As Spaces Art Gallery wraps up its final shows before moving to its new location on Detroit Avenue later this year, patrons were treated to an innovative show Saturday night curated by local experimental music connoisseurs Lisa Miralia and Craig Chojnicki, Expedition: Spaces II. Presented across four stations, patrons were guided throughout the gallery taking in multiple musical acts as well as performance art.
Billed as something of an immersive odyssey, the second annual show lacked the necessary aesthetic to adequately convey the style that the artists and performers were working towards. Poor or too much studio lighting often undercut the multiple visuals that depended on shadow play and projector displays. A stilted floor layout made for awkward transitions between sets. This is more of an indictment of Spaces than the actual show, considering this is the second Spaces event in a row that I’ve been to where the performers were left at the constraints of a well-meaning but overwhelmed studio space.
Patrons were greeted to an in-house DJ that offered fresh house music which found more than a few people shuffling their feet in rhythm. And here lies the rub. The enthusiasm fostered while anticipating the start of the show was culled once the crowd was corralled to their seats for the first set. The kinetic energy that was enjoyed through the DJ’s set was lost when the crowd had to take in electronic act, Machine Listener, sedentary and without the chance to get a groove on. While performing under his alter-ego, Matthew Gallagher’s music was inarguably on point, but it is an odd thing to simply sit and watch an electronic performer as one would watch a typical rock band or rap group. Ultimately, it is a man standing between two keyboards slightly nodding his head with little else to show for it. Not exactly a dynamic spectacle. This was a curious choice to start a show that boasted a strong immersive visual element. Offering transitions between sets, local spoken word performer, John Burroughs, guided guests from one end of the room to the other like some beach bum pied piper, in the best sense of the word.
The second act really conveyed the nature of the show as Mike McNamara and Nathan Melaragno offered a projection light show that served as a captivating homage to the early Pink Floyd sets played at London’s UFO Club in the 1960s. While Melaragno worked the light show, he projected it over McNamara as he conducted a fascinating set that incorporated ambient electronica, vintage record sampling, muddled voices trapped in static, and crunchy guitar feedback. With the house lights turned down, guests were able to dive deep into the world that the performers produced, both sonically and visually. A truly meditative session, McNamara and Melaragno’s set was concise and left the audience wanting more; a choice other acts could have benefited from.
The performance art of Marcia Custer, Alyssa D’Amico and Beth Lomske was an ambitious treatise on adolescence, viewed through the nostalgic lens of a slumber party. Opening their set by ordering a pizza delivery, the girls offered snatches of chatter, chronicling past mischiefs and childhood memories while looping acoustic guitar and electronic ambiance absolutely conveyed a bittersweet sentimentality to the affair. While sharing stories behind a sheet, only their silhouettes were visible until they emerged from under the curtain to roll along the ground dragging a bean bag chair around the floor. While there were uncomfortable moments where the audience were left as voyeurs and challenged to interpret the premise of their set, it was, perhaps, the only performance of the night with a complete and well-structured concept despite its ephemeral nature. It is fair to say that the set’s ending was somewhat awkward as the audience was left to watch three young women silently eat pizza in front of them for an extended amount of time.
Tim Kaiser closed out the show with a cavalcade of homemade instruments that left him looking a bit like a mad scientist. While multiple articles could be written just covering Kaiser’s innovation and fascinating creations. His set left me wanting to play with his toys rather than listen to them being played. Performing a low-key set is not an indictment, but aside from a metronomic bass line throughout, his molasses inspired set offered little in ways of rhythm or apparent composition. His curious noodlings were wildly impressive considering the hand crafted tools he used, but his slow, plodding set is basically how I imagine Purgatory to be a lot like.
As true to its nature, Spaces hosted another innovative and ambitious night of performances. Also true to its nature, Spaces proved insufficient to adequately provide its performers with the proper ambiance needed for such immersive presentations. Tighter set lists throughout would have given the audience a better opportunity to remain engaged in the sweltering studio. Despite the drawbacks, there was a clear sense of community shared between performers and patrons alike. Hopefully, Spaces can do more to honor this synergy when they stake their claim to their new turf later this year.