Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Impressions of Flux # 14.

The weather last Saturday was cold and wet, and I'm certain it kept a lot of people from attending Flux #14 in Braddock. That's a bit of a shame because it was just as good as I remembered it being from the last one three years ago. It was a bit of a surprise too, because my only previous experience with this beat up East End neighborhood filled me with sadness and abandon. Take a ride through the heart of the town during the day some time, and you'll see what I mean. It's true inner-city squalor. On my visit there a couple of years ago, there were a few pawn shops and beat-up antique stores still holding on amidst the desolation. Had there not been a truly enticing event, I wouldn't have been tempted to visit Braddock on a Saturday night.

Driving down Braddock Avenue at 9:30 PM, I was struck by the lack of activity. The few people on the street were rushing through the drizzle to the event. They walked with their heads down, afraid that they might make eye contact with some dangerous permanent resident. The Flux logo was projected in large letters on the side of a former bank on Library Street. That throughway was blocked off to traffic, and there were steel barrel fires with shivering art-lovers huddled around them. We entered through the bank entrance, showed our IDs, and paid the $10 admission fee. Walking through this empty center of finance was surreal- like it could be the set for some raving capitalist zombie film. We exited through a side door into an alley, and proceeded through another portal into a derelict church.

The church building housed the main stage, and had a huge sloping wooden floor facing it. There was a table off to one side where you could buy a little platic cup for two bucks, and a long line (that moved fast) to wait in to get the cup filled with beer (Penn Brewery products). Throughout the night that line oddly grew shorter and shorter. I watched some band I've never heard of playing some predictable, if competent, hard pop-rock. Later on I saw the positive, old-school, hip hop act called Lucid Music. I'd seen them before and enjoyed them. They've got flow, and they are good to dance too. The space could have accomodated at least 15 times as many people as were there- which was alright with me because I like my space.

There was art on the side, and in the little hallway passage behind the stage. I really enjoyed a Brian Docherty installation that consisted of multi-colored strings of yarn running in patterns up the wall, some of which were being animated by an electric pulley. It was a nice effect. In back there was a collection of macabre assemblages reminiscent of the Brothers Quay (sorry, I forget the name of the artist, and it's not listed on the official Flux webpage). On the other side of the stage, where you exited back to the main hall, was an interactive video installation that I didn't have much time to process. In the basement was scuptor James Simon's temporary studio, and patrons were randomly throwing balls of clay at an evolving animal figure. There was also installation art by a group referring to themselves as the Hospitable Food project. I'm fond of some of the work of the artists involved, but I have to say that this conglomeration looked to be rather hastily thrown together. Plus it smelled like puke down there, so I beat a fast retreat.

Having drank a good quantity of vitamin water, it was time to seek out a bathroom. In the basement of another building resides the rapidly-approaching-infamous Braddock Elks Club. That's where Mayor John Fetterman holds court every Friday night, welcoming tourists. Last night it was packed with every variety of hipster to be seen around town. In one corner they were selling hot dogs, nachos, ham BBQ, and some very water-logged kielbasa with kraut (guess which I had). At the other end was a fully stocked bar. And yes, there were the bathrooms too, and no line to speak of. Upstairs was another performance space. When I visited they had DJ's and hotties shakin' it on the dance floor. There was art on the walls here, but it was difficult to squeeze through the dancers to get a close look. There is a wide front porch outside, and Bob Johnson was holding court with a video presentation of his new Ravine Cubes project (an evolution from his River Cubes, which consist of refuse pulled from the region's waterways and compacted into 1600 pound squared clumps). On the flatbed of a sturdy-assed pickup was chained the inaugural piece of his latest series, pulled together from the ravine below the Bloomfield Bridge.

Between the Elks and the Church is Dorothy 6- the first floor gallery of the Mayor's residence. They were having a poetry slam there, and I caught a rant about the evils of Walmart. The thing about Flux is that you constantly feel like you are missing something you'd rather see, so you spend a lot of time wandering from one venue to another. Then you need a fill-up on refreshments, or you have to piss, or you need to find one of your misplaced friends. This is both the curse and the blessing of these events, depending upon your transitory mind state. I was anxious to see what the very first branch of the Carnegie Library had to offer.

I'm not certain how much of the library is still in operation, but I have to say it's an amazing place. I slogged up the grand flights of stairs to a basketball court at the very top, and found a huge inflatable sheep by Tom Sarver and Tim Kaulen. I peeped that and noticed that I had just missed some performance piece by a group calling themselves the Dutchmasters. Too bad. I worked my way through another series of entranceways and passages and found myself entering a beautiful, full-sized theater with wraparound balcony. It felt as if I had stepped into the year 1925. There were rows of wooden seats, and I sat in the back and watched some locally-made film projects. I would have liked to stay there for awhile, but it was time to make an honest effort to find the friend that I had come with, and drive home.

Overall I'd say that the event was successful, despite the oppressive weather. Flux has recaptured their status as the premiere art party of Pittsburgh. With the scope and potential of those classic abandoned facilities in Braddock, it is easy to understand why the organizers would make a commitment to hold an event there in each of the next two years. The place is brimming with imposing and eerie flavor. It's truly a feast for the eyes, and provides an ambience that will linger in your memory. I can't wait for the next one. Walking to my car at the end of the night and seeing the flames pouring from the smokestacks of one of the last industrial plants of Pittsburgh, it became possible for me to believe that this neighborhood might just capture the imagination of a new generation of urbanites.

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