The great society at Little Berlin and Basekamp

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Little Berlin and Basekamp, part of my First Friday route, were both you-had-to-be-there moments, something quite different from a quiet gallery visit in the middle of the week.

Little Berlin‘s exhibit, Offerings, is made of works created by small groups of four people collaborating together. The total number of participants at play–71 participants in 20 groups–was pretty amazing. Little Berliners Alex Gartelmann and Martha Savery mixed and matched group members for the most part, so participants barely knew or didn’t at all know their collaborators. Little Berlin, once again, is reaching out beyond their core group and finding lots of new people to participate.

And the Winner is..., by Kristen Neville, Mike Ryan, Annabelle Rodriguez, and Damian Weinkrantz
People waiting in line to vote–And the Winner is…, by Kristen Neville, Mike Ryan, Anabelle Rodriguez, and Damian Weinkrantz

The teams had just a couple of rules. They couldn’t spend more than $50, and they had to share, collaborate, blue-sky, come up with something they might not ordinarily do on their own, and meet the deadline for the exhibit opening. In other words, the task was completely open ended.

The resulting First Friday event was a total feel-good sort of thing, full of bubbling people and some unexpected art work–a free-wheeling, magical moment caught in time.

The voting booth, And the Winner is…, by Kristen Neville, Mike Ryan, Anabelle Rodriguez, and Damian Weinkrantz, is what really turned the exhibit into a one-off event. People stood in line to vote for their favorite piece in the show. The booth is beautifully papered in newspaper pages on which screen-printed blue and red letters and voting-related icons were superimposed–loved how the deadpan imagery and recycled paper juxtaposed with the flag-waving color scheme!

At this moment when American dailies are on the verge of extinction, the selection of the source of information that makes Democracy possible and the use of newsprint in an ephemeral piece about Democracy, makes it seem pretty brilliant to me!

That anyone could easily stuff the ballot box (who’s to know what goes on behind a closed curtain?) was also a nice touch in the city where people are known to vote early and vote often. In contrast, there was something touching in people standing in line to exercise their right to be part of the democratic process. The line of voters threw the piece out of the rarefied art world and into something that felt real and happening. I proudly pinned on a campaign button that declared “I voted.”

Want to know who won? There’s a second reception tonight at which the votes will be counted and the winner announced. It hardly matters, given the votes could have been rigged! But who cares?

Several other pieces stood out in the crowded party circumstances:

Chez Snack Attack turned a mural of a dining room table topped by a cornucopia into a curtained take-out window emitting baguettes and cheese doodles on a DIY conveyer belt. The food chugged out only to land on the floor in a disgusting pile, and while I was there, a hand suddenly emerged through the window, dropping another baguette. The piece is by Conor Fields (we saw him at Little Berlin before) plus Rachael Hoppenstein, Zornitsa Stoyanov, and Lauren Marsella. Oh, the waste! Oh, the gluttony!

A Mae West air floatation vest, sculpted from cheese doodles and a napkin, by Sebastian Leclerq, Leah Mackin, Ted Houtaling and Rebecca Hoenig
A Mae West air floatation vest, sculpted from cheese doodles and a napkin, by Sebastian Leclerq, Leah Mackin, Ted Houtaling and Rebecca Hoenig

The other cheese doodle piece was also a winner. Sebastian Leclerq, Leah Mackin, Ted Houtaling and Rebecca Hoenig apparently sat around a bowl of cheese doodles, then wiped their hands on napkins. Using the greasy yellow marks as inspiration, they turned the blots into drawings and even mini-sculptures. The results are charming.

Legends of the Falls by Daniel Petraitis, Andrew Brehm, Todd Tharpe, Anthony Angelicola
Legends of the Falls by Daniel Petraitis, Andrew Brehm, Todd Tharpe, Anthony Angelicola

For some boys-will-be-boys and girls-will-be-girls-pleasure, two winners in my book were photo pieces–Legends of the Falls  and Polygamist Prom. The former,  by Andrew Brehm, Todd Tharpe, Anthony Angelicola and Daniel Petraitis,  is a send-up of roadtrip snapshots. There are all four guys, except that Todd is represented by his life-sized portrait–a standing paper cutout doll. And the scenery is equally realistic! The ladies,  Liv Helgesen, Liz Thamm, and Melissa Nannen dressed up in Big Love meets prom dress splendor to run a photo booth. The dresses were fabulous and weird and irresistable. You could pose with the gals or without them. Their performance also gave the evening a feel of snap-it-now-before-it-disappears.

Posing for a photo at the Polygamist Prom photo booth, by Liv Helgesen, Liz Thamm, and Melissa Nannen, photo courtesy Little Berlin
Posing for a photo at the Polygamist Prom photo booth, by Liv Helgesen, Liz Thamm, and Melissa Nannen, photo courtesy Little Berlin

What a great social experiment!

And what a different kettle of fish is the second iteration of Basekamp‘s Hegemonic Bar, which also bills itself as a social experiment.

Icons similar to these were used on the scrip.
Icons similar to these were used on the scrip.

Inside the gallery stand three deck-like rooms of different heights and sizes, each one representing a different social class and each one serving a different beverage. What room you go to depends on what scrip the man at the door gives you. I got three “dollar bills” imprinted with beer glasses. Andrea got one with a beer glass, one with a wine glass and one with a martini glass.

Andrea immediately subverted the game by presenting her wine scrip to a young man in the beer joint who was dissatisfied with his lot in life. With this gesture, she made him incredibly happy! Maybe it wasn’t subversion. Maybe it was hegemonic philanthropy! Anyway, he fled the beer joint!

If this piece is judged by whether exclusivity in bars can make a person gloat or feel envy, I’d say it was a big success.

But this was a totally top-down concept, and the real hegemony was exerted by the people who designed the situation. The actual installation told it all–Soviet-bloc apartment blocks came to mind.

As Andrea’s gesture proved, we had a little wiggle room, but no control over the basic structure. Turns out I was happy in the beer joint–I regarded that as the best way to handle a situation I didn’t create. I got into a conversation with Serena Perrone, whom I had never met, and we chatted quite happily. Meanwhile, Andrea took an explore to the cocktail lounge. We lasted until they called Closing Time.

But when I arrived at Little Berlin, with its open-ended cooperative creativity, I felt I was taking a breath of fresh air. As social experiments go, LB was exuberantly experimental.

Offerings
tonight at Little Berlin Gallery
119 Montgomery Street

Tags

anabelle rodriguez, andrew brehm, anthony angelicola, basekamp, conor fields, damian weinkrantz, daniel petraitis, kristen neville, lauren marsella, leah mackin, little berlin, liv helgesen, liz thamm, melissa nannen, mike ryan, rachael hoppenstein, rebecca hoenig, sebastian leclerq, ted houtaling, todd tharpe, zornitsa stoyanov

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