Trance State, Hpnotiq

Conrad Freiburg’s ukulele trails off after his second song, and he offers a well-meaning but unsettling smile to the crowd. As he pushes his tan coke-bottle glasses up on his nose, he says to the audience that for his last song, he’s “just gonna make something up.” He steps back into The Pod of Absence, a heptagonal structure he built especially for sculpting sound, and strums once. Freiburg holds the uke up to an amplifier and strums again, sending out a deep, resonating feedback that hits the audience like a continuous ocean wave. I recall his lyrics from earlier,

“You ever sang into the ocean? You ever sang into me?”

Astro Space Party curates a weekly online video horoscope featuring working artists and musicians.  For this week’s episode, artist Frank Pollard interviewed a strange cast of characters live from the Co-Prosperity Sphere. Focusing on a hypnotist, a ukulelist, a handwriting analyst, a trance musician, and a trance critic, “Hpnotiq” explored the nature of focus and the subconscious of trance.

With side-slicked hair and a Mod black suit, Pollard maintains a casual intimacy with his guests.

“Introducing Conrad Freidburg. Sorry, Freiburg. No, Free Bird!”

The contemporary art world Pollard brings together is certainly odd. An inexplicable camaraderie unites middle-aged workingmen and young girls in black lace dresses who drink red wine from the bottle. People laugh at the jokes of the hypnotist, then at the strange passion of the handwriting analyst, always respectfully.

The open gallery of the Co-Prosperity Sphere features two bars and a space large enough to serve as the soundstage for “Hpnotiq.” The hypnotist is Jacob C. Hammes, a bald and whiskered multimedia artist. Hypnosis may bring to mind Freud’s couch, age regression, or worse, but as the artist says, “It’s not mind-control.” He seems to understand it just as Wikipedia describes it: “a trance state characterized by extreme suggestibility, relaxation and heightened imagination.”

Hammes works primarily with artists who want to want to play instruments in a style outside of their comfort zones, painters looking for inspiration, etc. He says, “It often feels like I’m not doing anything; I’m just facilitating this thing that someone already wanted to happen, and they just needed an excuse.”

Hammes is followed by Freiburg’s ukelele performance, and after that, “Hpnotiq” showcases one Mr. Vibe, an artist who does mind-body readings, pendulum readings, mind-massages, hand analysis, and handwriting analysis. Unlike Hammes, Mr. Vibe’s work does not gain affirmation from Wikipedia, which refers to graphology as pseudoscience. On stage, he protests in run-on sentences that handwriting analysis is a “scientific way of reading personality.”

“You don’t really have to know much about what the individual characters are connoting, you’re just looking at, again, the flow of energy,” he says. Still, the letter “t” is apparently particularly important–the higher the bar, the higher the self-esteem of the writer. If you practice raising your t-bars over a long period of time, he explains, “You’re gonna notice a change in your personality.”

After Mr. Vibe, Pollard introduces Jeremiah Chiu of Deep Sleep, an act that’s part dance therapy, part mind meditation, and thoroughly trance music. His reverberating sounds sync with images of swirling spirals and evolving video projected on to the surface of a five-foot wide balloon, challenging the Co-Prosperity Sphere to become like the dance clubs where Chiu’s sound is most at home. Only Chiu dances.

“Hpnotiq” concludes with Michael Workman, the most well known artist of the group, who has nothing to explain but his own thoughts. In conversation with Pollard, he considers the trance state, as well as the introspective, revelatory experiences common to all people.

The evening of casual conversation between artists felt more self-indulgent than conclusive, but even so, offered a relatively complete picture of the Chicago art scene’s take on trance.