Under a full moon, an eerie blue light shines behind a glass door with the letters SSNOVA. It's Halloween night, and I'm standing before an abandoned three-story building that's been brought to life by some visionaries from Cincinnati's artistic underground. Their story is nothing new to those familiar with avant-garde gallery spaces like Semantics and Unit 2. What's unique about the Mockbee building — located at 2260 Central Ave. in the fledgling Brighton Corner arts district — is the diverse crowd of artists and patrons it attracts.
SSNOVA stands for "Sanctum Sanctorum Non-Profit Organization and Venue for the Arts." The project is the brainchild of Emily Buddendeck, a 28-year-old artist who's organized informal art-events under the name Sanctum Sanctorum for the past three years.
Buddendeck saw potential in the massive 1880s building, once home to the Bellevue Brewery. The building's current owner, Fred Lane, shared her vision. On Aug. 11, the Mockbee building re-opened its doors as SSNOVA's permanent home, attracting an immediate following by presenting an eclectic program featuring visual artists, musicians and independent films.
This Halloween event is just as adventuresome.
"I like finding out what people are interested in," Buddendeck says, sweeping her wiry, reddish-black dreads away from her face. "I want to find out what directions they're looking to go and then introduce them to the other piece of their puzzle. Or just to introduce people who are doing similar things to exchange ideas."
The cave-like galleries are ideal for site specific art like the SSNOVA'S Halloween show — a collaboration of 20 local artists — which highlighted the space through light and sound. Inside the building, it's easy to feel like Pinocchio inside the whale. Colored lights collide with a rising fog bank created by a nearby smoke machine. A band performs in an adjacent room. A man dressed in a cow suit passes me on the stairs. A gorilla mask covers his face, and I'm convinced he's a genetic experiment gone bad.
Upstairs, I sit at an antique typewriter and read the recent contributions to the long stream of paper strewn around the machine. "Gone, gone gone beyond beyond beyond Shall the goer/Gate, gate paragate parasamagate badhisva/Beautiful rage/Or is that pain that drives you/Makes you glow, your dance the language that I know/You dance I watch you."
I add a few lines, and I'm amazed at the force with which I must punch the typewriter's keys. It's this sort of raw, interactive experience that defines SSNOVA.
"It was kind of sensory overload, I think," says Buddendeck, speaking the following day. The Halloween event is over, and Buddendeck laughs as she remembers the odd blend of sage, incense and dry ice that had filled the Mockbee building.
Buddendeck and her SSNOVA colleagues plan to expand the organization's Web site (www.ssnova.org). The hope is that the gallery space also serves as a resource center for area artists.
"(The online database) could very well be a good reference point for curators and other artists looking for people to collaborate with," Buddendeck says. "That way, you put the artwork before the social environment and you start getting to know people."
SSNOVA has become a welcome home to people who don't consider themselves formal artists. The Halloween audience is comprised of many who ordinarily wouldn't be interested in going to art gallery shows.
It's clear from the band of artistic outsiders who have made SSNOVA an immediate success that Buddendeck's vision for an artists co-op is shared by many.
"This is one of the first things that I've had in public, and I wouldn't want it to be anywhere else," says Julie Roessler, a student at the University of Cincinnati who displayed work at the Halloween event. "I know a lot of people who've been able to show here who probably wouldn't have anywhere else."
Emily Lieb is a recent graduate of Denison University and an intern at CityBeat.