Chashama May 18, 2007
At Chashama’s 44th Street gallery, the collaborative team Trouble and the B-Keepers (Sam Hillmer and Laura Paris) invited over 50 performance groups, noise musicians and DJ’s to perform throughout the month of May. Each day, three or four of these acts would simultaneously bombard the audiences with noise, participatory engagements and music from inside a maze—a tight network of folding walls that helped spark a consciousness of installation and performance as inherently variable activities. An historical imperative of the avant-garde has been the strategy of breaking down preconceived notions of audience space and performer space, but Trouble and the B-Keepers’ variation on this tradition of game play heterogeneously distorts art-viewing roles without necessitating antagonism between them. Similarly, by handpicking performers from different creative communities to activate the space, they initiated a creative potlatch that emphasized the shared concerns among them.
The two largest areas of the maze were the front window (with a stage-like platform) and a small back room, about 9’ by 10’, jammed with two large figurative sculptures of wire and plaster. Between these two spots, guests navigated a labyrinth of closet-sized dead ends, blind alleys, and a floor covered in slippery woodchips that perfumed the maze with earthiness. As bodies crowded and dodged through the 3’-wide corridors, the Ohsees, a band from San Francisco, played the back room, visible only through a small section of corridor. The handful of us who could see them directly traded off our spots with those who couldn’t. The musicians invited some of the listeners to join them in the back room, further atomizing the line between performer and audience. Handwritten phrases, appearing in nooks of the maze, expressed this idea: “the knowledge of sound acts as a guide in the maze of names and forms.”
It was not Trouble and the B-Keepers’ goal to complicate the performance experience so much as it was to encounter it from its own inbuilt interactivity. Julius Poirier and his cadre, who concentrated their activity in the display window, were a brilliant fit for the maze. A young man in a top hat named Aaron offered suitcases full of collage material, as a masked, kimono-wearing Lady Shortwave ushered passersby into the maze and Poirier crooned absurd, anarchic ballads. They invited me and my friend to participate (with no hint as to how) and we obliged. We scrawled notes, composed concrete poems on typewriters, and assembled cut-and-paste artworks while droning spontaneous chants from our collective gut. I was too busy making things to notice that my objectivity had slipped out the door. I had come with a notebook to review the evening, which I quickly lost. The satisfaction of engaging with the artists had overtaken whatever distanced observational posture I could take towards them.
At one point my friend was duct-tapped to a perfect stranger, both of them wearing masks. I paraded them onto the street, where we were promptly knighted by Lady Shortwave (who wielded a radio-antenna). As the next act moved into the window display area, the participants concluded the event with a warm round of handshakes and conversation. If anyone was offended, an artist named Jeffrey Joe was on hand with fill-in-the-blank form letters of apology.
By positioning itself as a work/event dependent upon the divergent communities gathered together for it, You Are Here acted as a distinctly configured performance and social networking venue for a diversity of ideas and talents. As a sort of anti-panopticon, the labyrinth explores the boundaries that we often take for granted about where one art community ends and another begins, while advancing the notion that the audience, itself a kind of community, should be stripped of its consumptive role and forced to discover its creative one.