For Chuck Karnack, Marshall McLuhan's observations about media and message could be twisted in a grittier, more primitive way. For the mastermind behind All Go Signs, the medium is the city, and the city is the message.
Karnack - who for this year's Ingenuity Festival is coordinating programming slated for the alley linking Prospect to Huron, with a branch off E. 14th St. - has never strayed from the transformative goal James Levin set in Ingenuity's first year: to reacquaint people with corners of the city by showing spaces in different lights. Karnack is in his element when he's making do, turning a warehouse or alley into dramatic performance and exhibit space. Festival director Levin refers to the alley as "All Go World." When he talks about Karnack, he says this: "If Ingenuity kills me, if I fall over and have a heart attack, he's the heir apparent."
Through his collaborative All Go Signs events, which mostly happen in a West Side warehouse, Karnack has developed relationships and a production capacity that are all about working with other people and improvising, based on the space and available materials. He's worked with a host of bands, plus photographers, sculptors, street artists, the SAFMOD dance company and others to create an ever-evolving, underground Rust Belt circus.
Karnack describes the alley he's programming for Ingenuity as an "eclectic" space. "There's loading docks, a smokestack, an old driveway that has been since sealed off that is basically a pit," he says. "There's a parking lot. There's fire escapes and buildings with missing windows - there's a lot there that's just cool, and we're trying to let that all breathe. A lot of conversations have been had about not getting in the way of the space. I'm a city boy, and I love an alley that's got some architecture that's been here since long before me. So we're going in there and treating it with respect. Yeah, it's a beat-up old alley, but the way our world is going, we won't realize how cool they are until they are all gone. I am very conscious of the fact that there will probably never again be a performance in this alley. That's the way we're approaching it."
All Go Alley will have two performance spaces, one in the aforementioned "pit" and the other on a small platform in front of the smokestack. The alley will be filled with performances and installations, both from Cleveland and elsewhere. The Evolution Control Committee of San Francisco will bring its "musical mash-ups" to the alley in Live Infringement: The Thimbletron. Cleveland artist Kidist Getachew will install his multiple video and sound piece, Angels by Night. Experimental theater and music artist Steve Pellegrino, of Pittsburgh, will perform. Other performers in All Go Alley include local band Clan of the Cave Bear, Mifune, the Deadwood Goreys, Ohio Sky, dancer Lisa Lock and individual performers from SAFMOD.
"We're kind of an ongoing science experiment," Karnack says. "We started doing this completely underground on our own. The festival is different from what we started as, because it is plugged in with funding and major institutions of the city. I have to be conscious of how far I go in the direction of the festival, because I don't want to lose the organic quality. Normally, we don't have access to huge truss systems to lights and that stuff. So I've purposefully not used those things in this alley."
Ingenuity Festival's All Go Alley: Friday-Sunday, off Prospect, behind Star Plaza. Call 216.241.6000.