Elsewhere hangs art out to dry

by Amy Kingsley

Every time I visit Elsewhere – the thrift store-cum-conceptual art project anchoring its own funky block of Elm Street – something crazy happens.

Such as getting drafted. Because of my gender, my short list of nagging concerns does not include compulsory conscription.

But here I am, deep inside the yawning building, holding the numbered draft notice I’ve just been handed. I answer some simple questions and step behind a simple frame. An agent places my hand on a scale and takes its measure.

I am given a task: Go to the Tree House and draw a monkey. The whole goal of this project, I’m told, is to visually capture everything inside of Elsewhere. I’m handed a pencil and paper.

“We want to document every idea in the Elsewhere universe,” the agent says.

But there’s a problem. I’ve been to Elsewhere a handful of times, and I don’t remember a Tree House.

There are a couple of plausible explanations for this. First, there are a lot of things to look at, from vintage neckties to troll dolls. It’s easy to miss the forest for the trees, or, in this case, the Tree House for the forest-green fatigues.

One of the directors, J Gamble, points me to a loft overlooking the kitchen. The space is accessible by tree, one that’s been fitted with doorknob footholds.

Two monkeys share the space with other toys, so I pull one out of its spot and start drawing. Now, I did take art classes in high school. But I was never very good.

“Don’t worry,” he assures, “a big idea in the Elsewhere universe is the notion of sprucing.”

Now that I know another person can come along and improve upon whatever chicken scratch I commit to paper, I can throw myself into the sketch. The act of drawing is itself centering. I’d forgotten that. And it’s nice up here in my dark cubbyhole, away from the crowd below. Just my monkey and me.

Then I notice someone in an observation deck across the way. She’s drawing me drawing the monkey. Things have gone from weird to weirder. They tend to do that here.

The occasion for the night’s draft is Elsewhere’s spring reopening, which is accompanied by a show entitled Clotheslines. In the springtime, the clotheslines come out, and so do the artists of Elsewhere. The space stays shuttered in the winter because it lacks central heat.

When the clotheslines come out, so to do our unmentionables, both psychic and sartorial. So the space is strung with ropes dripping like charm bracelets with shoes, photographs, books and more.

It’s a fine concept, but difficult to apply to a space like Elsewhere that’s already devoted to preserving and tweaking pop-cultural detritus. Here the lines provide additional exhibition space. One artist hung water-damaged Little Golden Books on a series of clotheslines in the library. Another draped the lines with photographic portraits. Both pieces toy with drying lines and their different uses, but neither really subverts it.

In the patio outside, another clothesline sways in the breeze along with its cargo, several girls’ dresses stuffed with Christmas lights. A duo plays traditional music below.

Vance Archer and Tom O’Shea start “The Merry Blacksmith.” Near Archer’s feet sit a small pile of wood blocks covered in ink drawings. They’re from family vacations, he says. The blocks are his family’s version of vacation pictures.

Inside Amelia Caison, the mother of one of the artists, circulates among the drafted. Artists pressed into service make pictures of guests, their spouses and children.

“We shopped here back before it was a gallery,” she says. “We actually bought some stuff. I remember back then that it was rally packed with stuff.”

It still is. But now the stuff has to make room for ideas. The Elsewhere universe is a crowded place, but it’s got plenty of space for visitors.

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