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Czeslaw’s Loop

21 May

The Electric Power of a Drumline or “Everything it’s cracked up to be”

Several years back at a talk at the Walker Art Center, Walid Raad of the Atlas Group was in an awkward situation. Raad was discussing Hostage: The Bachar Tapes (English Version) a project where the Atlas Group used a collection of stories, histories and experiences to create a fictional documentary about a hostage in Beirut as a means of exploring the contemporary history of Lebanon, particularly the civil wars from1975-1993. Raad easily navigated esoteric art-theoretical questions but came up hard when an older Somali man, probably a refugee himself, asked earnestly, “What happened to the hostage?” Raad had to pause, backpedal and explain that although there were many hostages and their stories were bing investigated, the specific person on the screen (artistic collaborator Souheil Bachar) was never actually a hostage, that the character was compendium and launching point for ideas. The man, undeterred and now confused and visibly angry, asked again why Raad was lying to him and the clash of earnest questioning against ironic and critical distance filled the air with a vibrating tension.

Creating fictional characters for art is nothing new (Rrose Sélavy, Joseph Beuys’ backstory as Joseph Beuys) and so it goes with Czeslaw Janecki, the “late 1960s electronic composer” whose supposed “final opus” is being performed this weekend as Czeslaw’s Loop, presented by Permanent Art & Design Group on the Mississippi River behind the Sample Room. Janecki never actually existed and apart from the a plywood board with a poster featuring Janecki’s “backstory”, no mention was made of the late, great, fictional and under-appreciated composer from the floating stage last night during “Act One: Desire”. So why bother with Janecki at all? Because “Completing the work of a lost local genius” is a far more artful conceit than “Marijuana Deathsquads and Chris Strouth leading music on a boat.”

Desire (ACT 1) from Permanent Art and Design Group on Vimeo.

Last night, staring at the crew rushing to finish up the stage covering and the drums getting set up and checked, the point didn’t seem to be about Janecki. So if the conceit goes away, the show was free to be it’s own thing; a group of serious-looking hipsters standing on a rickety dock staring at an excellent drumline performing with dance party projections and electronic loops on a pontoon under a re-purposed McDonald’s billboard held up by 2x4s as brittle and bowed as fish ribs. Although the McDonald’s billboard faced away from the audience and kept the rain off the drummers as the sunset shone through the tarp, it was obvious that it was an ad for an Egg McMuffin featuring the pun, “Everything it’s cracked up to be.”

Marijuana Deathsquads certainly has precedents in experimental electronic composition and electronic oscillation and distortion is a key part of their drive and appeal, enough so to stand on it’s own merits, without an added superstructure. So why on a boat? Because Art-A-Whirl and Creative Electric Studios have a history of boat shows. Why Marijuana Deathsquads? Because they are a hot thing happening now with the ambition to make something like this work. Plus, they did it last year. Why Playatta‘s projections? Because they are a cool thing to have and it solves the problem of lighting the stage at night. So what does it matter? I don’t know. It looked cool and the drummers, with Martin Dosh in the center, sounded phenomenal, the seven of them counting off impeccable time. That specific interaction, stick-to-drumhead, that was the vibrating tension of Czeslaw’s Loop.

Which raises an interesting question about the emphasis on electronic composition in the opus- What does it say about the reach of electronic programming when the most vital part of a composition is human timing and execution? What also, does it mean for an art experience that is supposedly a whole concept when its elements are all so discernable and separate? Within the realm of “capital A” “Art”, conceptual unity still tends to stand as a value- the entirety of the thing as it is, the blending of the elements. Think of the combines of Robert Rauschenberg, the films of Matthew Barney, the installations of David Hammons; combining in art challenges and creates new meaning through context. Design, on the other hand, comforts and makes convenient, entices you in. Good design makes you want to use a product, makes it easy to do so. The hallucinatory projections of Playatta and the sprawling, pulsing, thrumming experiment that is Marijuana Deathsquads are good design, they make you want to be there, make it easy for you to stay. Which is not to say that art must be dour and challenging or that they aren’t artists, because that word no longer carries enough specific discriminating connotations to mean anything other than “person engaged in creativity of some form”, which is neither good nor bad, only an ongoing dialectic and discussion. The negative capability, that is, the ability to exist in the face of contradictions and conflicts is the a necessary mandate of the arts, although in an open-ended creative exchange, a lot is artful, though maybe not always full of “Art”.

Epiphany (ACT 2) from Permanent Art and Design Group on Vimeo.

In Czeslaw’s Loop, for all the emphasis on the musical performances, two of the acts are dedicated to visual artists displaying sculpture and other works based around the Janecki concept and maybe that mode of engagement will bring Janecki to life. Hopefully the heavy rain today doesn’t deter the show from going on, and doesn’t bring down the improvised MickeyD’s covering. Maybe in the end it doesn’t matter at all about Janecki and the fact that artists are creating work, for whatever reason, is the greater value. But if artists are making in service of an easily abandoned conceit, then there is no grounding, no implication, no criticality. There never were any hostages.

Czeslaw’s Loop continues today. Avoid the rain and stream it here.

Saturday, May 21st / on shore / Noon
The Sample room parking lot will be transformed into an ongoing installation curated by Creative Electric Studios. Focusing on the reflective part of the creative process, Act Two will feature sculpture, sound art and interactive performance from artists Sean Connaughty, Ben Garthus, John Keston, and Ostraka Performance.

Creation (ACT 3) from Permanent Art and Design Group on Vimeo.

Saturday, May 21st / on the river / Sunset
Conducted by Chris Strouth (Paris 1919, Future Perfect, Twin Tone Records). The third act will bring to life the completed opus, the pinnacle of the artist’s creative process. Featuring a conducted orchestra, choir, and musicians including Tom Hazelmyer (HazeXXL, AmRep, Halo of Flies), Dylan Hicks, ZacharyVex (Fauna), soprano Maria Jette, St. Paul Peterson (The Family, The Time), Monte Moir (The Time), and Paul Robb (Information Society), as well as large scale projections, lights and motion visuals from Wonderhaus, Dr.Clement Shimizu and the Elumenati Group.

Decline (ACT 4) from Permanent Art and Design Group on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 22nd / on shore / Noon
The fourth and final act will be performed on Sunday afternoon by collaborating artists creating a physical, day-long effigy to the end of the creative process. Interactive performance, sound art and sculpture park featuring the work of Sean Connaughty and Ostraka Performance.

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  1. A Slice of 2011 | Cake In 15 - December 26, 2011

    […] Czeslaw’s Loop: “So if the conceit goes away, the show was free to be it’s own thing; a group of serious-looking hipsters standing on a rickety dock staring at an excellent drumline performing with dance party projections and electronic loops on a pontoon under a re-purposed McDonald’s billboard held up by 2x4s as brittle and bowed as fish ribs.” […]

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