Many moons ago, Saturday, February 25th, Subterranean Gallery hosted its final hot tub lecture. The culmination was highly performative, and at times, the conversation involved the audience more than the lecturers. Artist Archie Scott Gobber, and moderator/artist Mike Erickson, artists represented by and co-workers at the Dolphin Gallery. Gobber’s work is well known for its eye-catching quality and clever wordplay that work as a vehicle for social and political commentary. Moderator and artist Mike Erickson has worked in New York and Los Angeles at the MOMA and Gemini Graphic Editions Limited in LA. Gobber and Erickson are both KCAI alumni and base their painting practices in Kansas City.
The night began with the final celebration: Americana inspired food by Joe Lawlor and Lottie Barker, an array of drinks by bartender Rhiannon Birdsall, and a performance on piano by Sam Fifield. This combination set the tone for a lecture that felt more like a family reunion. The dialogue set out to answer a question: Were the Hot Tub Dialogues, as a whole, a success for establishing a critical dialogue in Kansas City?
Situated in a room full of opinionated, new, and established members of Kansas City’s Art community, the lecture began with Erickson prodding the audience with the question: “What is success?” Differing answers bounced around the room in response. Was he referring to happiness? Is there such a thing as failure? Erickson described his idea of artistic success, a sustained artistic practice, as the highest form of success, noting that the feeling of success can be fleeting. Examples of Erickson’s concept of success and failure included references to Whitney Houston, specifically, her reality show, tabloid appearances, and other embarrassments that negatively affected her public image.
Gobber was in character as an “old time sign painter,”-making a play off of the associations sign painting has with his text based work- seated in the hot tub in an early 20th century red and white striped shorts, tank bathing suit, and curled his large faux handlebar mustache. The conversation progressed, moving toward topics such as the lack of an art market in Kansas City, finding optimism through art making, artists financially supporting artists, public arts education and or lack thereof, the challenge of making, and finally ending with the rant “painting is dead!” Gobber and Erickson set up a situation that mocked an institutional critique of success and expressed the ways success is attainable in our community.
The discussion slowly became impassioned and heated. The audience critiqued the community at large, pointing out flaws, and getting some people very upset. At this point, the lecture series came full circle; This community began to recognize the distinct difficulties that we are facing as a collective. Our own individual abilities to create change redirected the negative energy into a regenerative response from the viewers. A dynamic intimacy was created between artist and audience, the room continued to buzz in relation to the dialogue. Concerns that are usually discussed by couplings of friends at coffee shops suddenly became main topics of focus, allowing people to have a sincere and honest discussion about the state of our community, in a room filled with those who can break barriers and create change.