Jesse Bercowetz and Matta Bua, Hema-Roid 666 (Fist)
performance detail from kiosk, 2001, mixed media, installation detail



While outer space is way too huge for subversive elements, one might say that the last show at Smack Mellon reached its best when walkie talkie signals from roaming neighbourhood kids interfered with those of the artists in the “MIR 2” show.

“How are your turtles doing, Bercowetz?”

“I’ve got a turtle named Penis!”

Jesse Bercowetz’s space pod (in collaboration with Matt Bua) was the perfect example of how the “MIR 2” show blurred the line between work and play, manhood and boyhood. Bercowetz touched on the problems of being an artist trying to establish himself in an uptight art world in which more time is dedicated to “making connections” than to working, playing, or creating (or what have you). Along these lines Bercowetz took this opportunity to change the ways of the world (or the art world). In “MIR 2” he spent his time in boys’ heaven experimenting with water turtles and defending his pod with cardboard weapons. He was also working on a human waste disposal system—15 feet above ground—under the guise that he would NEVER return to earth; only perhaps for a pit stop. Bercowetz’ found objects and fragments were manipulated and randomly attached to the surface of his shuttle, which resembled an ‘80s action toy: Think Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, and Star Wars.

The question is: Once you’ve made it into outer space, is everything really possible?

Entering “MIR 2”, the interactive multimedia group show of more than 20 New York artists, one was doubtful. Greeted by 20+ video monitors, upon which if you were lucky you might have caught a glimpse of Carry Dashow’s performance as a one-woman Houston manning the controls. Dashow’s video and communications system transmitted video and conversations from the space units to the monitors and the speakers at the gallery entrance. If you happened to live around Dumbo you might have even caught the live transmissions broadcast via the pirate radio station, 103.9 FM.

Inside the spacious gallery the highly elaborate pieces hung suspended from the ceiling. It was an impressive sight. However, due to the gallery’s restrictions, the exhibition was fenced in, and visitors were prohibited from walking underneath the space station and seeing a truly bottoms up view of the gigantic mass of pods.

Ambient and not so ambient static sounds by Mead Jones, Tim Spelios and Foil (who recorded their performance on the night of the opening) heightened the experience as one walked through the cold, blinking atmosphere of the space.

The “MIR 2” exhibit acted as a microcosm of the International Space Station, which, in the future, is supposed to replace the original Soviet Mir. As a collaborative effort, the exhibit was a result of what happens when a lot of people come together on one project: they communicate more about communication than content.

Watching the performance on the night of the opening it became apparent that the artists had difficulty communicating amongst themselves, and as a result, they failed to form a cohesive vision, at least in terms of the actual aesthetics of the structure itself.

Indeed, although the esoteric tie-dyed peace sign on Ann Shostrom and Peter Soriano’s huge blown up “Hindenburg” wanted you to think the opposite, the collaboration was more like an extraterrestrial battle of wills than a harmonious working environment.

As an interactive installation, the viewer who wanted to reach “outer space” in order to communicate with the monkeylike “performance artists” had either to wait for Julian Stark’s robotic arm to reach down and pick up a message or rely on walkie talkies, video, and radio transmitters. But still—beware: Words got jumbled and messages got lost, mimicking the complexity of communication in modern life.

Despite the obvious bickering within the group, each unit still managed to enhance the other, and the pieces pulled together as a more wonderful whole. However, this was only under the rubric of living in outer space, be it working, playing, relaxing, or resting in isolation.

On the whole the show in Dumbo provided another intriguing insight into artists’ game plans, in regards to the many and varied survival tactics, that the Contemporary Art world demands. Some pieces were transparent making the working artist visible inside (Ward Shelley’s and Peter Soriano’s clear pod manned by Tulle Ruth), others were more of a fortification. Matt Bua simply avoided any encounter with the Art World, directly or metaphorically, by enclosing himself in a tight silver cocoon.

Even though an open field of opportunity was originally offered to the participants, some of the pieces unfortunately got stuck in the mastery of construction or forgot entirely that every art piece has a designable surface, especially in the case where the surface was all one could see from below. Kanoa Baysa’s luxury lounge was rendered practically obsolete—what good is the seduction of luxury when one can’t even see it?

The most romantic and also idealistic piece of the show was Daniel Seiple’s styrofoam stairway, held afloat high above the other works by helium-filled mylar balloons. His “Spacebridge” literally bridged the other artists’ work, but at the same time stands on its own in a charming, playful, perhaps lofty way.

Sabine Heinlein
Brooklyn, New York