The Emerald Monstrocity
The first thing The Spike noticed upon sitting down at a corner table in the Emerald Lounge earlier this month was the woman in a tutu with crabs running down her legs. Next to her was a foam ass, dangling faux droppings at eye level.
In its quest for cheap beer and interesting nightlife, The Spike had stumbled upon fecal still life, forcing the Zen-like question: "Is shit art, or is art shit?"
The exhibition, part of Emerald's "Rhythm and Form" series, was called "Monstrocity." It included a huge wall mural and an assortment of shirts and journals for sale. Since one can't really do much to the Emerald Lounge that would make it worse, "Monstrocity" was a welcome change.
But the one-time-only installation by local artist Luster Kaboom and high school fashion divas Jessica Dorfman and Corrine Zach was basically just a huge wall of trash -- albeit interesting trash.
The Spike's favorite section of the wall was a fanged cat painted on a screen that Kaboom affectionately called "the devil's pussy." The Spike also liked the purple-haired Sophia Loren in a polka-dot bathing suit, wading with the Virgin of Guadalupe, and the beer bottle chandelier.
The evening started slowly, and at 9:15 p.m., the place was still empty except for a few neighborhood alcoholics and the DJs setting up in the next room. Music pulsated from the empty stage area, where wobbly tables and sticky chairs were transformed into a dark, warm cave by a few candles, some tablecloths and a fabric-draped stage. The mood shifted from dirty dive bar into swanky paradise, and The Spike was intoxicated by the Cinderella turn, swaying its pointy little head in time.
Around 10, the stylish folks of Phoenix started oozing in, wearing trendy shirts and expensive watches, holding malt beverages and tentatively whispering about what was on the walls.
Then the convivial Luster Kaboom, with his shock of floppy Muppet hair, leaned against the bar stool next to The Spike, brimming with pride at the sheer vastness of his latest "ugly art."
Kaboom is really David Quan, an underground cartoonist-cum-fine artist who writes about The Real Life Adventures of Slick Cat and Stupid Dog, Frozen Man, and a former art school buddy named Tomer Hanuka. He explained his theory about art.
"This is a big pile of junk."
He laughed, never dropping the smile. "Artists are just up on pedestals, but this is every bit as good as their junk." The Spike thought the Saguaro High graduate might be onto something.
The self-proclaimed "superstar of junk," Kaboom is a smooth, elf-like 24-year-old who seems to live somewhere between reality and an alternate universe. On his Web log, he talks of prostitutes and "yuppie nordy's" and makes fun of people who buy his creations. There, he calls "Monstrocity" "fun times, hot wimmin . . . ugly art." He claimed not to know who wrote an online bio insisting his mother was an arms dealer during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
So what's with the name? "My mother doesn't like my art, so I adopted the pen name. I thought it sounded cool," he explains. (The Spike just thinks his mom doesn't want him to blow her cover as a Communist missile dealer.)
This installation was exactly what it proclaimed itself to be: a "Monstrocity" -- a huge creation that rides a very fine line between being really cool and really awful. It was visually interesting and had moments of brilliance, but it sometimes made The Spike wonder if the viewers weren't being had.
The art and the artists seemed to be saying, "Sucker."
It was almost impossible to ascertain whether Kaboom was laughing with or at The Spike and other would-be admirers as he watched them stare at the wall, graciously taking their effusive compliments.
The bar was crowded by 11 p.m., and Kaboom, an omnibus of social kinetics, slithered through the room as The Spike ordered another beer. So far, The Spike hadn't seen anything of the fashion designers whose creations were hanging on a rack to the left of crab woman.
A not-quite-legal high school hipster stuck manning the exhibit, afraid her fake ID would work only once, explained that her artist/fashion designer friends Zach and Dorfman went to the Hot Hot Heat show. Aha.
The two girls make up Dresscore, a homespun fashion design company that, as far as The Spike can tell, is armed with little other than warped fashion sense, a fully equipped serger, and Jessica's over-21 mom, who sold their wares from a bar stool.
Dresscore's creations are interesting, utilizing Luster's gritty cartoon screen prints. Though haphazardly stitched garments The Spike doubts would survive one trip through the washing machine, they looked like they belong on the runway. They had that same sort of "ugly on purpose" feel. For $12, The Spike bought one with a cartoon animal holding a shotgun reading "Fusila Pompe." The Spike, who used to make clothes with staples, understands.
By 11:30, the yuppie hangers-on were pretty much buying the whole idea, treating Kaboom and his pile of trash like the Messiah of Cool. The Spike thinks he might be up for the title.
But few were brave enough to sit at the tables below the installation, preferring instead to stand, leaving the tables with their flickering candles to function as an altar of sorts -- deifying the foam ass, the devil's pussy and crab woman.
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Talk was in whispers, as if no one was sure what to say. Was this art, or was it crap? Was the art the statement, or were they the statement -- standing in groups, afraid to judge the collection of garbage and slapdash fashion?
Luster Kaboom and Dresscore are inspired, whichever is true. Either they are incredibly brave young artists, putting their ideas out there in a bold and furious mess, or they are brilliantly manipulative snake oil salesmen duping the public into praising them.
The Spike thinks it is a wonderful combination of both.
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