It was a night of one nighters and the piece de resistance was Mike Richison’s Simulsuck, a computer and vacuum-cleaner-propelled video and performance that screeched and hummed as the artist fiddled with his laptop and pulled valves and pushed buttons on the hybrid musical instrument made from vacuum cleaner parts. Richison, a Cranbrook grad (and classmate of Grizzly Jacque Liu), is a friendly sort who explained his multi-channel piece with the audio hooked up to the video and all triggered by the vacuum instrument.
The noise it made was not musical although I consider it music. It had a nice drone to it that was soothing (in spite of the volume) and entrancing. At Richison’s insistence I pulled this lever and twisted that knob on the machine to see how it worked and still didn’t really get it. But I knew a complicated thing when I saw it and appreciate fully the thinking about domestic life insinuating itself into artistic life, and that this was the artist subduing the domestic. (Well that’s one of my stories anyway.) See some better pictures here. Sadly, I heard from someone who stopped by the show later in the evening that the piece was experiencing those dreaded technical difficulties. It’s too bad because it’s a good piece and deserves an audience.
Daniel Beckwith’s deadpan interactive sculptures blew in from Richmond for their August First Friday debut at the new Napoleon at 319 N. 11th (up the hallway from Grizzly Grizzly). The three unassuming plaster and wood concoctions are great pretenders. One is a re-making of Picasso’s 1944 bronze Death Head (Flayed Skull). Beckwith’s small plaster replica sits in a faux (glass-less) vitrine on the gallery floor accompanied by xerox copies of the cover of a 1967 Life Magazine on which the Picasso skull appeared. The eerie doppelganger is hardly an homage, although maybe it is a little. More likely, it’s a piece that calls into question the idea that value, fame or legacy transcend death.
Napoleon founding member Matthew Brett curated this show by Beckwith. The two artists are friends from VCU. Beckwith, who was at the opening, is himself a deadpan young man, but he did demonstrate how his pieces were interactive. At the touch of a switch, one piece that looks like a kind of rudimentary window (wood frame, hole in middle) moved slowly away from me, one little jerk at a time, as I stood there. The piece’s window held two almost identical tree branches — one a real tree branch and the other manufactured with bits of twig and glue to mimic the first. The piece lends new meaning to the phrase moving branches.
What I loved best was a box with an opening on one side that’s edged by two fluorescent tubes and that contains in its smooth, rounded plaster interior a Bic lighter on a stick–that is, it’s a painted hydrocal version of a Bic. The lighter and stick cast a soft shadow on the dreamy plaster and everything is lit (I think) by the bright fluorescent tubes. Whatever it’s about (and this too has an on/off switch and does something although I’m not sure what), the piece is altogether lovable, like a portable, mini-James Turrell box for contemplating, what, maybe how to quit smoking cigarettes? or what a difference size makes (big tubes, tiny Bic)? The box is constructed of lathe and plaster, which reminded me of beekeeping box construction but Beckwith says it’s a pretty typical old fashioned housing construction. Something about it reminds me of a refrigerator, too, perhaps it’s the bright lights.
By the way, the tiny gallery Napoleon is a brand new member space that had its opening in July. The four founding members (Leslie Friedman, Daryl Bergman, Christopher Hartshhorne and Matthew Brett) put out a call for new members last month and now they are ten, said Bergman. Happy times! One new member, Jordan Rockford, formerly of Peregrine Arts was there on First Friday when I visited, and he said their upcoming show would be a member’s show, to introduce themselves to the community and to let themselves all get to know each other by working on a show together. “The basic idea for the space is to have complete freedom to take risks. It is a project space and should be an outlet for both trying out new things within members’ practices and also curating shows, too,” said Leslie Friedman in an email.
Next door at Tiger Strikes Asteroid Tracy Thomason’s pastel fiber abstractions on the walls and in sculpture seem out of step with all the vibrant performance and prickly post-post modern works that are its companions in this building.
Meanwhile at Vox Populi, the community-spirited artist Jessica Gath sat on a low table (it’s part of the stage of the new Vox AUX, she said) and wrapped presents for people and talked, looking serene and Buddha-like while some rap music played on a boombox. I ran into Libby’s good friend Wendy Forman and her sister Gail Flackett who was visiting from Boston.
Gail happens to know Jessica and ran into her on the plane coming to Philly. Small world, no? The ladies were loving the ambiance of the space and the sweetness of Gath’s performance. Also in the space and taking notes was Nicole Wahby, curator for Harrisburg Arts organization. I told her about Angel O (Moore college grad and amazing video and cartoon artist who we interviewed for artblog radio). Angel lives in Harrisburg and was bemoaning the lack of an art community there. These two should get together quick!
Gath, by the way, said she has put the World Famous Secretary on hiatus because she’s too busy right now to do the labor-intensive typing for people on the old Royal typewriter she uses for the job. (The World Famous Secretary performed duties at Rebekah Templeton last year — search the artist’s name to find my post about it.) What she is doing is sewing skirts and dresses for herself out of old coats and other re-used materials. They’re nice and warm she said, and I imagined her living in a really really cold place in Boston where she needs a dress as warm as a coat.
In Vox’s back rooms, people were lining up to screen their videos at the open screening. Nick Maimone was there with his collaborative video with Stephen James, a Cheerios-pour video that we told you about last month. We’d seen the short video at the UArts one-night-only show at the Icebox in July.
Moving along I quickly strayed into and out of Micah Danges’ surfer dude lounge, which provided punch in a real punch bowl, music, and video projections of surfers on waves. It was hot in the windowless room so I didn’t linger.
In the rear gallery however was a puzzling and intriguing enough piece by Lydia Gray and Jim Jeffers that I actually participated in. The interactive piece involved Grey, who was in the room interviewing people and Jeffers, who was available via video Skype long distance from Lowell, MA. I was intrigued enough to wait and get interviewed.
Grey asked two questions — what are you remote from? And what is the best functioning part of your life? Answers were posted on the wall on post it notes. Jeffers got his turn to ask questions after Grey was done. But the connection was a little wonky, so it was hard for us at Vox to hear Jeffers, and vice versa, although he was clearly visible on the video feed.
In spite of the Skype the piece had a low tech, storefront-fortune teller feel to it. Or perhaps it felt a little like they were Beta testing the idea. It seemed a little glitchy. I wondered what they were going to do with the data. Would they issue a report? Were these answers going to be archived somewhere for posterity?
My answers, just for the record. I said I feel remote from my husband when he’s traveling. Where does he travel to? Singapore and mostly Europe. And for the second question, I said the most high-functioning part of my life was my computer, which I thought pretty fairly summed it up. On that downer note, I wandered off to Jolie Laide and home to my husband (who is home) and to my computer, which I turned on to watch an episode of Homicide (thumbs up–we totally missed it in the 90s and are loving it).
I missed the performance but here are a couple pictures in what seemed to be a yellow-themed production by Jacob Feige and William Earl Kofmehl. See video of the performance at the gallery’s website.