The biblical Tower of Babel was made of stone and mortar, built so a rich man could reach heaven without getting stuck with the grunt work. The Tower of Jim is made of broken clock radios and dented boom boxes, so a dude might blow some fuses, big time.
Babel crumbled, a monument to man's folly. But "Jim," sound artist Robert Sirovica's electrostatic shopping cart, rose from the rubble and rocks on. Like Moses with a lungful of Red Sea water, it spews and sputters aplenty, too.
On Saturday, April 24, Sirovica will push his ten-foot-high "mobile intelligence unit" from Public Square across the Detroit-Superior Bridge, then forty-some blocks down Detroit Avenue to West 65th Street. Preceding him and his machine will be a technology-free monk named Andrew, who rings a little bell.
The work questions the idea that electricity--something abstract, invisible, and ubiquitous--must be routinely contained and controlled. It looks for answers in the ever-encroaching trash heap that takes on a life of its own, composed of once-state-of-the-art equipment that no longer performs its assigned task in the swiftest, most efficent manner.
Composed of 64 obsolete electrical components that Sirovica manipulates into a buzzing, hissing atonal orchestra, Jim made its first public appearance on a much smaller scale a few years back. That was at the now-defunct Funtjar's, a rented performance art space on the second floor of a sagging building owned by the local Communist Party.
This time, the souped-up shopping cart will roll out as part of the twelfth annual Cleveland Performance Art Festival--the last such festival that will be held on such a large scale, according to perpetual organizer Tom Mulready of Lakewood. The two-week festival, which starts Friday, is also the last of a dying breed in the United States. Other cities have scaled back or eliminated their own events in the wake of Senator Jesse Helms's early 1990s smut sting, which led to drastically reduced public funding for performance art.
The sting Sirovica is concerned with, however, is the one on the third rail of the subway, or the one that invisibly shoots forth when kids sit too close to the TV. "Electricity does very strange and unexpected things," he says, noting that ordinary radios, if played at an abnormal frequency, can have machine memories burnt into them. And "if you overcharge a circuit, the static starts harmonizing, or an eight-track starts playing shortwave. The energy does take on a consciousness, acts as a unified whole . . . pulsating with one voice."
To juice Saturday's journey, Sirovica will be frequently stopping at "free energy sites." Jim, filled with broken Fisher-Price turntables playing Jackie Gleason tunes and vibrating motors from old NFL tabletop games, needs a jump-start or ten.
While past Jim incarnations addressed the mystery of electricity, "now it's definitely gonna be more about stealing," says Sirovica. Some of his favorite downtown stops to tap into free energy include a set of power kiosks on Public Square and a spate of outdoor outlets at Voinovich Park by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Once he shops west of the Detroit-Superior Bridge, however, things get stickier. "There's a whole stretch that's virtually powerless, without committing crimes, of course," he says, glancing up at the electrical wires crossing Detroit Avenue. "I'll have to go to battery power."
Sirovica plans to depend on the kindness of strangers for that source, hoping that passing motorists will be drawn to the cacophonous creature and agree to lend an electrode or two. "Most people, if they see something strange going on, they generally don't fear it," he says. "They just sort of laugh."
Robert Sirovica will perform Powersucker on Saturday, April 24, beginning at Public Square at an undisclosed time. Jim will also be plugged in beginning at 8 that night at the Cleveland Performance Art Festival in the Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Avenue. The festival runs through April 25; for this week's schedule, see Art Listings on page 46.