Full NEST syndrome
512 Hancock Ave., Bridgeport
The IRS Thinks We're Dead
Nov. 11, 2006-Jan. 1, 2007.
I made the Saturday night scene at The NEST, down in the industrial section of Bridgeport. (Is there still any actual industry there?) This was an old-fashioned, i.e., think 1970's-80's, loft art show. The occasion was the opening reception for The IRS Thinks We're Dead, a sprawling show that covers the walls and pillars with art. Some of it good, much of it not so.
But even that work that was lacking in technique—and there was a lot of it—had a punkish energy that sat well in the forgiving environs. After all, the NEST has a great big main gallery space. But we're not talking frou-frou here. The carpet was stained and had a few pieces of artwork adhered to it: white tape crime scene body outlines. Artwork was also on display in two other rooms off the main gallery as well as on the third floor. One of those rooms off the main gallery served as a performance space. There was a small stage, informal coffeehouse-type seating, an unfinished wood floor and bundles of dead branches tied to the tops of the stanchions. The light was low and the vibe was artsy aggressive. To add to the ambience, refreshments—pretzels, cheese puffs and tortilla chips—were served by roller-skated members of the Connecticut Roller Girls, soon to have their debut bout.
Floatin' Fred's 3D Art, primarily box assemblages with his poetry, were hung on several of the pillars of the main gallery. Many of Fred's assemblages comment on street life and politics, using found objects with a good sense of design. But this time I was struck by a piece I hadn't seen before, "The Who By Numbers." Floatin' Fred took a copy of the vinyl LP The Who By Numbers and affixed white stick-on numbers in a tumble all over the grooves, leaving the outer and inner bands clean. It was a visual pun that had nice formal appeal. The black and white of the circular grooves was complemented by the streak of rainbow on the MCA Records label.
Mya Freeman's grotesqueries were displayed on one wall. She apparently has gotten tired of hearing this but they were reminiscent of Edward Gorey's macabre work. There were graveyards and alienated children, a black cat with fangs and a white cat with the x's for eyes that are cartoon shorthand for dead. Derivative, I felt, but well done.
Ralph Ferrucci's political art was hung on the same wall as Mya Freeman's works, and was scarier. Ferrucci, a recent U.S. Senate candidate for the Green Party (there were leftover campaign brochures on a pedestal for the taking; Ferrucci didn't win) isn't subtle. But then, neither are imperialist wars and the ravages of globalization. And he has enough technique to carry it off. For starters, there is his provocative portrait of President Bush—looking clueless—superimposed over a backwards Nazi swastika. Among this crowd, the reaction is pretty matter-of-fact. But in less bohemian haunts, and in times still recent when Bush's approval ratings weren't scraping the low 30's, the picture stirred up genuine rage.
Ferrucci's "In Memory of Carlo Guiliano" is a tribute to the young anarchist killed by security forces during July, 2001 anti-globalization protests in Genoa, Italy. The box assemblage has a blow-up of the horrific photo of Guiliano lying dead on the street in a pool of his own blood. The image is crossed by police line tape. On the bottom of the box, toy soldiers fan out in a defensive perimeter in front of the image. We view the image through two pieces of plexiglas. The front plexiglas is etched with a map of the world and the one behind it is etched with corporate logos.
Ferrucci similarly approached two recent efforts, "Declare Your Independence" and "Freedom." Each have a background dripped paint American flag motif. With "Independence," the foreground Plexiglas panel was painstakingly etched by Ferrucci with a dremel, tracing the tight calligraphy of the Declaration of Independence. "Freedom" features an etched transcription of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech.
I also enjoyed Kim Mikenis' art, displayed on a number of pillars in the main gallery. Mikenis creates drawings, paintings, collages, shadowbox dioramas and soft sculptures that look like sketches for children's books. They are whimsical without being cloying. A good corner of the room was taken up by Tony "Baloney" Juliano's merchandising. Juliano has a way with blunt visual puns, plundering pop culture and art history for inspiration to create cartoon imagery like "Starry Eminent Domain," in which a wrecking ball, highway cloverleaf and the McDonalds' golden arches have taken over Van Gogh's famous painting. David Marshall's paintings of a guy with a spilling cup of coffee for a head, on the other hand, are a one-joke shtick. I get it. Some folks really love their coffee.
There were literally dozens of artists showing work throughout the various rooms. Strong technique was at a premium. The emphasis was on attitude, angst and anger, all of which have their place and this place is a pretty good one.
While the show continues until the first of next year, the opening was an event, featuring a number of musical acts in the performance space and the aforementioned Connecticut Roller Girls. When I arrived, New Haven Advocate Arts Editor Christopher Arnott was performing solo with a ukelele, on and occasionally in front of the makeshift stage. Arnott has a wispy voice and was singing without a microphone so folks had to get close to really hear it. It was a charmingly shambling performance, punctuated by lively demands on Arnott's attention by his young daughters Mabel and Sally. He has no future singing opera or death metal.
Wild Bill Firehands followed, putting on a high energy show. He banged on a keyboard or cranked out guitar chords and solos on a Les Paul to taped backing tracks.
The capper of the evening for me was F-THNDR (pronounced "F Thunder"). The group consisted of about a dozen or so college age performers, most of them dressed in outlandish homemade costumes. It was more performance art than music. They pounded on percussion instruments, chanted angrily, created a ruckus. It was all pretty exciting and amusing when they were doing it in the dark performance room. But after doing several pieces, or songs or whatever you want to call them, they marched into the main gallery. There, they continued the cacophonous hubbub, chanting and yelling, drumming and running around in circles, tackling each other. It was Dadaist—absurd, assaultive—and it exploded through the boundary between performers and audience. When they were done—the act finally petering out in exhaustion—they left behind bemused smiles and a clutter of broken drums and dented cymbals.