Future/Past: Ingenuity Awakened

The Analog Kingdom, detail, by HEYMAN! Productions

Ingenuity, born as Cleveland’s Festival of Art and Technology, has certainly been through some bleak times. There were years at the Port Authority during which it lacked the energy to fill the cavernous spaces. There was a year at Voinovich Park, which included among its few exhibitors vendors of windows and other home improvement products, and which–with a low level of engagement with the local creative community–made at least one visitor wonder whether and why the event would continue.

This year’s Ingenuity answers that question with an evolved festival that provides an outlet for the maker community, a friendly atmosphere for experimental bands and other performers, and a forum for art installations and interactive play. The event filled the space with creativity and drew great crowds. I knew the buzz was good when my sixteen year-old daughter-with no mention of the event from me–announced that she and a colleague from the Contemporary Youth Orchestra were going. She had a ride. If the buzz has reached the creative teenagers, you know you are onto something.

This year Ingenuity felt more about engagement and enabling creativity, and less about technology. It was more analog, and less digital—and that is just fine. And it seems the event’s wandering days (from East 4th to Playhouse Square to the iconic subway level of the Detroit-Superior bridge, to the Port Authority, to Voinovich Park) are now over with its established home at the Hamilton Building.

Custom motorcycle at the Skidmark Garage

The Hamilton is an expansive structure stretching several blocks along Hamilton Avenue. Saturday night it felt not cavernous, but full with people and activity, with bands outside in a yard, as well as along the back of the building, and more bands and other performers inside, filling hundreds of thousands of square feet on two floors.

The building itself is a key part of the re-energized festival. Ingenuity committed to creating a hive for makers there, and to offering activities year-round. It is now home to the motorcycle collaborative Skidmark Garage, the woodworking studio Soulcraft, the dance company Morrison Dance, Andrew Kaletta Statuary and Custom Lighting fixtures, AO Architecture Office, and a slew of other small creative businesses. The building has become a community that draws people in to the joy of making and showing.

Meditation Room

It doesn’t hurt to have the veteran production wizard Chuck Karnak anchoring the whole scene. He’s been longtime driving force behind his own All Go Signs events, Cleveland Public Theatre’s Pandemonium, and Ingenuity since its first year with James Levin and Thomas Mulready. There’s probably no one—in terms of experience, demeanor, and tools of the trade–better equipped to serve as production manager for a festival of makers and performers.

Spearheading this whole venture is artistic director Emily Appelbaum, who came to Ingenuity and back to Cleveland three years ago after experience at Burning Man. She and the rest of the Ingenuity leadership deserve enormous credit for committing to the building, making it a year-round center of activity, and engaging the tenants and guest collaborators to show off what they do.

Programming mixed the local community with headline performers, such as New York-based hip-hop afro futurists OSHUN, Denver-based punk pop ensemble Dressy Bessy, and Pittsburgh-based musical art circus Squonk Opera.

Activities and projects on display ranged from a pit of red balls for the kids, to an industrial-sized swing, to a walk-in tornado created by fans aimed in a spiral around a circular enclosure, to a room that created a controlled and beautiful environment for group meditation. There was a rock wall for climbing. There were fire spinners and hula hoopers and three geodesic domes with ceilings made of fire, periodically erupting.

HEYMAN! Productions created The Analog Kingdom, an interactive installation featuring a wall of CRT television sets with live video input, static, recorded video and multiple ways of interacting, including one monitor hollowed out to be worn like a helmet.

Sarah Morrison and her company MorrisonDance created danceEscapes of the FuturePast, a multimedia performance with video projection by Museus and a set built by the Ingeneers, and Ingenuity artistic director Emily Appelbaum as production manager.

Dina Hoeynck, with her art students at Bard High School Early College Cleveland East Campus, created The Portal, a space framed by old school lockers, each of which contained behind its door a stanza of poetry envisioning a joyful future. Inside was a stobe-lit, twinkly lighted fort in which visitors were invited to write their own poetic hopes as graffiti. The writing was published in a chapbook.

Michael Loderstedt and his son Ethan’s installation Aviary filled a small room with bird songs and  Lego likenesses of specific birds—a bluejay, a robin, a goldfinch, and several others—illuminated and moving occasionally on small turntables. It was an erie feeling, a woodland atmosphere contained by brick walls and filled with artificial light.

Photographs from Gabreil Gonzalez, in the Maria Neil Art Project installation

Maria Neil Art Project took good advantage of a large room on the second floor to exhibit large works and give them space to breathe. On view were photo prints by Amber Ford and Gabriel Gonzalez, paintings by Hilary Gent, a circuit-bent, interactive musical instrument built into a closet, playable by a toy keyboard and microphone interface, by Kristin Rogers and Pita Brooks, an extension of Daiv Whaley’s work from CAN Triennial, and more. MNAP are dealers, selling contemporary art of the region, but co-director John Farina says the installation was more about exhibiting than about selling. To that point, several of the large paintings on view –by the late Shirly Aley Campbell, from her Motorcyclists of the Seventies series—were on loan, not for sale, from the collection of Dan Bush. They made a great complement to the motorbikes on view at the Skidmark Garage downstairs.

Photos by Amber Ford, Maria Neil Art Project installation

All signs indicate that Ingenuity is gaining steam. If you missed the annual festival this year, watch for the organization’s other events in the coming months, and mark your calendars for next time.

The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.