is the labeled, deadpan table of sample discards. The site itself at Pifas is a monument to recycling.

detail of K-Fai Steele and Lauren Manoogian's Hindu-style PIFAS Temple, a shrine to beloved dead cats
detail of K-Fai Steele and Lauren Manoogian's Hindu-style PIFAS Temple, a shrine to beloved dead cats

A sadness permeates almost everything in this exhibit. K-Fai Steele and Lauren Manoogian’s PIFAS Temple hit a chord with its a communal dead-cat memorial altar, presided over by a beautifully painted dog. The dog, which looks like it belongs in an Asian miniature is anything but miniature. K-Fai, who sometimes writes for artblog, called him the “Doggone.”

Bereaved cat owners pinned up lots in loving memory...
Bereaved cat owners pinned up lots in loving memory...

People took the torn strips and hung their own little knot memorials to their own pets on the opposite walls. Very sweet and heartfelt.

Even Sascha Braunig’s ebullient Solutions photo booth/performance with live models had a sad tawdriness to it. Alas I wasn’t there for the performance, which must have been as glam as it was anti-glam. And the residual materials, which I did see, look like they are largely recycled–but re-imagined and transformed into something wonderful. Plus Braunig captures a cheerful, look-at-me silliness that’s a close match to the kissing booth and photo booth of your average church basement fundraiser.

Andrew Jeffrey Wright showing off his equipment for Tell Me if my Abs Get to Tight, a contest for power-abs contenders
Andrew Jeffrey Wright showing off his equipment for Tell Me if my Abs Get to Tight, a contest for power-abs contenders

As with all performances, you have to get there when they’re happening. I’m sorry I missed Andrew Jeffrey Wright’s abs workout contest, Tell Me if my Abs Get Too Tite. But I love the concept, which gives a nod–or really a no–to the look-at-me culture, wet t-shirt brawls and Richard Simmons. This is such a sweet, harmless approach to body and endurance art without losing a bit of the bite. (I say this in the context of the discussion on the blog with Andrew Suggs re Michael Jackson and my personal aversion to Jackson’s plastic surgeries, to Chris Burden shooting himself, and to almost anything by Marina Abramovic).

The performances and installations run during events at Pifas, and here’s the blog–the best  site for keeping up:

Tags

andrew jeffrey wright, audrey culp, brandon joyce, jon karel, k-fai steele, katie miller, lauren manoogian, pifas

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