Barnstorm 2003

by Eryn MorisBarnstormers

More than 200 connoisseurs of culture from ages six to 60 crowded one of Riverwest’s more unique converted living spaces for Barnstorm 2003, on Friday, Feb. 15. The event was organized by former MIAD students Anne Bisone and Gina Kelly in conjunction with Nick Frisby, a resident of “The Barn,” a renovated rental property at 2630 N. Humboldt Blvd. The historic building is a remnant from a time when Riverwest was just farmland west of the river. The organizers’ motivation was altruistic and sincere: provide local artists and musicians with a place to exhibit while at the same time giving the community a chance to get excited about art in a casual atmosphere. “Galleries are often very selective,” said Frisby. “There are a lot of artists working in the community who don’t have an opportunity to show their work. We’re providing that opportunity to people who are trying, working hard, and receiving no recognition.” Bisone and Kelly curated the show to incorporate visual arts from across the spectrum, and artwork welcomed attendees even before they entered the building. The first part of Brent Budsberg’s genius two-part installation “Treasure Chest,” a miniature wooden replica of the barn lit from the inside to reveal hinges and a padlock fastened to the peak of the roof, stood on a pedestal in the lawn. The lower gallery space featured mostly two-dimensional paintings, photographs, and mixed media work. Two videos, a documentary called “The Making of ‘Good-bye Zombie,'” by Mark Escrobano, and a film and video collage by David Witzling looped continuously on two television screens throughout the evening. One of the highlights in the first exhibition space was Christine Ferrera’s colorful feminist paintings featuring women portrayed in advertising formats. Through a narrow hallway adorned with James Allen’s peculiar altered color photographs was the second exhibition space, featuring three interactive works of art. The first, “Painting for Punching” by Brent Budsberg, consisted of an ornately framed red vinyl mat just begging for a beating. “Bubble Gum Painting,” also by Budsberg, invited participants to purchase a piece of bubblegum from a machine for a quarter, chew it thoroughly, and then stick it to one of three pastel-colored circular canvases. Original soundtracks, available to the viewer through individual headsets, accompanied Holly Leitner’s moody black and white photographs. Janeen Shavers’ raw figural sculpture occupied the last two tiny exhibition spaces on the first floor. Outside, around the corner and upstairs, the attic of the barn featured the second part of Budsberg’s installation. Gigantic wooden reproductions of the hardware from inside the tiny replica bridged the peak of the attic roof. Unfortunately, the “Alice in Wonderland” quality of the experience was limited to the few in attendance who made the connection between the indoor and outdoor aspects of the installation. Perhaps the main attraction of the evening was the scheduled musical entertainment. In rare instances, musicians are recognized as performance artists. The organizers of Barnstorm 2003 deserve applause for arranging a cohesive, performance-driven musical line-up which acted as a perfect compliment to the visual experiences of the exhibition. Collections of Colonies of Bees provided a backdrop to the growing crowd early in the evening. Their ambient, atmospheric sound is a result of the guitarist and drummer manipulating their instruments in a number of unusual ways. They were joined by a mysterious fellow with a laptop whose impact on the music was as unobtrusive as his presence onstage. The evening’s largest draw was Chicago-based band Califone. At first the band’s quietly creeping arrangements struggled to compete with the spectators, who crowded the attic and spilled into the stairwell. In the third arrangement, however, lamb turned into lion and even the most disinterested onlooker’s attention had been harnessed. Throughout their 90-minute set, the five performers kept their hands busy with perhaps the widest variety of instruments and percussion devices ever used to make premeditated music. Califone ended its set with an audio/visual extravaganza featuring a film by Jeff Economy. The intense, experimental improvisation was completely unique. “It was like an organism. It lived and then it died,” marveled Adam Lantz, 20, of Racine. As midnight drew near the crowd grew thinner and more homogenous. Children at Play presented their highly electronic, echo-based compositions to friends, friends-of-friends, and people who wandered in out of bars and off the street. The set began with an accompaniment to Trooper Heath’s film “Red Spot One.” Equal parts sampling and percussion drive their layered, experimental, sculptured sound, which ranged from dance-worthy to indescribable. Overall, the entire event was extremely well organized and professionally executed. Throughout the evening the crowd remained polite, in good spirits, and indiscriminately social. As the affair wound to a close, Bisone, Kelly, and Frisby basked in the relief and rewards of the second successful Barnstorm in the past year. Opening your home to artists, musicians and hundreds of strangers for a communal evening of cultural experience invites a host of problems. There’s something to be said when the largest of these are a blown fuse and an illegally parked car. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 3 – March 2003