It’s not often that the taxi driver questions one’s judgment about a drop off spot in Santa Barbara, but when my chauffeur saw the dark embankment I planned to walk down, he asked me point blank, “Are you sure you want to do this?” I did, because I had already been to the Gorilla Art Collective’s underground art show an hour before. I was returning because I knew how good it would be. Held in two parallel curving underground storm drains-each tunnel easily big enough to drive a bus through, and more than 200 feet long-this was an exciting event that anyone who was there should be proud to have pulled up at. Even if there were no lights, signs, driveways, sidewalks, or doors, there were plenty of other beautifully crafted and carefully thought out elements, all executed on the fly by a charming, drug and alcohol-free crew of stylish creative spirits.
The primary design element was the tunnel system itself, and the Gorillas showed that they know how to work with big spaces. In perhaps the most powerful gesture, tea candles in clear plastic cups defined the gentle, sweeping arc of the darker second tunnel, leading the eye to seek the brightness at the entrance around the bend. In the first tunnel, Gorillas duct-taped additional candles in cups to the concrete walls and uncoiled strings of white Christmas lights along the floor. The packing flats that leaned against the walls served as ad hoc ladders for artists who hung, showed, and sometimes sold canvases by flashlight. At the far end, the odor of aerosol added funk to the atmosphere, as grafitti guys bombed large sections of the concrete wall.
Underground events exist to embody the possibility of genuine and delightful surprise. This magic of the unexpected happened in a few ways at the Gorilla event. In the second tunnel, a knot of people had clustered at a big graffiti work where, huddled in the shadows, four young women broke out in perfect, echoing harmony, and proceeded to sing two fragmented a cappella numbers before wandering off. No applause, no introduction, no stage-just sudden, intense, and beautiful acoustic music. And then it’s gone. Later, traveling the circuit for perhaps the fourth time, the crowd had grown thick, and in front of the sbinfoshop (SBinfoshop.org) the friends who had invited me to this event smiled as we acknowledged that respect must be paid. This was a night not like any other.