by Helen Grant
I had a hell of a time convincing other writers on staff to go check out the Womb Gallery. One had a date to see America at the Oklahoma State Fair, which if you’re a certain editor who has seen “The Last Unicorn,” you kind of understand that reason, and the other had to work a longer than usual night shift. This is how I ended up going at the last minute. And for something random to do on a Saturday night, seeing Zorch play at Womb turned out to be a pretty fun evening.
I know Womb Gallery has been plagued with a few false starts. The most recent set back had been when they had to shut down the gallery to bring the building up to fire code. There’s also this ongoing issue with Wayne Coyne’s original Instagram account being shut down for too much psychedelic nudity, or so it’s been reported. Naturally there’s a petition to bring it back.
So what happens when you walk through two glass doors with a big psychedelic vag painted on them? Well for one, watch your step! There’s a little drop from the threshold into the gallery. Once you’re in, it’s all swirling lights, interactive art environments, and music. Now, I know not everyone is particularly enamored with freak-ass sexuality. Nor are all people extremely comfortable with nudity in general. And for that, I’ve nothing to say but “Mosey along then, Missionaries. You do not want to finish reading from this point on.”
For the rest of us, putting on 3-D glasses and throwing paint balloons at giant alien pussy is actually more about making a mess with paint than it is some weird sex cult fetish. If anything, most people were trying to figure out how to get the damned balloons to pop upon impact. I watched Coyne throw about six or eight times, each more forceful than the last, to no avail. They just bounced off the wall. And it wasn’t just him, it was happening to others too. Pro-tip: Rough up the balloon before you throw it. Pinch it, scratch it, you know, really tweak that latex to weaken it, but just enough without making it explode all over you, and then slam that fucker home.
Honestly, I’m not really phased by this kind of sexual expression. I’ve participated as an artist in Biting the Apple at least twice, and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve gone to Individual Artists of Oklahoma‘s yearly erotic art fundraiser. Then there is the matter of covering OKC’s burlesque scene. Even so, I know there’s a lot of objection over in the feminist camp with Coyne’s handling of the female form. Plus he had that whole scandal with Erykah Badu last year. And while I’ve not quite experienced misogyny like the way women in the 60s experienced it, the feel of the place seemed to me more like boy wonderment and pussy worship, think: phantasmagoric R. Crumb with a taste for alien wall titties. Which makes the whole Erykah Badu battle a sort of inevitable thing at some point, at least when you stop to think about it. Strong female personality going head-to-head with boyish, perhaps dickish tendencies. Yeah.
Anyway, did I feel the “group paint splooge” came from a violent, “hates women” and “wants to exploit them place?” No. Is it sophomoric? Obviously, but have you looked around lately? Oklahoma isn’t exactly the most woman-friendly state. Go Google some stats. You need to do this homework for yourself if you don’t believe me. Start with Oklahoma’s role in sex trafficking and work your way up to women’s incarceration rates and their dwindling access to basic reproductive rights.
Ironically, you don’t see many family portraits, engagement and wedding photos, or “we’re preggers” moments taken in front of Hooters as you do at Womb Gallery. The less weed leaf and vag covered parts of that giant colorful building have been the back drop for many a group portrait session. And compared to the strip places, it at least feels like an explosive colorful homage to sexuality at the gallery as it’s more a stage of hypersexualized creation and womb-y environs. What is it not? A place where women are treated like whorish playthings you throw money at. Although, there was a game station where one could procure Pez, Q-tips, and other things with a stripper-like figure in the center. You didn’t have to pay to play though, so there is that.
All up in the Womb ladies mingled, chatted, and generally explored the space just like everyone else. So despite all the T&A on the walls of the paint room, the rest of Womb gallery seemed tame by comparison. Well maybe not the Womb Room, it strongly reminded me of the Krovoa Milkbar from “A Clockwork Orange.” Although the resemblance between the two, for me, mostly comes from a strange mannequin serving something called “Womb Juice.” Incidentally, it wasn’t something I tried. Just not feeling it that night.
Anyway, the rest of it seemed to be geared toward setting a mood in each space. And the crowd, while diverse, seemed pretty chill and relaxed. People chatted, congratulated each other on bad ass paint throwing moves, networked, and you know, did all that other stuff people do when they get together to take in some music and art. There was even an inflatable room filled to the seams with fog.
It is here I regret to say that I lost my recorded interview with the band playing that night. Essentially, when I asked Coyne about the music, he told me Zorch had been recommended to him and visually he thought they’d do well in the gallery. Earlier this year I read an interview via Hyperallergic, Coyne said he tends to think more as a visual artist rather than a musician, so this seemed to me a good enough reason as any for Zorch to be there, although Coyne cited a specific Zorch music video, where Cookie Monster popped up every 3 seconds on screen, as a key deciding factor too. I couldn’t find it. But here’s one that’s in a similar vein. Warning: the video is NOT for people with seizures triggered by flashing images.
Coyne was on point with inviting Zorch to play the Womb. I listened to a few songs and walked around, all the while thinking about how the music really fit the space. From the lasers and projectors to womby alien environments, it just flowed really well. And while I know there were people (a couple of friends along for this ride) that weren’t loving the sound, mostly because it wasn’t their kind of music, they didn’t hate it either as it seemed to add one more layer to the total experience.
So who is Zorch and why did they want to play at the Womb?
Zorch is Sam Chown (Shmu)’s nickname for fellow bandmate Zac Traeger. The two started making music together in college. They’ve been playing together as a band for 5 years and had even moved to Austin in 2009 for the city’s DIY scene and to create a reputation for themselves as an intense visual show with plenty of fan interaction. Shmu will also be playing Austin’s Ditch the Fest during Austin City Limits Festival, in case you wanted to know.
Here’s the part where I’m not loving iOS7 new voice memos for deleting my interview. During the conversation about their musical inspirations, we got off on an interesting tangent. We talked about how both were huge fans of the Flaming Lips and had been working to get Coyne’s attention in the hopes they’d be invited to come play the gallery someday. And hey, what do you know, that worked. But somehow in the midst of all that, we ended up talking about Limp Bizkit, who, as pointed out by Zach, was in a VICE article that seemed to just they might be cool again or maybe never stopped being cool? Which is kind of baffling for a group who’s been label “Rape Rock.” But whatever. This led to who had the most devoted fan following: Insane Clown Posse, Limp Bizkit, or Slip Knot. Their conclusion was that Slip Knot was better as they really “tied” the best of the other two together, even though ICP somehow gets thousands of people to dress up and walk the streets in insane clown make-up. While the two were hashing it out, a funny clip which you’ll never get to hear, I was wandering off on a tangential thought about “followings.” I don’t foresee myself ever joining the open call for a Lips video, but yet there is something about them that inspires a kind of freedom in their fan base that you just can’t dismiss, even if you don’t understand it. Each group, no matter where they fall on your scale of preference, provides their most devoted of supporters with something they just can’t get anywhere else.
It’s here I’d like to end with how community comes to center around art, regardless if you hate the artists (let’s say Limp Bizkit or their ilk) or adore them (the way I’m feeling about Jim James all these months later), because whether you hate or love what they represent, they’ve got a dedicated following of people who are on some level emotionally effected by their style of expression. And as for Flaming Lips land, it feels like a pretty inclusive place overall. There were probably more African-American kids cycling through the space than I’ve seen at any local indie rock show recently, save DEERPEOPLE’s first extended-tour kickoff show at Kamps in July.
Also, no less than half dozen times was I approached by people I didn’t even know, and even a few times throughout the night by Coyne himself, for my role in helping to get the paint balloon project going. It bears mentioning, that I’ve never met Coyne until last Saturday. Now I kind of feel a little bit like an ass for not tracking down the one guy who really got things going given how much attention I received, that dude seriously got paint on the wall. I mean, if you’re going to participate in the community, you should be doing your part. Although I was distracted by the number of Norman and OKC friends in the crowd, so there was that too. If Womb Gallery held another event like this again, I’d plan in advance to go check it out, which means wearing things I don’t mind getting paint on apparently. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a good arts ability challenge. Honestly, the more off the wall and saturated in color, the better.