The first time I set foot in SPACE Gallery was for an art-rap show. I’ve been a fan of rhythm and poetry since I picked up my first Dr. Seuss book, and rapper milo embodies the same witty lyricism and off-the-cuff philosophizing that initially attracted me to the genre. He captivated me with his 2015 album so the flies don’t come, and I was thrilled to catch wind of his tour stop in Portland. As it turns out milo grew up in Saco, Maine. His appearance at SPACE would be a homecoming.
I had scored free tickets to milo. Space Gallery had partnered with Bowdoin College radio station WBOR, which I help manage, and Peter McLaughlin, SPACE’s music programmer, had offered our DJs a place on the guest list of certain shows in exchange for on-air and word of mouth promotion. Basically, for a bunch of fellow music lovers, he was hooking it up with a sweet deal.
A couple friends and I drove down to Portland, excited but unsure what to expect from an underground hip-hop artist performing at an alternative nonprofit venue in his childhood home state. Upon arrival, SPACE Gallery remained a mystery to me. At first glance, the venue could have passed for an ordinary nightclub. A small crowd milled around the bar while technicians adjusted stage lighting from a central panel. As my eyes perused the walls, however, the room asserted itself as unique. From corner to corner, at chest height, long racks were laden with blankets. A closer look revealed an artist’s statement on the wall, explaining the display as a textile exhibition by Jovencio de la Paz.
The blankets provided decoration as tapestry, but also the express invitation to touch and use. The site-specific project, entitled Return to Great Mother’s Infinity, had recruited a collective of weavers to produce the beautiful blankets, which hung all along the side of the performance space. Not one to turn down a participatory art exhibition, I picked out a choice pattern, a network of red and brown thread, and draped the soft wool over my shoulders. Folding the fringed edge between my fingers and hugging myself, I was enveloped. The smell of the wool instilled in me a sense of comfort unusual for a night out. When murmuring voices hushed, and lights dimmed, a blanket-clad boy prepared for the show, toe-tapping and wrapped in warmth.
milo’s music sound-tracked an evening of be-cloaked dancing. His set included spontaneous storytelling, flowing poetry, and improvisational beat-making. When he wasn’t playfully spitting tight-knit rhymes into the microphone, he would spend several nonverbal minutes hunched over the knobs of his soundboard, or rub the mic against his turquoise coveralls to mimic a record scratch noise. His performance was memorable, and only was made more so because of an unexpected exhibition that lent me a cape. That night, before leaving, I returned my woolen attire to the rack, wondering how many SPACE attendees had encountered the blanket before I came to wear it at the rap show. I wonder, now, who has used it since.
De la Paz sees hand-weaving as a metaphor for intersection: individual fibers linked as one. The same venue jointly hosting a rap concert and an in-house blanket borrowing system seems to fit this vision. In an unprecedented manner, I could tap into appreciation for both freestyles and fine fabrics in the same room. That evening was emblematic of Space Gallery’s programming: engaging, collaborative, interdisciplinary. Here, performance and instillation art often find themselves unexpected compliments.
Return to Great Mother’s Infinity has since been picked up by the Denver Museum of Contemporary Art; the blanket-lending idea has fully evolved into a permanent open-shelf library.
Meanwhile, milo plans a permanent move back to Maine with his wife and son. He is set to headline Waking Windows festival in Portland in late September.
As for me, I’ve found myself at SPACE for the summer, working as an intern to help bring more exciting, fun, and thought-provoking art and music to 538 Congress Street.