By Gene McHugh
Scratch the surface of Baltimore, an American city best known for high homicide rates and crab cakes, and you might get a whiff of the schizo, silly perversion that camp auteur John Waters famously captured in celluloid. A case in point is the music festival Whartscape, the Wham City art collective's freak-power counterpoint to the city of Baltimore's annual crafts 'n corndogs festival, Artscape.
In this, the festival's third year of operation, Whartscape has adopted a wider angle lens, expanding the lineup to 77 bands, playing over 4 days and nights, in legally secured venues. This expansion of the festival can most likely be seen as a result of the "Baltimore's got a cool scene" meme that has spread as far into the mainstream as Rolling Stone Magazine who declared that, indeed, Baltimore does the have the "Best Scene" (of 2008, anyway). Given the hype, it might seem tempting to enter into this "scene" with a skeptical eye, however, this year's Whartscape still felt like a somewhat unexploited, cozy family affair.
To give an example of how things basically go down: Baltimore singer and performer Lizz King impromptu danced while donning a shabby tiger mask during the Creepers set; the Creepers are a Baltimore band featuring Adam Endres from the Baltimore band Blood Baby and Blood Baby also features Kevin O'Meara from the Baltimore band Videohippos; the other member of the Creepers is Connor Kizer who is in the Baltimore band Santa Dads with Joshua Kelberman who's the brother of Baltimore comic artist Dina Kelberman, who worked at a Baltimore movie theatre with Victoria from the Baltimore band Beach House and went to college with, respectively, Dan Deacon and the visual artist Jimmy Joe Roche.
Joshua Kelberman from Santa ...
Bloomberg Tower, the headquarters of New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg's global business news and information corporation, Bloomberg LP, is a sleek, glass and curved steel skyscraper in midtown Manhattan which forgoes cubicles and executive offices for an ostensibly non-hierarchical and sans-wall flow of physical and digital information. As an allegory for globalized information dispersion, this opening-up of interior space reflects the much-discussed contradictions of globalization, itself. Since the building's completion in 2005, the downtown art nonprofit, Art in General, has partnered with Bloomberg LP to produce five contemporary art exhibitions that reflect on this space as well as the model of business practice that it nurtures. The current iteration of the partnership, entitled ONLY CONNECT, features work by artists Larry Bamburg, Tom Kotik, Heather Rowe, Mafalda Santos and Patrick Tuttofuoco that, according to curator Cecilia Alemani, "infiltrate" Bloomberg Tower and offer alternative "systems of communication and exchange that rely on basic materials, fragile geometries or simple, sometimes even natural forms." Given the overwhelming environment of the office building itself, I had to ask what kind of critique could productively challenge or transcend the complex ideas embedded in its surroundings.
The "nature expedition" is a tried and true exercise in elementary school science class. Assuming the identities of junior scientists, students embark into nature to collect samples of bugs, plants, twigs and sundry living things for study. The artists Pascal Glissmann and Martina Hofflin, working in conjunction with the Academy of Media Art, Cologne, have updated this model, but with a distinct twist: their samples are solar-powered Electronic Life Forms (2004-2007) or "elfs". According to the artists, "elfs are small, analog creatures reacting to light, calling the attention of the observer with their delicate sounds and movements." Isolated in glass Mason jars and accompanied by photographic documentation of the machines inhabiting their "natural" environment, the artists present elf "specimens" in the gallery much like exotic fauna. The set-up falsely attributes these simple robotic creatures with the characteristics of a living being, thus enduing the elfs with an endearing quality. Glissmann and Hofflin explain the underlying motivation for the project as a questioning of "the relationship between technology, nature and humans." The elf installation is currently on view in the "Urban Living" exhibition at Pittsburgh's Wood Street Galleries. - Gene McHugh
The lyrics in "World Peace" (1999), an early song by the Japanese multidisciplinary art collective Delaware, praise a celebratory vision of seemingly disparate cultures finding unity in difference. Jumping ahead eight years, this theme reaches a nice materialization in Delaware's practice with the release of the YouTubeHarmony videos (2007). The Harmonies are four-corner, international jam sessions featuring musicians, dancers and random people talking or goofing around with friends, all remixed into solid, often surprising mixes by Delaware. In YouTubeHARMONY 4 Apple Pie, for example, Liz Luttinger plays a dreamy melody on a Casio SK-10 in the lower left corner while YouTube user paulagloria gently talks us through the process of making her mother's apple pie in the upper left. Another user, holaitsmak, demonstrates some ballet pointe work in the upper right while Peahix demonstrates the functionality of an early beat box in the lower right. As the mix progresses, Delaware insert a couple more ballet dancers, Sean Ray's banjo picking, and the duo of Ichi and Ichi's sister playing the Beatles. The most effective element of Apple Pie and all of the Harmonies, however, is the detachment of the audio from each visual component. As the audio plays at the originally recorded speed, the video drastically slows down, rendering the visuals as something like ghostly mnemonics for personal histories. The overall impact of the videos serve to abstract each individual component into a larger whole, aptly echoing Delaware's call for world unity. - Gene McHugh
The LilyPad Arduino
Demonstration of a shirt made with a mounted motion-responsive LilyPad
At first glance, it would seem that wearable computing and traditional craft operate in distinctly different realms of cultural production. However, Leah Buechley, a University of Colorado at Boulder PhD student working with the Craft Technology Group, bridges this gap by taking a homemade approach to the use of computation in clothing or jewelery. The LilyPad Arduino Kit allows for the construction of simple, but aesthetically innovative, computational jewelery made out of the environmentally responsive open source platform known as Arduino. According to Buechley's site, the LilyPad is "designed to empower novices to work with electronic textiles. Using the kit, you can build your own soft interactive clothing." Along with the necessary tools, the kit also includes a highly instructive tutorial that will provide those without a strong background in technology with the know-how to build their own arduino and apply it to their projects. Leah Buechley will lead a lesson on the LilyPad Arduino at Mediamatic's Designing Wearable Hybrids workshop from February 19-21 at Mediamatic, Amsterdam. - Gene McHugh