Lessons from 'Lightgeist'

Work by Caroline Turner and Ian Anderson
Work by Caroline Turner and Ian Anderson

One of the best things about Cincinnati’s current urban renaissance is that older spaces — some unused or even previously unknown — are being reinvented for new purposes. Churches and firehouses become brewpubs and restaurants, office buildings become apartments, underground tunnels become tourist attractions.

Since artists are sensitive to their surroundings, a group called Near*By has lately begun to use such spaces — sometimes — for special-event exhibitions. Happenings, sort of.

In its press release, Near*By describes itself as “an untethered curatorial collective that seeks to bypass the art institution, working as liaison between artists and pluralistic audiences. We aim to create ephemeral and interdisciplinary exhibitions that connect art with location and meld curatorial and artist practices while blurring the boundaries between installation and white cube.”

I’ve missed some of the previous events, although I’ve heard that Andy Marko’s attempt to launch his guerilla campaign to become Cincinnati’s Minister of Performance Art (why not?) was amusing at Fountain Square last October. And High Art, an event held atop the Carew Tower also in October, almost avoided a rainfall. Near*By’s first event, last May’s Moon Show, proved very sagacious — it was based on a premise the Apollo 11 moon landing was a staged event; the movie Interstellar plays with (and upends) that premise, too.

But I did make last week’s Lightgeist at Over-the-Rhine’s Rhinegeist brewpub and it was great. Rhinegeist has the open space of an old-fashioned upper-floor school gym (maybe a couple of them) and looks like one, too, although not too many school gyms would have huge metal brewing tanks for beer.  

Actually, the space was part of the old Christian Moerlein brewery’s bottling plant, which was in business from 1853 until Prohibition. The building’s rebirth as a craft-beer business has been one of the Cincinnati revival’s bigger success stories.

For Lightgeist, Near*By invited 17 artists/artist groups to show work for just one night throughout the space. There were familiar names and new ones, many with connections to alternative galleries or the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning. The theme was “dematerializing” the image, which resulted in some fine video and sound work especially.

Lightgeist started at 7 p.m. and, according to Maria Seda-Reder (a Near*By member as well as a CityBeat arts writer), some 300 people came to witness the work during the next three hours. (Other Near*By members include Jon Auer, Chris Reeves, Loraine Wible, Joe Hedges and Anastasiya Yatsuk.)

It was a party atmosphere with plenty of beer, but the audience was there to see the work. And there were people of all ages, revealing that there is growing curiosity about local contemporary art — a necessity for any city trying to have an urban renaissance.

I didn’t take detailed notes on everything, but Charles Woodman’s debut of his “Wavelength-pure signal, no camera” screen image was involving, and Alice Pixley Young’s projection of bird-like moving images against and past an arrangement of physical objects was deeply moving. Caroline Turner and Ian Anderson’s ghostly pinprick of white light on an eerie background was a work deserving of more time.

Lightgeist was the latest evidence that this has been a great year for presentations of video and film art here — DAAP’s Electronic Art program and screenings at Weston Gallery, Manifest, FotoFocus and Cincinnati Art Museum’s Eyes on the Street.

In the last half-dozen years, we’ve had quite a few ambitious artist coops and collectives start up bricks-and-mortar galleries/performance spaces but fail to keep them going. (Semantics is the most notable exception.) So Near*By’s idea is a good one — use the surplus of fascinating spaces around town for one-off events. It’s not a substitute for having more permanent contemporary spaces, which we need, but it’s an important part of any art scene.

Near*By is planning 2015 events now — some of which may involve collaborations with galleries.  There will be more coverage in CityBeat.

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