Box Set

Michael Wang on “Cluster”

New York

Left: “Cluster” organizer Katie Holten with Participant Inc director Lia Gangitano. Right: Artist Lisa Kirk.

“It smells like dirty knickers!” exclaimed project organizer Katie Holten while sampling one of artist Lisa Kirk's three “revolutionary” scents at the opening of Holten's “Cluster” last Friday at Lower East Side nonprofit Participant Inc. The patchouli-and-body-odor perfume (“like gas and soot and shit” according to one of the ski-masked “insurgents” offering up testers) overwhelmed the lower level office space, the site of Holten's informal two-day show, and effectively suffused an already cramped opening with the stink of that much more humanity.

The sporadic, loosely curated venture brought together an ever-expanding network of contributors, most for the first time. (All the participants, artists or otherwise, are friends or acquaintances of Holten's, who is herself an artist and a neighbor of Participant director Lia Gangitano.) “I just met Lisa two hours ago,” one of Kirk's spritzers informed me, “down the street at the Hotel on Rivington bar.” “Cluster” was organized around the premise that the show's contents will fit in a small Fresh Direct box left in Holten's studio, which will be sent to galleries in LA, Dublin, and Mexico City. “This is the third, or fourth, or fifth time I've done Cluster,” Holten guessed. “It happens after I've traveled a lot and met new people.”

Left: Masked—but not anonymous—artists Tom Brauer and Pete Milne. Right: Astrophysicist Priya Natarajan.

Holten's “little community,” as she described it, includes faces she's never even seen before: A finely freckled, red-haired man caught her in a familiar greeting, but it was the first time she'd encountered him in person. “We're both in the US on Fulbright scholarships and we're both Irish, so we have this connection,” Holten explained. A drill was called for as artist Greg Smith fished his contribution, a plastic catapult, out of the aforementioned box (balanced in a corner), and Holten scampered through the crowd brandishing the tool to help with the impromptu installation.

The crowd thickened even as the odors proliferated (Smith's catapult, it turned out, hurled a potent blend of pepper and burnt newspaper), gathering around the small table where the majority of the show's contents, ephemera ranging from an environmentalist-themed script by LA performance group My Barbarian to a Ziploc-sealed bag of Joe Scanlan's Ikon Earth, were casually arrayed. “A lot of the projects are environmental, which I think is very important right now,” Holten explained. “And not all of the participants are artists—there are scientists here too.” Priya Natarajan, a theoretical astrophysicist at Yale whom Holten met through Anthony Gormley, contributed a diagram of her area of expertise—a galaxy cluster. “It's a little tongue-in-cheek,” Natarajan admitted. Holten graciously explained the hodgepodge event as “an excuse to have a big party with all of my friends and have a kind of explosion.”

With the opening scheduled to close momentarily and a promised series of readings still outstanding, Holten and Gangitano flicked off the lights and urged the room quiet for the words of Houston-based writer (and Artforum contributor) Domenick Ammirati via a CD that was supposedly hand-delivered earlier that evening. Imagining what it'd be like to be stuck inside Holten's cardboard box, Ammirati's disembodied voice started up on “several claustrophobic episodes.” Suddenly feeling a bit boxed in, I angled out for a breath of much-needed fresh air.

Left: Artist Greg Smith. Right: Jerry Saltz with artist Michael Bilsborough.

Left: “Cluster” artist Taketo Shimada and artist Barbara Ess. Right: Artist Mark Orange.