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Trash and Carry

Group Show As, Uh, Whatever

SOME ASSEMBLAGE REQUIRED: Cooper and Owen Gerus' "Untitled" hangs around Automation Constipation.

By Bret McCabe | Posted 5/31/2006

Automation Constipation

At Current Gallery through June 3

Right now the inside of Current Gallery redefines the word “mess.” Photos, fliers, handbills, posters, pizza boxes, and various detritus covers one wall. Street artists have tagged the wall adjacent with a roiling sea of graffito. Improvisational skateboard ramps and benches offer grinding- and ollie-ready surfaces. Metal armature-mounted mirrors reflect lights across the gallery’s alley onto a mirror mounted on the exterior of the neighboring building. The debris- and impromptu art-strewn bathroom looks stuck in a state of perpetual post-warehouse party disarray. Makeshift cardboard boxes form a disaster-movie set piece. And up-front stands a quickly built tree house-like wood fort. The Automation Constipation exhibit has turned this downtown space into a laboratory where urban decay collides head on with new urbanism. And it’s pretty much exactly what local artist/curator Michael Benevento hoped to achieve.

Extrapolating on his fall 2005 economic development-themed show, Under Construction, Current Gallery member Benevento corrals a small coalition of similarly impish and wide-ranging artists for this lively, spirited re-imagining of urban space. It’s busy, archly conceptual, irrepressibly tactile, aesthetically discombobulating, unabashedly witty, immediately entertaining, instantly forgettable, and constantly changing. The show is more an idea than a well-defined set of “works,” and it’s less concerned with success or failure than it is with possibly recalibrating how the brain deals with and navigates that peculiar environment called the city.

Springing out of the intertwining weeds of DIY culture and pseudo-Situationist theories, Constipation umbrellas all of its ephemera under an idea of reprogramming spaces—specifically the urban space. And in that respect its street art, skate props, and underground-venue elements are more idea-collage solidarity than pieces proper. Andrew Laumann and Michael Muniak coordinated the “venues” wall—see the gallery-provided map for guidance—the smorgasbord of photos, fliers, etc., containing a wide berth of local avantness: images of the Baltimore Afrobeat Society, a pedaling Bob Wagner during High Zero’s Hijinx “musical bikes” event, Nautical Almanac’s Twig Harper, the debonair Jason Willett, entertainment machine Dan Deacon, and so forth. Adam Stab coordinated the adjacent street art installation, his bold gold stab tag marking his territory, to which street artists have been invited to come add to the wall over the course of the show’s run. Benevento himself made the skateboarding accouterment. That almost demolished bathroom? WildfireWildfire basically imported the DIY space Wham City’s bathroom piece by scraggly piece following its final show. A few publications are on offer, including the fiendishly brilliant JV Dangerous Sports Club magazine, which devilishly mocks extreme-sports thrill seeking with rapier sarcasm. Concerts, workshops, and yard sales occur throughout the show’s run. If it feels like the gallery has been taken over by a bunch of young people who are kinda/sorta friends, it has.

What the show lacks in a cohesive, delineated theme it makes up for with some of its individual brain spew. Elizabeth McTernan’s series “Mappings of Hypothetical Urban Wind Trajectory in Baltimore, MD” marries impossibly measurable events—“hypothetical urban wind trajectory as effected by people having sex on park benches on a given night in Baltimore, MD” and “ . . . effected by bar doors opening after ‘last call’ at 2 a.m.,” you get the idea—with urban planning-esque overhead road-map views with little red arrows illustrating directional vectors and density. These pieces are utterly preposterous—but it’s hard to discern if they’re preposterous for what they’re reportedly mapping or the practice of such localized micromanagement initiatives in the first place.

Better is Adrian Lohmüller’s “fecal COMMERCE” project, a written action to get people to think about the how, why, and where of public rest rooms are in urban areas, another one of his beguiling mixes of acute sociological awareness and prankster mirth. And most flummoxing of all is the Spectacular Society Corp.’s “Pity Party” installation. Apparently, back in April the SSC—an anonymous organization, so we’ve been told—held a “pity party” at the Tremont Plaza. Some photos from it—presumably—were turned into postcards (see: the image of a bloody-nosed young man in a red shirt offering his middle finger). Computer printout photos of various infamous celebrities—JonBenet Ramsey, O.J. Simpson, Kobe Bryant, Vanilla Ice, Hugh Grant—are posted on one wall. Standing nearby are quickly painted, rather ramshackle cardboard boxes for two tall buildings, both tattered and in flames with cutout people falling or leaping out of them. An upside-down ceiling fan mounted on an ottoman has a cardboard airplane duct-taped to one blade, which spins the plane around and around and around toward the makeshift buildings in endless implication. Whatever it is, it’s unrepentantly tasteless—and the most entertainingly dangerous pile of ambitious crap in town right now.

Admittedly, what’s going on here is basically the reinvention of some old wheels. But unlike the rash wave of so-called “political” art invading local galleries and museums in the past year—which thus far has yet to produce worthwhile politics or art—percolating just beneath the surface of the show is an amorphous sense of humor and social short-circuiting streak such rallying cries desperately need. Automation Constipation isn’t going to be a crucial moment that precipitates anything as pedestrian as “change,” but the restless minds behind it just may be on the right track to figuring out how to get there in the future.

Lo Moda holds a music/video event June 1. Wham City curates an event featuring Butt Stomach, Santa Dads, Sports Ghost, the Ram Ones, and films from Jimmy Roche, Ray Roy, and Adam Endres June 2. An Automation Constipation yard sale takes place in from of Video Americain Charles Village June 3 from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., and the closing reception begins later that evening at 7 p.m. Visit currentspace.com for more details.

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