Over twenty collectives, combines, artists, innovators, and adventures joined in a battle of epic proportions this weekend in the middle of Jamaica Bay. Flux Factory assembled a team of current and former residents, administrators, board members, and extended community members in an effort to build a seaworthy boat vessel to compete in the Second Annual Battle for Mau Mau Island, organized by Swimming Cities.
Flux Factory, a combination living space/art gallery housed in a warehouse in Queens, is located far enough from the worn hipster pathways of Manhattan and Brooklyn that Hopstopping directions to my cell phone is a necessity. Despite my foresight, I still end up lost in 100-degree heat, wandering around the industrial wasteland that is Long Island City.
When I finally arrive, after a pit stop at Hess (for water and Chex Mix, but not directions), I’m greeted by a shirtless man in his late twenties or early thirties who is wearing a necklace made from rope, tape and two Sharpies. Later, I will learn that his name is Brian Matthews. He is the “mad scientist of the house” and his room is too messy for me to see. Now, however, he simply invites me in, asks who I am and proceeds to call my contact on his cell phone. “Hey Stefany, are you at the house?” he asks. I gather that this is how people communicate in the 7,500 square foot space and wonder what the group did before the invention of cell phones. Perhaps there was a series of tin cans and tangled wires running to and fro.
Stefany Anne Goldberg is stuck at work, but Kerry Downey, a resident of Flux for the last two and a half years, offers to speak with me. We retire to the only place in the building with air conditioning, a jerry-rigged 10′ x 10′ room that is walled on two sides by a drop cloth hung three feet below the ceiling. There’s still some debate among the house members as to whether this actually contains the cool air, even though earlier that day Matthews used his new instant thermometer to prove it was cooler and spread the news by e-mail to the house’s 17 live-in members.
This huge number of residents is what makes Flux Factory, well, so in “flux.” The project, however, hasn’t always been so large. It began in 1994 in an old Williamsburg spice factory. By 1998, the group gained official 501 (c)(3) nonprofit status and moved to its current location. Today, the collective curates four shows per year, a requirement for the grants that help fund the project. The shows are created by multiple artists functioning as a unit to build a work greater than the sum of its parts. The day I visit, a handmade city featuring buildings built by 15 artists stands in the gallery. Called Opolis, it’s the “the third manifestation of Flux Factory’s annual ‘Comix Fluxture’ exhibit” which seeks to “create comic narratives that also function as installation art.” The previous show, Flux Box, featured seven kinetic sound sculptures that played a music box song when the viewer turned a crank.
While Goldberg and a few others have lived at Flux since its inception, others have been there for shorter periods. According to Downey, this is both a blessing and a curse. “It’s kind of a push and pull. The people who started it are trying to build based on a common goal and future plans,” while new people add energy and vitality. Sometimes, however, “people move in and don’t do anything at all.” The group lives as a social collective where everyone is responsible for cleaning the house, building the art exhibitions and other tasks. When new or old roommates don’t pull their own weight, the system fails.
This living situation is just as experimental as the shows they curate. “You can see how people that you love and with whom you share ideals can ruin the whole world because they can’t wash a dish.you start to understand why the world turns to shit,” Downey explains.
A tour of the space is as impressive, insane and totally overwhelming as is meeting all the roommates. Aside from the gallery, the floor includes 17 bedrooms, a kitchen, two bathrooms and an overflowing craft space that resembles a kindergarten room on crack. A library filled with hundreds of books has evolved over the years. “At one point, we had four copies of The Shipping News, my tour guide admits proudly, although only two currently grace the shelves. The collection is the kind of place where you find Dave Barry’s Guide to Life next to a detailed academic breakdown of surrealist artist Man Ray’s work. The “executive wing” of Flux is named so because it has its own door. Glamorous moniker aside, “it’s just art storage and a crapper. Oh, and the cats live here too.”
Even the bedrooms are in a state of constant transition. Improvement, additions or projects started by one resident are often completed by the next patron, giving the whole place a never-finished feeling. No one seems to mind. One resident, Nick Normal, has begun his own gallery in his bedroom that he calls Normal Space @ the Flux Factory. Occasionally, people will show up on the warehouse doorstep looking for exhibits at Normal Space. His fellow roommates find this incredibly amusing.
As Downey and I chat, Morgan Meis, Flux Factory’s “driving force,” enters the makeshift room. He’s wearing a tucked in button up shirt, dress pants and shoes. In the chaos that is the collective, his dress seems absurdly overdone but Downey laughs it off, assuring me that “he dresses as pompously as possible all the time.”
As he is about to sit, he notices the newly hung drop cloth. “This is€¦um€¦interesting,” he remarks, surprisingly unfazed by the new addition to his home. “Yeah, it’s just a temporary solution to it being too fucking hot,” Downey explains with a competing level of blasÃ©. I get the distinct impression that “improvements” of this nature are pretty standard happenings in a place that houses almost two baseball teams worth of exceptionally creative souls.
Once Meis takes a seat and starts vibing about the Factory, I can sense the contagiousness of his enthusiasm for the project. In the constant push and pull between the house and the art space, he functions as “the gallery’s cheerleader,” who is willing to curate any show at the expense of his fellow residents’ comfort. Others are the liaisons between the house and the gallery. Balancing the needs of the house versus those of the gallery is a consistent source of difficulty, but the group takes it in stride.
In addition to these routine concerns, the Fluxers are currently dealing with a potentially pressing problem. The MTA is tearing the block down and, while it has yet to purchase the building which houses the Factory, reality dictates that it’s only a matter of time before the cooperative must find a new home. Future plans are, as usual, in flux. Rest assured that they will find a new space and continue to make great art while living the crazy life they’ve carved out for themselves. If you get a chance, you should visit before the warehouse becomes another casualty of “progress.” But when you do, make sure to bring a cell phone.