ArtGasm was organized by local artist Geoph Aldora Espen, real name Jeffrey Scott Handley Jr. If that name rings a bell, he was the one who spray-painted graffiti on the Capitol building and a nearby war memorial last September (for which he was charged with a felony and two misdemeanors — he pleaded guilty and received fines and probation three months later). He said at the time that the vandalism was in retaliation to the City of Lansing, which shut down his planned Haunted Art Exhibition the week before. Lansing police were issued to the event site, the former School for the Blind, after he publicly announced he was planning on trespassing into one of the campus’s abandoned buildings to stage a haunted house/art show.
ArtGasm was Espen’s second attempt at creating a themed art festival. At least he wasn’t trespassing this time.
Through his contacts at REO Town’s Reach Studio Art Center, Espen, 21, was put in touch with the warehouse’s owner, John Sears. It sits on the 700 block of E. South Street, about half a mile east of S. Washington Avenue. For weeks, Espen teased the event on Facebook as a “full sensory interactive art experience.”
Espen said he pocketed about $250 from ticket sales, which were $5 online or $10 at the door. The event went from 8 p.m. to about 2:30 a.m. and had two main areas: “the lounge,” an intimate room with two couches, some of Espen’s paintings, a vase full of peacock feathers and an orb with red and blue lights that hung from a pipe in the ceiling; and the main performance area, which had a bi-level stage that shot laser lights through the hangar-sized room.
Espen said the event didn’t go off as planned because several aspects had to be scrapped at the last minute due to lack of manpower. He also promised a mock crucifixion, but that also never happened.
“The only thing we were successful at throughout the night was the very bare minimum of what was needed for an event,” Espen said. “I’m looking forward to executing the details better in the future.”
Throughout the large garage there was a series of fire and light-up poi twirlers, a girl who made banana pancakes for 50 cents a pop, canvas painting, a guy selling glass pipes and a lot of smoking and beer swilling. The crowd, which numbered between 75 and 100, was as eclectic as the music, with the guests ranging in age from teenagers to a woman who looked old enough to be someone’s grandmother.
The highlight of the evening was the “living canvas” painting on the main performance stage. Three bikini-clad women stood on the stage as a beat-boxer burped out robotic and computer-like beats. Espen walked onto the stage, dipped a brush in body paint and started making designs on her arm. He then turned the brush over to the assembled throng of young men and women who eagerly took over as he left the stage. The group huddled around the girls with paint and brushes like a tribe of druids huddling around an idol, as house and trance music blared through the speakers. It was a moment of unbridled, sexy spirituality.
Lansing native Sarah McCardy, 24, who was one of the “living canvases,” said she was thrilled.
“This is the kind of stuff that happens in big cities,” McCardy said. “Lansing is a cool city, so it’s great to see that kind of thing happening here.”
However, there was a conflict, as attendees parking in the road outside the building were blocking a thoroughfare used by truck drivers in the warehouse district. Just after 2 a.m., the Lansing Police Department received a call that a semi-truck was blocked in by cars. LPD Spokesman Robert Merritt said several cruisers were dispatched to the scene to get the cars moved, but there were no citations written or arrests.
Notably, the ticketed event did not have a license, nor was it insured. After the event, Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope said, based on the description of the activities, that he believed the show needed to have two licenses — a show license and a pyrotechnics or firework license.
If there’s ever going to be an ArtGasm 2, it most likely won’t be in the same location. On Monday afternoon, three days after the event, Sears said a door was broken and trash and empty booze containers were littered about the warehouse.
“It wasn’t great,” Sears said. “I think they were just out to throw a party.”