Detritus and Crenca's energetic collaboration
It’s been through generosity of spirit, not flagging creativity, that Umberto “Bert” Crenca has become less widely known as an artist than as an arts administrator. The founder and director of AS220, the Providence grassroots cultural treasure, is catching up in a big way. Just an Artist/Not an Artist, a month-long collaborative show with Basque artist Detritus at Firehouse 13, will culminate with a week-long live-in at the gallery.
DYNAMIC DUO: Detritus and Crenca.
Detritus, 42, has been part of the art/activism continuum that has long encouraged young European artists to merge their work with social politics. It his case, that has included Basque separatism and squatters’ rights. Detritus has lived in an abandoned “squat” for almost 12 years. Many of his oil paintings and posters in the show reflect that subject, usually with anguished figures and frequently with commenting text and ransom-note lettering. In Spain, the artist has exhibited his work in Vitoria, San Sebastian, and Bilbao.
Since 2002, Crenca, 56, has been making paintings and sculptures in his “frenetic engineering” series that aptly complement those of Detritus. Those in the show date from 2005, most depicting grotesque human hybrids that signify the direction our species is taking. An artist for 30 years, Crenca also has been a member of the performance group Meatballs/Fluxus.
With his shaved head and trademark narrow white beard, Crenca isn’ t likely to be taken for an investment banker. Sitting in the gallery, surrounded by their work, he speaks about how he decided on a title for the show. “Twenty-something years ago I was living in the suburbs. I got divorced, sold the house, did all this stuff just to be an artist. I didn’t feel like there was a great place for artists and for art, so I decided to create [AS220].] And 22 years later, I still haven’t been just an artist, you know?”
His community involvement, besides the nonprofit arts center, has included being appointed to the Providence School Board and advising a local and national arts committee.
Last August, he and Detritus started getting acquainted with each other, culminating with a meeting in Madrid. “It must have been like when they did mail-order brides,” Crenca jokes. By now that’s changed. “We feel very comfortable with each other. I feel something very special about what has occurred between us. It’s awesome.
“The more I learned about him: Detritus is just an artist,” Crenca continues. “That’s what he does. That’s who he is. Every aspect of his person, that’s who he is.”
Detritus sits next to him, dressed in black right down to his work boots but sporting a loosened black tie for a touch of European formality. He gestures to a spiral of aluminum tubing above them that overlaps with an open circle of clothing on the floor, which will be part of their live-in and performance piece. “When he came to Spain, I saw him with his enthusiasm and his energy,” Detritus says, “so I had this idea of an open circle, which matches with his personality, and a spiral with mine.”
As for his own personality, he describes it as, “Inward, falling down within myself. Now I am getting out, but not too much.”
Providence has stimulated him. “The people here are devoted to art,” Detritus says. “So I’ve been affected by this. Because of this influence, my painting is progressing so fast.”
Crenca mentions an ironically useful difference between them. “I wrote him a letter saying that I thought of myself as an amateur anarchist. And he considers himself a nihilist. What better people to collaborate — complete opposites on the spectrum. I think the anarchist is like the ultimate optimist and the nihilist is the ultimate pessimist — in my simple understanding of these things.”
The soft-spoken Detritus, in his strongly accented but clear English, disagrees so gently that it sounds like agreement. “They are not so separated,” he says. “Because both try not to follow rules. Neither follow rules nor impose rules.”
The exhibition concludes with a March 25-31 round-the-clock live-in by the artists, at which gallery visitors are invited to speak with them about the work. On March 31 at 8 pm, there will be music by Badman and DJs Full Frequency and Tim O’Keefe, ending with a 10 pm performance piece by Crenca and Detritus. Admission is free. Go to www.firehouse13.org.
: Museum And Gallery
, Bert Crenca
, Performing Arts