PFS and Exclusivity

Organized culture certainly has some obnoxious aspects, one of which is the clannish instinct by which groups of artists segregate themselves in an exclusive fashion, creating charmed circles bound together by closed circuits. When Gaetan Spurgin and I were doing the This Charming Lab shows in 2000, which we both found disappointing, Gaetan complained (and I agreed at the time) that the Philadelphia cultural mentality had to do with establishing a clan and then huddling together for warmth in a corner; Philly artists, and art-groups, were lousy at self-transcending and working together towards shared goals. This Charming Lab, in retrospect, was a warm-up for and way-station towards PFS and the Highwire Gallery shows of the mid-Aughts— I was learning effective, competent event-planning piece by piece, and also gaining competence skills at juggling artists’ demands and egos. That having been said, most of the This Charming Lab shows, though staged at decent venues (Khyber, Dobbs, Killtime Warehouse), were pretty tepid, and felt hollow to me (the TCL readings at the Kelly Writers House were exceptions). By the time PFS established itself in the mid-Aughts, some individuals remained the same (Matt Stevenson and Gaetan were still around), but most of the TCL crew had to be dropped. The price I paid for making This Charming Lab non-exclusive is that everyone signed on to pursue their own agenda, rather than enacting the co-op set-up I hoped would manifest; and, rather than huddling in a corner for warmth, everyone claimed our corner for their own and went out of their way to thwart, hoodwink, and one-up everyone else.

Fast-forward four years— the Philly Free School shows are underway at the Highwire Gallery, Matt Stevenson having been our in. The four-person management system in place was unique; but, on a day-to-day basis, it was really myself and Mike Land exerting the most strenuous efforts and pulling the boldest, foxiest moves to make the shows (and the general PFS scene) happen. My management skills by then were well-honed; and, because I’d gained the requisite skill in ego-juggling, the shows often took the form of hyper-aesthetic three-ring circuses. Were we exclusive? The weird riff on this form of PFS and exclusivity is that Mike and I especially went out of our way to demonstrate an expansive sensibility in our Philly Free School-related dealings; nevertheless, the four of us together on the bar circuit (with Hannah Miller as a constant add-on for a while) was so unique an admixture of looks and temperaments, that our very collective magnetism could be off-putting, and we, as a social nexus, wound up effortlessly excluding anyone in our path who couldn’t deal with four highly educated, tall, brown haired, brown eyed, highly sexed, promiscuous aesthetes with a penchant for seduction, fast action, bacchanalian reverie, and general impetuous combustibility.

P.S. Worth noting about the three ring circus aspect of the Highwire shows to even reach the Highwire Gallery in the Gilbert Building was its own kind of circus experience. One would walk into a brief lobby, get on an elevator, and ride seven floors up. Ok. But upon leaving the elevator, one would be forced to spin around in another small lobby area. Hopefully, someone would be there to guide you into a narrow, starkly white-painted tunnel (not the only path available from that lobby area). Progress another twenty yards, and the tunnel would bend; then twenty yards, then bend again. Finally, one would find one's self home free, into a door into the main gallery space on the left and a door into the warehouse/factory space straight ahead. The perfect, clandestine locale to achieve Interstellar Overdrive...