The Blue Raccoon

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Writing On The Wall

"Dictation": What we talk about when we talk about art and history

What a heroine of culture looks like: Adele Goodman Clark (1882-1983)
Image from the Library of Virginia.

Last night's collaborative performance at Plant Zero as partners-in-art, between me, Amie, and with special guests two members of the Art Cheerleaders, Kendra Wadsworth and Rebecca Goldberg Oliver (who are both artists themselves), then the afterparty-ing with some folks, including painter Bill Fisher, which ended up at MoJo's was, well, better than anything I contemplated.

The evening's weather didn't bode well. Though we need this rain, and the season's traditional character involves cool mists, Amie was persuaded we'd have no audience at all. I figured, it's Fourth Friday, Artspace is open, Artworks always draws a crowd, and the River City Rollergirls were holding their Halloween party, "Nightmare On Hull Street," in the events space. We'd draw from some of those crowds to be sure.

David Bruce's installation of the megaphone was perfect; we chose to place it at the top of the ramp in the gallery space as the rise provided a stage, I could be seen and heard well from that position. In addition to the pieces on Adele Clark, Nora Houston (both of whom nurtured one Theresa Pollak) and Richmond's artistic ferment in the 1920s and 1930s, and Gus and Lynn Garber and the Fulton School, Amie asked that I also present the story about the Richmond Dairy.

That renowned "Milk Bottle Building" was, during the 1980s, a haven for numerous bands--including Richmond-born GWAR--and artists as diverse as hatmaker Ignatius and sculptor Rig Terrell and philosopher Ken Knisely. Amie looked for a studio there when she came to Richmond.

Henry Miller, Cheerleaders and the Abominable Snowman

While I rehearsed, Amie tacked up pages from the slender volume: the Henry Miller epigram, ("I'd rather die in Richmond..."); Adele and Nora; the Dairy and Fulton. She would write backwards above and below the sheets. She installed a small oval mirror by making attachment to the ramp railings so that later passersby could, if they realized the reflective presence, read her reaction/interpretation of my history text. About quarter of 7 the cheerleaders arrived, poms poms and pigtails and all, ART emblazoned across the chest of their pleated-skirt uniforms and began their warm ups. Amie reminded me not to wear my three-cornered hat until show time. Yes, Madame Director. Good point, too.

Amie set up a table with books and had brought cups for drinking champagne. We had plastic glasses with stems but no way to set them down--so people would have to carry them. Funny.

A string quartet with a real harpsichord began playing in Artspace about 7. A guy in an Abominable Snowman costume rolled through the halls on roller skates and the pages tacked to the wall, caught by the breeze, performed The Wave to express admiration. He was pursued on skates by a Goth Punk Rock Girl, wearing ripped fishnets and not much else.

I took the Cheerleaders through the presentations, now tacked to the wall, and I felt a bit like a quarterback giving plays. I pointed out lines where a reaction, pom pom waggling and cheering might be appropriate. Like when Adele Clark says that she felt there should be more creative and imaginative people in government. Yayyy!!

By show time, we had about 15 or so folk gathered in the gallery, sitting along the wall before the megaphone, and by time we were underway, and the cheerleaders had established the mood, I guess we had upwards of 30 in the audience, and an appreciative bunch it was.

Hard to believe and I was there

Amie gave a short preface to the performance, and introduced the cheerleaders, who came squealing up to the ramp. (She had to rush close the Artspace door so they'd not interrupt the music).

The Cheerleaders punctuated the text and performed interstitials -- I hope to add pictures here, soon, and filmmaker David Williams was on hand to record the whole thing, too, and so we'll have some moving images to see in a while.

I have to say, I wondered how if my 40-something self could visit my 16-year-old self, twisting and turning in bed and thinking no girl will ever like me because I'm such a doofus, and to have Old Nerd Harry tell Young Nerd Harry, "You and your wife will perform a show about her art and life in complement to your history writing. And, there'll be cheerleaders." I wouldn't have believed then, and I almost don't believe that it happened and I was there.

To tell you the truth, I was so busy reading and varying my positions and concentrating on the megaphone and measuring the audience reactions that, in memory, the whole thing is kind of a blur. But our audience got it, and applauded, and seemed to enjoy themselves. They really dug the Cheerleaders.

"Adele and Nora, wherever you are, I'm sure you're enjoying this," I said after I'd finished their section to a burst of cheering. all those artists who came before us...

A number of them stayed after for the champagne toasts. Amie led the first, to all the artists who came before us, and all those who inspire us now, who choose to live and make their work in Richmond. And to the Cheerleaders. And to True Richmond Stories. And to Amie Oliver, this from the audience. To Gus and Lynn Garber! Funny those little cups and no way to put them down.

Once our first bunch had dispersed, we regrouped to set up the table for selling and signing books, of which a number were sold. I enjoyed this, talking to folks who happened upon us, a number of them dressed for Halloween, and watching Abominable skating his circuit.

The afterparty after the afterparty

We adjourned--Cheerleaders, Amie, Bill Fisher and his friend, Anne, and Bob Clarke--to Bill's studio round the corner, then moved the party to Legend Brewery, home church of my favorite brew, where I was able to drink just one of their delicious porters because they were closing (!), then moved onward to MoJo's. On the way, Amie and I both thought that we should present the Cheerleaders with books, and so I did, and while I was signing-- I think Kendra's--a couple at the bar--college students, I'm assuming--asked what it was and I told them and the guy of the two wanted one! So I went out to the Buick where my endeavor to paw through the portable cart Amie used to transport them took long enough time for she and Bill to come as a search party to rescue me. And so I signed the couple's book and while signing that, another fellow comes to me and he, too, having seen the Forest Hill Amusement Park piece, wanted a book, too.

Bill regaled us with stories, and there was much laughing, and taking of pictures and exchanging of e-mail addresses. And we closed the place down. A fine, fine evening.

When I get some images, I'll post them.

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