Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Trashy Collages At Aperture Cinema

When I started making mail-art I started slow. I made a few pieces, mailed them, and then made a few more. It took me years before I made anything bigger or more ambitious than a postcard. Like most things, if you care about them, you slowly get sucked into every facet of the obsession. You start making larger cards, doing collaborations, and then pretty soon you’re making pieces not meant to be mailed. Over time those mildly ambitious whims start to collect in a corner of your house, and you think to yourself, “Why are these here?”

Some of the images waiting to be put on a wall.
Some months ago I had a meeting with Lawren at Aperture. I was invited by a friend. I said a few words and brought a bunch of packages for the folks attending. It was never really clear what my purpose for being at the meeting really was, but my motto is always the same when it comes to such endeavors, “just say yes.” If someone asks me to make a record cover I “say yes.” If they ask me to make a birthday card for their girlfriend I “say yes.” I do this not because I expect anything out of it. I always “say yes” because the things asked of me aren’t always what I do. Saying yes makes me try something new and since I don’t have a background in art, I need to be pushed in new territories-it is like art school for me. I’m also a firm believer in way leads onto way. You “say yes” here and you meet that person, that person (in months or years) thinks of you for that thing and maybe you meet that person…to do that thing…for that other person.

After the meeting I didn’t hear from anyone-no big deal, I got to meet some new folks and have an excuse to be out of the house in the middle of the week. Months later I got an email from someone at Aperture asking if I wanted to have a small show in their downstairs gallery. “Yes,” of course I would. There are not many businesses in Winston-Salem that I wholeheartedly approve of. There’s Silver Moon where I like to drink, The Bagel Station where I get my carbs on Wednesday mornings, and Aperture where I go to watch small-run art house movies. When they first opened I contributed to them and got a sweet green Aperture shirt out of it. I lamented a few years ago when they got rid of the cake pops in the lobby, but other than that, it’s one of my favorite places in town.  I said “yes” very strongly. I really hate I missed the latest Agnes Varda movie in its short one week long run, but that’s beside the point.
I was told that about ten pieces would fit into their space. Initially I thought I wanted to have a sampling of items, you know, the overall feeling of the things I create. Thinking about how that would appear didn’t make a lot of sense to me…too varied, no consistency whatsoever. To link all of the items together I went into the archives to find ten tape collages that I had made some time ago. Since they’d never been seen before, I thought it was ok that they were quite old. Also, I don’t know the rules for how these things work, no one’s asked me to be a part of something like this, I don’t know the etiquette, and I don’t know what’s expected. At best I figured I wouldn’t have to work hard to show my ignorance. The tape collages are pretty interesting too, something that could arouse some interest in random people, or so I thought. At best strangers might be intrigued by the glistening tape constructions.

I made a punk inspired flyer for the show.
To go along with the opening I made 40 packets to hand out to folks who came through the door. Inside the packets were a bunch of broadsides, stickers, and the new Nostrils record. I wanted to hand out the Nostrils record there because I knew it would cut down on my travel time. If my friends showed up I wouldn’t have to drive around to their house to give it to them or worse yet, mail it to them. I spent hours and hours on the packets. I stamped each one of them, printed things off, glued things down, cut bits of paper out, and burnt 100 CD’s. I chipped away at the project for the better part of two weeks.

Putting together things to go in the packages. I handmade 100 of these.
As I went back and forth with Maria (the point person at the theater) about the project, I got a little nervous. It was a nice feeling of anticipation, you know that feeling you get when you do something for the first time. I wasn’t sure how many people were going to show up, if any strangers would be there, and if I could sell something to one of them. In my head I figured I would sell one piece and three strangers would show up. That was my prediction.

On the day of my nervousness started to get stronger. I left my house thirty minutes before the official opening was to occur. The door was locked when I got there so I stood outside for five minutes in the cold. Hobos were yelling at each other. When I went inside Maria was there setting things up, the collages had been hung earlier in the day. I went downstairs to check them out; they looked pretty good on the wall. I hadn’t seen that many of my creations in one place before. Burns has a lot of my things up in his room, the most by any person I know of and they’re in one place…a small gallery of his own. I didn’t want to stick around too long; it felt weird looking at them in this way. Two weeks ago they were in a simple folder tucked away in a drawer in my house, and now they were hanging in cheap frames on the wall of a nice building.
Half of them. Elvis got the odd frame.
After checking them out, I went back upstairs and sat at one of the tables in the lobby looking out on the street. I saw Mike and Sarah with Clark. I waved at them. I wondered if Tim was still working. I had 15 minutes before it was supposed to start.

The first person that showed up came minutes before 5pm. She slinked downstairs to look at the work. From where I was sitting I could hear her talk to herself. I could make out words mixed with soft screeches and inaudible moans. It was obvious enough that Maria and I, the only two people in the upstairs space, looked at each other and laughed. Through the cracks in the railing I could see the woman taking pictures of one of the images while making asinine sounds. She came upstairs and started talking with me in what I think was a fake British accent. If she wasn’t drunk she could have passed for it. When she saw that some beers were for the taking she got a seat at the makeshift bar and had two drinks in quick succession listening to music on her headphones, mouthing along to the words. Her presence completely calmed me.
Slowly but surely people started showing up. Misty was the first there. All in all about 20 or 25 friends came to look at the pictures, mostly people that I’ve known for years and years, people I’ve gone to their art openings for or paid to see their band. My mom and my sister came as well as my aunt and uncle. The little upstairs place was full and no one really went anywhere too quickly. The mood was chill. It felt like a band might play at any second. Maria wrote that it was a party in one of her online posts. If my friends show up and theirs free booze they’re going to drink it. I think they ate all of the sweet snacks as well.
Here is my Mom pointing at one of them.
I was most interested in seeing folks that didn’t feel somewhat required to come, or at least pressured to show up and say nice things. In all about 15 or 20 people came off the street, people I didn’t know personally. One of those people was a lady that I had sent some stickers to. She brought her high school age daughter who also makes collages. I wish I would have asked what brought her out, where she heard about the show from, but I didn’t.

My main function was to give out packets and talk with folks. I pretty much stayed in one spot the whole time. It was a constant stream of short conversations for almost two hours. My head started to hurt. Some folks would ask me about this item while another would ask about that. I felt compelled to spread my time around as much as possible, which became almost dizzying. At 6:30 I knew we had to get out of the space since the movies were about to start downstairs. I could see nicely dressed couples with popcorn wonder what we all were doing up there, pause at the top of the stairs, and then finally slip into the basement theaters.

The show was a great success to me. I was happy that Aperture was interested in showing my things and I was more than thrilled that a bunch of friends showed up to look at them. The wonderful people Sam and Julia even bought one. This was their second purchase from me-a repeat customer. The whole bunch will be up until the start of February. I doubt I’ll sell anymore (I have information with the pictures) but that’s not that important since I’ve already reached my goal. Hell, I’ll probably end up giving away whatever is left to anyone willing to say something nice about them. If anything, I get to tick that box off of the “experience list” and who knows, maybe the next thing will come from this one. No matter what I’ll keep making more things, most of which I’ll give away or send through the mail.

PS – When I was putting the packages together I was basically going around my workspace and picking up anything that someone might find visually interesting, and then I’d put it in the package. The last package I made I slipped a Spanish stamp inside. It was just sitting on my desk. A couple hours after the show, I got a text from the person that received the stamp, a man born and raised in Spain, Alex. He kindly posed with the stamp for me.
Alex and his Spanish stamp.


Dave said...

Congrats on the show! looks like you had fun, and repeat customers are good!

zzzzzzzz said...

Thanks so much for saying hello. For sure, I'm very appreciative of those fine folks.

Carmela said...

Hi Jon,
I decided tonight to catch up on your mail art activities. The aperture display of mail art sounds like a wonderful experience. One of my goals, like yours, is to participate in activities that provide a unique experience. Being part of your 9 X9 tile project was one of those activities for me in 2017. Thank you for sharing your optimistic view of life and living. Have a happy and wonderful 2018!--and Mindy, too!!

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