The American street is both horizon and bottom line, a declaration of dependence spooling under the wheels of every SUV. If we're schizoid, it may be because our point of view is split down the middle by Main Street and its inevitable center line.
Acknowledging this reality, Street Repairs at SPACES describes, fantasizes about and contemplates improvements to the contemporary situation. Curated by distinguished environmental sculptor Don Harvey, the show reflects his longstanding interests in urban aesthetics and the power the street corner has to shape the tenor of civic life.
The main events here are substantial installations that enact quasi-utopian themes. Mark A. Reigelman's background in fine arts combined with industrial design, for instance, inspired an exemplary bus shelter. Titled "Home Sweet Home" and looking like a breakfast nook with high-back chairs and a small table nestled in front of colonial-style window panes, Reigelman offers something close to home for the public. On the other hand, the spotless white half-room inscribed with "Do Not Touch" signs sends a mixed message. How could anyone actually use this friendly-looking space? A blank book and a mug glued to the table with a little congealed faux coffee at the bottom also seem a little freaky; is this an example of better living through concept design, or could it be some kind of trap?
At the next corner of SPACES' main drag, Jo Q. Nelson has constructed a charismatic mini-movie theater hung with thick velvet and lined with a few undersize row seats where, for better or worse, the first face visitors are apt to see is Arnold Schwarzenegger's. Part of a work titled "Arnold! The Man," by photographer and video artist Eric Rippert, it features stills from the last Republican National Convention. Another video by Frank Ferraro is called the "Powerbook Blues" and begins outside the well-known local club Pats in the Flats. Inside, a blues-brother white guy in suit and hat is filmed as he strums and croons to a laptop, placed on a stool opposite him.
So let's say you're walking down the "street," and the bus shelter won't let you in. Instead you settle into a cozy little womb-colored theater. Now, it doesn't bother you the seats are small and teeter a bit, but if you're at SPACES, chances are you're not a Republican, and the Terminator makes you nervous. You leave. There's another video by Kevin Lubrano projected on a wall across the way. Titled "Centaur Care," it's about a lawn-care operation in the Flats and shows someone with loppers riding in a wagon very slowly, pulled behind an apparently riderless bicycle.
Suddenly around the corner there's a bicycle shop. One of the show's more genuine (and actually helpful) submissions, it's an outpost, or inpost, of the Ohio City Bicycle Co-op. That nonprofit organization is more than just a place for the spoke-and-sprocket crowd to shop, offering various programs to adults and kids; for instance, kids can earn a refurbished bike while learning bike repair. And next door to that is a hole-in-the-wall music venue created by the arts group newsense enterprises (Lyz, Kristin and Gabe Bly) called "Gutterhall." Speaking of Pat's in the Flats, it's like that, or like any of Cleveland's down-and-dirty clubs. As a vignette that invokes the glory days of the Euclid Tavern, or half a dozen clubs still punking out every weekend, it's just right, crowding bands and audiences together in a space about the size of a child's bedroom. Relive the actual noise, crowding, and sheer discomfort of your favorite dingy firetrap - but without cigarette smoke and Rolling Rock bottles crunching underfoot. Cleveland's great neo-glam rockers Cobra Verde performed on opening night, and other groups are scheduled (call the gallery for details).
Hip-hop has its own hot and heavy moment at Street Repairs, thanks to spray- can maestro Poke (a.k.a. Christopher Cook), who created a breakdancing mat and backsplash big enough to serve as a stage. Last Friday several Cleveland poets including Michael Salinger used it as a setting for readings that remembered many important moments and people, including the much-admired artist and poet Marvin Smith who died this past week at the age of 74.
Also memorialized at SPACES during the run of Street Repairs are the beloved and lamented artists Masumi Hayashi and John Jackson, murdered in their West Side homes last month. Beneath their pictures near the front of the gallery are notes and mementos contributed by visitors. This is deliberately akin to the impromptu roadside shrines that mourn accident and crime victims. Photographer Amber Anderson's giclee prints are displayed nearby, documenting those drive-by testaments to sudden death in various locales around the city.
Some of the city's most revealing and densely detailed moments are caught against curbs or at the bottoms of walls and chain-link fencing. Drifting up one temporary gallery wall are several hundred screenprinted pigeons by painter and printmaker Corrie Slawson. They pick through representations of fast-food containers and drink lids.
Also curbside are the efforts of San Francisco art activist group Rebar, whose "Park(ing) Spaces" are temporary (as in one-to-two hour) pocket parks, installed in a flash in metered parking spots. Movable trees and fake grass, benches and the equipment to move them are on display.
Wandering through, past, over and under Street Repairs' various sections you can sit and rest for a moment on sculptor Jake Beckman's extraordinary "Urban Core Samples." Foot-square patches of weathered asphalt salvaged from repair sites are the top layers of these reconstructed, glued-together chunks of earth, gravel, roots, rocks and severed pipes. While you're sitting you can contemplate Frank Ferraro's sound sculptures, also on the floor near SPACES' reception area. "White Asphalt" is a visual skid made from a back flip of metal sheeting, tires and a barely audible recording.
And of course there's more. Each of photographer Karen St. John-Vincent's elaborately posed and over-painted C prints - like "Cheap Cologne and Other Tales of Seduction" - sketch a one-act drama of garishly-lit street life. Painter Alex Henry shows a straightahead oil on canvas rendition of a street in the Flats, and a video of himself working on it. But the exhibit's strongest work, by Stephen Manka, is actually not in the gallery at all. A giant thumbprint made of asphalt coils maze-like in the street, lapping up to the curb by the gallery door. Four more outsize abstract patterns are inscribed in other locations around the city, including one near MOCA, photographed by Jamie Janos.
Full of life, talent and screwy ideas, Street Repairs fixes SPACES' tendency to pave its gallery with good intentions, delivering an entertaining and insightful urban mix.