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Vampire Travel Agency

July 17, 2012

A water cooler filled with dark red liquid stands against a wall with paper cone cups sitting on its corner. Two contemplative graphite drawings hang above on either side. Beyond the drawings, up on the wall, is a sculpture resembling a power strip, but elongated and angled with no outlets, wooden, nonconductive. Dominating the space is a large service counter, welcoming with a vase of flowers. Behind it sit computers, miscellaneous office supplies, and a post-it reminder to get more blood. An eerie photo diptych sits behind a yellow legal pad. There is a figure with his back to the camera, and a man’s portrait, whose pupils are each pointing sharply away from his nose, revealing the whites of his eyes. Altogether nine different artists’ work inhabit the space, but which is the art piece? The environment or the individual works?

This is Vampire Travel Agency, the third show to be exhibited at the fairly new sophiajacob gallery in downtown Baltimore. The show is presented by Max Guy and Peggy Chiang, who make up Szechuan Best, a curatorial endeavor that started in early 2011. Vampire Travel Agency is the latest in their series of shows that challenges the original context of the space it inhabits.

The rearrangement of the gallery into a travel agency office is the first new context given to the space. Offering services specifically to vampires, the decor includes heads of garlic hanging discreetly from the wall, and a bottle holy water on the desk. A second frame of reference is provided by a script written by the duo, Drake-ula, in which the famed Canadian entertainer, Drake, is re-birthed from Greenmount Cemetery as a vampire, and comes to the space, “Franklin Travel Agency,” looking for a way to return to L.A.

Guy says that these contexts are not the main focus of the show, but part of a framework that allowed the curators to select works in a new way, and allows viewers to better engage with the art. “While the ideas seemed kind of disparate, it is that kind of supplemental material that allows you some kind of context, but also a very fun context, because I think that people aren’t always geared to hear some crazy concept behind the show.” Given the environment of the retail storefront, viewers seemed much more at ease; they interacted with pieces, even when certain things were not meant to be touched. The script was read and acted out by viewers, some even insisted that Guy and Chiang should have staged it. Guy insists that a performance was unnecessary, that the space with the script was a complete whole. “A lot of the reason that we wrote it was because we could imagine something going on in the space. I think it informed the way we arranged things in the end.”

The result is a show that is successful in that viewers are more comfortable with the given contexts. David Armacost, a director of sophiajacob, praised the show for being weird, confusing, and more of an art piece in itself, due to the detailed curatorial choices by Guy and Chiang. The work itself is meant to have a new, young, modern sensibility, and it does. Will Milano Chow be distressed that her gorgeous drawings are displayed in six-dollar poster frames? Maybe, but it’s all part of the diligent choices of Szechuan Best.