For anyone suffering from strange-art withdrawals in a post-“Untitled 1” world, Durham’s first iteration of “Oddville! A Festival of the Awesomely Strange” was filled to the brim with kindred spirits.
Last Saturday, Nov. 2, the art-event production company EJC Art Shows, co-founded by Ezra Croft, put on the one-day festival at downtown venue The Fruit. The festival showcased self-proclaimed “strange” artists who specialize in everything from painting macabre dolls to a ventriloquist act about finding one’s purpose, performed in a hot-dog suit and alien mask.
“There’s a saying that goes, ‘Genius is just thinking of something from a different angle,’” Croft said. “I’m not going to say any one thing in particular is genius, but doing things from a different angle — I think it kind of makes you evolve, and for the better.”
Tickets were $12 for general admission, but for delving into “weirdness,” the cost decreased. “I’m wearing a costume” cost $10.37. “I brought a grandparent and I’m ready to party” got both of you in for $13.99. For $15.34, I opted for “I brought someone who has no idea what this is” and roped in an unsuspecting, open-minded friend.
Upon arrival, my friend and I surveyed the masses of people in animal costumes and bathrobes and felt that we, dressed in jeans and college paraphernalia, were the odd ones out.
As we meandered through tarot card readers and jewelry-makers peddling pendants that encased insects in resin, I watched my friend grow increasingly amazed by the people surrounding us. Utterly fascinated by a person dressed in a black morph suit and an infant mask, she agonized over not having dressed more “weirdly.”
“If you can look at something … and think, ‘This is great art, but it’s weird,’ that’s the value of [Oddville!],” Croft said. “Being able to explore why it makes you feel weird, exploring your own feelings, that’s valuable. Art without emotion is — I mean, what is that?”
Witnessing the community built between artists and patrons with the giddiness of an attendee purchasing a photograph of a cat sculpture on a skateboard, I tried to reckon with my own feelings. At that point, I could not quite ascertain a specific emotion any particular piece of art elicited from me, but somehow, knowing that there were people bold enough to make feminist neon art made me feel a little better about the world.
En route to the bathroom, my friend and I stumbled upon the tucked-away performance art space, where the aforementioned infant-masked person was dancing jubilantly with a bright pink puppet for a scintillated crowd. Enraptured, I found myself laughing — at first out of awkwardness and utter confusion, but eventually from pure joy.
The man behind the mask was Benjamin Martin, the creator and performer of “Poose the Puppet.” The puppet show, based on personal tragedies in Martin’s life, depicts the growth of Poose — derived from the Spanish word mariposa, meaning “butterfly” — a young spirit trying to find her “purpoose” and encouraging others to do the same.
“I have realized [that] when I totally set myself free, it actually helps other people do the same,” Martin wrote in an e-mail. “You take everyone’s mind hostage for a moment … and bring them to another world so they can experience the same freedom of existing in the moment as you.”
At the end of Poose’s story, Martin pronounces the audience “free” and implores everyone to scream with him and his puppets.
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“When you let yourself go … you become one with everything and everyone. Strange art is simply opening that door for people to walk through,” Martin wrote.
As I participated in the communal yelling, I was finally able to ascribe a label to my feelings toward strange art; as trite as it sounds, I felt genuinely free, at least for the moment. While screaming in unison with 50 strangers at the command of a man in an alien mask, I felt my most human.
“It’s hard to step out of your normal ‘fun’ patterns to really discover something that you didn’t know you were interested in,” Croft said. “[Strange art] challenges your boundaries of what you enjoy … but it’s interesting and it’s passionately designed. It jumps out at you, past what ‘normal’ good art would do. It adds something to your soul.”