While skimming cultural blogs to see what the August slump might hold for the adventurous soul, we stumbled across this tantalizing comment:
"Hello, I am hosting the second show at the Barn Barnacle this Saturday, August 20th at 7:00 p.m. The Barn Barnacle is a studio/performance/exhibition/garage space located in the alley at 1307 Longfellow Street NW (between 13th and 14th). On Saturday Videohippos will be performing. Thank you, Jason."
Barn Barnacle? Garage? Alley? Videohippos?
We had to know more.
A few e-mails and phone calls later, we're chatting with 29-year-old artist Jason Balicki, a Corcoran College of Art and Design graduate who works as a gallery assistant at G Fine Art. Barn Barnacle is his doing, Balicki says, and sure, we're welcome to check it out.
So we venture off to find this Barn Barnacle, which turns out to be a rather, um, compact venue -- 16 by 16 feet, Balicki estimates. He says he didn't even know at first that the old free-standing garage came with the house where he and his girlfriend, artist Katherine Radke, rent an apartment.
Once he found out the garage was at his disposal, he thought it would be the perfect place for alternative cultural pursuits now that Team Response, the art trio he formed with fellow Corcoran graduates, is no more. (Team Response made a splash two summers ago with "China Pizza Chicken King," an elaborate installation in which the artists converted space in G Fine Art and Conner Contemporary Art to look like fast-food restaurants.)
"I'm totally satisfied with doing it myself," Balicki says of shifting his focus from commercial galleries to Barn Barnacle, named to reflect the garage's appearance and how it is "clinging on" to the concept of alternative art space, which he finds to be declining in Washington.
Balicki launched Barn Barnacle last month with a one-night, 10-artist group show. He dubbed the event "Oh Thank Heaven," borrowing a certain convenience store chain's slogan to represent his approach. "Put a lot of things into a little container and surely you'll find something you like," explains Balicki. Next month will bring a solo effort by Balicki, who plans an island-themed installation. For October, he envisions a haunted house rendered by a dozen artists.
Tonight, however, is all about the Videohippos.
The music-art duo consists of Kevin O'Meara, 25, of Baltimore, and Jim Triplett, 26, of Falls Church. They've spray-painted "U.S. Army Tank" on the side of O'Meara's minivan and taped a large cardboard tube on top of the vehicle to suggest a gun barrel. As the evening gets underway, the minivan is parked in the alley and attendees trickle into the garage, checking out the duo's video projections and a smattering of art by friends of O'Meara and Triplett that they've chosen to complement the performance.
The Videohippos eventually drive the minivan into the garage to announce the beginning of their set, leaving a tiny space for the band and the audience of 40 or so. So quite a few people are left in the alley straining for a glimpse of O'Meara and Triplett as they plow their way through six experimental punk-pop ditties.
O'Meara mans a small portable synthesizer and a drum while Triplett handles a toy electric guitar -- functional but designed for kids -- and they alternate among a gas mask, a white dust-filter mask and a silver robot-costume mask, all with attached microphones, to distort their voices. Video projections continue to play in the background, providing a surreal stream of imagery, from dancing Donkey Kong characters to Santa Claus-shaped cookies spinning on a turntable. The set is over in less than 20 minutes.
Then the cops come. A police cruiser pulls into the alley, and after a short chat with Balicki, the District's finest are on their way, having advised that neighbors are not too keen on the noise -- we're sure they meant to say "music" -- and that the crowd needs to be indoors by 10 o'clock.
Those who'd planned to listen to the Videohippos, though, seemed pleased by their night at Barn Barnacle.
"We don't need any permission or approval," says Breck Brunson, a 30-year-old Washington artist who praises Balicki's approach to showcasing alternative culture. "You've got the guy in the RoboCop mask -- that's good stuff."
Virginia Millington, 24, had a similar reaction: "I'm pretty impressed by it. It's creating a hidden art scene.
"It's nice to find things like this that weren't here last week or may not be here next week," she adds. "Just the chance to see a minivan disguised as a tank -- anything surprising and unexpected is worthwhile."
Barn Barnacle is at 1307 Longfellow St. NW. The next event will be Sept. 24. Free. For more information write to email@example.com.
A performance by the Videohippos drew an appreciative audience to the Barn Barnacle on Saturday. It also attracted D.C. police, above, who talked things over with Jason Balicki, founder of the studio/performance/exhibition space in a garage off Longfellow Street NW.