For a few weeks artists Monica Canilao from Oakland and Swoon from New York lived inside the Luggage Store Gallery, camping out in a tent in the corner, breathing fumes from glue and musty boards, and assisted by dozens of volunteers and friends, and erected the fantastically ambitious collaborative installation, Feral. Inspired by a book on feral children they read to each other during the install of their exhibit with David Ellis at the Black Rat Press Gallery in Shoreditch, London, in October 2007, they used found materials from the dump and the dredged up remains of a boat to create a village populated by "wicked women and wildish girls," skeletal mermaids, midwives, she-wolves, spinsters, dreamers, and savages. Upon entering the gallery you'll get the distinct feeling of entering another world, a mystical land where the cities are upside down and an unfriendly wilderness dominates, with ramshackle huts inhabited or abandoned by witches. When you visit the exhibit, don't try to take it in all at once--find a thread, follow it with your eyes, explore bit by bit as each layer reveals itself, find hidden details, and mystical objects.
If you visited the exhibit on opening night, you found the village seem to spring forth with life. Almost all of the attendees dressed with antique lace, muted yellows, browns and greens, hair chopped in wild angles, some even with war paint on their faces, they looked like a tribe of anarchist lost girls and boys, as though they truly lived in that space, had always lived there, that the space was created for them. The wildness rubbed off on us all, and we might have accompanied this fierce band of explorers out of the gallery to claim the city, camp out in an abandoned theatre, or build a tree house in the middle of a public square.
I know many people left that exhibit inspired, to create or destroy, and this means that this is art of the most potent kind. Monica Canilao had the feeling that this installation would be accompanied by a birth of some sort, with a life-giving energy. True enough, the day after the opening, one of the old wood planks burst forth with millions of baby spiders.
(*Images from top to bottom: Swoon, Monica Canilao, Feral, March 21 - April 26, 2008; the Luggage Store, installation overview, photo by Laurie Lazer. Swoon, Monica Canilao, Feral, March 21 - April 26, 2008; the Luggage Store, Alison the Lace Maker, 2008, mixed media, dimensions variable, photo by Laurie Lazer. Swoon, Monica Canilao, Feral, March 21 - April 26, 2008; the Luggage Store, opening reception, photo by Natalie Stanchfield. Swoon, Monica Canilao, Feral, March 21 - April 26, 2008; the Luggage Store, Monica Canilao detail, photo by Laurie Lazer.)