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To Infinity and Beyond

In search of cosmic wisdom amongst the Bruning Man-bound, Plus: an Axe ad update.

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Last Saturday night my boyfriend and I went to Mysore Woodland to stuff ourselves on South Indian carbs with a friend who'd just lost a swank job involving something I can't talk about because she signed a confidentiality agreement.

I'd been in my own Bermuda Triangle of depression for the past several days. I'd come home from a somewhat dreary trip to Iowa to find my beloved kitty, who used to scratch my records--in the DJ sense, while they were playing on a turntable--incredibly sick. I took him to the emergency vet, where I was told he was in an advanced stage of chronic renal failure, a condition I didn't even know he had until 20 minutes before I had to decide to have him euthanized.

Over dinner the three of us were joking idiotically about harvesting human ova from menstrual blood, mixing 'em with dog sperm, and then impregnating a donkey when my friend leaned forward, lowered her voice in both pitch and volume, and asked very seriously, "Do you believe in infinity?"

She didn't. I did. My boyfriend was undecided.

"Let's try to find proof that infinity exists on earth tonight," she said.

I wanted to suggest holding a seance for my cat, but I wasn't sure what it would prove. And we decided that while setting up two mirrors to face each other might be effective, it would also be boring. So we went to a rave.

Technically, I guess, it was a benefit--for Bop Camp, a local "sport, art production, healing therapy, and performance" collective that plays a sort of jousting game involving long PVC poles padded at one end with stuffed animals. They were raising money to finance their camp at Burning Man, which starts in a couple weeks. The rave was billed as a copresentation by them and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a Florida-based nonprofit whose mission is "to sponsor scientific research designed to develop psychedelics and marijuana into FDA-approved prescription medicines" and "educate the public honestly about the risks and benefits of these drugs." Performers included the omnipresent absurdist-anarchist marching band Environmental Encroachment and Spunn, a group of fire- and light-spinners who host drum jams at Foster Avenue and the lakefront on any Friday when there's a full moon. (August 19 is the Full Sturgeon Moon, and weather permitting, they'll be there a little after dusk.)

After parking on a side street near Augusta and Cicero, we traipsed through what felt like a woody grove though it was crisscrossed with sidewalks and surrounded by giant warehouses. On the way we passed a hand-painted wooden sign advertising a "buffet in a bag." Through a gate and up a wide driveway, an old chocolate factory appeared in all its gray and rusty glory.

Up a few steep, narrow metal flights of stairs that I imagined would smell like pee but didn't, I saw the usual rave spread: dreadlocks, midriffs, animal costumes, fairy wings, big pants, and smiling faces, all lit by black light, fancy little smart LEDs, and glow sticks. My friend took a seat in a canvas swing under a silver disco ball. My boyfriend flashed his novelty laser pointer, which projected the message nice tits, at a guy wearing giant goggles, who nodded appreciatively.

I wandered around the cavernous space, following the sound of live bongo drumming to another floor where I found the Chilluminati, a local group that, according to their Web site, promotes "psychedelic trance and Goa music and culture." A young woman in a halter top rhythmically swung glow sticks on ropes for a captivated audience.

Sitting on a couch watching video footage of a violent-looking video-game monster leaping like a ballerina, I listened to a friend ramble on and on excitedly in the way only rolling on E can make you do. He'd just changed the life of the 20-year-old sitting next to him and it was totally blowing his mind. He advised her to quit her job and move out of her parents' house in the suburbs to pursue a career as a makeup artist. "Isn't that fantastic?" he asked me.

Oh yes. Infinitely.

In case you haven't noticed, the graffiti-style Axe ad at Honore and Milwaukee has been gone for a month. On Sunday, July 17, I drove by and saw Sayre Gomez and two artists I didn't recognize (they introduced themselves once with a handshake but later wouldn't repeat their names) painting a mural over the ad as well as the boarded-up front of the building.

"It is not unusual for us to use our wall spaces for noncommercial work when there is downtime on a wall," Noah Shapiro, cofounder of the New York-based promotion company Critical Massive, explained later. (The less controversial graffiti-style Axe ad on the 2000 block of Division is now a graffiti-style ad for the new TLC reality series Miami Ink.)

The artists were painting a sort of stream-of-consciousness mural featuring a few giant faces composed of simple geometric shapes, plus more abstract images such as large arcs and straight arrows. The front of the building featured a ghoulish rockabilly couple, the man with an ax buried in his head, the woman with her throat slit and a knife to the man's crotch.

"Critical Massive gave us paint to do whatever we want," one artist told me. When I pressed him for more information, he told me I shouldn't be so "lopsided" in my reporting, presumably referring to my previous columns about the Axe ad. I asked him to please set me straight by talking to me, but he refused.

The other artist walked up to the corner, slammed his drink into a trash can, and walked back. "You slandered us!" he said. "If you want to call us chumps, go ahead."

"As one might expect," building owner Mike Black e-mailed me later, the new mural "was also met with both admiration and disgust. Everyone has an opinion and you can't please all the people all the time." Critical Massive, he says, sprang for the art "because they felt bad for what we had to experience and wanted to make the situation more positive. Unfortunately, one artist from out of town did a rockabilly guy axing himself and his girlfriend knifing him in the balls. I didn't have a problem with it but wanted something more positive or neutralizing. The ax was probably in jest of the Axe ad, but I was concerned about children seeing it."

The rockabilly couple has since been replaced by a groovy psychedelic piece where blobs with eyes and a disapproving bird dressed like Sherlock Holmes hang out with a heavy-lidded guy who appears to be riding an invisible bike. It's a memorial to local graffiti writer Depte, who was fatally shot in July. Slang is the main artist behind it; his son helped. Like its predecessor, it's signed "Thanks 2 Critical Massive."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Andrea Bauer.

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