The Final Countdown: Select Media Festival 6 gets ready for blast-off

It’s not normal to hear the words “don’t take any pictures until I turn on the blacklight” be taken seriously, but, seconds later, I was standing in front of a gigantic space station, lit up entirely by blacklight. Yes, strangely enough, hidden on the corner of 32nd and Morgan inside an old warehouse is a huge interstellar complex yet to be launched, CPS1 (Co-Prosperity Sphere 1) to be exact, art collective/magazine Lumpen’s beta test for its first intergalactic space colony.

Right at the heart of Bridgeport’s art scene, just a few blocks from the Zhou brothers’ art complex, resides the Co-Prosperity Sphere, Lumpen’s 5,000-square foot main base of operations. Headed by Ed Marszewski (or Edmar, as he is popularly known), Lumpen is a South Side art collective/media group that puts out a monthly magazine on art, music, and politics, and throws two festivals a year, Select Media Fest in the fall and Version in the spring. It also puts on regular art shows throughout the year. The group has exhibited a growing presence in the Chicago art scene and a gathering place for many of Chicago’s newest artists and musicians.

Starting this Friday, Select Media Festival 6 commences, taking as its base of operations CPS1, but events are taking place all over the city till the 17th. This year, Select Media Fest is centered on Lumpen’s popular theme, “Community of the Future”–only this time, Edmar and the gang really mean it. The space itself–an old warehouse that Lumpen just moved into last year–has been transformed into a landscape that seems right out of Barbarella. Only open during the night, a giant metallic structure that is CPS1 dominates the ground floor, with neon green and pink lights illuminating a variety of panels and techno-gadgets. In the back is a control room equipped with captain’s chair, and in front of it, a mainframe computer.

Throughout the station are a variety of works by a smattering of different artists, perhaps most notably a gigantic robot by Chicago native Michael T. Rea, made entirely out of wood. “Suit for Stephen Hawking” dominates part of the CPS1 main floor, with two gigantic fists-something straight out of “Starship Troopers.” Also be on the lookout for work curated by the record label (or “man”) Terry Plumming. The art produced under this moniker will surely induce either a cringe or a twisted smile (if the recent issues of their magazine and the accompanying music are any indication), depending on your stance on cocaine, Satanism, and harsh noise. Video artists Thunder Horse (who happen to be closely tied to Flosstradamus) contributed to the installation–and however that manifests itself, you can tell that ’80s video game references will abound. The basement contains a gigantic black hole and a huge space ride powered by hydraulics. The windows are filled with miniature cityscapes made out of computer chips and if you attend–you’d better be in costume–the whole festival is being taped and broadcast on public access television stations throughout the universe. The festival will also act as a gathering point for much of the new burgeoning experimental noise scene in Chicago.

This year’s programming seems to take a cue from the work being done in other collectives around the country–Lumpen may not occupy a place as central to the young Chicago art scene as, say, Wham City or Charm City Art Space do in Baltimore, or as Fort Thunder once did in Providence, but if it keeps this sort of roster up, it will certainly be en route to taking up such a position.

If none of this seems to make any sense, don’t worry, it probably shouldn’t. It isn’t supposed to, but at the same time it is. If you have ever seen the work of Paper Rad you can understand the difficulty of explaining Paper Rad to the uninitiated (Yes, some work by Paper Rad will be on display–the gang’s all here.) Paper Rad’s, as well as that of a host of other artists’ work, will be displayed as part of the “Reuben Kincaid Artist Management” (yes, think Partridge Family) space on the ground floor. Further embracing this sort of new school silliness, it seems like Lumpen has pulled all the shots in bringing out a lot of the best artists who make art that is, in the words of some, “retarded,” or according to others, maybe just “fun.” Knowingly so, however, no one is suggesting that Paper Rad’s candy-fueled acid trips are supposed to induce anything besides a nostalgic sugar high and possibly a brain freeze. Let’s just hope you paid some attention to the pop culture of the 80’s and 90’s, because only then can you understand the Dada-esque cultural subversion that is going on here.

Dan Deacon’s golden boy and Baltimore star mash-up artist OCDJ christens the ceremony on Friday, and if his Lil Jon meets Nintendo bleeps don’t make you dance-well, you should go home and change out of your Abercrombie, or just have a few more cans of PBR. OCDJ, who performs in some sort of animal costume (mongoose?) spent his summer starting sweat-soaked dance parties all over the country on a recently completed tour with Dan Deacon and Video Hippos. Keep an ear out for that remix of the Mr. Softee jingle, that shit is ridiculous.

Friday’s opening at the Co-Prosperity Sphere, besides concluding with a dance party led by OCDJ, promises to contain “performance art, pop rock, and space jams.” There’s “rock” band Evolution Revolution, who purely coincidentally also dress up in animal costumes when they perform. Also, Chicago glam rocker/space popstar Brilliant Pebbles and performance art group Dungeon Majesty promise to help make the record for the number of (ironic?) Star Trek/Star Wars/Lord of the Rings/Dungeons and Dragons references you can find in one night.

Be on the lookout throughout the rest of the week, as there are scores of dance parties and other themed events going on around the city. On Saturday there are more DJs and video screenings uptown at the Hideout. Sunday you can get your fill of “space corn” and zines back at CPS1, and see a kraut-rock musical “about an East German space mission whose communist mascot was the ‘meerschweinchen’ or guinea pig” done in the style of a 1970’s documentary. Wednesday you can watch Godard’s classic “Alphaville” in perhaps the ultimate setting and communicate with satellites by radio. Later in the week, there’s a talent show, a dance party lead by The Mannequin Men DJ team, and a free play.

So, if you’ve ever found yourself doing any of the following: watching Night Rider/Thunder Cats/Mad Max, playing Magic: The Gathering, realizing you know the lyrics to Top 40 hip-hop only because you have heard the songs in mashups, wearing day-glo colors, going to sleep while listening to Lightning Bolt, Wolf Eyes, or the Boredoms, or ever taken real pleasure in playing your old Nintendo, stop what you are doing and mark your calendar. If you have done any of the aforementioned things ironically, you may also mark your calendar.

This may all seem pretty silly, but that’s the point. Lumpen does have some sort of political message to make, even if it may be second to the more playful atmosphere created by the shows it puts on. Last year, Edmar led an “assault” by scores of artists/legionaries (they even had a catapult) on the Merchandise Mart, and its corporate art fair Artropolis. The theme of last year’s Version was “Insurrection Internationale,” with a series of events surrounding the relation between corporations and individuals. Basically, there’s a serious D.I.Y. manifesto to all of this, and although you may take issue with all the neon, you have to agree that these sorts of grassroots arts festivals are the kind of thing Chicago is sorely lacking.

Select Media Festival 6. Various Locations. November 9-17. Grand Opening, Co-Prosperity Sphere, 3219-21 South Morgan St. November 9. Friday, 8pm. (773)837-0145.