Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Link: A Remembrance of Local Arts Scenes Past

Link published 10 critically acclaimed issues between 1996-2006

The Baltimore-based arts magazine Link published 10 book-length journals to great critical acclaim between 1996 and 2006. I was never fully aware of Baltimore's arts scene in my formative years of the late '70s through the early '90s - when, apparently, a lot of exciting things were happening here - but, in the course of rummaging through my warehouse-sized archive of accumulated books and magazines this weekend, I had an epiphany when I came across Link No. 2," a special issue serving as an exhibition site of Artscape '97." 
You Are Here: Link No. 2 (1997)

I confess, I had never read this issue in detail, but thumbing through its pages now, I noticed a lot of familiar (and respected) names from Baltimore's arts and music scenes past: Kirby Malone, D.S. Bakker, Susan Lowe, Peter Walsh, David Beaudouin, Sandie Castle, David Franks, tENTATIVELY a cONVENIENCE, Tom DiVenti, Steve Estes, John and Richard Ellsberry...and (drum roll, please) Link co-founder and Creative Alliance co-founder/program manager Megan Hamilton.

"I Was There!": Megan Hamilton (photo by Frank Klein)

Megan's opening article "Stenciled on Marble Steps, Woven into Rows: Assembling a Baltimore Historian" spoke to me immediately, for it brought home recovered memories of scenes, places, people, and events of which I had only a hazy recollection. As she wrote in her opening paragraph:
"I write a history titles The Era of Spectacle and The Banquet Years: Baltimore Performance Art 1968-1985. I interview artists, on tape, about events that are often ten, sometines going on twenty years old. Occasionally trying to remember a long-ago, now fuzzy detail, they will turn to me and ask, "Don't you remember? You were there, weren't you?" I don't know how to answer. What I really feel like saying - but only occasionally have the guts to - is: "Yeah, I was there, but I didn't get it." Even more strangely: "But I think that, even though I didn't get it, it got me - somehow snuck into my marrow so that now I try to write a history of the stuff I didn't get in the first place."
Yes!!! This is exactly how I feel when I try to explain to people my piecemeal recollections of moments and experiences I lived through, like the Ad-Hoc Fiascos in Wyman Park (1983), the old Second Story Books and Empire Salon on Charles Street in Mt. Vernon (1981-1982), the Crater Baltimore Alliance project, the Cultural Cryptananalysts Collective's stencil art project, the Museum of the Future,  the TESTES-3 interactive phone line-answering machine (new technology in 1980!)-radio station project (produced by Richard Ellsberry, Doug Retzler and tENTATIVELY a cCONVENIENCE), the video wizardry of Ed "Lizard" Rosen, and the various audiovisual projects of John and Richard Ellsberry. And now, thanks to Megan, at least some of these happenings have been documented so that future generations (not to mention those time-traveling Krononauts from the future who visited Charm City in the near-past) can "get it" as well.

Of the Ad-Hoc Fiascos, Megan wrote, "The Fiascos were anarchic, disorganized, innovative events replete with gestures and processes that reveberate to this day. Perhaps to draw attention to the Baltimore Museum of Art's perceived lack of support for the regional arts community, at the 1984 Fiasco a huge collaborative painting instigated by Steve Estes was 'donated' to the BMA by chaining it to the institution's neoclassical portico."

Steve Estes "donates" his painting to the BMA by chaining it to the museum's neoclassical portico

Of Ed "Lizard" Rosen's video van parked in the Wyman Park Dell broadcasting a live feed of Doug Retzler's Icarus installation (in which weather balloons held Retzler aloft while he videotaped the landscape below him), Megan recalled "To my naive eyes, it was as if NASA had succumbed to some long-hidden rebellious impulse and set up a branch of mission control in the middlem of this chaos. Or, it was like NBC setting up a live remote at an obscure Boy Scout jamboree in Iowa. Whoever these Boy Scouts were, they had technical control of media and that meant, irrevocably, that They Had a Grip."

Hamilton added that Lizard's van resembled some "living Technosaurus" full of "black-boxed monitors and coaxial cables and jacks in various colors, with antennas and electricity and Lizard calmly locomoting around keeping it all well-behaved."

You can read Megan's full "Stenciled on Marble Steps" article below.

Better yet, here's a .pdf version of her article (thanks Scott Huffines!):
Megan Hamilton - Marble Steps

Or, those with ADD like me can watch a capsulized version called "From Fiasco to Not (Ignite for a Better Baltimore)" YouTube.


Link No. 2 also featured Joseph Christopher Shaub's in-depth review of Skizz Cyzyk's Mansion Theater film series, "Microcinemania: The Mansion Theater and Underground Movie-Making in Baltimore, Maryland, USA"...

Joseph Christopher Shaub's "Microcinemania" examined Baltimore's underground filmmaking community in Link No. 2

...Adam J. Lehner's "Black Aggie, Cultural Cryptologists, and the Politics of Locality" (which described the Cultural Cryptanalysts Collective's "Nine New Museums" stencil project)...

...and Peter Walsh's interactive essay on the Baltimore arts aesthetic, "Escape Velocity Vs. the Home-Grown Product," which asked readers to read certain books (e.g., tENTATIVELY a cONVENIENCE's How To Write Your Resume Volume II: Making a Good First Impression), listen to particular pieces of music (like Corky Neidermeyer's "Bowling With You") , and watch several movies (such as John Waters's Multiple Maniacs).

I don't know Peter Walsh, but I think I should because, in addition to being the reigning expert of all things related to Santogold and Blood Circus (the alien wrestling movie filmed in the early '80s at the old Baltimore Civic Center), his essay indicates that he knew a lot of mutual friends and aquaintances - like Mark Harp (aka Corky Neidermeyer), tENT, Dick Hanson (aka Dick Hurts, Larry Vega), Jim Burger, and so on, and so on.

Here's Walsh's account of "The Larry Vega Show":

The Larry Vega Show (1985-1986) 
"The Larry Vega Show": Buzz Bourbon (Kenny Vieth), Oprah (Mark Harp) and host Larry Vega (Dick Hanson) backed by the Mo Fine All-Blind Orchetsra

"The Larry Vega Show," Baltimore's pirate TV show that floated from the Fabulous Galaxy Ballroom on Franklin Street (above the Marble Bar in the Congress Hotel) to the Eight by Ten Club (on Cross Street in South Baltimore) in 1985 and 1986, was a momentary, indigenous attempt to respond to cultural colonization by creating a space where the audience members were the performers and being a couch potato had no meaning. Founded by Dick Hanson (Larry Vega), Mark Harp (Corky Neidermeyer), Dave Sarfati (Mo Fine), and a host of others, the Vega show skewered pop media in that trademark style of over-the-top satire that has risen out of the cultural vacuum of some of Baltimore's post-industrialized white neighborhoods and suburbs.
Corky Neidermeyer (Mark Harp) and Larry Vega (Dick Hanson)

On a stage populated by ex-punk rockers gone conceptual, hangers-on, poets, scenesters, artists and the terminally bored, Larry and crew play-acted their own style of TV with stellar guests such as "Liberace," "Carol Burnett," and "Lou Ferrigno," played by the appropriately dressed friends - or anyone that could be cajoled into getting on stage at the last minute. One show featured a line-up of all dead guests (such as Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison). Another was dedicated to favorite TV characters, like Rosie and the Quicker-Picker-Upper. In one show, a guest named "Art Martyr" repeatedly attempted to end his life, live on stage, while the All-Blind Orchestra accompanied him with "The Art Martyr Dance Polka." Later, another guest aggressively advocated home surgery techniques. The "Thirty-First Annual Holiday Special" included Burl Ives, Miss Manners and a "Special Birthday Salute to Ludwig Van Beethoven" - admission was free with a charity donation of a fruitcake.
Corky Neidermeyer (Mark Harp) loves to go "Bowling With You"

Larry Vega, with his patented one-liner shtick for every occasion ("What the hell ya gonna do?"), couldn't last very long, his brand of do-it-yourself theatrics being generally at odds with making a comfortable living. According to Hanson, the show fell apart when they finally began to take it seriously. Meetings, rehearsals, script revisions and newly acquired expectations of success pulled the rug out from under what had been an "in-house" joke.

"The Larry Vega Show" was one attempt by artists in Baltimore to deal with the intense cultural poverty, induced by cash-driven one-directional mass media, that is spreading out across the entire planet. This vision of "culture as business proposition" necesarrily suprreses the individuality of places and persons in a drive to create the largest possible audience for each available product. When Larry donned his double-knit plaids or Corky sang "Bowling with You," they were digging into the collective memories and experiences of their own local audience.

We are left wondering how to inspire that same kind of spontaneous, grassroots vitality, how to spark it anew, how to collect that energy and release it in its latest unexpected form."

Lehner's "Aggie, Cultural Cryptanalysts, and the Politics of Locality" referenced the Cultural Cryptanalysts Collective (CCC) of Baltimore, which was a collective of anonymous individuals "dedicated to revealing the secret messages embedded in our society's institutions, the media, and our daily lives." The CCC was inspired by the theme of community and their web site is an invaluable reference to various underground projects going on here during this period, including the Empire Salon (the Museum of the Future), the Nine New Museums project, and the Stencil Street Art Project.

The information that follows is from this page, which is hosted by TalkBack! magazine of CUNY.


The Cultural Crpytanalysts Collective of Baltimore (CCC)

The City of Baltimore to Open Nine New Museums project was the Cultural Cryptanalysts Collective's blueprint for re-envisioning urban localities through a program of identifying lost resources, histories and submerged cultures wherever they may be found. A series of stencils subsequently appeared around the city of Baltimore entitled "Secret Messages Revealed." Each stencil functioned as a curious aesthetic marker to the general public, and carried a secret message to particular individuals and/or social groups. Their locations were precisely chosen.

Map of CCC's "Nine New Museums"

Tying in with this was a 1996 press release announcing the creation of "Nine New Museums," named after the nine classical Greek muses, unveiled by the city of Baltimore in conjunction with the CCC.

My favorite museums were The Museum of Gay and Lesbian Culture at the corner of Tyson and Read Streets (commemorating the spot where Divine ate dog shit in John Waters's Pink Flamingos) and The Museum of the Future at 527 N. Charles Street in the old Empire Salon. I vaguely recall attending one of the Krononaut Society events there, as well.

The full list is below:
  1. Museum of Worker Rights. Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Muse: Calliope (Epic Poetry).
  2. Museum of African-American Culture. Site of Frederick Douglass' boyhood home at 1815 Aliceanna Street, Fells Point. Muse: Clio (History).
  3. Museum of Gay and Lesbian Culture. Site of Divine's coprophagic scene in Pink Flamingos at Read and Tyson Streets. Muse: Erato (Lyric Poetry).
  4. Museum of Musicology. Site of the Royal Theater, 1300 Block of Pennsyvania Avenue. Muse: Euterpe (Music).
  5. Museum of Urban Planning. Route 40 West. Muse: Melpomemne (Tragedy).
  6. Museum of the Unknowable. 909 E. Pratt Street (possibly the first location of the commercial manufacture of the Ouija Board anywhere in the world, according to the 1892 Baltimore City Directory). Muse: Polyhymnia (Religious Music).
  7. Museum of Hoaxology. 221 Park Avenue (location of the Recreation Novelty Co., according to a 1968 Baltimore telephone book) . Muse: Terpsichore (Dance).
  8. Museum of Subjectivity. 868 Park Avenue (home of The Brexton, ertswhile flop-house and hippie/Boho hangout). Muse: Thalia (Comedy).
  9. Museum of the Future. 527 N. Charles Street. Muse: Urania (Astronomy).
As Lehner wrote, "The CCC's Nine New Museums project manifested itself in several ways. In addition to the stencils on the street and press releases to city officials, arts administrators and the media, the project was documented in July and August as part of Baltimore City's Artscape '96, at a stencil exhibit called 'On the Street/Off the Street,' curated by another anonymous individual/collective, Western Cell Division."


Empire Salon (1981-1982)

From the CCC ( web site:

SECOND STORY BOOKS owner Allan Stypek came to Baltimore in 1981 hoping to open a bookstore/cafe along the lines of KRAMERBOOKS in Washington, DC (this was long before the 1990s arrival of coffee culture). Once here, he was convinced by a number of people, including Baltimore poet/performance artist Kirby Malone, to transform the cafe space into a multi-purpose art space with a small bar on the lower level. This occurred at a moment in Baltimore history when there were almost no alternative performance spaces available (The Theater Project, which celebrates its 25th birthday in 1996, was under renovation at this time), and so the space bloomed with activity. EMPIRE SALON co-directers Richard Ellsberry and Kirby Malone ran the gallery and performance space, Warren Wigatow, Steve Hargrove, and Joe Potts ran the bookstore itself, and Harry Robinson ran the Empire Lounge, a bar sometimes known as "The Elbow Room" because of its small size. The food manager? Poet Tom Diventi of the late 70s punk band "Da Moronics."
The Empire Salon, 527 N. Charles Street

The space took its name from Andre's Empire Salon, the beauty shop formerly at the 527 N. Charles Street location, and appropriately the downstairs cutting booths were given to local artists as installation spaces for the Salon Grand Opening held on Tuesday, October 13, 1981. Among the installations were Sindee Heidel's "Use Me," Laurie Stepp's "Dreamboat," and Tom Diventi's "Zero Gravity." Murals were painted by Manette Letter. Over the course of the next twelve months, numerous artshows were exhibited in the gallery including notable shows by Stephen Parlato, Bill Moriarty (also of "Da Moronics fame), and Vince Perranio (who designed sets for John Waters' films).
Kirby Malone's "Apparatus: Character Assassination" (photo: D.S. Bakker)

Tom DiVenti's "Zero Gravity" (photo: D.S. Bakker)
Sindee Heidel's "Use Me" (photo: D.S. Bakker)
Susan Mumford of Tiny Desk Unit performs "An Arab in Paris" (photo: D.S. Bakker)

My girlfriend Amy Linthicum was married to Mark Harp (real name Mark Linthicum) back in the day and - Mark naturally being involved in any- and everything to do with Baltimore's underground arts scene - recalls going to the October 13, 1981 Salon Grand Opening.

"There was a naked couple walking around dressed as Adam and Eve," Amy said, adding that the couple's naughty bits were covered by fig leaves.


Crater Baltimore Project (Richard Ellsberry)

In 1981, Richard Ellsberry originated the idea of locating a crater on the surface of the moon that lay at the same longitude and latitude on the moon as the city of Baltimore does on the earth and then declaring that crater to be Crater Baltimore. At that point, approximately 76 degrees 40 minutes West by 39 degrees 20 minutes North, lay a tiny crater in the periphery of the Lavoisier system, a system of craters that borders on the western edge of Oceanus Procellarum.
The official naming of the crater took place at the Empire Salon on March 9, 1982 as part of the Krononauts Reception for Visitors from the Future. Posters were made from photos received from NASA and then-Baltimore Mayor William Schaefer himself was on hand to sign posters for party-goers.

The crater was then designated a wildlife refuge in order to prevent exploitation by shopping mall developers and to insure it as a safe haven for endangered wildlife species.

OK, there's a lot of information at these sites and in these publications beyond my ken to disseminate here. The good news is, you can still score some Link magazines on Amazon. So check them out and, like me, recover lost memories of Baltimore's storied underground arts past!

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Blogger Unknown said...

Thank you so much for this wonderful post! As one of the 5 founders of Link, it's super gratifying to know the journal is still relevant. Cheers, Kathy O'Dell

9:17 AM  
Blogger Peter Walsh said...

Great post Tom! I think everyone who was involved with LINK feels a great sense of satisfaction to know we were able to capture something that would retain meaning over so many years. We really were trying to get it all on the page before it vanished. Great pics of Corky and Larry too! Peter Walsh

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