By MATTHEW NASH
Mobius Artists Group has been a major part of the arts in Boston for nearly thirty years. This past week, they announced that they will be moving new a new space in the South End, through the support of the city. Big RED & Shiny spoke with Mobius director Nancy Adams, and Alisia Waller, a more recent member of the Mobius group.
MN: Tell me about Mobius' new space at 725 Harrison Avenue in the South End. How did you come to occupy it? What will it offer Mobius that you have not had in the past?
NA: It's an amazing space and has been described as a fishbowl, a hell hole, and a Godsend. It's about 2,000 square feet of street-level space with floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides. It's one wide open space that we will use for performance, exhibitions, video, public forums. There is also a tiny office and storage space, bathroom. But to have people in the space we have to add a bathroom, rearrange and expand the office and storage space. And the space is more live than live, we have to put in all kinds of reverb-absorbing materials so that spoken words and all kinds of sound and music can be heard the way they should be heard. Finally, we have to come up with a flexible method for covering the windows. The windows provide an incredible opportunity to connect to people on the street, an unintentional audience. We hope to have regular video programming available in the window more or less 24/7. But there will be times when we need to block the light or provide privacy. Or we might want to be able to at least frame the view looking in and out.
AW: Who but a group of experimental (many performance) artists could truly take full advantage of the interactive, exhibitionist and symbolic possibilities of such a situation?
Our new ArtBlock space is also nestled gently amongst tons of other, personal art spaces. These are dedicated art spaces and I am very excited about the community, collaborative, supportive and just plain i'm-happy-and-my-studio-is-not-getting-turned-into-corporate-headquarters-so on vibe from such a space. Especially having met and toured the studios of many of these wonderful artists.
NA: One of the remarkable features of the space is that we have no downstairs neighbors, we have no upstairs neighbors, and no one exactly adjacent to us. This means few if any conflicts about sound spill and leaking liquids! And yet, and yet, we find ourselves in the middle of a wonderful community of artists and others.
The space projects out of the side of the ArtBlock East development right onto Harrison Avenue in the South End of Boston. ArtBlock is a brand new development of condominiums, about 50% of which are below market rate live work spaces for artists, initiated by the Boston Redevelopment Authority and brought into being by New Atlantic Development. The complex surrounds the Joshua Bates Art Center which has housed artist studios for about 20 years. The Bates artists just invited Mobius and all the new ArtBlock artists to get together and there was a feeling of critical mass, momentum, and connection that made everyone present feel very excited.
And beyond Bates and ArtBlock there is such a large and varied community--all kinds of people live and work there, it is such a vibrant neighborhood.
So the actual space is very different than our previous spaces. We were steeped in the aesthetic of 19th century warehouses and factories, particularly those of Boston's Fort Point Chanel - all wood floors, heavy beamed ceilings, upper floor light, and of course in Fort Point, the audio aspect - seagulls, airplanes, and the bagpipe players who congretated at the Fire Museum down the street. ArtBlock is new construction, concrete, glass, and aluminum. One artist could only think "car dealership" and another wasn't sure she could make work in this new space at all. But Mobius is all about site specific, if nothing else, and I know that all of us will mine the space aesthetically, acoustically, socially, and otherwise for all it has to offer.
Finally, the new space is just one room. At the old space at 354 Congress St. we had a dark black room and a big white light room. With just one space, and 17 artists and their guests and collaborators, programming will be at a different pace. And we are not going to try to be everything to everyone. Our organization has gotten to be 30 years old because we try our damndest to live within our means - financial, energy, time, all of that. So we are going to follow the impulses of the artists that we can really follow through on.
MN: Mobius lost its performance space in 2003. How did that happen and what was the impact on Mobius? How did you recover? What has Mobius been doing for the past 4 years without a performance venue?
NA: We didn't lose the space, we let it go. We were at the end of a lease and were only being offered renewals of a year at a time, which doesn't work for an organization trying to plan programs. At the same time, the space was getting more expensive for us, and sources of revenue were declining.
And, perhaps most important, the Mobius Artists Group looked up and said, we've been running this fantastic space for 20 years, producing our own work and the work of hundreds of other artists on a breakneck schedule of about 40 weekends of different performances and gallery exhibitions to boot, and we're tired! And many of the artists in the Mobius Artists Group were hitting a "mature" stage in their careers, traveling a great deal, major teaching appointments, and the like. The artists who had been working so hard to develop their own work and support a large network of other artists, really decided to focus on their own work for a while.
So, it wasn't something we had to recover from. We had a big party which took the form of Mobius 25, 10 nights featuring 100 artists who had presented work in the space over the years. Our then landlords, Boston Wharf, found us a studio/office/archive space nearby at a below market rent and we regrouped. For four years now we've been presenting work in spaces such as the Charlestown Working Theater, Studio Soto, Artists at Large in Hyde Park, the New Art Center, the spaces at Midway Studios and of course in public and site specific spots in Boston and as part of festivals and programs around the world.
We also made a decision to consider Mobius work, all the work of the Mobius Artists Group - wherever it took place, whatever form it takes. So this includes work the Mobius Artists Group makes, the work of its close collaborators, guests, and work members of the group curate.
AW: We are also entering this space as something of a transformed organization. We have many new artists (myself included) that were not members of the Art Group when we left our space four years ago. We are also thriving (or, at least I certainly am!) in our new focus on the Artists Group itself vs. as a primarily presenting organization/space. This came as part of the past five years of transition and carrying that focus into our new space is both a challenge and an incitement-to-artmake that I adore.
It's been hard on those of us who crafted almost the entirety of their oh-so-brief p-art career in [the Congress Street]space (sniff sniff) but the gathering of energy over the transitional time towards this new change has been very exciting.
MN: Looking forward to the new space, what do you have planned? Do you have a opening date set? What is the status of the space?
NA: The space is ours. We started paying rent on June 8. We have started meeting there and of course in the course of these meetings, art has begun! But we have to get that other bathroom in to open the doors officially and bathrooms don't grow on trees, neither do contractors. We hope to start having public events in September. Stay tuned.
MN: It is rumored that you are raising money to renovate the space and prepare it for opening. Do you have any events planned? What could a Big RED reader do to help out?
AW: You could help me organize the sleep-a-thon that I've wanted to re-create since first seeing the poster for it in 1997! I'm really tired and would like you all to join me in raising money while drooling on pillows. We could even sleep in ArtBlock itself (pending renovation dust and hard-hats) just to make an extra spectacle of ourselves.
If you want to support the Mobius Art Group and their renovation of this new space, send your checks to Mobius, 725 Harrison Ave, Boston 02118.
Location image courtesy of Boston.com.
Waller image courtesy of the artist.