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An Interview with Crank Sturgeon, SPACE’s June Artist in Residence

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June 1, 2012

For the month of June, we’re opening up the annex to noise performance artist Crank Sturgeon. Before he begins an opus within our gallery, we wanted to peer into his brain. So we sat down to talk collaborations, Victorian synthesizers, and onions as musical instrument.

SPACE Gallery: You’ve been busy lately! Tell us about some of the work you are doing now, and how it might inform your June residency and installation at SPACE.

Crank Sturgeon: Last autumn, I embarked on a nine-country solo tour in Europe, followed by a group installation in Brighton, England and tour with id m theft able in the UK and Ireland. This winter, I had the amazing opportunity to work in Brunswick, Maine with Spindleworks, a non-profit art center for adults with disabilities. Our collaboration, “Habitat,” opened at Fort Andross on May 11. All of my work tends to combine improvisation with drawing, assemblage, and electronic media, and I’ll be using similar techniques and processes for the upcoming work at SPACE.

SG: Since collaboration is integral to your work, can you share some plans for collaborating during your SPACE residency?

CS: I love collaboration that derives from a shared sense of playfulness. I’m talking about serious play that channels childish impulses through adult goggles and pairs anarchistic tendencies with formalism or the rules we adopt as artists. Eyes Used for Tooth Support includes collaborations with some of my favorite multimedia artists. Opening night features a collaboration with Greg Kowalski and HEX Beam, two astounding video artists from the Boston area. Two Portland-based artists, Pat Corrigan and Skot Spear (aka id m theft able), will be offering works and deeds in the following weeks.

Over the years, Pat and I have collaborated primarily in performance and assemblage works that have ranged from talking suitcases, life-sized monoplanes constructed from cardboard, and RV campers disguised as elephants. Eyes Used for Tooth Support employs drawing as our lift-off, and then merges it with sound, film, and narrative. The installation will ultimately stand on its own, but also provide a stepping stone and potential staging area for the following week, when I’ll be working with Skot.

While similar in spirit to my collaborations with Pat, my work with Skot has tended towards the freeform, with a focus on spontaneous performance and improvisation. In recent years these creations have mixed sound poetry, impromptu sing-alongs, and skits that probably wouldn’t pass muster at any high school talent show tryout. I want to use the week with Skot to really dive into live art experiments, and to mine all the possibilities that arise from the fusion of space and play. It will be exciting to see how these partnerships will correlate with each other.

SG: Have you always worked across such a broad range of media? Do you think one is more effective in depicting your concepts and inquiries?

CS: My work has always straddled various ponds—media, genres, technologies—and has incorporated pretty much anything I can get my hands on. For me, no particular medium is more effective than another, but I do enjoy mixing them in processes that, instead of colliding, wind up intermingling in unexpected ways. I want to add all kinds of material to my work in the attempt to make a type of alchemical centrifuge where sound, space, and everyday objects get transformed. Ultimately, my work tries to speak volumes while operating on the most elemental tools. If I can’t make a multimedia opus out of a lump of charcoal, a bag of onions, and a mantra of monosyllabic grunts, then why bother playing with fancier weaponry?

SG: As part of your residency at SPACE, you’ll teach two workshops. What can a participant expect to learn?

CS: My workshops are straightforward and open to students at all levels of experience. Students will learn about the proper materials, techniques, and safety measures needed to create homemade electronics. The first workshop focuses on contact microphones, amazing tools that are useful to any artist curious about sound exploration and experimentation. Attendees will construct their own working microphone that they can take home. We’ll also try out various uses for these devices in class. I’ve taught workshops for many years, and what strikes is me is how attendees always “get it” once the microphone is plugged into an amplifier and the noises magically appear!

In the second workshop, we will build our own Victorian synthesizers. Unlike contact microphones, these instruments can be assembled from everyday thrift store items. The basic gist is this: a standard home stereo speaker is affixed with a nine volt battery, which is then wired back into the speaker, resulting in a wild display of spurts, sputters, and squeals that mimic contemporary synthesizers, without the circuitry. The possibilities with this instrument are endless: previous attendees have used them in a range of music projects and recordings, and some have even started their own Victorian synth marching bands! I recommend that attendees bring their own (used) speaker to the workshop: the bigger the better!

Don’t miss Crank at SPACE Gallery this month!

Click here for more on Crank Sturgeon.
Click here more on Crank’s residency, Eyes Used for Tooth Support, at SPACE Gallery.

JUNE with Crank Sturgeon:
June 1st: Artwalk Fortified: Video projection and live collaboration with id m theft able, HEXBeam, and Greg Kowalski.

Thursdays @ 4PM. Afternoon Tea: Catch the process in action! Slurp some smoky Souchong with the Sturgeon.

Fridays @ 6PM. Show & Tell: The weekly deeds and experiments culimate with an early Friday evening showcase. Stop on by to watch some featurettes, play with the interactive installation, or witness live art unfold before your eyes.

Saturdays (June 9 & 23) @ 12PM. Workshops: Crank brings his knowledge to the soldering table: part alchemy and part science, these workshops delve into the creation of contact microphones, Victorian synthesizers, and low-budget electronic switching devices. Open to all levels of experience.


Low ticket alert: Sara Juli’s Burnt-Out Wife solo performance has been awarded a prestigious National Dance Project award, grab the final tickets available for the show’s world premiere at SPACE for the October 19th performance at 9pm.