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An "underground" update

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2004-09-13


Late last winter, Chris Colcorde wrote a feature article for this paper on Fort Wayne’s “underground” arts scene.

If an underground scene can be said to have a main event, it might be the Art Attack series of shows. Organized by John Commorato Jr. and a musician/artist who goes by the name “Cornfed Johnson,” the Art Attack shows were an amalgamation of edgy, sometimes confrontational art work and punk rock. They rented “raw space” (rather than white-walled, perfectly lit galleries), solicited work from area artists, got a few local bands, charged a couple bucks, and had a show. “We’re not here to show the type of stuff that could make it into other exhibits,” says Commorato. “Oil paintings and traditional art is fine, but there’re more than enough venues for that.”

Art Attack 3 was planned for early October; artists were notified, work solicited, negotiations for space begun. So, with deadlines looming, it’s a little disconcerting to call Commorato for the details and find out that… well, it’s not happening this year.

But Commorato is very interested in talking about why he and Cornfed Johnson decided not to do Art Attack this year, and he wants to make it clear that it has nothing to do with the response the shows have received from the community (which has been very positive) or the other artists they’ve worked with. “Us not doing it this year is in no way a reflection on or a disillusionment with any of the contributing bands or artists,” he says.

He continues, “It’s weird to start something and want to back away from it, but at the time it was necessary to do (Art Attack), because I don’t think it had been done in Fort Wayne before. Since then, a number of other positive things have followed, but there have also been some things that philosophically I disagree with. There were more shows calling themselves avant-garde last year than almost anybody could probably make. I’m not even saying that’s necessarily a bad thing. It just happens. There are worse problems to have in an art community.”

Commorato describes himself as a temperamental artist at one point during our talk, but he doesn’t really fit the cliché. He spreads the praise and the credit around lavishly, name-checking several other collaborators and events that he admires — a group of artists called the E4 collective, artist Dongo’s “Curb Feelers” show and a recent installation at Convolution Records, bands like Dead Letter Auction. And despite being a seemingly tireless promoter of “underground” arts in Fort Wayne, he’s quick to point out that there are a lot of people out there who inspire him. “As frustrated as I sometimes get with the middle-of-the-road sensibilities in Fort Wayne, I am equally and conversely as impressed with the people that day in, day out, are doing their work here,” he says. “There’re so many people out there working hard, that are doing the type of work, and are the type of personalities, that would be viable in any city. I think we’re lucky to have them, and Art Attack allows me to collaborate with them and be in the mix. It’s a life. It’s stupid, it’s a waste of time, sometimes a waste of money, it’s certainly a drain of energy. But frankly, I just wouldn’t want to sit on the sidelines.”

So, why does he seem to be sitting on the sidelines this year? “My administrative capacity is at a very low ebb,” he says. “But I feel like I owe an explanation to the other artists I contacted last May. When things were a little better, I said ‘hey, come October 2nd, we’re going to hit this thing hard, we’re going to be political because it’s an election year.’ I know there are some artists out there who are probably wondering what’s going on. I want them to know it’s nothing against them and their work, it just really is not the year for something like this to happen.” Commorato explains that rather than do it half way, and have it be a let-down from last year when the energy level was really high, he’d rather postpone it and come back stronger.

But there are a few events he wants people to know about. He mentions the upcoming Dead Moon show at the Brass Rail, organized by Matt Cotton (Commorato says he’ll just be spreading the word and counting heads at the door). “They’re a national band with a substantial cult following,” he says. “We’ll be running the show at the Brass Rail at the level that you will find at any ‘decent’ punk rock venue in the country — counting heads with clickers, checking IDs. That type of thing.” He also mentions a mixed-media installation happening in early October at Convolution Records.

In the end, though, Commorato says he’s not averse to passing the torch this year. The name Art Attack is his, he says, but the concept is up for grabs. “If there are any artists out there thinking ‘okay, John wasn’t up for it this year, but it’s an election year, I’ve got this work I want to show, I want to do it anyway’ then do it. If it’s someone who wants to deal with the administrative and negotiation ends of it, I’ve got a piece I want to put in it, too. I’d love to go to a $3 - $5 show in some warehouse somewhere.”

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