Everything Is Permitted

Where to go to make an electronic drum out of your pickup truck--and other secrets of alternative art venues

The large upstairs, recently the performing area for the play Freewheeling in the Attic of Whim, has been used for everything from punk concerts to Irish dances, and is the regular home to Bedlam Theatre's bi-monthly "romps," a cabaret-style performance that often goes until the early hours of the morning. Though this creative outlet seems to exist mostly for its own sake, it doubles as a rent party.

The result of all these activities, inevitably, is a buildup of debris: planks of wood, plastic bags, rubber tires. "It never ceases to amaze me," Ward sighs, "but it's impossible to keep under control."


Where the unknowable meets the unnameable: Spoken-word poet Pe~e AIRE performs at Gus Lucky's
Teddy Maki
Where the unknowable meets the unnameable: Spoken-word poet Pe~e AIRE performs at Gus Lucky's

While dumpsters of refuse come out of the Bedlam Studio, odd noises pour out the portal to Gus Lucky's (1626 E. Lake St.), presumably to the bewilderment of nearby businesses, which include a Swedish import shop, Sallie's Southern Soul and Creole Restaurant, and the Pizza Shack.

Here is an example of the sorts of sounds to be found inside this café-cum-art gallery-cum-performance venue: At one performance manager Jonathan Whitney constructed a "prepared instrument" out of a large wooden shipping box he had scavenged from the Walker Art Center. The box contained a snare drum, which was attached to a large piece of wire, which Whitney affixed to the back of his pickup truck. He then drove his truck just far enough to tighten the wire, stepped out, and set up several video cameras. These he pointed at a woman and two children, whom he had recruited to throw rocks at the wire. The force of the rocks would cause the drum to make an anguished clatter, which was then amplified by several microphones. Further, extending out of the box was a gas-mask-type apparatus, also wired for sound, which a performer wore while reading entries on the subject of justice from a book of quotations. The box and reader stood in the performance space of Gus Lucky's Gallery, while a nearby television displayed the rock throwers outside.

"It's amazing what the Walker throws out," Whitney says in discussing this performance, but equally amazing is what Whitney has made of it. Who has ever heard of such a complex, Rube Goldberg device intended simply for the creation of a random, clattering sound? And the entirety of the gallery is similarly crammed with monuments to soaring, preposterous flights of fancy--quite literally in the case of a sculpture by Melissa Hronkin that hangs from the ceiling. Titled "Early Ornithopter/The Absurd Hero," Hronkin's piece looks like the sort of badly considered, hastily assembled flying device that occasionally appears in documentaries about the early, tragic years of manned flying machines. The wings of her device stretch out 12 feet and are seemingly built out of sticks and whirligigs, connected in the center by a horse's harness.

Whitney is a young man with a closely shaved head and a quiet manner, but he grows visibly excited showing off the venue, the charge of which he inherited several years ago when the building's owner gave up on an earlier scheme: a restaurant/gallery that filled the venue's two rooms. Now a makeshift coffee shop occupies the first room, with its walls obscured by pottery and wall hangings. These ornaments wrap around the magnificent arch that leads into the performance space. In theory, the coffee shop is the money-making end of this venture; in truth, selling beverages is an afterthought, as the venue claims a grander purpose.

Gus Lucky's is a place of nearly unbounded creativity, a perpetual-motion device of a gallery, welcoming performances as varied as the Praxis Group's recent eight-hour Hamletmachine, "contact" dancing, spoken-word performances, cello and steel-guitar duets, and productions that defy any attempt at description, all of which seem to bleed into one another at surprising moments. For example, Whitney designed some of the sets for Hamletmachine. Gesturing to the venue's elongated performance space, Whitney explains that "it's not just a theater--there are things that cross over between disciplines." While the word things would ordinarily seem unnecessarily vague, looking at the art on the gallery's wall (changed every two weeks to allow anybody who shows up at a Wednesday meeting to hang work), and glancing at a schedule of forthcoming events, leads one to concede that no word other than things will do. Too much of what appears here is still unknowable, unnameable, and forming as we watch it.

While artists have long flocked to immigrant and minority neighborhoods--for reasons more fiscal than political, it must be said--they've also turned to that other mainstay of the prospecting real estate agent: the industrial corridor. Rogue Buddha gallery, an ambitious venture begun seven months ago by two recent University of Minnesota graduates, is situated at the intersection of 24th Street and Hennepin Avenue--ostensibly a prime, perfect location. But Rogue Buddha has made its home on East Hennepin (2402 E. Hennepin Ave. NE). This location is so obscure, even to longtime Minneapolitans, that the gallery's voicemail message includes careful instructions for the intrepid driver. It is a bare strip of soil they have staked out for themselves, with nothing nearby except for a perpetually darkened coffee shop with a sign reading "opening soon" hanging optimistically in the window. Nearby are several nondescript businesses whose imposing structures seem designed to discourage walk-in business: A printing company, a computer distributor, two darkened storefronts that purport to be a Chinese cultural center and a church.

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