And then there are folks who take you on a different sort of journey. "Tell me a little about yourself," is all I get to ask as they seat-belt me in, espousing their philosophy without any need for further questions.
Ned Schaper, aka Mat Bevel, the commander of the General Belief System Technology Project, is one of those types. He's been an institution on the Tucson alternative art scene since his arrival in 1987 from New York City, an exile from the Midwest. Cranky and irritable, but very passionate about his work, he's known for his gizmo-laden, kinetic sculptures made from things people toss in the trash.
Schaper is a philosopher. He's written a manifesto and developed the Museum of Moving Objects and the School of Intuition. These community-based programs are fueled by his disdain for our culture's love affair with conspicuous consumption.
His sculptures don't just sit in a gallery space. They're enlisted to perform original poetry and music--part of Schaper's ongoing Surrealistic Pop Science Theater housed in the cavernous Mat Bevel Institute, a warehouse that he's rented from the city since 1992. It sits at the edge of the burgeoning downtown business development.
I thought perhaps Schaper and I would talk about his show this weekend--three live performances of his upcoming TV pilot. Instead, listening to the recording of our interview with him, what I found was a couple of hours of philosophy. For once, I can't mold any words around my interviewee's logorrhea. Here's Mat Bevel, unplugged:
"As usual, it's hard to explain any one piece of mine. You can only explain Beveldom, and every piece then is just a different poem. If I could explain it, I wouldn't be a poet. I'd be a statesman or a salesman.
"The performance this weekend consists of 64 panels of storyboards I've been working on--the grid for the TV show. Other than that, I can only describe what I've done with other pieces.
"You have to understand the context of the Ironic Lung, for example, a sculptured performance that mimics the whimpering lame-asses around town. The Ironic Lung sucks the air out of a beach ball with an image of the Earth on it. Basically (the Ironic Lung) is talking about a new Iron Age of hemoglobal consciousness entering the bloodstream through the chronic patient's own ironic lung. The piece is accompanied by dainty music despite its heavy message about the destruction of the environment.
"So art allows you to make things that are more deeply profound than any human mind can think of. But not if you constantly control your thought process. You have to allow the materials and the magic of the world to take over.
"I came up with the name Mat Bevel when I was a mat cutter and I wanted to be able to name my work after a character.
"So the Think Tank is another prop, part of the epic of Beveldom. The Think Tank is the tool of major crisis. I get in there and it's all self-contained, like a beveled mat.
"There's an amp and a keyboard and a big 12-volt battery in there. From the other side, you see my head expanded. It's an old ornate frame with a Frenel lens in it--a regular lens that is flat with a huge focal length. When I come out on stage and it's dark in the audience and I'm all lit up with the green head light, it also looks like I'm in a fish tank.
"It's totally low technology. But the strange thing is, I've had kids attack me in this piece. One time they just all got up and marched toward me like the Night of the Living Dead. All I saw were these little hands grabbing at me, these little faces poking right up into the plastic lens. Next thing I knew, they were yanking the cords out of the amplifier. And the parents just stood there in disbelief as the kids almost destroyed my piece.
"It had some sort of weird zombie effect on the kids. Maybe we just whipped them up too much that day.
"It just shows you what art can do to people when you don't confine it to a frame.
"When people come in here, it's important for them to realize that this is not a scene but a place for ritual. A ritual is not a ritual if everyone's the same age. A rave is not a ritual; it's a scene. I'm not interested in making any one group of people feel comfortable here. All I do is work the materials God-like. I let the materials talk to me.
"The Mat Bevel Institute is a cathedral, a church really. You don't reinvent religion. You reinvent spaces. I see people from Mexico here, I see people practicing Congalese drumming. These rituals are important.
"And so is the space. Here in Tucson we have all these fluky warehouses--like Solar Culture and BICAS and my place. Before Tucson's big economic punt takes off, I invite you to come down to the Mat Bevel Institute before they try to march us out to the edges of the desert."
Bevelvision: Coming to a Monitor Near You takes place Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 1-3, at 8 p.m., at the Mat Bevel Institute, 530 N. Stone Ave. Tickets cost $8 at the door.
Questions? Call 622-0192.