Friday, January 3, 2014

ERIK RUIN - Top Ten of 2013

Pic of Erik Ruin performing at St Stephen's Church in Washington DC. Photo by Katherine Fahey.

   I think I first met Erik Ruin when he lived in Detroit and my band showed up on his door step in 2003. Besides letting me print a hundred shirts in his basement, he also performed a stark, captivating shadow puppet show at Trumbellplex that night. Since then, I've run into him a bunch of different times and his art just keeps getting better and better, through the mediums of printmaking, papercuts and DIY publications. You can find his work at Just Seeds and on his web-thing. Here's Erik's top ten art-related experiences of 2013:

   1. Snob Haus Open Haus - This was one of my favorite shows that i've been to, much less performed at, in a long time. Hosted by Graham and Rozina at their house in Minneapolis, it was a night of folks doing projection-based performances accompanied by live music, all of it from stellar folks. Roger Peet did a slideshow of his travels in the Congo, soundtracked by Graham Baldwin (Thieves, Bloodwall, Visitor) and Jonathan Kaiser (Dark Dark Dark). I did an improvised shadow-set with Jonathan on cello and our pal Jackie Beckey (Bruteheart, Myrrh) on viola. Kristi Ternes showed off her bag of projector tricks accompanied by Graham and Andy Neubauer (Impractical Cockpit). Rozina cooked up an amazing spread, including the best ham i've ever tasted. A ton of old and new friends packed the living room, and my pal Rah even brought me a full glass of whiskey at the beginning of my set! A great night. You can see video of my set here---

....and Kristi's here---

2. Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz by Cynthia Carr - OK, this actually came out in 2012, but it was still in the "New Arrivals" section of my public library when i found it this year, so i'm counting it. For those not familiar with Wojnarowicz's work, he made brilliant/beautiful paintings, writings, photographs, collages, films, etc. that bristled with transcendent rage at homophobia, hypocritical politicians, AIDS, capitalism and more, as well as a radiant empathy for the oppressed. His book Close to the Knives was huge for me as a disaffected youth. This book is huge, engrossing, inspiring. One of my favorite moments- Wojnarowicz talking to the artist Zoe Leonard, who was feeling conflicted between her activism (ACT-UP) and her art (at the time, a series of large-scale aerial photographs). He says to her, "Zoe, these are so beautiful, and that's what we're fighting for. We're being angry & complaining because we have to, but where we want to go is back to beauty. If you let go of that, we don't have anywhere to go."

 3. Whore Paint- One of my favorite local acts, this fiercely feminist band just rip, playing dark heavy ferocious noisy rock music that draws from no wave, punk and metal, even some dub and reggaeton touches. In addition, Reba, Hilary and Meredith are all great folks involved in a variety of good causes (Girls Rock Camp, Justseeds, etc). Their new lp Swallow My Bones on Load Records has become a favorite of mine to run on the treadmill to, because I'm middle-aged like that.

 4. Beth Nixon, Lava Fossil- I probably saw this one-person play/puppet show in various versions 9 or 10 times this year, having toured with it, been in test audiences, etc., but I still love it. Beth Nixon, who sometimes goes by the handle Ramshackle Enterprises, has been plying her unique brand of puppet-related performance, infused with surprising scientific facts, astute political insight and ridiculous outfits, for years now. Amongst a pretty consistently great track record, Lava Fossil stands out as her most personal and touching work, as she talks about the death of her father, hot-air balloons, the nature of empathy and memory, ocean grasses and more while pulling an amazing array of scenes out of various suitcases.

5. Playing a show w/ Daniel Higgs- OK, this one feels maybe a little too close to just bragging. I will say in my defense that one of the things I love about sticking it out in the punk/DIY/weirdo scene for so long is finding that the distance between "hero" and "peer" is fairly short and easily bridged most of the time. Daniel Higgs has been an artistic hero of mine since I discovered his band Lungfish in the 90's, so sharing a stage with him (at 2640 space in Baltimore) this summer felt like a big deal. Dan played one long song on banjo, incorporating seemingly bum notes seamlessly, singing lyrics chosen as he went from a long sharpied scroll of paper. The whole thing felt like it had just been momentarily diverted from some endless river of song, and I could have listened to it forever. Plus he was a total sweetheart to deal with every step of the way.

 6. Rebecca Solnit's Faraway Nearby - I'm not really sure how to describe this book. It combines memoir and musings on death and loss, memory, fairy tales and the nature of narrative, all of it delivered poetically and perceptively. I recommend reading it back to back with WG Sebald's Vertigo (which I just finished) for the ultimate melancholic winter reading experience.

  7. Gabfestry gathering in Machias, Maine - A gathering of "creative dissenters" up in beautiful northern coastal Maine, this brought together a great variety of old head artists, earnest young activists and fellow travelers to share lessons learned, show off their work, and struggle through messy conversations about representation, infrastructure and racism together. There was just something so loving- even romantic- about the regard people showed toward each other and each others' work that it warmed even this bitter burnt-out old man's heart. Plus, you know, bonfires on a beach of green stones.

 8. Work/Death performance and radical history tour @ Slater Mill - This pairing was such a great idea. The evening began with a people's history-style tour of Slater Mill, according to their website "the first successful factory in the US," courtesy of Joey "Quits" DeFrancesco. The tour focused on the mechanization of time and labor in the transition to industrialism, as well as resistance to it on the part of the workers. One fascinating detail that stood out to me was how factory workers took up a collection to build their own clocktower after growing tired of the bosses docking their wages for supposed lateness! We also got to see all the machines running off of water power. This was followed by a performance from Providence's resident noise genius Scott Reber aka Work/Death. After a lengthy and moving preamble, wherein he discussed his personal history growing up in a bleak post-industrial town and how inspiring it was to learn stories of collective struggle, Scott played a powerful set, divided into two parts. The first used the sounds of Slater Mill's machinery as raw material, while the second explored the "The Great Textile Strike of 1934" in a sort of associative narrative piece that sounded overpowering, emotional, almost gothic to my ears.

 9. Assembly of Light Choir and What Cheer? Brigade collaborative performance @ the RISD Museum - Really a three-in-one- my two favorite local bands that contain more than a dozen members apiece performing at a really great event series. The curators of the Locally Made series of events at the RISD Museum here in Providence did a wonderful job of giving space to a great variety of local weirdos to do their thing, and wisely enlisted local curators to host their own series. Willa Van Nostrand wisely included the all-female, (pretty much) all-original choir Assembly of Light (maybe best known for their star turn at the beginning of that one Body record?), whose leader Chrissy invited the rowdy What Cheer? brass ensemble to join them. The result was something startling and new. You can see some video here-

 10. Bread & Puppet, A Birdcatcher In Hell - Kinda feels funny to cap a "best of 2013" list off with a revival of a play originally staged in 1971, but whatever. This play is on the starker/weirder/darker end of the B&P continuum, all the costumes and masks done in varying shades of red and black. It's based on a Japanese kyogen (Noh play), interlaced with texts referencing modern war crimes (a speech from Obama, the testimony of My Lai massacre participant Lt. Calley). From the moment, over a decade ago, that I saw the "King of Hell" mask in the B&P museum, with its massive demon face made up of many smaller demon faces, in a style reminiscent of 16th-century Italian Giuseppe Arcimboldo, I knew I had to see this play. Lucky for me, they revived in honor of the company's 50th anniversary, and I was able to see it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Greg. My friend Matt (fluke fanzine) suggested I reach out to you. He thought you might have some old posters you made from Anandi's benefit show at Gilman back in 2010. I was there and would love to have one if theres any chance you might have any still left (long shot I know!) I can be reached at

Kind regards,