Culture Report: Open Mics and Open Mouths - Voice of San Diego

Arts/Culture UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

Culture Report: Open Mics and Open Mouths

Activist Kelsey Daniels works to make open mics vital and safe, and Los Angeles-based artist Nancy Lupo brings a massive mouth to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

Check Please
Check, Please! / Photo by Stacy Keck

“People are coming into the space as artists, but also as whole humans. We’re really being intentional in trying to craft a brave space,” said Kelsey Daniels, creator of Check, Please!, a twice-monthly open mic night.

For Daniels, a poet, performer, advocate and activist, starting a new project involved figuring out the needs that weren’t being met by other events, not just on an individual level, but for the community.

“We talked about what are some things about open mics that we’ve seen that we wish maybe looked a little different,” she said of the group of colleagues, friends and family that she rallied to help dream up a new event.

Kelsey Daniels Kelsey Olivia
Kelsey Daniels / Photo by Stacy Keck

Daniels started “Check, Please” this June. At its core, the event has the fundamentals of a standard open mic night: voluntary sign-ups, open to anyone, a broad range of performances — storytelling, poetry, spoken word, music … anything (even ballet once) — or just come to listen. But for Daniels, it’s the small ways the project is different and open to change that matter. For example, the group will sometimes take a “collective deep breath” after a performance or story. Rather than just clap and bring up the next performer, Daniels said that if there’s a need for a transition or audience response time, they’ll take the opportunity.

Another divergence from traditional open mics is declaring community conduct guidelines at the start, and having a spot for pronouns on the sign-up sheets, a step they took from the beginning to prevent misgendering. But Daniels said that she later learned that it could be uncomfortable for someone to share pronouns when they’re not ready, so she now ensures that pronoun sharing is an invitation, not mandatory. It’s an example of how the project is always evolving and listening.

Daniels wants to build community and amplify voices that aren’t readily sought out or fully heard. Inclusivity, awareness of marginalization and the creation of a safe space are paramount to Daniels, and this project feeds — and is fed by — her other advocacy work.

In addition to “Check, Please,” she helped plan March for Black Women San Diego the past two years, and is working on the third event for 2020. This Friday morning, she’ll speak at Creative Mornings, a monthly gathering and lecture series for entrepreneurs, artists and creatives. It’s a sign that the work she’s doing resonates with San Diego’s arts communities, which is full circle for the way Daniels established “Check, Please” in the first place: “I think everything about this was crowd sourced,” she said.

Check Please
Check, Please! / Photo by Stacy Keck

Daniels also credits You Belong Here — a coworking space, event venue and art gallery — and its founders Stacy Keck and Nic Roc for their commitment to a welcoming, energetic place to share and exchange art and ideas for the last year. (The City Heights space celebrates its first anniversary this Saturday with a birthday bash.)

The next “Check, Please!” is Thursday at 7 p.m. at You Belong Here.

Nancy Lupo: Benches, Language, the Occult and Post-Public Art

What does it mean when public, outdoor art is brought indoors? At the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, they’re not sure yet. “Scripts for the Pageant” is a new solo exhibition of Los Angeles artist Nancy Lupo’s work, including her large-scale sculpture, “Open Mouth,” that was once situated outdoors in an L.A. public park.

Nancy Lupo
Digital Rendering of “Open Mouth” at MCASD / Image courtesy of Nancy Lupo

The ambitious installation of three-fourths scale benches — modeled after benches at Rome’s Termini train station — placed in a large, gaping mouth-shaped oval. The benches, evocative of teeth in their shape, placement and color, invite viewers to sit. The smaller scale is noticeable and heady when seated, forcing audiences to consider the space, their own size and the act of sitting, said Anthony Graham, associate curator at MCASD.

Initially displayed — and developed for — CurrentLA, a public art festival, MCASD wanted to bring Lupo’s massive bench project into a different, more open space in the museum, but when Lupo visited, she was fascinated by the series of temporary gallery walls in the downtown museum’s Farrell Gallery.

The Museum of Contemporary Art’s La Jolla location has been closed for a major renovation project since 2017, and during the closure, the downtown space — often a place for experimental, large-scale works — also needs to accommodate a diversity of wall-based works, said Graham.

In order to break up the downtown space’s voluminous Farrell Gallery for a prior exhibition of wall-hung works, walls were placed in unique patterns throughout the floor. Graham referred to the walls as “false architecture,” and said that Lupo wanted to modify the installation to work with — or around — the walls, as they were.

It’s a big change from the great outdoors.

“That’s the big question: What is it going to mean to bring these benches indoors to the space of the gallery? And in particular Nancy wanted them to really be in dialogue with the architecture of the gallery,” said Graham. “So ‘Open Mouth,’ this open forum in a public park, now kind of winds through this odd installation of walls and really keys the viewer into the space of a museum, this architecture dividing up the room,” he said.

The title of the full exhibition, Lupo’s first solo show, “Scripts for the Pageant,” borrows from a James Merrill poem, part of an enormous three-volume work based on the options of a Ouija board. The occult aspect aside, it’s a statement about language, its vastness and limits, and the binary: “Scripts for the Pageant,” the final book, hinges on the Ouija’s options for “Yes” and “No.”

“Nancy’s project, the larger work, has this sensibility, this strict set of parameters that cast into relief what is in fact intuition,” said Graham. “Nancy is a really voracious reader, so there’s always all of these references at play, but often times she’ll use language as kind of another found object, even though it’s immaterial,” he said.

Scripts for the Pageant” opens Thursday during the (free) Downtown at Sundown event at MCASD downtown, and runs through mid-March.

Downtown at Sundown, Borderlands and More Arts and Culture News and Happenings

Visual Art

  • In addition to the Nancy Lupo exhibition at MCASD, works by photographers Graciela Irtubide and Manuel Alvarez Bravo, and “Bound to the Earth,” (a collections exhibition focusing on the ways the landscape and environment impacts art) both also open Thursday at MCASD.
  • And while you’re at Downtown at Sundown this Thursday, check out “Constructed Mythologies: The Work of Luis González Palma” at SDSU’s Downtown Gallery.
  • Cool job title news: There’s a new “Conservator of Paper” in town. The Balboa Art Conservation Center recently hired Sara Bisi, the former collections care manager at the Harvard Art Museum.
  • The Timken, always free to visit, has a virtual tour and it is kind of satisfying to cursor through the little rooms. Scavenger hunt: Can you find my fave, the “Magnolia Blossom”?
  • “Every artwork the [Baltimore Museum of Art] obtains for its permanent collection next year — every painting, every sculpture, every ceramic figurine, whether through a purchase or donation — will have been created by a woman.” Your move, San Diego. (Baltimore Sun)

Music

  • The next Family Arts and Literacy event at the Kroc Center features Drummers Without Borders plus visual artist and dancer Araceli Carrera. “World of Drums” is this Thursday.
  • Bluegrass Brunch returns? Matt Gordon will allegedly bake a few batches of those famous gooey rolls at Leroy’s this Sunday, with bluegrass music by Plow.
  • If you’ve never heard of San Diego’s Author & Punisher, this 2018 CityBeat profile is a really great deep dive into Tristan Shone’s work and self-built, machine-like instruments. Just announced: The “one-man industrial act” will tour with TOOL this winter. (Brooklyn Vegan)

Literature and Film

  • On Friday, Lux Art Institute’s current artist in residence, Judy Tuwaletstiwa, leads a storytelling and art program with Storytellers of San Diego.
  • Friday is the next Non-Standard Lit reading at Verbatim Books, featuring locals Kazim Ali and Marco Wilkinson.
  • The New Narrative’s big mainstage show is this Saturday at Bread & Salt. The theme is “Work/Money,” and it features a diverse cast of speakers who’ll talk to you about work, including Rizzhel Javier.
  • Quintessential anime film Akira screens at the Ken at midnight on Saturday (followed by an 11 a.m. Sunday showing).
  • CUBA,” the newest documentary to hit The Fleet’s giant screen, is now showing.
  • Mysterious Galaxy is (still) for sale but it’s also getting the boot from its current space. The combination could be a nail in the coffin for the genre bookstore but staff, die-hard supporters and the bookish community are rallying to find solutions. (U-T)

Theater and Dance

  • UCSD theater department’s “Man in Love,” directed by Christina Anderson, runs through Saturday. (Broadway World)
  • The Astana Ballet, dancers from the Republic of Kazakhstan, perform a wide repertoire — from Kazak folk songs to an Edith Piaf ballet biopic — at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido on Thursday.
  • Swashbuckling! Circus feats! Pirate band? The New Village Arts’ production of “Around the World in 80 Days” gets a lively review. (U-T)

Science, Tech and Culture Miscellany

Closing Soon

Food, Etc.

What’s Inspiring Me Right Now

  • “Rather than trying to compete for views and likes with the genetically gifted, kids are pivoting to self-deprecation in a way that’s less depressing than it might seem to concerned parents: it’s a reclamation of mediocrity in an online space where everyone else is an overachiever.” TikTok might just save us. (Vox)
  • How to read every day. (BBC)
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