January 19, 2011  |  MoMA PS1
MoMA PS1’s Saturday Sessions Bring the Noise

Artist Adam Helms in discussion with writer and curator Klaus Kertess at the January 15, 2001, Saturday Session. Photo by Brett Messenger

The first Saturday Session of 2011 took place this past weekend in the third floor Main Gallery of MoMA PS1. I organized the program and hosted the day. The afternoon featured the artist Adam Helms in discussion with writer and curator Klaus Kertess, followed by a live performance by Detroit noise blues duo STARE CASE, featuring John Olson and Nate Young.

There was a specific logic in the pairing: The first time Adam and I met was at a metal DJ night I put together with the writer Peter Sotos, artist Lionel Maunz, and musicians Philip Best and Mark McCoy. This was before I knew his work. I was later introduced to some of his art through his images of black metal musicians in hoods and full corpse paint. After viewing a number of these drawings, I asked Helms to participate in MIRROR ME, an installation I did with Kai Althoff at Dispatch Bureau in Chinatown, a project tied to the work of the Norwegian one-man black metal band Burzum. Adam and I later DJed noise and metal together at a release party for MIRROR ME zine, published a few months ago by Primary Information.

Clearly my association with Adam and his work is largely musical—though that’s not the predominant strain of his practice. That said, his representations dealing with the men of violent terrorist and other organizations—outsiders, rogues, subcultural entities—have an occult feeling. Olson and Young are best known for their work in the post-industrial noise band Wolf Eyes, one of America’s seminal noise-rock outfits. (Wolf Eyes is also one of Helms’s favorite bands, something he’s made clear to me for some time now.) They have dozens of side projects, some with releases on their own labels, some released by others. These various projects have a clear DIY aesthetic sense as well as a tendency to incorporate violent (but tongue-in-cheek) horror imagery. The STARE CASE project is their reinterpretation of American blues, an expansive, feedbacking take on a classic form. It’s done out of a reverence, an ambitious expansion of a tradition. (Among the noise underground, Olson and Young are considered American masters, so it’s also a fascinating chance to see them push their well-defined aesthetic in different directions.)

The event was especially well attended: People stared sitting on the floor once the chairs were filled, giving the lecture the feel of a punk-rock show and the show the feeling of an art gathering, a symbiosis that doesn’t always happen when bringing different scenes together, even when those scenes are sympathetic and highly compatible.

This time it worked. In fact, after STARE CASE’s performance, Olson joked to me, “We should take that ensemble on the road.” Maybe.

Saturday Sessions at MoMA PS1 are designed to introduce a wide range of performance, and each event welcomes a different host. Events occurs every other Saturday of the month through June 25 in the Third Floor Main Gallery from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m.