Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Edging around the Art Fair

You'd think I didn't even go to Art Fairs anymore! Not true. I still hustle through the crowds, in search of enticing new artists and familiar faces, alike. I just don't blog anymore. Unless I have more pressing things to do, naturally. True to form, Michigan saved up some broiling nastiness for three of the four July days during which the annual Art Fair occurs. People trudged and sweated, with glazed over eyes. Wednesday and Thursday were the least crowded I have ever seen them -- good for zipping along, bad for the vendors, and certainly less celebratory/mind numbingly awful, depending on who you ask.

I usually get ramped up and unable to concentrate in the days leading up to the days; and have a low level hum of a lift the Tuesday beforehand, when streets are already barricaded off and the carnivalesque food vendor booths are erected. But lordy, the air was already furnace-like, with a heaviness that you would shift away from, were it in your bed. But. No getting away. I sat on a bench, talking to Javier on the phone. I tried to warn him away from coming to art fair with me, because: I don't know. He'd cramp my style or I'd be annoying, you just don't know. I tried to give him an out. "No. I'M COMING" and it's pretty much done, when he says something like that. A homeless man who I have passed many times sat down beside me and started smoking. Javier and I moved onto logistics. My benchmate startled me by saying "Nice ring!" He sounded much more normal than usual. None of the word garbling, roughed up voice. His eyes looked clear. But in any case, enough of the smoke on a hot day; off I went.

Nearby, AWARD WINNING CRAB CAKES had enough banners to rival a Walt Disney castle, the Custard Hut cheaply appropriated history for its own corn syrupy consumerism, and at the end of the block, delivery men were hating their lot. One guy stood in the open shell of his wine van, grousing to another one truck up.

"Nawww, man it's hard ENOUGH as it IS, it's all back alleys here ANYWAY and now they give us hell if we try to go down Main Street." He shoots a glare at the barricades. Shakes his head, swings his collapsible cart up to his side; mutters,"Hotter 'n HELL."

In the interior, vendors are hauling and placing and erecting. A woman's voice exclaims, "I'm *trying* to stay in the lines but there's THREE sets of lines." Early to be at the exasperation point. Her male partner hefts a driftwood sculpture roughly the size of a garbage can. Placidly: "...Settle down." Doubt that'll work.

Wednesday -- first proper day -- I wandered during lunch and then sunk back into office work. This marks my second office location wherein the fair music invades your work space, amplified into thumping fuzziness. Can you make out lyrics? No. Can you really determine musicality at this remove? No, not really. Bad enough when it's calypso, panfluteyness, or some phish-gone-off. But wouldn't you rather a little post punk, even more distorted through brick walls and closed windows, as you try to concentrate on the task at hand? Well then, you're in luck. Check 'em out! Loudest Art Fair act ever, courtesy the iSpy stage.**  My coworkers who tend not to feel the Ann Arbor love anyway, glowered. Impossible to ignore. SO. LOUD. More than booking *to* the Art Fair demographic, this band seemed to have been booked as an act of defiance. Just because visitors take over your town and develop a craving for elephant ears from the nearby food court, is that really justification to deafen them?

** To be fair, iSpy stage, Thursday night was a lovely surprise with the retro Ypsi Sisters.

They had a rockabilly flair, nice harmonies, good energy from the backing band. Good luck seeing them, though: they said this was only their 4th gig!...in 4 years.

I was already wondering what bars I could catch them at, but alas~~ There's online evidence of at least one of those shows -- if you're the impatient sort, you can ffwd to 3:02 for a rousing snippet (but the whole thing is fun).

The iSpy stage also featured this really cool looking Bichini Bia Congo, which I would have attended, had I been paying attention. Maybe next year! I also missed one of my favorite photographers-who-I-can't-afford Lisa Kristine, and I don't understand how this is possible, as she was in her normal area, apparently. Javier doesn't believe we could have missed her, "She must have been sick. She had to pull out at the last moment."

We did, however, cross through the nonprofit section a surprising amount. Just as one colleague has joked, "Whenever I run in Ann Arbor, it's always up hill," wherever we walked, we eventually passed through the motley double row of worthy causes and crackpot booths. Jews for Jesus favor walking amongst the peopled aisle, in their slogan t shirts, Michigan theater folk are politely contained in their space, hoping you'll become a member. I am told tensions sometime develop, with the groups' varying recruitment approaches. "The guys next to us are *really* aggressive, they kept talking to people in front of our booth, so now people are giving us a wide berth. I had to talk to them, 'Look, don't *make* me oppress you~~'"

Despite the weather, the Eckankar people look happy, as they should, since their spiritual
The Mother of God had already left for the night
leader journeyed to the heart of God and back again. Always ridiculous for me to say, as I am a nonbeliever, but I just can't get with a religion formed in the 1900s. 1965? Just too, too recent. Bury it for a good century or so, see if it ages well.

Our gaze traveled left and we burst out in a simultaneous, "Awwwwww!" Toddler with a balloon? Puppy? No: skinny young EMO guy, slumped over behind (not) his Socialist Party USA banner. "Poooor sooocialist," Javier murmured. One of us continued, "We don't own our own means of production, do we? No...and these people don't even know how much you're trying to help them..." We say a lot of rubbish, it's a good thing people don't hear us.

After nonprofit row, we encountered this daughter of a vendor, sitting on a stoop:

In case you can't read her sign, it says "50 cents for a joke"
It was a lot of joke for 50 cents! I won't attempt to retell it, but there was a lot of detail. There was a boy, not too believable, who couldn't remember his own name, so he asks each family member for one letter of his name. Mayhem ensues!

The violin monster played daily, scarily patriotic one day:
the Violin monster is not affiliated with DTE. 

Another day, he sported high pink knee socks and wee shorts. The following is more in line with his usual attire:

Compatriot and I saw him in New Orleans! Perambulatory monster!
Who has it worse on a hot day? Wolf head or metallic body paint?
waiting for a tip, the next child to give a candy to

 *** Phone call with Compatriot, Thursday night. I have walked myself out and am woefully far from my car. I have a blister. She was resting in the air conditioning, dog sitting a dog that gets overly anxious if left alone for too long.

"I think my one trip will do, this year. It was like Art Fair Bingo -- I saw three people with broken legs, a didgeridoo player, a sitar player and 3 year old pants-less child dancing to music!"

I didn't set out to write an art fair post without specific attention paid to the artists. The past couple years I took notes upon notes of the various people whose work I loved; and tried to take photos, when permitted. Last year I was on the brink of going to Shanghai for a month, and so collected my scribblings and snaps, but didn't get to most of them. This time I wandered as much, but took fewer notes, fewer photos. Spoke with some favorite artists, longed for their work, but mostly just meandered. Not to be precious, but it feeds my soul to go to the art fair-- the most when I find art that thrills me -- or when I connect with an artist on a personal level -- but even when that comes less into play, it's worth it. Even when it doesn't appeal, you're still looking at hundreds of booths containing work that each person brought into being. At that level alone, it's heartening. And it would seem that a lot of people go, just for the overall experience, as well: music, sidewalk sales, crazy out-of-towners, crazy residents...throw a little art in there, a few gifts, that's fine, too. And is that so out of line, the mixing of high and low, sheer consumerism, impassioned creativity? A momentary step away from your ordinary life...

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