SPACE d’OM and Beyond: Introducing CARAVAN AGE
A couple of weekends ago, I participated in ONN/OF Festival, a large and multifaceted art event curated by Sierra Stinson, Susan Robb and Jim Demetre in the old Demetre sweater factory in Ballard. The show has received some great press from The Stranger and City Arts. Both of these articles mentioned our piece SPACE d’OM, and mentioned Hair and Space Museum (the installation/performance duo of David Golightly and myself) by name, however neither makes mention of our collaborator Caravan Age, the art and design alter ego of our friend Rena Bussinger. Whether the omission was for lack of space or just plain oversight, it is understandable, at least on some levels. David and I are performers, so it’s easy to make the connection between who we are and what we do. But in this case, we’re only half of the story.
I met Rena a few years ago through her fiancée Aubrey Nehring, the co-founder of the Portable Shrines collective, with whom we have been collaborating for some time on multimedia art events like Escalator Festival. Rena’s contributions to Portable Shrines events have always been behind the scenes—contributing a video for projections here, creating a wall-size black light sensitive collage there—but her physical, logistical, and emotional support to the overall endeavors have been invaluable.
Rena’s on-and-off day job has been, for many years, serving as an art director or production designer to indie films. Most recently, she worked on Stephen Gyllenhaal’s feature film Grassroots, currently in post-production. In 2010, curious about what exactly it was that Rena did for a living, I attended two festival screenings of films that she had worked on: True Adolescents at the Tacoma Film Festival, on which Rena served as an associate producer, and Dear Lemon Lima at SIFF, which featured Rena as art director. I discovered that although art directors and production designers are often buried in a long list of credits of who’s who on a film set, their contribution to the visual effect of the storytelling can have every bit as much impact as the shots that are composed by the director or the lines that are spoken by the actors.
Rena has described her film job to me as the art of “building narratives out of objects,” or translating someone else’s narrative from the page to the three-dimensional world as the case may be. She knows that “a particular chair or rug communicates something that a different chair or rug may not communicate,” and so during production, it’s her job to orchestrate objects and environments to insure that what is being communicated by a shot’s unspoken elements contributes seamlessly to a scene’s overall effect. (Sounds like installation art, right?)
When I was invited to participate in ONN/OF, I knew that I wanted to do a new Hair and Space Museum piece (whose parameters we define as “site-specific meditations on the generative nature of sound”) and I also wanted to explore the idea of being disembodied for a performance; to present live music and visuals in an environment that was somehow decontextualized from the people creating the sounds and video signals, or the gear being used. But given the very short time frame for the project—we were given only about a month, start to finish!—we needed to enlist some outside help or it never would have been possible. I knew from our conversations that Rena was interested in translating the kind of work she does for films into the arena of installation art, and so she became an obvious choice to step in and handle the logistics and design of the environment.
It was Rena who tracked down the 17-foot geodesic dome that housed the piece on Craigslist. (It was made by a company from Oregon called Unicorn Domeworks in the early 1980s and used to belong to a man named Dennis who actually lived in it for a couple of years.) She also found the parachute we used as a covering, arranged the rugs that formed the floor of the space and designed the altar inside of the dome, as well as the seating areas outside of the dome on the loft. Like much of her work in film, her contribution to the piece was so integral and seamless as to seem almost invisible in the finished product. But unlike working in film, where Rena has often noted the disconnect she feels between arranging a space but ultimately leaving it up to the director or actors to decide how that space is going to be interacted with and presented, the environment she produced for SPACE d’OM was completely open-ended. It was up to individual audience members to decide how to interact within it.
The sound element of the piece was presented through the use of headphones. With the headphones, SPACE d’OM could become a place of insular meditation. Without the headphones, the environment could become a social forum. In this way, the festival-goers became both the actors and directors. The piece was not a stage set for the presentation of some artifice or a pre-determined story, but rather an environment to contain and facilitate a broad spectrum of experiences throughout the weekend.
David made a soundboard recording of the musical component of SPACE d’OM, however the audio I have embedded below is a bootleg produced by Christopher Bradbury, the host of Hollow Earth Radio’s Gunpowder Suite. I love Christopher’s recording because not only does it capture the audio (recorded from the headphones inside the piece), it also captures the ambient sound of the inside of the dome and the festival beyond.
Rena’s activities as Caravan Age also include the curation of vintage clothing and housewares for sale, as well as an upcoming collaboration with the musician Kelli Frances Corrado at Youngstown Cultural Art Center on March 2. You can keep up with these activities on her Facebook Page.
SPACE d’OM has a Facebook Page as well. We’re especially interested in collecting your images and stories from the dome, if you have them!