The View From 32


JULY 20, 2007  

Ingenuity, Day Two

Beat the Donkey

First stop was to hear Beat the Donkey on the Main Stage, and they were definitely worth the trip—wish I'd have gotten there earlier.

B & W photo of GhoulardiCyro BaptistaLooking a lot like Cleveland favorite son Ghoulardi (Ernie Anderson, at left), the group's leader is Cyro Baptista (at right). Ghoulardi, a late-night movie host who specialized in goofy stunts that often included blowing things up with firecrackers, would fit right in with Bang the Donkey.

Mr. Baptista plays multiple percussion instruments like a musical madman. The group's music is heavy on percussion with a strong Brazilian flavor. At times it slows down to a samba rhythm but without warning it might burst into heavy metal wall of sound.

The band's members, male and female, are ethnically diverse, but they all can dance. Their performance is great fun to watch and listen to. Unfortunately I wasn't able to get a good sound recording myself—the volume was so loud everything is distorted, and my pictures turned out bad, too. But here, this YouTube video will give you an idea of what their show was like.

Noah Hrbek

Since he is the son of good friends of ours, I was inclined to like Noah's installation from the get-go, but having seen it, I'd have been impressed no matter what. Walking up the stairs you turn and enter a dark, vaguely ominous environment constructed entirely of scrap materials: cardboard, plastic pop bottles, garbage bags, etc. It's as if a whole dumpster full of trash had magically organized itself into a three-room house with furniture.

Refrigerator with door open, looking insideThe bedroom has a bed and a couple of dressers, the kitchen is complete with a stove, fridge, table and chairs, and the living room has a roomy couch...made of plastic cups. What's remarkable is the consistency and craft of the project. It's not just thrown together, but assembled with thought and a keen sense of aesthetics. It's very funky in an artistic way.

TVs of various sizes are embedded here and there, in spots likely (a window) and unlikely (the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, shown at right).

The overall effect of exploring this bizarre house is fascinating. It brought smiles to many faces due to its exuberant use of materials and wacky architecture.

My conclusion after seeing it: Mom & Dad's tuition money (at the Cleveland Institute of Art) was well spent.

Labor Camp Study Room

Desk wired for sound - Labor Camp installationAfter a look at the Labor Camp website, I can see that a simple summary won't be easy. Part of the manifesto on the site is "Labor Camp promotes immateriality: It exists at no particular location, and has no fixed physical form."

I'll just focus on the specific installation at Ingenuity, called Labor Camp Study Room. The centerpiece is an old-fashioned school desk, wired for sound. About a dozen sets of headphones are connected so multiple visitors can take part. Multiple video monitors are on the surrounding walls.

But clearly the desk is where the action is. On the top are wires and sockets from an old-fashioned telephone switchboard. Visitors are encouraged to move the plugs around while they listen via headphones. Different sockets access different sounds, ranging from 911 emergency dispatchers to Chairman Mao's quotations to Arabic songs.

Along the front edge, invisible in this photo, is a row of mechanical switches that similarly switch between pairs of sounds. The result is a sound collage that can be assembled and changed by those who are listening.

The physicality of the beat-up wooden desk makes this installation more approachable than most. The diversity of the audio sources is clearly intended to challenge us to think about the conflict of ideas that make up our world. Does it? Hard to say. Most people spent only a few moments listening, but that's par for the course in a public setting like this.

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