Art in Every Crevice: The Silent Barn is Back

Bushwick's arch-hipster curatorial collective is taking DIY legit. A look at life "in the stew."

Chefs have complete freedom to fire up whatever they want. If you're "press chef" Katie McVeay, 24, you're working on a project called "Canned Ham," a mini bed-and-breakfast inside a trailer that will sit in the yard and shelter bands touring through NYC. If you're G. Lucas Crane, 35, who is also part of Paesthetics, then you're in the process of turning your living room into a supper club called Hawkitori. And if you're Nina Mashurova, 23, who was accepted to live in the new Barn but wasn't a chef beforehand, you're contributing multimedia projects (Shane Suski, another resident, also would have turned your living room into an art installation made out of hundreds of red balloons found on Craigslist).

In other words, if you're a chef, you're "living in the stew," a metaphor that almost everyone uses to describe the communal environment. The feeling is co-ed fraternity on an IV drip of neo-dada.

"There's an opportunity for documentation here," Mashurova says, a little obscurely. "It's funny. You're balancing the mundane moving-in things like getting curtain rods and dressers, and there are shows and art exhibits everywhere."

Chefs Brian Blomerth and Kate Levitt, with Slippy the Pomeranian.
Christopher Farber
Chefs Brian Blomerth and Kate Levitt, with Slippy the Pomeranian.
“Hipster happens very quick,” says Howie Seligman, 57, the self-styled “DIY sensei."
Christopher Farber
“Hipster happens very quick,” says Howie Seligman, 57, the self-styled “DIY sensei."

Her living area has the only working stove, so it smells like cooked cinnamon. Crane's apartment has the only shower with hot water, so everyone's seeing how long he or she can last without bathing. The only heat in the whole place comes from small space heaters in bedrooms.

Their earlier experience with the Department of Buildings apparently long forgotten, the focus now is on creating the new. That seems to involve a lot of Woodstock-era language their parents might recognize: "We're accepting the chaos," someone says. "It's all happening," another woman whispers. "This is a place where you know good vibes live," offers Crane. "There's art in every crevice," says Gupta, adding that even the crappy basement will be put to use. "At the very least, we'll put up a sign that says 'Mold Museum.'"

What sets Silent Barn apart from other DIY efforts, however, might be its enthusiastic transparency. A detailed Google site is complete with a dictionary of Silent Barn jargon, a mission statement describing the Barn as an "experimental sandbox," and an exhaustive list of everything that could ever go wrong (labeled "Risks"). Although other clandestine music venues value secrecy, Silent Barn makes public even its Sheetrock budget.

Nathan Cearley has already helped create a legal DIY space in Olympia, Washington, and now he advises the Silent Barn on the liabilities front. "I guess I'm the grumpy old dude," he says. "Everyone's young and wild and ready to go, but I'm like, 'Let me tell you about insurance.'"

Cearley, who is 36 and lives elsewhere, says the biggest risk associated with DIY venues is residency. That's why the new Silent Barn makes a clear distinction between commercial and residential space: A staircase separates the two.

Crane, sitting on a Poäng chair from Ikea, describes the difference: "This is my home. It's legal to live here, and it's legal to host here." When a resident hosts an event upstairs, it's legally no different from someone hosting a party in their apartment. When the Silent Barn hosts events downstairs, they charge a cover to pay the artists and bookers—and, for now, serve hot cider and soda.

Crane lived in the old Silent Barn in Ridgewood for six years. At 35, he's the oldest Barn dweller. Today, he is humping slabs of plywood to his second-floor apartment, the one he'll turn into Hawkitori. "I just want this whole space to be a giant dining table," he explains. It goes without saying that he'll build the table himself.

By day, Crane makes mail-order electronic synthesizers, but he has dedicated most of the remaining moments of his life to the Silent Barn. "It's a really big ideal for me," he says of the new space. He used the phrases "labor of love" and "lifelong project." He wears square glasses and has shaggy red hair that shakes when he does "voice manipulation" with his noise project, Fox/Crane/Bear Trio.

Crane is something of a Silent Barn godfather, the man almost everyone points to if you want to understand where the Barn comes from and where it will be in 10 years. "Right now, we're just dotting our Is and crossing our Ts," he says. "We're doing nothing different than before, but now we're above board."

This time around, Crane is legally responsible, and like Gupta, wanted to live in the Barn. "The first year is always the hardest. In 10 years, I see this being the same kind of setup with different people. In 10 years, this neighborhood will be just as gentrified as Williamsburg." He pauses. "We wanted to be able to plan something years from now."

He has always preferred living like this, Crane says. "I want to remove everything icky from discovering underground art." He motions downstairs. "I want New York to have one of these. I don't want people to think New York City is full of cliques of swill."

The January 5 show is Silent Barn's fourth since reopening. A bouncer collects $7 from every audience member. The cider stands in for cans of PBR. A Pomeranian named Slippy skips around the room. And Alien Whale sounds exactly like an alien's wail, forcing a few listeners to plunge fingers into their ears.

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