The Borf Brigade Takes It Inside

"The Consolation of Ruin," an art show put on by the Borf Brigade and John Tsombikos, the graffiti artist formerly known as Borf, includes signed copies of Borf's court documents. (By Andrea Bruce -- The Washington Post)
By Libby Copeland
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 25, 2007

It's tough being dissidents seeking publicity. You despise The Man but you want The Man to pay attention. You want the press to cover you, but you don't necessarily want to give your name. You want to raise money, but you don't want to be seen as selling out.

Thus, the delicate dance of "The Consolation of Ruin," an art show that continues tonight.

"Consolation" is being put on by a group called the Borf Brigade that wishes to remain anonymous but nevertheless has a publicist. One of the artists, the reformed graffiti artist once known as Borf, considers himself an "anti-capitalist," but in a move that sounds curiously like capitalism, he's now selling his art.

The anti-capitalist capitalist is in a tight spot, particularly if he is used to decrying things like the state, private property, globalization, adulthood and rich people. The negative approach doesn't work well in sales pitches. Recently, Borf, a.k.a. John Tsombikos, did a radio interview in which he described his show this way:

"It's a total commodification of art and it's totally upfront about it, I think. Yeah, I think we're just saying, '[The hell with] you. Come to our show and buy stuff.' "

An unusual slogan.

Tsombikos and the Borf Brigade are putting on this show partly out of necessity. A prolific graffiti artist, Tsombikos was arrested in 2005 and subsequently pleaded guilty to a felony count of property destruction and served a month in jail. He was also ordered to pay thousands of dollars in restitution. The group's press releases call the show "a fundraiser to benefit the District of Columbia's $12,000 extortion" of Tsombikos.

In his radio appearance on a punk music and talk show, Tsombikos promised the art show would feature oil paintings, etchings and signed photocopies of the court documents associated with his crime. He was joined by several individuals, including an unidentified woman ("Hi, I'm just a girl") and a man who called himself "Chuck Burgundy, philanthropist, world traveler, art connoisseur," and whose accent started British and then went somewhere else. "Just a Girl" explained the Borf Brigade's regard for publicity.

"I mean, we're looking for awareness but we're not looking for, like, manipulation by the media," she said. "We're not looking for becoming figureheads or being commodified."

What does that mean?

If it's tough to be the dissidents of the Borf Brigade, consider the quandary of the dissidents' publicist. This job is undertaken, for free, by a cagey fellow whose approach to publicity is fairly cloak-and-dagger. He gives his name as "Ryan Ooas" and later, "R.J. Oakes." He says the Borf show, which started last weekend and runs through this weekend, was created by several artists who "wish to remain anonymous and to let the work speak for itself."

"Ryan" says no one will do interviews. He says the fellow known as "Chuck Burgundy" is rumored to be "connected to the Mafia." He helps organize a press preview at which a photographer is briefly blindfolded and led around by a mysterious fellow in sunglasses who won't give his name. (Later, Adam Eidinger, founder of a group called the Mintwood Media Collective, confirms that "Ryan" is Eidinger's colleague, Ryan Fletcher. Eidinger also confesses that he was the guy in the sunglasses.)

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