Wednesday was the premiere of Brooklyn DIY, a documentary on the rise and fall of the Williamsburg art scene from the 80’s until the present. The one time viewing at MoMA will hopefully be distributed to a wider audience as it provided an intimate and informative perspective of a nearly extinct community of well wishers and evil doers. Despite the fact that the film historicizes, therefore pronouncing dead and past a movement that lingers and hangs on a narrow thread of relevance, it stirs the need to recharge our anarchistic creative stimuli that have been silenced by a commercialized corporate art industry and formulate once again a community of people who exhibit and perform without remorse, pretense, or concerns of a marketable status. 80s-90s Williamsburg can work as our near distant model of a starved yearning for the resurgence of art for art’s sake, artmaking without apologizes, excuses, self-conscious proclamations and defenses, extending the community as an integral part of the art practice, extending from the lone rider in the studio to a house of misshapes and backward over-achievers.
Interviews abound in the documentary, many of them from the school of Pierogi headed by Joe Amhrein including artists such as Jim Torok, Mike Ballou, Jonathan Schipper, Brian Dewan, Mike Ballou, and Ward Shelley (no women). There are unmistakable tones of irony, mockery, and overall we-never-take-ourselves-seriously attiude resonating through the artists, from Ballou’s donning his paper mache animal masks during the interview or Brian Dewin and brother playing sound affects from their makeshift sound machines as he affirms there was room back to do whatever they pleased, to experiement without pressure or self-consciousness. Ken Butler makes guitars out of random instruments such as a gun or a bow and he plays with earnesty and we can’t help chuckle at the Wernor Herzog-ish, Spinal Tap-ish mocumentary exposure the film provides.
The whatever-goes environment sprouted artist owned spaces and alternative means of performance and exhibition created places like Four Walls, the Green Room, Minor Injury, Mustard Factory. The environment allowed them to do something revolutionary, a utopic sensibility that tinged with anarchism and debauchery. And they were aware there was no market to support their work, that there was so nowhere else to be showing so there was nothing to gain or lose, literally, anything goes. Artist did it all in pure DIY fashion in these warehouse parties and artist owned galleries and expanded their microorganism surviving through free will and unabashed unlimited exploration. There was no particular aesthetic or linear movement. It was chaotic with multiple access points.
The glory days are over. Williamsburg is now rife as one artist says, hipsters that exudes an aura of satisfaction with themselves, the new yuppies of America. This new generation of creative types have created their own community of artistic expression with the added notion of seriousness, competition, and sumission to a corporate identity. But we mustn’t underestimate the hipster potential to collaborate and start anew this urgency to regnerate art as performance, art as community, art as denial of commercial production. It might not be as free will or anarchistic as the first generation but we as a new generation will follow behind their footsteps and be reminded of the beauty of unhindered creativity, no matter how vulgar, insane, unmarketable, and unhip it may be.
Two quotes to end this note on a need for change in the art world, from Holland Cotter’s “The Boom is Over. Long Live Art!”
At the same time, if the example of past crises holds true, artists can also take over the factory, make the art industry their own. Collectively and individually they can customize the machinery, alter the modes of distribution, adjust the rate of production to allow for organic growth, for shifts in purpose and direction. They can daydream and concentrate. They can make nothing for a while, or make something and make it wrong, and fail in peace, and start again.
I’m talking about carving out a place in the larger culture where a condition of abnormality can be sustained, where imagining the unknown and the unknowable — impossible to buy or sell — is the primary enterprise.
Watch the trailer
Read some reviews