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Future Perfect

[whitespace] Projexpo 98
Matt Ipcar

The Decontaminators: Two wildly dressed creatures used feather dusters to brush away the world's pollutants before each audience member was allowed to enter the installation at Projexpo 98.

Ecstatic futuristic overstimulation at Projexpo 98

By Michelle Goldberg

Stepping inside projexpo 98, a Spaceport Resort, a bald man with his head painted entirely aquamarine greeted guests with a politely robotic "Welcome to Projexpo. Please approach for decontamination" and pointed them to a translucent platform up four Plexiglas stairs. On either side were wildly dressed creatures wielding feather dusters, which they used to brush away the world's pollutants before each audience member was allowed to enter the installation.

"Feel free to approach the ether chamber for pupil dilation," the green man said, pointing toward a semi-opaque scrim with velvet kneepads in front to kneel on. Behind the screen in a haze of smoke and colored lights, a girl wearing a gas mask performed a kind of slow-motion belly dance.

An amalgam of a retro-futuristic lounge, a space-age nightclub, an alien cabaret and a 21st-century history museum, Projexpo was less an attempt to anticipate the future than a way to explore our collective dreams about it. Held at the Lab and produced by Please Louise/Museo Contempo, the three-week-long installation/multimedia extravaganza/costume party featured more than 50 local artists, musicians and performers. Though billed as a "24th-century pleasure cruise," the art at Spaceport Resort was resolutely about the present--about our obsession with monolithic media, space lore and apocalyptic anxiety, all tempered with a massive dose of camp.

Thursday nights at Projexpo were "The Man-Ray Electro Cabaret." The second Thursday began with the amazing hip-hop, scratch-jazz audio-collages of DJ Mariko, who is surely the most adorable DJ in San Francisco. A tiny 17-year-old wearing a cherry-red bobbed wig and shiny parachute pants, Mariko offered chilled-out deconstructions that were the perfect soundtrack to the installation's combination of harem-like comfort and visual overstimulation.

Half of the room was filled with comfy couches and beanbags. Over the ceilings hung swathes of ethereal netting on which were projected laser patterns and spacescapes like a boudoir inside a planetarium. Screens everywhere flickered with computer graphics, solarized video, found footage and TV detritus--looking around you could see old alien films, bits of video games, C-Span talking heads, Salvador Dali, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and the QVC shopping channel all at once.

But the visual mayhem quickly became the background to the performances. First was Spaceport co-producer Allison Hennessy, dressed in a floor-length gown of loud '70s oranges and browns with her hair in dozens of tiny braids. Hennessy sang two songs alternating soulful cosmic exhortations with weird alien languages. One song was a "tender, desperate love song" that a cat sang to a pigeon on another planet.

Metropolitan's own David Mills followed with a kind of metaroutine about the exhibit. Then Jeffrey Winters, the show's producer and MC, led the entire audience outside on an "urban adventure" to "the environment you take for granted every day, with all the crackheads and junkies and whores." The 40 or so people from the audience assembled in an alley behind the Lab to be entertained by drummers and acrobatic fire dancers. Soon, Mission residents started to make their way over, thrilled by the street show.

Back inside were several more musicians and a stand-up act by a person calling herself Technopia from the planet Zoloft. An intergalactic Austrian analyst, Technopia expounded on her theories of "postcontemporarianism," "utopian-nowism" and "harmonianism."

The night's most thrilling act was the astounding, frightening, brilliant Robbie d., who also is the DJ at Trannyshack. Strolling on stage smoking a joint and dressed in an sinisterly elegant black suit, Robbie d. sang in a voice that was a cross between Peter Murphy and Linda Blair in The Exorcist, with a bit of Elvis thrown in. Capable of leaping octaves in the course of single word, his eyes bugged out of his head, and he danced in a jerky, David Byrne-like shuffle before shifting into balls-out drama-queen mode. When he left, the audience screamed and cheered and stomped--it was, surely, the closest the night had come to posthuman music.

That is, until Barney took the stage. Wearing a blinking headset with his jeans and white T-shirt, Barney is a kind of sonic mad scientist, coaxing otherworldly noises from his homemade digital instruments. Pulses, squiggles, fuzz and electronic screeches came from his assortment of silver boxes, exposed wires, tubes and globes. Droning, screeching and panic-attack-provoking, this was truly not music for humans--after 10 or so minutes, he'd cleared the room. Like all science fiction, Projexpo worked best when it was really about how we live now.

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From the October 5-18, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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