Home > Around Town > Fall Carnivale
By Dan Swartz
Fort Wayne Reader
The last two years have had big changes in store for downtown and the Fort Wayne arts scene, including the re-opening of the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, the addition of another part of old Arts Campus concept in the Auer Center for the Arts, and with that a new home for the Fort Wayne Ballet and Artlink. All of these developments have been institutional in impetus and execution, and have been seen from some of the fringe art scene groups as being distanced. The current activity in the South Calhoun area, however, has been the complete opposite. With CS3 (Calhoun Street Soups, Salads, and Spirits) and Conspiracy drawing crowds and keeping the street active well into the night, it was an easy fit for the art world to sidle up and catapult these spaces into "it" spots. The Brooklyn vibe of the architecture and urban design, the multicultural feel, and the proximity to downtown all lend to South Calhoun's success. Conspiracy, in particular, has been regularly drawing carnival-like crowds which spill out onto the sidewalk, and activate everything.
Bambi Guthrie, a local artist and photographer, has been a native of South Calhoun in a number of ways, be it art or music, and is now capitalizing on this natural controlled-chaos feeling with her newest exhibition, "Carnivale." This curatorial concept/art exhibition combo is rarely explored in the Midwest and combines Guthrie's own body of work with selected pieces from a number of artists, including Daniel Dienelt, Jason Swisher, Jeffrey Crane, Joanna Wittke, Josef Zimmerman, Teague Mullen, Teresa Sharpe, and Thea Meussling. This method of pairing the main concept of the artist's own work with that of others, within the context of the entire exhibition, is reminiscent of certain conceptual artists like Fred Wilson, Zhu Jia, and to a lesser degree Haim Steinbach. The original concept for the exhibition came very honestly from Guthrie's obsession with the drama and intrigue of carnivals, the circus, and street performance. "I love the idea that a family of people move from place to place, get to see the world, and live their life however they please." This familial aspect of an exhibition and of a small art scene is distinctly brought forth with "Carnival" as many of the artists Guthrie included have exhibited with her or together in the past, and the work, although quite diverse, is knitted together effortlessly. Guthrie continues to expound her motivations, "I love that they exploit their talents, freakish abilities, or looks and people pay money to see them. I love the dark, eerie factor that comes with the whole Carnival world, and so naturally I am drawn to that quickly."
Not only is "Carnival" a wonderful metaphor for any gallery's stable of artists, any artist collective (ever!), or any city's arts scene, it also provides exactly what Guthrie describes, in the way of a safety net or safe space for some talented artists whose work is not quite so mainstream, and needs to cluster and secure itself with an exhibition in a less judgmental style. Guthrie's own work in "Carnival" also acts in this way, as more of a secure, structural element, suspending the more grotesque and abnormal work like Jeffrey Crane's "Clown," or any of Thea Meussling's horribly beautiful pieces like "Cage Match," "Cock," "Frenchman," or "Shrine."
Meussling's mutated, cartooned forms are as terrifying as they are intricately constructed, detailed, and in an odd way, endearing. Pieces like "Frenchman" and "Cage Match" emit an innocent sexuality, while "Cock" and "Shrine" seem to be gendered totems, not as sexual as they are embodies of masculine and feminine energies, but twisted through the lens of Meussling's near Trenton Doyle Hancock-like, maximalist, expressionistic formal sense. On the other hand, Guthrie's "Gypsy" and "Magic" in particular act as foils for some of "Carnival's" other pieces, with their glossy, paired down, almost fashion photography quality of lighting and mood. "Gypsy" in particular differs in that it tells the one-dimensional story of the character presented, but both alludes to some other narrative and kills the exploration of said narrative through a lack of interaction with the characters environment, or even the existence of an environment. By structuring the exhibition in this way, with Guthrie's minimalistic photos, there are rests between chaos, and the viewer can examine the more glamorous and darker sides of entertainment.
With "Carnivale", like the "DDT" exhibition earlier in the year, Conspiracy is nurturing a growing number of fringe elements to Fort Wayne's arts scene, and slowly tipping the scales, producing a more active contemporary element compared to our very established classical models and institutions. Part of this is certainly the luck of the draw in finding a space that is perfect for its current use, at a time when Calhoun was ripe for development, but also, Conspiracy and its owners were and are willing to put sweat equity into their project and the artists they work with. Guthrie noted very specifically, "Everyone at Conspiracy, namely Jake Farris, have always been supportive of me and my goals and career, and when I approached Jake about doing a show he never second guessed it." This confident acceptance of the cultural producers on the ground floor is exactly the way that an art scene grows into a market, and a street wear boutique on a street which has been in a twenty-plus slump gets a new lease on life and turns into a destination. Please take the time to explore Conspiracy and the South Calhoun corridor the next time you have the opportunity, and get a taste of what is about to happen in Fort Wayne.
Oct 22-Nov 12, 2011
*Opening Oct 22 7-10pm
1934 S. Calhoun Street