by Frank Lewis
The economy is clearly having an impact on summer festivals. Both the Cain Park Arts Festival and Ingenuity this past weekend featured larger-than-usual proportions of local talent. In past years, Northeast Ohio artists were few and far between at the Cain Park event, which attracts applications from artists across the country. This year, almost a third of the approximately 150 artists were from Northeast Ohio. Yet not only did the overall quality of the work seem a little better (especially crafts such as ceramics), but it seemed like most of the schlock that always creeps into such events (metal lawn ornaments, items depicting popular tourist beaches) was toted in from out of state.
As for Ingenuity, the inability to pay for out-of-state artists and performers or big headliners of past years (like Grandmaster Flash) certainly didn’t hamper the three-day festival at PlayhouseSquare. Ensembles like Double Edge Dance and Morrison Dance, bands like If These Trees Could Talk and Flat Can Co, film offerings like Kasumi’s, projected on a parking-lot wall, and interactive visual projects like “36 Views of a Bridge” by Alexander Boxerbaum and Chris Yanc (video below) or Daiv Whaley’s cell-phone photo gallery are only the tip of the iceberg that is the Cleveland creative community.
The highly touted Tesla Orchestra project earned an A for effort and mixed grades for execution. What was promoted as a spectacular display of electrical technology turned out to be basically a high-school-level skit with dancing, accompanied by the surf-rock of KB and the Riptides. The first night the electrical fireworks were barely noticeable at all; the second night the performance was postponed an hour by technical difficulties.
The musical acts were a mixed bag as well, with push-the-pocket DJs and freewheeling experimental bands on smaller stages and more typical street fair and festival bands on a giant stage at East 14th and Prospect. Given the interactive orientation Ingenuity supposedly promotes, it would be better served by eliminating the huge stage with the rows of folding chairs in front of it, which created a vast sense of separation between performer and audience, as well as mall-parking-lot-festival cover bands like the Girls. Cleveland has a veritable sea of original bands doing weird and wonderful things, so it shouldn’t be hard to book numerous stages with such local talent. Still, bands like Hot Cha Cha and This Is a Shakedown created what energy they could, given their distance from the crowd.
By far the most impressive project was Asterisk at Ingenuity, an instant gallery curated by Dana Depew of Tremont’s Asterisk Gallery in an empty building that used to house alternative rock radio station the End. In two weeks, he and his crew rehabbed the long-abandoned space and filled it with the work of 60 local artists. A majority of the space is tiny former offices and artists took them over, tailoring the spaces to their own needs. The range and quality of the work was breathtaking ranging from traditional work by noted local artists like Amy Casey, Dan Tranberg and Douglas Max Utter to installations like the evocative “Dream Guests,” by Brandon Brennan, Anna Tararova and sound artist Creep, who created a gently unsettling nighttime landscape. Many of the works involved televisions, including one that was nothing but a dark room with a single TV showing old footage of Big Chuck and Little John. Another, called “The Death of Terrestrial Radio,” was inspired by what the End staff had left behind. DePew’s own sculptural assemblages of light bulbs and glass lampshades, carpet, clocks, old photos and postcards and other memorabilia of 20th-century life were a high point: Depew has a distinctive style and vision that jogs complex feelings about the uses of the past and its leavings.
A New York-based artist, Erwin Redl, also had a piece called “Speed Shift” in the Asterisk Gallery. The rumor was that, although the local artists weren’t paid for participating (although they could sell their work if they chose), he was paid a five-figure sum to install this light-based piece that was so bland I entirely missed it the first night. With area artists like Depew and Jeff Chiplis doing far more interesting things with light, it seemed entirely unnecessary. In fact, it’s emblematic of how Ingenuity should forget the high-priced imports — not just for economic reasons but for artistic ones — and expand its reach into the local community. — Anastasia Pantsios