Elevating the Platform

An art gallery-cum-dance club lures the masses

As "Platform" has expanded, so has the number of submissions from artists -- and hence the quality of the work. The organizers no longer feel obliged to display whatever people have to offer: They can be selective, and it shows. In December, for example, Oakland artist Joyce Hsu presented a series of mechanical insect sculptures made of wood, plastic, and metal that seemed like a vision of Erector sets in the year 3000. Her large, fantastical models -- some suspended from the ceiling and set in motion with a motor -- were cute and creepy at the same time, with an obvious dark undercurrent. Graffiti artist Dave Warnke, whose "DAVe" stickers should be familiar to anyone who has set foot in a Mission bar bathroom, brought his cast of cartoon critters to "Platform" No. 9 in November. His crudely drawn creatures appeared in brightly colored collages, like tapestries covered with tiny smiling faces. For those who like a little action, "Platform" has begun an ongoing series -- a "Platform"-branded subprogram -- called "Art Attack," at which artists with varying styles collaborate on a live painting. The graffiti-inspired result at the Nov. 7 event (featured two weeks later at the formal November "Platform") was a remarkably cohesive, if bizarre, cityscape -- made of acrylic paint, enamel, latex, aerosol, marker, and acrylic pens on luon wood -- by Lee Fenyves, Ryan Stubbs, and Nathan Wilson. In the foreground, a robot had just had one of its arms chopped off; flames danced out of buildings in the background.

As "Platform"'s director of film and video, Bee Ngo has cultivated a well-rounded sampling of new shorts, of which four or five screen at each "Platform." The selection includes three pieces by award-winning Oakland director Brett Simon as well as the mockumentary Dance Machine, directed by John Benson and Ward Evans, which follows an uncoordinated, thirtysomething white boy as he trains for an upcoming dance-based video game tournament. (Ultimately, he's turned away due to an age limit of 16.)

"The quality didn't need to be perfect when we first started out -- we just needed something to show," says Ngo. "But as we started getting a larger audience, we had to define some sort of standard. We couldn't just show home videos anymore."

When Artists Collide: The remarkably cohesive result 
of a "Platform"-sponsored collaboration among Lee 
Fenyves, Ryan Stubbs, and Nathan Wilson.
When Artists Collide: The remarkably cohesive result of a "Platform"-sponsored collaboration among Lee Fenyves, Ryan Stubbs, and Nathan Wilson.

Still, the experience level of the artists runs the gamut. "We get artists who are already in galleries. But then there's those who have never had their work shown before who just need us to light a fire under their ass," Chandler says.

Part of what keeps "Platform" a grass-roots event might be that its organizers aren't seasoned veterans of the art world or industry insiders. Chandler and Ngo are both first-timers to their roles. Jennifer Benson, the show's fashion director, worked in her field for five years, but she's been out of the industry for the past four.

Benson explains, "We don't pretend to be experts -- we're just passionate. When people ask, 'How do you pull this off?' the answer is, 'Very little sleep, and a lot of hard work.'"

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