Media Circus


Left: Musician Keith Fullerton Whitman. Right: Musician Richard Chartier. (Photos: D. Robert Wolcheck)

On Saturday evening, walking along a desolate stretch of Morgan Avenue in Brooklyn, I could hear music washing over warehouses and empty lots several blocks before I found my way to BAPLab, a daylong—or, more accurately, nightlong—festival of new media and new music. Local nonprofit Bushwick Art Project (“We did not move East of Williamsburg. . . . We are and will forever be Bushwick”) organized the busy affair, the second in their series of benefit events designed to draw attention to the creative efforts of those stationed more than three L-train subway stops outside of Manhattan. Despite spreading across twenty thousand square feet of space at 3rd Ward, a huge, newly renovated building that offers production facilities to this very community of artists, the jammed-together crowd at the door—young, white, artfully dressed—was jammed together throughout.

I wandered among video projections, unspooled film reels and videotapes, homemade robots, and digital displays brought together by about a dozen curators overseen by BAP’s Ruth Garon and R. J. Valeo. Garon described the event as “highlighting the organic overlap” between these disciplines, and the entreprenurial promoter, who arrived in New York from Israel only a year ago, hopes to grow BAPLab into a multiday festival à la SONAR or MUTEK, twin anchors of the experimental electronic music scene. Independent curator Ashley Colgate, who selected a number of the room-size new-media installations, offered casual theories about the “reformed hippie” aspect of a large segment of the new-media population, and I couldn’t help but picture LoVid’s Kyle Lapidus, who had performed earlier in the evening and was at that moment roaming the hallways in a jailhouse-orange jumpsuit and two pairs of 3-D glasses.

As with any event involving almost one hundred artists, the quality of the work varied. Recognized names like Guy Ben-Ner, who represented Israel at the 2005 Venice Biennale, and Douglas Henderson, who has exhibited at the Whitney, stood out, but Geoffrey Bell’s Musical Chair: A Game for One and projects by a number of current students at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, which were scattered along hallways, also impressed. Unlike previous new-media festivals I have attended, everything here worked, even if one could complain that much of it worked in similar ways. (The favorite: Manipulate an unexpected element—water, dust particles, etc.—to create unexpected change in sound track or on nearby screen.)

Left: Independent curator Ashley Colgate with Creative Time producer Gavin Kroeber. (Photo: Andrew Bicknell) Right: Musicians Camea and Insideout. (Photo: Scott Bintner)

Back-to-back performances by musicians Richard Chartier and Keith Fullerton Whitman were an early-evening highlight. The two were a study in contrast. Chartier, a former painter who recently performed at the Hirshhorn Museum in conjunction with the Hiroshi Sugimoto retrospective, has a shaved head and was clad head-to-toe in black. He hovered over a laptop, coaxing an unexpectedly loud (given his Minimalist bent) and organic (given his digital source material) sound from what he later described as “about sixty preselected files, collaged together.” Whitman, who is affiliated with Harvard’s Studio for Electro-Acoustic Composition, was in a red T-shirt and shorts, his long beard touching the guitar in his lap while clusters of loud, bright, high-pitched, digitally tweaked notes hung in the too-hot room during his half-hour set. After a quick “Thank you,” he packed up his gear at 9:45 PM and headed to the Lower East Side for a scheduled 10 PM performance at Tonic.

I ventured upstairs, past a doorless bathroom (with a spotlighted toilet) marked by graffiti cajoling passersby with the words “Don’t be shy,” and into the first of four gargantuan raw spaces, three of which were given over to live music, DJs, and VJs. Seated listeners lined the walls, perhaps saving their energy for the wee hours, when abstract musical experimentation was to give way to more danceable fare. I cashed in my drink tickets and stood beneath slowly spinning chandeliers that evoked Sputnik and, given the context, disco balls; each was adorned with a die-cut metal band that shaped the light into textual clichés like “THINGS WON’T BE THE SAME.” Looking east over low-rise, lower-rent Brooklyn, I imagined the sun crawling up and the view that would greet the tired revelers in just a few hours.