There is no certifiable evidence that the team at Creative Electric Studios has ever pulled real bunnies out of real hats. But smart money says they probably could.
Take the time they decided it would be cool to have a working shower in their "Bathroom" exhibit a few years back. The show of bathroom-themed art was scheduled to open in less than a week and there was no plumbing in the room. But why not? Everyone set to work, and by opening night there was a shower stall in the middle of the gallery, with a recycling, motion-activated water system that sprayed whenever visitors approached. Simple.
So it should be a cinch to whip a houseboat into shape for tonight's opening of Art-A-Whirl, the annual weekend-long extravaganza of open studios and art parties in northeast Minneapolis.
The entire boat will be an installation, assuming it materializes as envisioned ("planned" would be too dull/normal to describe the creative process here). Moored on the Mississippi River near the Sample Room restaurant, it had a checkered career as the occasional abode of an assortment of homeless characters before it was abandoned.
Enter Creative Electric, a loose coalition of a dozen or so artists and musicians who ran a gallery (Creative Electric Studios) for several years and evolved a stage presence (the Electric Arc Radio Show) that has drawn appreciative audiences from Minneapolis to Chicago and New York.
"We've always done a ton of installations around themes to integrate the art we were showing," said David Salmela, the impresario behind Creative Electric, and a freelance software consultant and composer of music for films, commercials and "the occasional corporate thing."
The boat is being done up as the refuge of a fictional survivalist, one Dennis (Kiddie) Cramer, who took to heart the U.S. government's warnings about terrorist threats and other dangers. Retreating to the Mississippi, he surrounded himself with maps, newspaper clippings, homemade weapons, urban signs, plastic sheeting, duct tape, safety gear and his own twisted musings about the state of the world.
In the course of a two-hour tour last week, nearly a dozen people came aboard to volunteer ideas, time and muscle. Concepts hovered, thick as mayflies, in the damp evening air around the low-roofed, camper-style hut set atop (maybe) leaky pontoons.
Polaroids of Cramer's favorite things may be strewn about like abandoned forensic documents. How about a homemade poster featuring Cramer's "Most Wanted" criminals? Someone is working on a (faux) bomb-making table. Safety films will be projected on the boat's exterior. Bands may float by on pontoon boats. There will be water rescue drills and old-fashioned doughnut life preservers. Lots of life vests. Maybe two motors on the houseboat, so it can be steered? Board up the windows. Attach spotlights and beam them toward shore.
Andy Sturdevant, a University of Minnesota clerk by day and writer by night, picked up a pencil and began sketching a map of the Mississippi on the boat's ceiling, carefully marking campsites of Cramer's river junkets with color-coded thumbtacks.
And what did the colors signify? "That's going to be decided later," Sturdevant said. "Who can fathom the mind of this individual?"
The drawings and writings, Sturdevant said, will be a pastiche inspired by the militaristic storybook fantasies of Chicago outsider Henry Darger (1892-1973) and the drug-addled neo-expressionist graffiti of New York enfant terrible Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-88).
"My notations will form a loose narrative of what [Cramer's] life was like in the past couple of years: paranoid and filled with misperceptions of reality," said Sturdevant.
"The root idea is safety, and why do you feel safe and what makes you feel safe," said Karl Raschke, a photographer and Web developer at the University of Minnesota Foundation.
"It's today's version of a bomb shelter," added Salmela. "Be prepared for the largest disaster ever by buying some duct tape and plastic. Duct tape up your windows and it will make you look crazy."
Mary Abbe • 612-673-4431