Home of the Brave

New York
05.30.09

Left: Lisa Kirk's maison des cartes. Right: Outside “The Shop” at e-flux. (All photos: Michael Wilson)


“THIS IS A GOOD PLACE TO DRINK BEER.” “Yeah, they already trashed the place.” As the overheard exchange suggests, the Lower East Side digs of online enterprise e-flux are among the least fussed over in the city. So, already gussied up in “cocktail attire” for MoMA’s annual Party in the Garden, I felt a little overdressed for the Tuesday-evening opening of Raster Noton’s “The Shop.” But since the intimate space was already full to capacity (about sixty souls) when I arrived at a minute past the event’s advertised 7 PM start, fading into the background seemed likely to prove impossible. Trusting the crowd to be more decorous drinkers than their conversation might imply, I squeezed into the former laundry and edged my way toward the back. There, an active sound system suggested the presence of Carsten Nicolai and Olaf Bender, founders of the German record label and scheduled special performers.

Given Raster Noton’s reputation for pushing electronica of the most rigorous and antispectacular variety, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover a pair of sleek laptops “performing” entirely without human intervention. “I love noise!” enthused a neighbor, but the unmanned machines’ output was hardly the blaring mess that the word ordinarily denotes. Pursuing “minimal, modular, and concrete approaches to the structure of sound,” Nicolai and Bender’s plugged-in stand-ins produced something measured and often rather subtle, even hushed. At one point, I worried that my cell phone was producing interference, but the unsettling crackle emanating from the closest speaker proved to be all part of the minimal plan. Only later did the programmers themselves step up, intensifying the music to a more club-friendly pulse. Downstairs, the cold flicker of a sound-responsive neon tube illuminated an archive of tastefully designed CDs and publications—the “Shop” of the installation’s title. Naturally, none of it was for sale.

Left: Artist Lisa Kirk and Invisible-Exports's Benjamin Tischer. Right: Performer Susan London.


At a “Sunset Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony” marking the launch of Lisa Kirk’s maison des cartes at the Brooklyn Navy Yard the following evening, almost everything had its price. Following a convoluted set of directions—and a trail of yellow balloons—my companion and I eventually found our way to a modest shack seemingly grafted onto the side of one of the Yard's array of crumbling warehouses. A reworking of the artist’s “House of Cards” project, the humble abode (assembled from fifty-two salvaged components) was being hawked as a “timeshare of the future,” with investors promised the dubious pleasure of spending a week sleeping in an improvised hammock and showering in rainwater in exchange for their hard-earned. “Noel bought the tub, the shower, and a weekend in July,” announced Susan London, Kirk’s on-site “sales specialist,” fielding inquiries from behind a folding table set up on the property’s bare, rubble-strewn “athletic field.” “There are a few weeks left, though,” London continued, brightly, “and we offer an interest-free installment plan for easy payment. Would you like a tour?”

Among the prospective residents who had gathered among the Yard’s rusting pickup trucks and disused hangars for a walk-through were Risa Needleman and Benjamin Tischer of Invisible-Exports (the gallery that played host to the original house) and artists Elizabeth Neel and Uri Aran. Most seemed captivated by the improvised lair that, according to an accompanying portfolio, came complete with “clubhouse” (a stark arrangement of breeze blocks), “beach” (where the rubble met the river), and a prime location in an up-and-coming hood. Given the state of the economy, the idea of a move began to seem almost reasonable—it’s a renter’s market, after all. As the golden evening light began to fade, Kirk and her team gathered at the maison’s front door for a celebratory toast. And though the impact of a miniature bottle of champagne caused the building to wobble alarmingly, its future—or at least its next twelve months—felt secure.