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[whitespace] Laughing Squid
Matt Ipcar

On the Throne: Scott Beale is the master behind Laughing Squid's Web site, email list and hotline number.

At the nucleus of Laughing Squid's Cyclone Warehouse with proprietor Scott Beale

By Michelle Goldberg

THE LAUGHING SQUID fundraiser at the Cyclone Warehouse teemed with masquerade masks, red feathers, black boas, chartreuse bobs, '40s drag, cleavage, granny glasses, devil headbands and rockabilly pompadours. Outside among a contingent of art cars was a truck decorated with metal flames that lifted off the blue hood. On the top, a blue face was frozen in an Edvard Munch rictus of shock and horror; orange spikes of metal fire trailed from the back of its head. The front was covered with red hearts and the blue skull of something that looked like a baby goat; it held a fake rose in its teeth. There was real fire, too, a big huge flaming rusty metal sculpture like a cannon on five-foot-high wagon wheels, adorned with poles and a disk with scary sharp teeth. It was pushed across the pavement, and people gawked and tried to light their cigarettes without standing too close.

It was, in a sense, a gathering of the local tribes, proof that what once seemed like disconnected art cliques have combined and merged and networked into a huge, pulsating scene. At the nucleus of it is Laughing Squid proprietor Scott Beale. Laughing Squid Web site, email list and hotline number connect many of the most bizarre tentacles of the San Francisco underground. Among them are free-love and grilled-cheese burning man camps: Bianca's Smut Shack, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the Cacophony Society, the Cyberbuss (the kids behind the all-night on-the-street costume ball), Popcorn Anti-Theater, Art Cars, robot artists the Seemen and lots of others. Up to twice a day, the Squid List's 1,100 subscribers get the heads up about the weirdest things going on in town--the kinds of events that make you call up your friends in other cities and say, "You won't believe what I did last night."

"Something is definitely happening," says Art Car organizer Harrod Blank. "I've traveled all across the country making a film about art cars, and I've seen a lot of things in the art scene, and something is definitely going on here that's not going on anywhere else." There even seems to be a kind of unifying aesthetic--a low-rent fin-de-siècle hodgepodge of circuses, '40s retro, vaudeville, robots, sex, apocalypse and white trash. A lot of it comes from Burning Man, but it's also something specific to San Francisco. Stepping into an event like the one at Cyclone, there's a sense that right here is the place to be.

"Obviously, Burning Man is where a lot of these groups overlap," Beale says. And then the Cacophony Society plays into it, because they have a really wide network of pranksters. It was at Burning Man 1995 that Beale discovered the Cacophony Society, an amorphous group of artistic subversives and jokers (their slogan: "You may already be a member").

Beale went along on one of the Cacophony Society's Santa raids, during which dozens of Clauses descend on an unsuspecting city and wreak playful havoc. Then Beale met the Cyberbuss, which was planning its Carnival-inspired costume ball, and he hooked up with the Art Cars. "The community has developed a lot," he says. "It's even evolved systems of barter. You've got Junk Man Bill down at the Ace Auto dismantlers who can get you stuff for events and projects. A lot of trade goes on."

Beale half-jokingly calls what's going on an artistic renaissance, but he's reluctant to call it a movement. "Movements usually seem to have a purpose and some sort of direction. Even the Surrealists had a manifesto," he says. "We don't have that. That's what's so great-everyone can be individuals. The Seemen can do their robotics stuff, which is separate from what the Art Cars do, and people don't know they're connected until they start digging into it." Once people do start digging into it, though, they find one of the most vital undergrounds anywhere, a whole culture simmering and bubbling as it creates itself.

For more information, go to the Laughing Squid Web site.

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From the December 21, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

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