Mess is More

“I’m going to pick you,” said a glitter-green figure to my left.

“Sorry?” I looked over at a bald and bearded man, looming large, yet unintimidating.

“Pick one of these, or I’m going to destroy this painting,” said artist Allen Vandever, pointing to a list beside an abstract blue piece, casually smug. Twenty-one choices were typed under the heading “Rescue or Destroy,” including, 1. Kiss a Random stranger in the gallery, and not just a peck. 11. Buy a work of art in the gallery. 18. Give someone a foot massage.

“Okay, I suppose I can say the alphabet backwards while hopping on one foot,” I said, agreeing to the benign embarrassment.

Vandever’s project was just one part of the event at large, “Nothing Lasts Forever,” by the Rezidentz Collective. The collective’s manifesto of complaint proclaimed the “insatiable consumption of everything” in our “throw-away culture” leaves behind a wasteful mess. This collaboration of artists, situated in a working art space-cum-house on South Morgan in Bridgeport, promised to help “make sense of the mess.” The creative commune gathered artists and friends for drinks, hors d’oeuvres, and friendly discussion of their latest projects.

The longest-standing member of the collective, George “Sunny” Keller, wasn’t fazed by the commune’s ambitious ideals. Sunny has lived in the building for three years, working a regular job and selling his art only to recoup the costs of making it — “otherwise it would just pile up.” The Rezidentz Collective wasn’t always as active as it is now. “It was originally just a group of friends, and I was the only one doing art,” he told me, smiling over his PBR. “It’s been a mixing group of people in the space, and now we do a theme-based show every month or two.”

A girl with light yellow hair sidled up next to him, clearly amused. “Sunny, there’s a woman that wants to buy your piece.” He offered a garbled wave at a nervous guest, and then walked over. I moved towards a girl coming from behind the main attraction of the show — a giant rectangular frame with strings connecting about 50 roughly sewn stuffed-animal pelts.

Kristine Shulke, the piece’s creator, was outwardly bohemian, with short black hair, bright red lipstick, and large spiral gage earrings. She was exploring the “fine line between brutality and beauty,” touching on subjects that normally make people uncomfortable. Although she grew up around hunting and taxidermy, the project still wasn’t natural to her. “It’s really weird psychologically speaking, cutting up really cute stuffed animals,” she told me, looking guilty. The stuffed animals were all bought in thrift stores and then sewn into a canvas, leaving behind a large pile of white filling.

I asked if Shulke had a certain message in mind with the piece. “I like the feeling that they evoke,” she told me judiciously. “It’s better when there’s no clear answer… it’ll stay with you longer.” Here, the theme of consumption and waste shone through brightly. Children grow out of their old favorite comfort object and cease to care, much like we care little about the work of a pleading artist or the change falling through our hands.

“…So here goes,” I heard behind me, turning just in time to see Vandever shoving his knee through a canvas. The room watched him in bemused silence as he pulled apart the frame, throwing pieces on the ground with histrionic relish. It was time to make sense of the mess.

Rezidentz Collective, 3145 S. Morgan St. Fridays, 6-10pm