The Smell – Out On The Streets
is EMANCIPATION \ Sociometry Fair 2016
GROUP SIZE: 37
NATURE OF GROUP: A loose confederation of agents; artists, designers, musicians, glaziers, nurses, curators, producers, and teachers taking a break from the soul-crushing reality of 2016 to contribute to and convene for a 20 year running quadrennial DIY fair and avant-garde art spectacle.
INCIDENCE OF SOCIOMETRY: The Smell – Out On The Streets \ is EMANCIPATION \ Sociometry Fair 2016
It’s a common misconception – that the moniker of legendary DIY space The Smell comes from the fetid piles of human feces outside their Downtown LA alley entrance. As it turns out, the original location of The Smell was next to a bougie coffee shop called “The Aroma” and they we’re just being snide.
Notwithstanding… The varnish of piss on anything waist down, the fly buzzing heaps of don’t look-at-it – the aroma – and the copious dust that mixes it together with a healthy peppering of settled LA smog doesn’t invite an elbow deep skill-free fix-it job on a jammed roll-top security door. But, The Smell is DIY turf – i.e. there’s no money for a service call and the lease holder is locked-down at the day-job. And there we were. After a grueling week of travel, packing and unpacking and repacking, and staying up way past our bedtime every night, we were ready to sail the ship and get our panel van back to Denver. Just one small hiccup – not being able to lower and lock door to The Smell to prevent roving hoards of skid-row hobos and placard waving protesters from picking the place clean as a carcass on the savanna.
The method of DIY is to make your own space, haul your own gear, print your own flyer, hang your own show (and bring your own lights, toilet paper, and potable water…) To be self reliant. In our two decades of experience in the cult of DIY culture, we’ve come to realize that it’s often a righteous reaction to the blanket apathy or outright disdain from the cultural gate-keepers to whatever it is that YOU are proposing. There’s no safe space for your performance, no funding for your art show, no paying audience for your noise band, and no fucks given about your pseudo-science fair for free thinking adults. If you want to get avant-garde and do-your-thing you’re just going to have to do-it-yourself.
The Sociometry Fair, an aggregation of the aforementioned exploits; performance art power points, NöISE RöCK, and table-top trifold displays, has by necessity found a home on the fringe. The inaugural Sociometry Fair ’96 took place at six story cult-run compound on the edge of Downtown San Diego. Sociometry Fair 2000 was in an industrial warehouse inhabited by a zoning-violating collective called Soulciety in the industrial netherworld of Denver. Sociometry Fair 2004 was at the Katherine Gianaclis Park for the Arts a quasi-converted junk-yard in suburban Las Vegas. Of all five iterations only 2008 in Chicago could have been considered above-board due to the impeccable management of DIY space Co-Prosperity Sphere. Even there the ceiling started leaking all over the exhibition floor. After a disastrous 2012 fair in San Francisco hindered by shady drug-addled “hosts” at the now defunct subMISSION “gallery”, the special agents in charge of The Institute of Sociometry began working proactively to secure a legit space for Sociometry Fair 2016 – is EMANCIPATION.
Below: Images from past Sociometry Fairs
1996 San Diego, 2000 Denver, 2004 Las Vegas, 2008 Chicago, and 2012 San Francisco:
A full year ahead of show time, multiple rounds of professional proposals, complete with a real-life credentialed curator Zoe Larkins of MCA Denver, curriculum vitea, and even a portfolio, were circulated to above board galleries and cultural institutions all over Los Angeles. They all responded in typical fashion for professionally run cultural venues – by not responding. Reverting to form but still eight months ahead of schedule, agent zMAN, of avant-garde LA noise band Hex Horizontal, was able to book two (TWO!) venerable DIY venues, Pehrspace for the exhibit and The Smell for the performances and jams.
With two spaces locked down well ahead of time, we were able to luxuriate in a confident and proactive call for entries. A robust response by agents and new recruits resulted in the largest response of any of the previous five fairs! It looked like, for once, we wouldn’t have to make 60% of the work ourselves in the guise of regularly tapped pseudonyms. Then zMAN called to tell us Pehrspace had just been served a demolition notice. Then he called again to tell us The Smell, after nearly 20 years of holding it down on the border of skid row, had just been served a demolition notice and was going to be turned into a parking lot…
The Sociometry Fair is on the same quadrennial schedule as the presidential elections. So all of this planning and unplanning was done against a backdrop of rising populist fury by both quasi-socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and quasi-fascist candidate Donald J. Trump. Those who had never quite recovered from the Great Recession, ranging from artsy urban millennials on the left to religious rural baby-boomers on the right made their voices heard at hugely attended rallies for both candidates – some even threatening that if their guy lost they’d to cross the aisles for the other populist instead of supporting politics-as-usual Hillary Clinton.
Meanwhile, young professionals with some combination of tech. skills, a silver spoon, and a premium higher education – in loose collusion with the property developers who’d both driven the crash and profited off of the recovery – were plowing full steam into the fringe industrial zones and low-income areas of America’s cities. Scraping affordable properties, developers made way for high dollar condos, luxury apartments, premium office space, $100 a plate restaurants, and fenced off pay lots for everyone’s BMW. Artists and musicians (not to mention actual working-class people) and the DIY joints supporting their habits were seeing the wrecking ball swing their way. Conditions for a literal and metaphoric firestorm threatening national artist run DIY spaces were stacking up like cord wood.
Outcry about the closure of The Smell reached a seldom heard roar in the media covering the art and music scenes of LA, the echos of which foreshadowed a nascent national resistance. It was a David vs. Goliath scenario that perfectly embodied the emerging state of anxiety among the creative class. Mainstream culture blog laist, who broke the story on May 28th the day the notice was posted, concluded, “The impact of the Smell on music in the city, and quite frankly, Los Angeles as a whole, cannot be overstated.” Support was galvanized for a the all-ages drug and alcohol free venue that had hosted thousands of shows over 18 years. Some bands who’d subsequently garnered huge followings like Best Coast and No Age who featured the front facade of The Smell on their album Weirdo Rippers, galvanized national awareness and protestations.
By fair time the dust at The Smell had yet to settle. A friendly note on the demo notice had read, “Provided that the submitted plans comply with all Los Angeles Municipal codes and other applicable laws, public comment will have no impact on this project.” However, Joe’s Auto Parks, the company who’d purchased the property the year before, decided the incessant bad PR over the summer wasn’t worth it. According to an August 23rd article on laist, Kevin Litwin COO of Joe’s Auto Parks announced that, “the demolition notice pulled for The Smell was a misunderstanding,” giving them one last one year lease on life. The Smell began a gofundme with a 1.4 million dollar goal to find a new home. (As of this writing in February of 2017 has raised a respectable 85k – please consider donating.) Though The Smell faced an uncertain long-term future, our immediate problems were solved! Our pseudo-science fair for free thinking adults was on!
Our long-term problems as free thinking adults, however, were just beginning. On election night, as the last trifold display was being loaded into the van in Denver, Michigan was slipping from Clinton’s grasp. By the time we were roving west across the Mars-like surface of Utah, Donald J. Trump was irrevocably the president elect.
By the time we were loading in at The Smell the following night, Downtown LA had erupted into a missive fireworks shooting, brick throwing, freeway closing protest. Our venue was surrounded (albeit coincidentally) by 400 cops.
However, the next four days of is EMANCIPATION were magical. The Smell literally turned over the keys for a five day, keep-the-lights-on, rental rate of $200. We packed the place with a diverse array of displays with reports on art-interventions, life in the 3rd world, secret societies, anti-gentrification shrines, 8-track collecting, drawing clubs, man-eating office machinery, explanation defying collages, the Obscure Artist Front, CTZN BLK and a 130 page DIY published catalog of The Institute of Sociometry at 21! Agents converged from Oklahoma, Provincetown, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, and San Diego. There were odd-ball lectures, theremin performances, a full 130 page DIY catalog surveying is at 21, and two nights of avant-garde jams. Though some of our LA agents were kept away by freeway closured and helicopter cams streaming massive protests, their ranks were offset by new recruits. Protesters wandered in looking for a bathroom or bottled water and discovered so much more.
Participants ranged from an LA area first grader Ozzy Bates to an inmate in the California State prison system Charlie Vurmin to a Guggenheim fellow Igor Vamos and including the diverse creative output of dozens more; Jay Critchley, F.R. Russ Forster, Peter Eversoll, The Spread the Word resistance movement, Jim Hanson, Barchael (Michael Bernhardt & Barry Whitaker), Bill Gardner, Daniel Weise, Jaclyn Jacunski, Ladies of the Press, Margo Graxeda, Heather Link-Bergman, Eric Von Haynes, Alexandra Jimenez, Adam Janus, Adrianne Ngam, Nima Eddie Nouri, Shannon Finnegan, Breanne Trammell, Peter Miles Bergman, Ron Reeves, and Zoe Larkins!
See more is EMANCIPATION displays @is.press!
Displays top to bottom: Peter Miles Bergman, The Spread the Word resistance movement, Eric Von Haynes, Barchael (Michael Bernhardt & Barry Whitaker), is EMANCIPATION catalogs and merch, Shannon Finnegan and Breanne Trammell, Jaclyn Jacunski, Heather Link-Bergman, and Peter Miles Bergman! Video below displays: is EMANCIPATION Stroll Through
Our hair was blown back on a nightly basis by next level NöISE from Hex Horizontal, Oort Smog, Ted Byrnes, and rad RöCK by Nocturnal Habits, Qui, and Traps PS!
Below: is EMANCIPATION RöCK
In order of appearance: Ted Byrnes, Oort Smog, Hex Horizontal, Qui and Nocturnal Habits!
Below that: is EMANCIPATION Wendell Kling Theremin Performance
We had a Sunday matinée screening of documentary shorts by The Yes Men, Jay Critchley, John Heenan, Robert Nachman, Chelsea Knight, and Matt Jenkins!
In lieu of a formal closing ceremony for is EMANCIPATION four agents – m[i]l[e]s, mISs is, GRXDA and zMAN – spent all morning in the LA sun heaving, coughing, pushing, levering, and lowering that grime-choked roll-top security door down one peg at a time into it’s locked and secure position. As we were leaning against the piss varnished wall with spent biceps and a sense of existential relief, a work truck creeped up the alley to an idle right in front of us to wait for a neighboring forklift to unload. The custom lettering on the truck read, “Security door specialists! Installation, Maintenance and Repair.” Anticipating that getting the door back up would be beyond the capabilities of The Smell’s volunteers, m[i]le[s] walked up and rapped on his window, “Hey, you got a card? That security door back there is off it’s track. We were able to work it down but it took hours and it definitely needs to be fixed or replaced.”
“Oh yea!?” turning to look and grab a business card from the glove box, “Yea! Those are our specialty! You gotta’ be REAL careful with those when they’re bound up like that… If they spring loose they can decapitate someone!”
We probably would have pooled our pocket money, or even produced a credit card, for some “consulting” or tools beyond the vice-grips in our art supplies if he’d pulled up two hours earlier – especially if we knew about the threat of decapitation! But as it turns out, we didn’t need to. We did it ourselves.
On December 2nd, two weeks after returning to Denver from the fair, the Ghost Ship a 10,000 square foot DIY warehouse in Oakland erupted into a five-alarm fire killing 36 residents and party attendees. In the immediate aftermath, news reports revealed the Ghost Ship to be a worst-of-the-worst example of mismanagement, by the property owner, lease holder, and city code-enforcement. A uniquely dangerous tri-partate environment of neglect had lead to the deadliest structural fire in over a decade. Regardless of the special circumstance of Ghost Ship, the fire and resulting blanket media coverage spurred nationwide cover-your-ass code-inspections and evictions of DIY spaces from LA to Denver to Baltimore. In the pile-on, right wing trolls from 4chan exploited the laissez-fair and politically tone-deaf “we only respond to complaints” attitude of fire marshals to direct inspectors to DIY spaces in an effort to shutter, “… hotbeds of liberal radicalism and degeneracy.”
Above board properly permitted and maintained DIY spaces like The Smell and Meow Wolf in Santa Fe tend to be the exception. The exits are clearly marked and free of clutter. People haven’t constructed makeshift bedroom walls from alley pallets, electrical wiring is housed in conduit. When artists and musicians convert industrial spaces to their nefarious purposes of hosting $5 all ages shows and experimental art they seldom apply for permits.
Denver’s fire marshal evicted the residents of venerable adjacent DIY spaces Rhinoceropolis and GLOB onto the freezing winter streets. Despite a major hullabaloo from local and even national media, the Rhino Arts District and creative class professionals ranging from critics, ad agency owners, curators, professors AND an intervention, public meetings, and a $20,000 grant from city agency Arts and Venues AND a $20,000 matching grant from Meow Wolf AND $13,000 from a gofundme, Rhinoceropolis remains closed over two months later pending renovations and consequent inspections. Even then residents will not be allowed to move back in, only to host concerts. For the final coup-de-grace it is, and already had been, slated to be demolished anyway…
Since the recession, and dramatically since November there’s been a quadruple assault on alternative culture; rampant Obama-era gentrification, followed by a quasi-fascist electoral response, followed by a highly publicized tragedy, which was twisted into a cudgel to finally force the closure of DIY spaces nationwide. Though we are collectively traumatized by the horrific tragedy of Ghost Ship, using it as an excuse for an all out assault on our culture and the places where we exercise it lit a fuse. Though a unified response may never gel, a spectrum of organized reactions has sprung up from mobilized artist’s groups attending city meetings to an ugly resurgence of black-block anarchism. Across the rest of the nation the populist progressivism awakened during the electoral primaries has hardened to sheer outrage. In the rising protests look for the do-it-yourself faction posting up to their customary position – in the avant-garde.
Photo: is \ From the Denver Women’s March We The People posters by Shepard Fairey, a now mega-successful 90’s era DIY champion, artist, and screenprinter.
Make no mistake, the culture of DIY is dangerous. The fire exits aren’t clearly marked. Nothing is “up to code”. One must risk decapitation to get ‘er done. We do put our bodies at risk to ply our craft because it’s the only way to put it on stage, hang it on the wall, to turn it up. But more so, it is the only way to be with our people, to create a self-policed zone of tolerance for the marginalized and the weird. Commercial venues are “safe” only in theory – as they are culturally inaccessible to the avant-garde. So, we make our own “safe spaces” that in bodily terms can be incredibly dangerous but in a social sense are the only welcoming thresholds many of us cross.
We do not put our bodies at risk to taunt death. Though we are art-soldiers, our mission is not suicidal. We put our bodies at risk so that our DIY culture; the performance art power points, the NöISE RöCK, and the pseudo-science fairs for free thinking adults – the creative culture that frolics on the fringe – will live. To keep that dream alive you need to run to the shadows. You need to mount the barricades. You need to do it yourself.
For a full 21 year account of The Institute of Sociometry including previous fairs see “is current reports : MMVII-MMXVII” and “All is archived reports : IXICV-MMVII”. If you, as a discerning individual prefer analog as we do please consider supporting is with a purchase of is EMANCIPATION – a limited edition 130 page catalog of Sociometry Fair 2016 covering The Institute of Sociometry at 21, hand bound with a Japanese stitch and letterpress printed covers.