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The New World Order of Plato’s Porno Cave at Little Berlin

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March 21, 2013   ·   1 Comments

Kavanaugh, dressed as a unicorn, announced events throughout the night.

By Julius Ferraro

Plato’s Porno Cave: The New World is March’s curatorial project at Kensington’s Little Berlin gallery. The programming, featuring ten events priced at less than $10 each, includes movie nights, musical performances, shamans, acrobats, puppets, fire breathers, interactive structural art pieces, two original plays, and a wild opening night reception party.

The purpose of Plato’s Porno Cave (PPC), according to curators Marshall James Kavanaugh and Augustus Depenbrock, is to explore “economics, science, language, and physical reality,” and “create a mythology for a truly new world,” based on the ethics of Plato’s Republic, the myths of the Mayan Popol Vuh, and other works.

The opening night party, a reception unlike any other, gave an idea of what’s to come throughout March. A number of shared experiences, interactive performances scheduled through the night, involved the crowd in the creation of the “new world.” Elaborate structural art pieces stationed throughout the intimate gallery space were explored, inhabited and manipulated by party-goers and the happy-go-lucky Lords of the New World—monsters and human characters created and played by artists and actors connected to the gallery.

To dig deeper into the motivations and philosophies of PPC’s programming, I held an email interview with curators Marshall James Kavanaugh and A. Augustus Depenbrock. Kavanaugh is a Little Berlin member and Depenbrock is a local writer.

Julius Ferraro: Why porno? What is its significance for you in The New World?

Marshall James Kavanaugh: Gus would tell you that the motive behind “porno” in the title Plato’s Porno Cave is to create something so shocking it attracts attention. I look at it a little differently. I think the point is that everything is porn. Porn, in this case, being a fantastical idealized version of relations between human beings. Whether you’re watching the 10 o’clock news or just scanning through the back pages of the latest weekly newspaper, reality is full of it. Especially with prevalent mantras such as “sex sells.” An interesting quality to this dynamic though is how American culture is attracted to sex but very few people are secure talking about it openly. The sexual revolution was supposed to have taken place over half a century ago, and yet the world I grew up in causes a majority of people to think they are miscreants for being aroused by the erotic. By creating a cave where the porn aspect is very obvious, there’s the potential that the audience may actually have a healthy laugh about themselves and at human nature in general.

JF: You created an alternate currency, and people had a lot of fun trading, spending, giving away, and earning rocks. Where did you come up with that idea? What did you learn from actually executing it?

A. Augustus Depenbrock: A new world needs a new currency. The economy in general has been very interesting lately. It seems like politicians treat it as some sort of big game. I thought maybe we should do the same, and I wanted to crash the economy! It all clicked when we got the idea to stone to death the TV Lord with the rocks. That came to us when Marshall and I took a TV to an empty lot and destroyed it to help me get out some rage and get over a failed relationship.

JF: What can audiences expect from this month of programming?

MJK: So the New World has been created. Over the next month it will evolve. On Saturday, March 9th we had some shamanic performance artists traveling all the way from Chicago to conjure some ritual infused magic for us. The world will get older and less superstitious until it reaches a more modern maxim on Friday, March 29th with Mariana J. Plick’s play Cirque Skeletique. The play is a combination of circus acrobatics and sideshow acts telling the story of a troupe of performers who attempt to survive in the New City where it is becoming increasingly harder for underground artists to do their work. The audience will sit in a circle around the room as a surreal circus flies through the air at the center. All I can say is that the month will only get weirder and weirder.

JF: What’s next for the two of you?

AAD: I never know what is going to happen next. This is the third year for Plato’s Porno Cave, maybe next year will be the fourth. I might be doing a show with our friend Jon Shapiro at the Philadelphia Art Alliance in the summer on Non-Objective Dining. I also have another garden club lecture lined up!

MJK: I’m pretty broke, but my path tends to flow. The Dream Oven will continue to produce its canon of musical performances around the city, as Marshall James Kavanaugh the writer continues to write dreams into reality. My first book, a collection of short stories, was published last December with A Freedom Books, and I have a few collaborations lined up with my publisher Willow Zef for this coming summer. Plato’s Porno Cave may happen again next year, but I’d love for it to become something mobile that can take place in other cities as well.

JF: Marshall, you have worked for a while as an editor and writer. How does that type of work feed into or intersect with your work as a curator?

MJK: My real experience in combining various mediums has been working in The Dream Oven, since 2011, where I’ve created dream exhibitions that combine music with conversational pieces with various lines of ethereal song, sound, visual cues, and vibes, and tons of TVs stacked along the walls. As far as being a writer, which is my main walk in life, I’ve spent the last two years working on a novella titled Pharaoh Quintessential’s Grand Salon. The book is made up of tales of erotica that tend to drift somewhere between waking consciousness and the surreal, so everything makes sense in the context of the story, but when you wake up from it, it all seems pretty absurd. As a dream laborer, I make the environment that these stories exist in come to life.

JF: What do you mean by dream laborer?

MJK: Basically this is a person that through language and other tools creates a dreamscape for other people to walk through. The simplest dream labor would be to read a poem aloud to an audience that is so strong in its imagery it causes every listener to drift along in their own minds upon the landscape the dream laborer’s tongue is cuing. It’s not really a new idea, just my own definition for it.

JF: Gus, could you talk a little bit about your career leading up to working with Little Berlin?

AAD: I trained in landscape architecture so I have always been into spatial experiences. I come from a family of gardeners and love painting so this is a way to break out of that and get more creative. This past September I actually gave a lecture at the Moorestown Garden Club on how these two fields can influence each other. It was great to show my work in this different context. They loved this project where I sold shapes—these colorful, geometric shapes cut up and collaged from paint sample paper—in different cities to explore different geographic tastes.

JF: You two have collaborated before. What made you decide to work together originally?

MJK: The first time I met Gus was at a Word Exchange that I was hosting at VWVOFFKA. It was a week before the first Plato’s Porno Cave at his warehouse loft in 2010. He showed up to my house and didn’t read Bukowski, he performed Bukowski, reciting lines from memory and making others up, standing and moving his body with each syllable. It really blew my mind and opened a door for me in my own practice of reading my work aloud. Before he left he handed me a flier for an event he was having called Plato’s Porno Cave. The flier had a collage of Plato’s head glued to a naked female body. I knew right away that this seemingly straight-laced guy had a madness in him that was something I should get to know better. Living in the same neighborhood, it wasn’t long before we became close friends and started to support each other’s projects and eventually began collaborating on new ones.

JF: Plato’s Porno Cave exists at an intersection between visual and performance art. Can you talk a little bit about how that works?

AAD: We like to think of it as a full experience. Whenever I see a play I always want to go up on stage and talk to the characters. I want to be in the play completely. This is a kind of attempt at that. From sets, to characters, lighting and even food. It is all important to transporting you to another world for the night.

MJK: I especially like the idea of the crowd being directly engaged with what is going on. Whether it be through interactions with various pieces and characters or by standing in a corner braced against the wall having all their senses and the conscious mind overwhelmed. I don’t think Plato’s Porno Cave could ever be specifically called just an art show. It’s definitely a full on experience that lives on through the audience after they leave. How it works? Everything is so bizarre and absurd that the audience can’t help but smile, truly smile, with jaws dropped, back at it.

JF: It’s a unique happening. How do you hope to affect Philadelphia, and in particular Philadelphia’s art scene, with this exhibition?

AAD: Even I never know what is going to happen at Plato’s Porno Cave. It’s like a big experiment to see what will work and how people will interact with it. I think Philly has this huge amount of talent and potential that people overlook. This show is a celebration of that. There is no mold necessarily for an art show anymore and I hope more people embrace that and do what they love.

Plato’s Porno Cave, through Mar. 29. Little Berlin, Viking Mill building, 2430 Coral St. Philadelphia, PA 19125.  A list of the remaining performances at Plato’s Porno Cave can be found here. All photos courtesy of Marshall James Kavanaugh and Little Berlin.

–Julius Ferraro is a writer living in Philadelphia. He has written recently for the Live Arts Blog and posts regularly at his own blog.

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One Response to “The New World Order of Plato’s Porno Cave at Little Berlin”

  1. [...] Check out my interview at theartblog.org with Marshall James Kavanaugh and A. Augustus Depenbrock about Plato’s Porno Cave: http://www.theartblog.org/2013/03/the-new-world-order-of-platos-porno-cave-at-little-berlin/ [...]

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