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Indepth Arts News:

"Fantastic: The Land of Milk, Honey, and Extraterrestrials"
2003-03-08 until 2004-04-01
North Adams, MA, USA United States of America

From sleeping bags filled with helium to a suburban garage filled with surreal mist, from plans for a combination subway and cemetery in Paris to plans for a combination ecotopia/town archive in an abandoned K-mart in North Adams, the artists of Fantastic show that utopian ideals and paranormal thought are as inextricably tied today as they have been throughout history. At times deeply terrifying, and at others laughably quaint, the strange relationship between the paranormal and utopian has grown even more intricate and complex as scientific and technological advances seem increasingly like science fiction, instilling deep unease even as they promise a seductive, problem-free, utopian future.

In Fantastic, opening March 8, 2003, MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) showcases five contemporary artists - Miguel Calderón, Gregory Crewdson, Alicia Framis, Nils Norman, and artist collective Temporary Services who embrace a world of hallucinatory, visionary, utopian, and otherwise "fantastic" ideas. These artists' works - which range from visionary social design to outright paranoid delusion - encompass photography, large-scale installations, architecture, print, and invention. Placing the history and status of utopian thought in a regional context, the exhibition highlights chapters of New England history that make The X Files look tame by comparison.

Once dismissed as a utopian fantasy in itself, MASS MoCA is an ideal location for Fantastic. Few institutions combine MASS MoCA's vast, flexible spaces, penchant for collaboration, and commitment to new art and ideas. MASS MoCA's very site - a 13-acre campus of historic mill buildings - forms a meaningful backdrop to the exhibition; the adaptive reuse of these industrial spaces continues to challenge assumptions about what is "possible."

The Fantastic Artists:

Part fantasy, part humor, part subversion, the work of artist Miguel Calderón mocks the system. Born in Mexico in 1971, Calderón attended the San Francisco Art Institute and then returned to Mexico City to work as an artist. In 1995, Calderón attracted international press for Evolution of Man, a series of six photos showing the artist developing from a crouched nude wearing socks and an Afro to an erect urban homeboy in baggy clothes wielding automatic weapons. In Fantastic Calderón will explore the dreamy visions of New England hippies of the 1960s with a newly commissioned, site-specific installation. Calderón's sardonic monument to this lost world will include floating sleeping bags attached to massive helium tanks; the sleeping bags will hover, off-center, above the audience's heads, in a hallucinatory - almost ghostly - manner.

Massachusetts native Gregory Crewdson - who stands at the vanguard of an American movement toward Spielberg-like cinematic effect in photography - will present an eerie, elaborately staged fantasy world with 22 super-large photographs - 12 from his Twilight series and 10 from his Hover series. Crewdson's work, presented in partnership with Site Santa Fe, cleverly deconstructs a common American utopia: suburban life. In Crewdson's hands, suburbia becomes an eerie distopia - equally likely to involve neighborhood block parties as the vestigial remains of aliens and human corpses. Four of the photographs to be shown were actually staged at MASS MoCA with the support of the museum's production crew and local volunteers.

Since arriving on the international art scene in 1994, the Spanish artist Alicia Framis has been creatively rethinking the purpose of art in society and the relationship between the artist and the public. Addressing themes of individual isolation and urban development, Framis' recent projects are plans for large-scale installations that address the modern need for personal connection in public settings. Born in Barcelona in 1967, Framis now lives and works in Amsterdam, where she was awarded the Prix de Rome for Sculpture in a Public Space in 1997. Framis will present four large-scale photographs from her Remix Buildings series, in which she uses architectural interventions to bring otherwise hidden aspects of modern life into everyday experiences. Her Cinema with a Hospital, for example, envisions a combined movie theater/clinic in Los Angeles, presenting the full range of human experience - from Hollywood fiction to the unpleasant reality of illness and death - under one roof. Framis will also exhibit her Anti-Dog dress, which she designed to fend off the racist dogs of European neo-nazis, who had frequently targeted her as a noticeably dark-skinned person on the streets of Amsterdam. Framis' dress forms a shrewd and beautiful protection against someone else's version of utopia.

British-born artist Nils Norman has been described variously as an architect, urban planner, environmentalist, activist, and utopian. Born in Kent, England, in 1967, Norman lived in Cologne and New York before landing in London in 2000. His work over the past five years expresses his interests in alternative uses of urban space, self-sufficiency and mobility. For Fantastic Norman will demonstrate the relevance and potential of the fantastic in daily life, offering a detailed model/proposal for transforming North Adams' abandoned K-Mart building into a permaculture ecotopia. Norman will also be represented by at least one billboard-sized print of his Geocruiser, The Mother Coach. Zone: Earth (2001), an actual bus that contains a library of books on experimental city design, utopian architecture, self-sustainable energy, alternative economic systems and radical gardening, a reading area with a solar-powered photocopier, and a greenhouse of plants, vegetables, and herbs complete with a worm-composting unit.

Temporary Services, a Chicago-based group that includes Brett Bloom, Marc Fischer, and Salem Collo-Julin, organizes exhibitions, realizes their own collaborative projects, and facilitates the work of other creative people. For Fantastic, Temporary Services will collaborate with Angelo, an artist who is currently incarcerated. Angelo has illustrated prisoners' inventions which provide the basic elements of human comfort. Temporary Services will display his drawings along with over forty of these amazing devices which they have built. Electric cigarette lighters and immersion heaters fashioned from disposable razor blades, popsicle sticks, and broken toothbrushes are examples of inventions which provide a compelling, human portrait of millions of incarcerated Americans. At Angelo's request, their project Prisoners' Inventions will also include a life-size model of a prison cell built from measurements Angelo has taken himself.

The entrance to Fantastic will feature a "curiosity cabinet" of the fantastic - an eclectic assortment of objects highlighting the extensive history of the fantastic in New England - including the utopian commercial vision of North Adams' Hoosac Tunnel, Boston's Brook Farm, and the development of the Graham Cracker as a utopian food in Northampton. Titled the "Threshold of Wonder," this opening gallery will incorporate objects from the Massachusetts Historical Society, Berkshire Museum, Fruitlands Museum and other historical museums of New England.

Additional Fantastic Programs:

Fantastic opens on March 8, 2003, and to mark the opening MASS MoCA will present a special Fantastic cabaret in Club B-10 (the museum's revamped B-10 Theater) with Antony & the Johnsons. Laurie Anderson said, "Listening to Antony's voice is like hearing Elvis for the first time...two words and he has broken your heart... it is the most exquisite thing that you will hear in your life." The group's music is described as chamber cabaret in darkest blue highly dramatic, emotional, and lyrical. The Johnsons, an ensemble featuring a string trio, piano, bass and drums, lay a foundation of lush yet minimal orchestral arrangements. Tickets for the cabaret are $12 in advance, $14 day of show and are available by calling 413-662-2111 or visiting www.massmoca.org. In addition, on Thursday, March 6, MASS MoCA will screen the famed mockumentary This is Spinal Tap as part of the Cinema Lounge series. Tickets for the film are $5.50.

Fantastic is accompanied by a tabloid-style catalogue with an essay by mystical philosopher Peter Lamborn Wilson. Fantastic is organized by MASS MoCA's assistant curator, Nato Thompson.

Gregory Crewdson
Untitled, Twilight Series, 1998,
Digital C-Print,
Courtesy of Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York

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