In the window of Rooms Gallery in Pilsen, two women in bright red suits stood stock-still, armed with a giant ball of newspaper, surveying the empty, frosted streets. Snow ripped down Halsted, rattling against the glass panes in front of dark studio spaces. A small black chalkboard sign on Halsted announced Rooms’ “Mélange,” an evening in three acts.
Marrakesh Frugia, who, along with her husband Todd, operates the gallery and artists’ group, kicked off the event a fashionable fifteen minutes late, expressing her excitement for hosting a “salon-type evening” in Rooms’ own studio.
Mélange (which literally means “mixture” in French) is a particularly apt name for the night that Rooms created: not only was the evening a mixture of different artists, but each group was in itself a surprising mélange of artistic styles and mediums.
The evening started off with two pieces from Customs, a set comprised of writer Tim Hogan, vibraphonist Hudson Harrington Berry, and clarinetist Alejandro Acierto. Hogan, from his position at the mic, led the room through a dreamy reverie, with his matter-of-fact voice and imaginative descriptions surrounded by Acierto’s eerie clarinet and Berry’s sporadic notes. Out of the jumble of sound, Hogan offered wistful phrases—“memory flat like a photograph”—and the occasional query: “Are you following me? I’m following you. Are you following me?”
Berry then began to play with an impressive assortment of musical toys, including four large Tibetan prayer bowls, finger chimes, and a rack of bells. Nearing the end of the set, the trio found a surprising, jazzy groove before Tim Hogan gathered the three for the grand finale.
Standing in the middle of the room, he began to chant, “The great grandfather. The great war. The great, great, grandfather. The great, great, war. The great, great, great, grandfather. The great, great, great, war.”
Berry and Acierto joined in, turning Hogan’s chant into a near spasm-inducing rhythm, which pounded against the studio walls and held the small crowd of thirty or so firmly in their seats.
After a short break, the husband-wife team took the small stage and began their contribution to the mixture. First Todd took off his shoes, socks, and sweater, and rolled up his sleeves. Then Marrakesh wrapped him in a large yellow shawl and rubbed white powder on his face. Todd’s wide eyes and striking appearance elicited a strange silence from the crowd. Todd began one long, loud wail, after which he dropped a stone onto the floor. He repeated this exercise four or five times, standing silently for minutes between each wail.
His performance created an aura of mystery and ambiguity, and for some audience members, anger. One man dramatically noted afterward: “This isn’t art, it’s insanity.”
The group Posterchild, consisting of musician Bob Garrett and dancers Nadine Lollino and Lyndsae Rinio, finished off the night. Garrett looped synths with other sounds, such as a Ping-Pong ball dropping into a mason jar, while Lollino and Rinio engaged in expressive dance, which forced the audience to consider their bodies with a strange fascination. Lollino with a tattooed arm, fierce facial features, and thick dark hair, was a earthy, substantial figure, while the miniscule Rinio floated through space.
The so-called “salon night” was carried over as a tradition from Rooms’ old gallery, located further east on 18th Street . The nights eventually fizzled out, but, Marrakesh noted, “With Pilsen 2nd Fridays Gallery Nights, we don’t get to see each other’s work since we’re all working.” They wanted to recreate a collaborative, multi-media evening in order to experience “the vast differences in the way people work,” and see what other artists in the area are doing. “Sometimes you need that,” she added with assurance.