Category Archives: Performance

Cloud City

Cloud City is an imagined utopia somewhere out there… A collaboration with Huong Ngo and numerous participants…

Cloud City

 1. Before the Revolution

In the days before our independence was won, people would wake up in the morning and look out the window or turn on the radio, and already they would know exactly what was going to happen that day. Everything was excruciatingly boring in those days. No surprises, no mysteries, no suspense. It was a vapid, mechanical way of life. Every day, we dressed appropriately. We brought an umbrella at 30%, we wore rubber boots at 70%, and at 100% we just stayed home. Our picnics and vacations were planned to the utmost detail, cancellations performed days if not weeks in advance. Weather reports ruled our lives.

Bit by bit, a small enclave of dissenters formed.

“No more!” said the little boy with silver hairs of lightning to his father who forced him to wear a raincoat.

“No more!” said the little girl with a heart of thunder to her mother, who insisted she stay indoors and play with her dolls.

The two brave souls ventured out, unintimidated by the slight possibility of a sudden thunderstorm with a chance of hail. They told the gentle man with a mustache of blue who ran the corner store, the little old lady with twinkly toes who tended her garden below, and even some local toughs stealing rainbows from the sky. No more would they endure the oppression of predictable weather patterns. The gentle man with a mustache of blue, the old woman with twinkly toes, and even the toughs with hearts in their eyes took to the streets, following the little boy and the little girl, and thus the revolution began.

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2. The Commune

It started out harmlessly enough. A few puddle jumpings here and there, quietly, when no one was looking. But gradually these rebels were forced to adopt harsher tactics, in the face of rapidly increasing consistency. Rain dances quickly became blood baths. Umbrellas were booby-trapped and sunglasses outfitted with sophisticated tracking mechanisms. There were many such examples of grotesque terror – even suicidal monsoon missions that left many a father and mother weeping buckets.

The corner store on Eagle Street, run by the gentle man with the mustache of blue, became their regular meeting place. Under the cover of night, Lightning and Thunder (as the little boy and girl came to be called), clapped and banged at the back door of the shop, signaling their arrival. Every week, there were new recruits. One meeting in particular our elders still remember well. The forces were joined that night by Dew and Frost, who nearly disappeared in the heat of the glowing fire whilst removing their cloaks.

The girl with a heart of thunder spoke first. “You have all risked much to come here, but is it not adventure, excitement, life – real life – that we seek in our rebellion from our former boring existence?”

This gave the group pause. The little boy with lightning hairs spoke next:

“The rain can only touch those with fire in their hearts!”

The message was enigmatic, but effective. The room filled with applause. Committees formed and important goals were drawn:

  1. We must vanquish Predictability!

  2. We must defeat Boredom!

  3. We must restore Impermanence!

  4. We must replace all the ice cream bars in our host’s freezer case! We’ve eaten him clean out of stock what with all these planning meetings!

The growing band of guerilla revolutionaries, our esteemed forebears, became obsessed with their quest for spontaneity to be reintroduced to the lifeways of the earth. As their wills hardened, their organization grew denser and more cunning. An immense network of spies and informants spread out from the commune on Eagle Street that was the heart and soul of the project for a future of free floating. Eventually the web of dissent covered the entire globe like a dense fog, continuously shifting with the breezes and tides, adopting new sympathizers and strategies with the speed of an avalanche.

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3. Civil War

At last, the leaders of the newly christened Organization For The Ideological Supremacy And Free Formation Of All Life As Clouds Floating In The Blue Sky (OFTISAFFOALACFITBS) declared all out war on the pervasive systems of attention to detail that subjected them to such intolerable exactness.

Alas, the revolutionary group quickly grew far too large, and it was plagued by incestuous bickering. New leaders had emerged through the complex process of global expansion, and any notion of the sanctity of life had long since ceased to concern them. Plus their acronym was pretty hard to remember.

Frost (along with Dewdrop, his squint-eyed lackey) was the leader of one extremist faction forging artificial glaciers across the entire Southern Hemisphere and even venturing into warm valleys elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Sunbeam the Wicked, as he was called, developed ever grimmer reflectivity technologies with which to terrorize the poles and mountaintops.

The two factions overlapped and undid each other’s work repeatedly in a farce of disgrace. The original ideals the revolutionaries had cherished so long were all but lost in the torrent of violence that pulled them forward with no end in sight.

But the little girl with the rumbling tummy and the little boy with flashing eyes never lost hope. This war was a terrible condition, but if they could just manage to pass through – beyond, across, over away, above – how great the reward must be. Thus they consoled themselves in the darkest hours, when even the flicker and spark of Lightning’s magic hair seemed to be fading.

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4. Breakaway

The little girl fell asleep one night thinking, “Golly gee, if only we could get away from all this somehow. Have a fresh start.”

She had a prophetic dream that night, and in the dream a wise old blackbird with an Illinois accent told her about a place called Cloud City. “To get there all you have to do is clean out the fridge and throw a party to finish up all the leftovers,” croaked the blackbird. “Then sell everything you own, put the money in a ragbag, and go all the way to where the highway runs into the blue sky and then four hundred forty-four and one fourth ways beyond that. Give or take a mile.”

Knowing this the little girl named Thunder set off with the little boy, Lightning, followed by the faithful few: the store owner with the mustache of blue, the old lady with twinkly toes, and the band of toughs.

All of them had their money in ragbags to match their souls. Thunder had a loud rumbly one. Lightning’s was flashy and momentary. The store owner had a fuzzy blue ragbag that smelled of pipe tobacco. The old lady had pink polka dot sequins painted with nail polish on her ragbag. The toughs had plain black and blue ragbags hung on the end of a big stick.

Little Tough-Tough tired out first from swaggering too happily, so the old lady carried him on her belly back and the group moved on. They began to imagine what Cloud City must be like, and realized that each one had a different version!

Thunder saw bell towers clanging on every building and factories banging out drumsets and firecrackers. The streets were lined with balloons to pop as she strolled along.

Silver Lightning saw camera flashes, lines of string connecting person to person, with sparks from the bottom of their shoes that ignited at every step.

The blue mustachioed shopkeeper saw blind blues men with starry eyes on the corners and blue skies reflected in puddles of deep blue rainwater.

The little old lady saw nothing. She was in it solely for the adventure.

And the toughs saw misty dusks and dawns, perfect for ganging up on each other, lurking in alleys, and looking for trouble.

And so, clutching their visions close, they traveled to where the highway met the sky and on through, beyond, across, over away, above, until they came to Cloud City.

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The K.I.D.S. Visit to Watermill

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We worked with a group of collaborators organized by BryanMarkovitz, to create an alternative tour of the Watermill Center in the Hamptons, drawing on various cues and interests of the group, especially the writings of Raymond Roussel. I was feeling pretty negative around that time I think, partly because of some personal stuff, so I kind of had a really overly bad attitude about classist, colonialist, eurocentric, and excessively normative tendencies in some aspects of the situation. Nevertheless, we managed to dress up in silly costumes, dress visitors up in silly costumes, dress up Robert Wilson‘s tribal art collection in silly costumes,  make a soap opera about our group of collaborators, make a lot of really good food, laugh, sing songs, and start a band with some elementary school kids called “the Wild Animals.” Good times!

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I really appreciate Bryan for including us in his process and for dealing so gracefully with the group dynamics. He has some great images of the project on his website too. The other collaborators were: Elizabeth Adams, Amanda Boekelheide, Ryan Dohoney, Huong Ngo, Julia Rich and Chris Piuma.

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MOBILIZE

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I’ve been out riding my tricycle a lot. I found it back in 2004. It was in pieces. I fixed it up, added some bells and whistles, and started riding. I like it, it gets me moving. Doing it. You know, getting into it, active.

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In these first few pictures, I’m projecting a film on my back while I’m riding. I call that MOBILIZE: The Moving Picture Show. I’ve projected a lot of Charlie Chaplin films. They’re perfect. No talking, just great spirited music and whacky sound effects. And everybody recognizes him. Sometimes cartoons are good too.

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The first two pictures are from New York City, where I lived from 2006-2012. But I started showing movies this way back when I lived in eastern Connecticut, where I grew up. This one was at the Third Thursday Street Festival in Willimantic, CT. I made all these manifestoes on an offset press in the printshop at UConn, and I used to pass them out when I was out riding around. You can buy one in the Emporium if you want, there are still a few left over.

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The project tends to be pretty eyecatching and people always ask me what I’m doing. So it’s a good way to break the ice and have a conversation with somebody, about anything, everything. Spontaneously like that. That’s the reason I’ve kept doing it from time to time. I enjoy it, other people enjoy it, and it seems to help bring us closer together.Later I started doing some daytime projects with the tricycle too, as the Moving Picture Show only works when it’s dark out, and frankly riding bikes is more fun during the day.

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I built a set of different attachments for it. My friend likes to call them modules. One attachment is for the projector, film repair stuff, popcorn maker, etc. Everything I need for the Moving Picture Show. Another one is for collecting wild plants and cooking, out on the streets.

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That’s MOBILIZE: The Portable Pantry. I used it to collect rosehips, crabapples, pine needles, holly leaves, chokeberries, bayberries, and a few other things growing in New York this past winter. I was learning how to identify plants, cook jams, preserve food, and prepare different teas, in order to throw Wild Tea Parties with people.

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Sometimes it was a good excuse to climb the street trees, which I think is an underrated activity. This tree on 23rd Street near 8th Avenue had some very late crabapples that were still good in December. I made apple butter from them. Overcooked it a little.

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Another attachment is MOBILIZE: The Wandering Workbench. This is a roll-out workshop with a bench vise, work surface, and storage for hand and power tools. I’ve been using it to work immediately on the street, finding material, making Public Domestications (term coined through conversations with Huong Ngo), and installing them on the sidewalks for public use. The Corner Libraries project is a Public Domestication too, as were a lot of the projects in A Lot in Our Lives.

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Public Domestications are aimed at making public space more comfortable, more communicative, more equitable, more accessible, and less alienating. They are aimed at making public space ours.

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So far, many of them have been about an exchange of some kind.

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This is a found pirate costume installed on a coat rack on a construction wall: the yellow rose was contributed by the busker you can see in the background. He was a wizard on the pots and pans, plastic buckets and bits of broken glass, and seemed to be really supportive of my project, which is entirely mutual!

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I brought MOBILIZE to the Bronx in the summer of 2008 to do some stuff up there. I had a parking place at the Bronx Museum during June and July for the AIM show.

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A Game for the Kids We Were

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I got the chance to go to Belgrade, Serbia to do a project for an art festival there called “Night of Museums.” I decided to work spontaneously, with whatever materials were at hand, to make an environment that would encourage people to play together as if we were kids. It was moderately successful. There was one kid about 3 or 4 years old, who played with me for a long time. He was way better at playing make believe than I was. We had a castle and a whole kingdom going under that black sheet in the background.

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Later we made up a game with these sheets, but I don’t remember how to play anymore. I remember it being fun though.

 

The Cancer Kids

I was the singer and co-lyricist for this grind/punk band called the Cancer Kids. We had a lot of fun.

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And we even made a record that some people think is a masterpiece… McCoy said:

CANCER KIDS “The Possible Dream” LP

These Western Mass outcasts with a predilection for Godzilla, Mr. T, and the Red Sox dwelt in a world where fame meant nothing and tangible politics had little to do anything found in a filthy squat. After releasing a promising split ep with Malay and playing at most two live shows, these guys disappeared back into their garage, tightened their sound, and wrote 50 songs. Represented here are the best 19 of that lot, a record so musically solid and consistent that it has claimed the throne for the loudest, most devastating LP in the galaxy. For those who may have lapsed on their note taking, THE CANCER KIDS is ex-members of the legendary cult BUCKET FULL OF TEETH, and was produced by genius Will Killingsworth of ORCHID/BUCKET FULL OF TEETH/AMPERE glory. A masterpiece years in the making. Limited to 700 copies.

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It was released by Mark McCoy of Youth Attack Records. He was kind of our hero when we were teenagers for awhile, because he used to sing in this other ridiculous band called Charles Bronson that we loved. So we were very excited that he wanted to put out our music, and then also said really nice things about it. The record’s out of print, but I have a couple of copies.

I played in a whole series of punk bands actually. Some of the names were The Lysdexics, The Garbage Pail Kids, State Assisted Suicide, Cherem, The A Team, Nullset… although in many cases these bands had all the same members. The Cancer Kids was sort of the last in that line. It was such a great time, making music together, trading mixtapes, going to shows, joking around, eating snacks, being silly, pulling pranks. Would recommend it to anyone.

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Right to Left: Nick, Chris, Matt, Colin, the Cancer f’n Youth!

The Gigantopumpkin

This is an adventure I had with a giant pumpkin, in 2005. I was invited to make a site-specific performance art work for a halloween party, as a member of the Independent Performance Group, curated by Marina Abramovic. I carved the pumpkin into a house and lived inside of it for the duration of the party. Later on, I made a children’s book about the whole experience using photographs, ink drawings, and woodcuts. I want to publish it sometime. Here are the pages of the book:

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Footprint Factory

Here is a video showing a version of the project performed in Somerville, MA, at a street festival, in 2006. Thanks to Jamie Rinaldi for the camerawork.

This project started as one aspect of my elaborate MFA thesis exhibition, A Work of Art, in 2005. It continued as a portable system for one-on-one collaborations with strangers for several years afterwards.

I made a kit of tools that resembled a shoeshine’s setup, which I used to make relief prints from wooden cubes that were carved and engraved on all six sides with images and text. Sometimes I set it up on the sidewalk in New York or Boston. Once I took it on the plane to Berlin, Germany for a performance art show.

Sometimes I did it as a mute, not speaking, but using gestures and images to communicate. Other times I would converse freely, and try to get people to tell me stories while we did the work together. There was an intimacy to the situation that made some people uncomfortable, while others seemed to be overjoyed at being served by an artist on his hands and knees. By creating the situation I was aligning my work as an artist with other working class occupations, in an attempt to critique the elitist pretensions of the art world, and reclaim the artist’s rightful place in solidarity with working class movements of resistance to labor exploitation.

 

A Work of Art

In 2005, I worked 40 hours a week at a museum for five weeks, tending to a film I had installed, talking to people about the film and whatever else came up, playing music, writing, making prints, etc. Here is a video of it.The film was installed as a sculptural material, running through the space, hanging in the air and going in and out of two projectors in a giant loop. I shot it on black and white 16mm film stock and edited it manually with a splicer.

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The projectors were pointed at two stations where people could sit and interact with it: a typewriter for writing responses and whatnot called the Creative Communication Department, and an electric organ where you could improvise a soundtrack for the film called the Spontaneous Soundtrack Department.

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I made a book of music to project the film onto. The organ came from my grandmother when she moved out of her apartment into an assisted living situation. In the bench of the organ there were a bunch of music books that I went through and picked out songs I remembered her singing, or that she said she liked, and made the book from those. I named it Our Songs. You can buy a copy in the Emporium. If you didn’t know how to read music though it was kind of fun to just noodle around on the keys anyway.

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The other place the film was projected was on this long roll of paper hanging down and feeding into a typewriter. The film itself was images of me and my brothers playing games, joking around, and doing chores around the house. I come from an unschooling family of six boys. The family has an island quality as a result, maybe more than most, because of that radical self-educating setup and the fact that we live out in the country. Most of us were in our twenties or teens when we shot it.

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People could sit and write and then file their work in a set of folders, labeled as follows: Poetry, Prose, Suggestions, Memoranda, and Top Secret. Another cue for writing, in addition to the film, came from a small takeaway book I had printed called the Handbook of Workspeak. You can buy a copy of the book in the Emporium.

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Since it was one film going through two projectors, which run at slightly different speeds, inexpertly rigged up, there were some breaks and hangups. Needing to maintain the film was something I had anticipated, so I had all the tools to do it there. So over time the film wore down and acquired a really old scratchy patina.

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This was another station of the work called the Footprint Fabrication Department, which would become a separate project, the portable Footprint Factory. It is a setup for block printing collaborations. Somebody would sit in the chair and be the press, stepping on the block and using their weight to force the ink into the paper, while I worked on the floor inking the blocks.

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I carved a set of blocks with images on all six sides. There were six blocks, for a total of 36 images. The idea was for someone to choose a series of images to tell a story or make associations and contrasts, normally of a personal nature. Together we printed their choices in sequence on a long piece of paper, sort of like a filmstrip. Then we cut the paper to length and the person took the print home.

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I made this poster to show what all the options were. Most of the images were iconic objects like a chair or a book, with a few other things thrown in that came into my head around that time.

 

Play the Game

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I ran a life sized board game for a couple of days, working with some other people, back in 2001. The path was marked off with colored duct tape and we had these big dice. This was on my college campus when I was an undergraduate, and the idea of the project had to do with a critical attitude toward choosing a career and finding success in life. The game itself was all about being a kid. There were tasks you had to complete to advance along, things like making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in 10 seconds, or coloring in a coloring book. Doing this project I started thinking more seriously about engaging creatively in public life, and it was the first time I used the Emcee C.M. moniker. So for me personally it was about choosing that as my game (and by “that” I mean this: what I still do now and whatever this website is all about).

The Machine

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This was the first public action I ever organized, back in 2000, and it has stayed with me as an example of a successful project and influenced  a lot of the other things I’ve done since. I made this wooden machine out of shipping crates and cable spools with a support frame. A group of friends and I pushed it around disrupting traffic, and then rode it down a big hill. There were no brakes to speak of, so we were worried about hitting something or somebody, but in the end it was fine, and actually that was a little disappointing!