Crash Through a Ball Pit of Empty Cans in “Bottomless Mimosas”
Ball pits were fun to play in as a kid, but now that I'm old enough to worry about things like staph infections and hidden pools of vomit, the thought of diving into one makes me want to zip myself into a hazmat suit and never come out.
"Bottomless Mimosas," then, is a welcome substitute—the installation, at Columbia Heights arts space Delicious Spectacle, is both cleaner and more conceptual than a Chuck E. Cheese ball pit, but the basic elements are there: hundreds of discrete, hand-sized objects bouncing around the floor, inviting viewers to wade through, kicking and stomping as they go. In place of balls, though, this "pit" is full of that ever-present flotsam of the frat house: empty cans.
The piece is the first spousal collaboration between Amy Hughes Braden, whose "Are You Gonna Eat That?" exhibition is currently on view at Civilian Art Projects, and Alex Braden, a sound artist who's one of this year's participants in Transformer's Exercises for Emerging Artists program. In addition to the floor full of cans, there's a papier mâché sculpture that's Amy's doing ("I am a painter and have to get messy when I make things," she says) and a cryptic, unnerving soundtrack made from recordings of Amy singing modified Alanis Morissette songs and cans being emptied and crushed. That was Alex's job—he's "a sound artist and very good at pushing buttons and turning knobs," Amy says. He also "worked very diligently to collect all of our cans, which included rinsing them individually and then running them through a dishwasher to prevent odor [and] insect attraction." Phew.
Participatory art shows can be discomforting, often a room full of self-aware gallery-goers staring at their feet or phones, waiting for someone else to go first. "Bottomless Mimosas" is different. Maybe it's the location (a rowhouse) or maybe it's the low barrier to entry, but no one seemed to have any qualms about crashing through the sea of aluminum. My first reaction, as I took a step into the pool at the exhibit's opening, was shock: Shuffling through the cans was a lot louder than I thought it would be, an echoing ripple of clangs made harsher by the spare, hard surfaces of the room. When my friend came over to join me, I couldn't hear her speak from four feet away.
Playing with lots of one kind of object is fun—walking around in "Bottomless Mimosas" feels like kicking through a deafening pile of autumn leaves, and the noise the cans creates is the same kind of release as banging on a set of pots and pans when no one's home. One got stuck in between the heel and the toe of my combat boot, and I had to sit down in the middle of the installation to pick it out. I looked over at the Bradens, wondering if they'd accuse me of squishing a precious art piece. They did not.
The interplay of the sculpture, the sounds from the speakers, and the cans makes for an installation that could occupy a heavy thinker for hours, but that's not all the Bradens had in mind. Lest you take the exhibit too seriously, turn one of the cans over, and you'll find a number printed in Sharpie: Each one is individually editioned, and prices are logged in a book near the entrance. (If you're an interested collector, stop by the closing party this Sunday, May 25, from 1-3 p.m.) Below, a few standout pieces:
The perennial favorite of college first-years and cheap-os nationwide is a rare three-of-a-kind jewel in "Bottomless Mimosas." Light and buoyant, like the drink itself, these pieces provide the tinny overnotes of the can-clang symphony. Actually, I think a can of Natty Light might have been what was flattened under my boot. IOU $775 once my WCP bonus comes through, Bradens.
A symbol of royalty and, concurrently, the banality of suburban existence, each empty can of Bud heavy dispatches a commentary on the contradictions of self-image and social climbing.
This California can depicts a bear with antlers drinking from the stream, taking equal cues from magical realism, magic mushrooms, the fonts of Mellow Mushroom, and a childhood Yellowstone camping trip.
Not quite a dime a dozen, but almost, Natty Boh cans are the backbeat against which the other, imported pieces play their more exotic tones. Taken together, the Natty Bohs interrogate the trend of local consumption in a globalizing economy, the 170 one-eyed stares asking what it means, truly, to be "seen" in an era of mass production.
Top photo by Jessica Speckhard. Can images courtesy of Amy Hughes Braden.