V. Vale on the Blue + Green BallSaturday night there was a benefit for Todd which drew 700-plus people. Dozens of SRL crew and friends transformed SOMARTS' cavernous space into a shimmering carnival. Only someone who has put on such a large-scale event can appreciate what it takes to pull it off. The result was an amazingly diverse and fun "family-plus reunion" - all for the best of causes. (Matt Heckert, Chico McMurtrie, ex-SRL person Pam, D.A. Therrien & son, Barry Schwartz & tyke, appeared.) Everything got done: the press releases, website, poster, postcards (great graphic design), numerous displays, lighting, signs, installation designs, booths, two bars, entertainment, a DJ, unobtrusive security folk -- the works. And don't forget the booth-minders and clean-up crew afterwards -- kind of unsung heroes of the event.
Follow us as we take a tour of the event - part of the time we were with our friends Naut Humon and Li Alin. We proceeded up a walkway to the right of the large SOMARTS warehouse building (long ago, SRL did a show here). First, there was the "admissions table" smack-dab in the middle of the sidewalk -- run by Babalou, Jill Miller, Sarah Filley, Ami Sun, and more -- these hardy folks had to sit outside for hours in semi-freezing weather til midnight, taking the $10 donations. A labor of love -- especially because they didn't get to see and hear what was going on in the two big SOMARTS rooms.
Straight ahead in the rear courtyard, populated by nicotine addicts, was Kimric Smythe's beautiful "Neverwas Steam Car" which raised $300 selling steam-cooked hotdogs - they smelled delicious. (Yes, the steam car was "reconfigured" to cook hot dogs). It occasionally emitted loud antique horn noises to ensure everyone adjacent stayed awake. Across from it was Kent's Mule Art Car (with cute fuzzy "burros" - one holding a dangling bra?) which added atmosphere, plus the covered wagon provided a little hideaway where couples could "get away from it all." There was a beautifully designed "Blair's Bar" with flame-emitting towers (made by Jon Sarriugarte) on either side -- a good tip could be celebrated by bursts of flame from the towers. This was staffed by Brian / Amy Jenkins and Ellen. Rich of Sciortino Design Group made the vintage-looking bar sign which looked like it was teleported straight from the 1848 Gold Rush days.
In the middle of the courtyard were three amazing "Zen Fire Gardens" - blue flames whirling around in a circle inside metal box stands [by Jon Sarriugarte], perpetually surrounded by people talking while warming their hands. I saw someone blowing on the blue flames to see if they would go even faster. This reminded me of those horizontal water installations where water flows amazingly fast over the edge of a fountain (and presumably gets recycled to flow again).
The first building entrance on the left led to a booth manned by Mark Pauline (green shirt), Amy Critchett (blue dress) and friends selling SRL T-shirts made especially for the Todd Blair benefit. In the same room Marc Powell, Bobbie & Neal Pauline & offspring, and others served blue and green food - all of it unusual and delicious - maybe there are recipes posted at www.foodhacker.com? We saw an amazing drag queen, Frank Olivier, in a pink dress on stilts - she must have been ten feet tall. Continuing left down the ramp past the bathrooms, we turned right to the main auditorium space with a stage and lights to the right. (At the beginning, onstage, DJ Vordo did his loud "thing" warming up the crowd and the room.) Toward the back of the auditorium on the left was the Bazaar booth, filled with all kinds of sparkling items, including Last Gasp book donations - Chris Felver's 9"x12" book of "Beat" photographs looked especially appealing. Michael Dingle and friends ran a small but beautiful little bar across from it (was this another Jon Sarriguarte / Alpha Fox creation?).
In the very back were metal sculptures plus a live music area -- we saw an energetic drummer doing a solo act (also hitting an electric guitar) to much applause; was he Moe! Staiano - dada percussionist (formerly of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum)? Across from the Silent Auction booth, we at RE/Search set up a table manned by Elie and May from France, and next to us Ethan Port of F-Space also set up a table - all proceeds went to Todd, of course. (At the evening's end I worked the table and met a circus performer named Emily who said she had stayed up all night reading the RE/Search Daniel P. Mannix book, "Memoirs of a Sword Swallower" - that was some of the only feedback ever received on that title. Maybe only circus performers can appreciate it... RE/Search books sold this evening were "Modern Pagans," "J.G. Ballard Conversations," the limited edition hardback "Industrial Culture Handbook," and a lim. ed. DVD of Roboexotica 2006 just edited by Marian Wallace.)
Continuing a tour of the SOMARTS building, we went back to the large room behind the stage, and headed straight to a small "Healing" room behind it, where adults and children were busy making greeting cards, collages, and other tributes to send to Todd. Signs saying "Thoughts," "Wishes," and "Blessings" were on the walls; in one corner was a beautiful fabric-draped altar with candles burning. Rugs on the floor, a sofa and an antique chair made for a very child-friendly, cozy environment - meanwhile, everyone was silently working on projects. In one corner a woman was nursing a tiny baby. This room was set up by Wendi Prentiss and Rebecca Cates.
The large room displayed all the more upscale art donations, well-lit, and collectors were making their bids, sipping cocktails, and talking to artists. Beautiful, large, full-color blow-ups from SRL shows were for sale, plus art by Stelarc, Lynn Hershman, Eduardo Kac, and many other donors. We spotted a table with a full set of MAKE magazines displayed on a white tablecloth. Across the room sat two beautiful pies (including one of the largest apple pies I've ever seen - it smelled divinely, of cinnamon), waiting for folks to bid on Sabrina Merlo and Kevin Binkert's pie-making class. This room was always full.
Now, because Marian Wallace and I were trying to interviews folks for a DVD to send to Todd and Alex posthaste, we missed a number of the entertainment acts. The only place where it was (sort of) quiet and (reasonably) well-lit was a bench and chair just outside the main entrance. Since it was cold, not many people were there, so we had to keep "recruiting" people to drag them outside. Sadly, we missed a lot of the busiest SRL crew who were making the event happen -- and seemingly, without a glitch. A number promised to "find us later," but it didn't happen. Nevertheless, about a dozen people managed to get documented, so we'll soon have SOMETHING to send to Amsterdam, and perhaps post somewhere with help from Karen Marcelo (and Scott Beale when he gets back to town).
Early in the evening there was a small staff gathering to pause for a minute, arms linked, and think about Todd, whose calamity summoned people together. John Rogers spoke some wise words. These days, it's very hard to make the time to have extended-family reunions - which is what SRL is: a large extended family of creative types working imaginatively against status quo constrictions and enslavements. Seeing all the faces together reminded one anew how amazing this alliance of rugged individualists is, especially in an age where the dominant group unifier is (of course) the profit motive, which is destroying the planet, environment, what's left of non-human animal/plant species, et al. Probably the most noble prophesier of a social model for the future is the diversely-talented, heterogeneous and heterodox "art/science/technology/philosophy group."
In between our videotapings, we managed to see a great 7-member belly dancing troupe (Kyrsten, Kristen, Gibson Pearl, Janice Solimeno & students) who performed to beautiful, unfamiliar music with compelling beats - somebody has great taste in that genre. And what a performance it was, reminding us that both mortality and sexuality are inextricably interconnected. Belly dancing makes time seem immensely precious - we are watching something happen that has happened for hundreds or thousands of years, in little social groupings over the planet. The rhythms of life are sinuously insinuated into an amazing dance art form that forces onlookers to smile and feel certain tinglings up and down the spine. The ululations of the seven dancers excite the audience even more, almost like the cries of dangerous birds.
We missed former Kronos Quartet firebrand/blonde star Joan Jeanrenaud's avant-garde cello w/electronics performance, and probably more performers, but managed to see the f--in' incomparable Extra Action Marching Band do their set, which ended the evening. Now, not that long ago we finally rented the 3-hour 1995 Surrealist epic film "Underground" by Emir Kusturica and appraised the soundtrack music by Goran Bregovic as "the first really new music we'd heard in years that we truly liked." Well, we were at least ten years late in joining the taste-makers who found out first, including Iggy Pop who recorded three songs for the 1993 "Arizona Dream" soundtrack (director: Kusturica; music by Bregovic). We hear that Kusturica's "Time of the Gypsies" also has amazing music, besides being a standout film.
The Extra Action Marching Band started out with the theme song from "Underground" [was it "Kalashnjikov"?] and proceeded to perform a spectrum of our favorite 20th-century soundtrack horns-and-drums music - from Sergio Leone's "Once Upon a Time in the West" to other Italian-Balkan-Gypsy-Latin-American stylings. The amazing female flag-wavers were a sight to cherish in memory, as they undulated and exacerbated the crowd's already-collective ecstasy. Beautiful outfits; perfectly synchronized dancing. The ending was notable for all the screaming that could be heard over the applauding. EAMB are possibly the premiere "real" music/dance group in the Bay Area right now, and probably have been for a long time.
Well, we missed a lot of what happened. The postcard for the Blue and Green Ball (BGB) listed Art by the Flam-ing Lotus Girls, SWARM (Kinetic art: autonomous spherical robots exhibiting complex motion), and a Live Auction of Art, Talent, and Collectibles. We noted that this auction included welding classes from Kal Spelletich, sewing lessons (how to make a bra??), Pilates classes, ergonomics consultations - something for everyone. We noted that Jill Miller was in charge of loading in/loading out, clean-up; Liisa Pine did "administration," John Rogers, Judy Garvey, Susan Joyce, Greg Leyh, Michael Shiloh, Michael Wehner, Nina Alter, Katie Bell, Dan Collard, Courtney Sexton, and many others contributed in their kind. The auctioneers were Jon Sarriugarte and John Rogers. MCs were Greg Jones and John Rogers.
We left with the music of the Extra Action Marching Band resounding in our heads, glad that for a time the electric guitar had yielded to analog horns and drums - instruments which will continue to stir hearts long after reliable, ubiquitous electricity has vanished from the planet (has anyone seen "The Trigger Effect"?). It seems we've been seeing the ascension of genuine old-fashioned "musicianship" and authentic acoustic instrument sounds. Finally, after an overload of easy synthesizer / sampler / sequencer musical building blocks, overly easy to organize/deploy by anyone not necessarily with much "original / genius" CONTENT to express.
Maybe music, like all the arts - like life itself - is getting "back to the basics" in a big, accelerated way. And nothing is more basic than real humans getting together in the same room at the same time, especially when the bond is love, mutual aid, a selfless cause, and genuine (not contrived / for the profit motive) community. Especially when it's a community of professional-amateur, scientist-artist-philosopher-entrepreneur outsiders. It takes all kinds - a real village - to create a real community, and Todd helped draw that "i-wanna-make-a-contribution" impulse out of everybody. He had a gift to bring the best out of everybody he met - and that's priceless; beyond any capitalist value system. That's why everybody showed up tonight. And why everybody wants Todd and Alex to come back soon...
Footnote: "Todd Blair is an artist extraordinaire, producer, curator and teacher at California College of the Arts who needs your help. Todd was injured in a tragic forklift accident in September at an arts festival [Robodock] in Amsterdam where he was working as part of the Survival Research Labs team. His condition remains serious and his recovery long. Todd is still in recovery at a hospital in Amsterdam.
"And if you would like to donate directly to the Todd Blair Recovery Fund via Paypal, that also is much appreciated." To make a donation to Todd via Pay Pal, Go to http://toddblair.wordpress.com and click on "How to Help"- 100% of the proceeds will go to Todd's recovery fund."
Support checks can be made out to "Alexandra Ismerio" and sent to
3828 Alzada Road
Altadena, CA 91001