The following events took place on the evening of Saturday, July 26.
5:45 pm: My wife Jenni is speeding me towards the J. Rusten Furniture Studio, deep in the Mission, for Aver Collective's coming out party: a one night art show and reception to celebrate the release of our first group effort, a glossy little zine featuring a page of artwork by each member. I had promised the group I'd be there at 5 to help set up; instead, I've been ignoring texts from the other collective members who've been begging for help picking up snacks and napkins. I'm not worried about napkins; I just need to make sure the flash drive holding my short film is compatible with the projector that I've been assured will be there.
My contribution to the zine was a poster of my latest short film, She's Talking About Her Hair. I was hoping to have the film itself completed in time for the reception, but I was still waiting on the final sound mix from my audio person. (Of course, I had only given her my final cut about eight days earlier. After making her wait a year and a half.) I had the STAHH poster to display at the party, and I had another new poster that I had made for an old student film--just in case I ever acted upon the vague dreams I had of possibly reediting it someday. Two movie posters; no movie. So, about a week before the reception, I dug out that embarrassing student film, and cut it down from a flabby 36 minutes to a surprisingly sleek 27 minutes. (It was a silent film, so I didn't even have to mess with the audio.) Two beautiful posters; one watchable movie. I just had to export it, put it on a flash drive, and get it to the venue.
At about 4, I went to put my movie onto a flash drive, and got an error: not enough room on the drive. But it had nothing on it whatsoever, and there should have been more than enough space. So I tearily asked my wife to take me to Best Buy to get a new, better one: a bigger one, just to be safe. But they didn't have a bigger one, or a better one; a young man in a bright blue polo who could barely tolerate my existence said the problem was that the drive was formatted to work with both Macs and PCs, and for some reason this functionality meant it couldn't import large individual files ("idiot." -Implied). So, I went back home, reformatted the drive, waited for the file to load, and then finally, an hour after I'd planned on leaving, I jumped into the car, frazzled and slightly afraid, and Jenni calmly and unquestioningly drove me to the next stop on my mad dash to the show.
6:05 pm: We pull up to the studio; inside, Nella has opened two aluminum platters of lumpia and dipping sauce, there are buckets of beer bottles and big jugs of soda, chips and salsa, and a big box of Its-Its in the freezer. And besides the many delicious store-bought snacks, a friend of Laura's has concocted an incredible rhubarb ale. I would love to just loosen my belt and drown my worries in the greasy, salty goodness before me, but I still have a lot of preparation to do, and because I had ignored all of those texts, there is still no ice for the beer, no napkins for the finger foods. I collect a list of things we need, which includes: napkins, ice, and a box of cake candles. I give the list, guiltily, to my amazing wife, who unhesitatingly agrees to go out and get what we need. While she runs errands, I stay behind to set up my artwork in the studio.
6:10 pm: Our venue is perfect. After walking through a long, dark corridor, bedecked with a giant American flag, you enter into an aromatic wood shop, where Jared Rusten hand-makes incredible wooden furniture, including his signature pieces: thick, lovely tables in various sizes, in the shape of California. Take a right, and you enter a large open area that's used as a party space and art gallery, furnished with a mix of modern domestic and industrial furniture under yet another enormous flag. Back behind a sitting area is a bathroom with the coolest toilet paper roll holder I've ever seen: a large bolt that rests on chunk of wood with an indentation cut out of it. Next to the bathroom, even cooler, is the bedroom where Jared actually lives, right inside of this impossibly handsome space.
I'm not the last one to arrive--Laura and Davy are still M.I.A.--but I know I have a lot to do. I've been rushing to finish my pieces for the last month, so I want to get right to work, and give myself a moment of relative mindlessness to help calm by brain. I'm 99% sure that my movie file is where it needs to be, and I don't have the energy to entertain that softly nagging 1% that hangs inside the clear skies of my mind like a lone vulture. The walls of the gallery space are covered in nails, and around each one are dozens of nail holes, but I still feel weird damaging the walls; after a minute of trying to hang my art on a couple nails that are already sticking out, and even attempting to hammer them into some previously used holes, I give up and just start pounding away. I brought a cheap, 12" drugstore ruler, and it takes me about 3 tries to hang my posters so that they're both (more or less) lined up. I leave some space next to the posters where we will project my movie right onto the white studio wall. I wait for Colin and Nella to get everything else set up before I bug them about testing the projector they brought. I help the others and clean and organize. Everyone else is in short sleeves; I'm in a jacket and tie. I sweat a lot.
Dripping in perspiration while reaching above my head to use the tiny, toy-like tools I brought, I almost drop a hammer on Colin's gorgeous offering to the reception: a beautiful wooden chair; highly detailed and angular, yet smooth to the point of silkiness; comfortable, functional, yet unmistakably art-damaged. Colin studied Mechanical Engineering, and works with J. Rusten at the Furniture Studio, which is where he created this incredible piece. Since his chair stands on its own, it doesn't really need to be set up, and Colin's just circling around, making sure everything is in place before party time, assessing the situation and assigning small tasks as necessary. He's the founder and leader of Aver Design Collective, and the most responsible by far; I don't want to bother him about the projector until he seems less occupied.
Once my posters are hung, I lend Ty my tiny hammer so he can mount his own pieces: high quality, life-size printouts of digital artwork he created, one-of-a-kind record covers for a single by Razor Blazers, a band from Asbury Park, New Jersey, Ty's home town. The records were released as part of a charitable project wherein 50 artists each made 10 covers for the same single. As described on the project's Kickstarter: "All profits from [sales of] the record will be donated to Kusi Kawsay, an elementary school in the Andes in Peru, which offers 92 children from economically challenged backgrounds an affirming and holistic education." Ty's 10 images range from timeless tinted photography to kitschy collage, artful digital photo assemblage to psychedelic visual patterns, and include all manner of typeface-based designs. Some had not been fully visible on his page in the zine, so it is a satisfying experience to see them all arranged clearly, side by side.
Ty actually does drop my hammer on Colin's chair. Somehow it misses.
Next to Ty's wall space, Nella is in the process of hanging two new posters for her fashion blog, Sissyfaced. In the zine, she simply stuck some cool photos of her and her sister in their stylish gear to give a taste of what the blog was about. Nella's a natural marketer: the description space under the pics held her blog's catchy slogan: "Two sisters. Two cities. Two styles." Then, simply: "Sissyfaced.com." For this show, however, she actually whipped up two brand new posters--one for herself, and one for her sister--which included photos and a description of their blog. Both posters showcase her elegant, effortless design skill--which is also a good way to describe her fashion sense. They also resemble her blog more closely than her page in the zine; true to her brand. The posters look like an ad, in the best way, or a small feature in a fashion mag. She also brought business cards.
Across from Nella, between the empty spaces on the wall where the pieces by Laura and Davey were to be hung, JoJo has already created an intriguing diorama of sorts on some kind of cool-looking industrial table/tool. Aver's resident wordsmith, JoJo's contribution to the zine was a page of writing, a snippet of a larger story. Only a page long, it was nevertheless a compelling character study: a portrait sketched with little more than observations of the intriguing objects residing in the protagonist's apartment. Now, here in the studio, she has recreated some of the details from the story--a variety of hot sauces, a vintage copy of Herman Kahn's On Thermonuclear War, and a mysterious army-looking box that holds a secret for the extra curious--and arranged them like a museum display. JoJo's written piece contains a hint of danger, and seeing these items in the real world, in three dimensions, gives the story a weird feeling of realness, as if the props were lost artifacts from an urban legend. Her boyfriend helps her finish the setup, which includes hanging a large, framed copy of the story above the display.
6:30 pm: Nella's parents enter the studio, in town just for the show. Nella looks after them while continuing to set up the food.
6:35 pm: Laura shows up and starts hanging her work. In almost no time, she's displayed seven or eight high quality canvas prints of her stunning double exposure travel photography, only two of which had been showcased in the zine. Beneath each photo, the name of the piece has been burned onto a wooden label; one one label, the individual letters of the piece's title are each on separate cubes, strung together below a small wooden frame. Apparently the labels were created by Colin with a wood burner; I'm guessing this collaboration was born of Aver's meeting at the San Francisco Techshop a couple months ago, where Colin has a membership. I was only able to stay long enough for a brief tour (and a burger from Box in the back alley) that night, but Laura heeded Colin's advice and brought something to laser etch with a personalized design. I knew she was into that whole process, but I had no idea she and Colin were collaborating again to create these hilarious labels, which so perfectly compliment/contrast Laura's lo-fi/D.I.Y./Fine Art photographic aesthetic. She also comes prepared, not only with business cards, but a beautiful book she made with her photography. She perches it against the wall, next to her art, on a hanging, woven metal stand.
6:40 pm: Davy finally arrives in shorts and a neon yellow t-shirt. I guess he jogged here, and yet somehow he's still not as sweaty as I am. Davy may be the most staggeringly gifted, conventionally talented artist in the collective; he was the one who made the incredible drawings of each member for the opening splash page of the zine. However, he has opted not to share the work from his zine page (his trademarked dead animals amongst bunches of flowers). Instead, he has brought some new pieces: three small pencil drawings of clouds, the beginnings, apparently, of a new, conceptual series. They're gorgeous (I love clouds; check out my Instagram if you don't believe me), but less showy than his usual work. Above these pieces, he hangs three neon tank tops, not unlike the shirt he's wearing; however, the shirts have been hand-decorated with a beautiful floral pattern, not unlike the flowers often featured in his artwork. I (and many others) had encouraged him to sell t-shirts with his artwork on them, and now they're hanging on a gallery wall, priced to sell at $40 a pop. This is getting surreal.
6:42 pm: Everything looks just about ready. Colin and Nella are examining the room, looking for anything out of place that they might have missed. Since everything seems under control, I remind them that I want to test out the projector while we still have a few minutes before the show. Colin takes my flash drive and walks it over to his computer.
6:44 pm: It's not working. The drive is in the computer, and there's no sign of any file. THE ONE PERCENT. Panic juice is released from my gut and begins seeping into my extremities. What can I possibly do? After working for weeks on this new cut, feeling like I finally delivered on the hidden promise of my original footage, now it looks like I won't be able to share it. Also, now there's a big empty space on the wall. The show starts in sixteen minutes, and my house is on the other side of town. Then again, no one shows up to these things on time. And I didn't realize it until right now, but showing an actual movie tonight, that I'm proud of, means a lot to me. I have to make the decision right now.
6:45 pm: I'm going home. I call Jenni; she's right outside, looking for parking. I tell her that's not going to happen, and to just pull up in front. I run outside, grab the stuff she bought, throw it into the studio, and promise the group that I'll be back as soon as possible. They seem too preoccupied with everything else to care. Jenni is waiting patiently in the car; I still haven't told her what's going on. "My movie wasn't on the flash drive. I need to go home and get my computer. ... AAAAAAA!!!!!! I'm freaking out!!! There's no time! What do I do??" She calmly but emphatically tells me that everything is fine: let's go get my computer and give it a try! We drive home, and I try to think about what could have gone wrong.
6:55 pm: Jenni double parks in front of our apartment, and I run upstairs and stick my drive in the computer. The file is there. But I saw Colin open the drive on his computer, and it was empty. I drag the video file onto the flash drive icon yet again, praying that something, somehow, will be different this time. It will take 26 minutes. We speed back to the party, my laptop atop my lap. I never work on my computer on the go like this. I feel like a hacker.
7:10 pm: Jenni screeches to a stop in front of the studio while I leap out, computer in hand. I straighten my tie, run my fingers through my hair, and calmly walk in with my computer, flash drive, and Quicktime file 89% uploaded. I stick the computer in a tool closet, on a rag on top of a pile of saw dust. I walk out to the main floor of the studio and greet the crowd, ten minutes late to my own party.
7:30 pm: The event has only been in effect for half an hour, and we've already got some people in the doors checking out the artwork! I walk around and say hi to everybody, in a daze. At some point I realize that Jenni is in the building. I go check on the video file. It's on the drive.
7:35 pm: Colin tries the file again, and it's still not there. Finally, I remember. In my panic and general mental exhaustion, I must have just blanked: the guy at Best Buy told me that the drive couldn't take larger files because it was specially formatted to work on both Macs and PCs. Even though Colin is, ostensibly, an artist, he doesn't use a Mac. So what's the solution? I go back into the tool closet and start uploading the video onto several file sharing websites. "500 minutes remaining." Hmmm.
8 pm: The lights go out. It's not a power failure (though that would hardly surprise me at this point): it's Nella's dad's birthday, and she surprises him with a chocolate cake covered in the liquor store candles that my wife bought earlier. We all sing "Happy Birthday" to Mr. Ocampo, and he looks like he may be enjoying it. I skip the cake; I've already eaten about seven pounds of lumpia.
8:15 pm: I wander through the studio like a zombie. I'm still really happy; my posters look great, and everyone else is having a great time. More guests come through, and they all seem really into the art (and the rhubarb ale).
I finally start to relax. And then I realize: I exported a couple different versions of my movie from Final Cut; maybe, just maybe, one of the smaller versions might fit onto the drive in its Mac/PC combo format. I reformat the drive one more time, and copy over the file. I give the drive to Colin, and he sees the file. HE SEES THE FILE. I let him tinker with the projector while I continue making the rounds.
8:30 pm: Now the show is practically crowded, and I'm jogging around the room, making sure everyone's having a good time and giving tours and overviews to the people that show up (whether they ask for it or not). A lot of really cool people from work show up; friends; my mom and my little bother even stop by for a bit. I'm so busy, I don't even get a chance to talk to Jenni; I look around for her a couple times, and see her chatting with different people I know, and a bunch of people I don't know, and she's clearly having fun.
I'm feeling great at this point, except that Colin is still fiddling with the projector, and I feel guilty that it's distracting him. I ask him what's going on. As it turns out, Colin doesn't really know how to make this happen, and if Colin can't do it, I doubt anybody that doesn't have a working knowledge of this exact machine can. The dream is dead. Again. And yet, I'm having such a great time, I can barely bring myself to care. I've already gotten to experience the realization of the collective's amazing vision of sharing our artwork with a wider audience. In the end, isn't that what the evening is all about? According to Colin: hell no. Mrs. Wang did not raise a quitter, and if he can't project my movie onto the wall, he'll show it any way he can. He finds a rolling yellow tray/table from the sitting area, removes some plates and flowers, rolls it directly beneath my posters, and opens Quicktime. This is not quite the illustrious screening I had hoped for, but if people want to watch a short, silent student film on a tiny screen in a noisy, crowded room, who am I to deny them?
9 pm: People are actually watching my movie! The story has enough momentum to make it from one scene to the next, and some guests are willingly going along for the ride. This is exactly what I wanted. The fact that they have to huddle and hunch over somebody's laptop to see it kind of makes it even better, in a way. I'm so proud of my artwork, and so happy that I was able to display it at an event like this. The fact is, if I hadn't joined Aver Collective, I have no idea if any of the cool pieces I created for the show would even exist. Would I have scrambled to make two huge posters without a deadline? Would I have finally gone back and reedited my student film if I wasn't part of a group art show where I could screen it? One of the reasons I joined Aver Collective is that I have trouble making time to buckle down and get things done, especially when projects seem huge, and months drift by with little visible progress. And when there's no one to even witness the tiny amount of incremental work I do complete, it's easy to want to give up. That's how I felt the first day I met with the collective; I was feeling bad about myself, and I just wanted to go to bed as soon as I got home from work (6 p.m.). It was my wife who helped rally me out of my stupor and gave me a ride to Nella's. I honestly think it was one of the best things I've ever done; a year later, the director's cut and poster for The Lonely Sea, the movie I'd half-abandoned years ago, are not only completed, but they may be my two favorite things I've ever made.
9:30 pm: Of course, so much of the joy of the evening is seeing the glow of pride and healthy ego emanating from the faces of my esteemed fellow collective members.
It is a thrill to be on a team with such a fun, talented, smart, energetic, passionate group of people. Most of the artwork I make is done by myself. Even my films: I write the script, I make the preparations for filming, and then, after a quick shoot with a small cast and crew, I banish myself back to my room for the endless, lonely slog of editing. I always wanted to collaborate with other artists--even just to bounce ideas off of creative people I really respect--and now I have that. And we've only just started.
10 pm: It's over. We do a rapid clean up. I'm utterly exhausted, and sway like a ballerina in slow motion across the room, trying to pick up any leftover debris. Jenni is doing dishes, somehow.
10:15 pm: Everyone is going to the Blind Cat for an after party. I tell them I'm not going; I'm dying and I need to go to bed.
10:30 pm: I'm at the bar. I just want to tell everyone good job one last time. I don't get a drink, I don't play a song in the jukebox. I just want to enjoy one perfect moment with everyone: the moment immediately after the event is over, when the pressures of the venture disappear, and the feeling of success at a job well done is at its most potent.
10:45 pm: I nod off in the car while my wife drives me home. My last conscious thought is that I don't understand how a human being can be so endlessly patient and supportive. I would probably be even more proud of my accomplishments tonight if I didn't have a literal superhero shadowing me the entire time. But lucky for me, I live with the human embodiment of the sentiment that encapsulates what tonight meant to me: Never Give Up.
— Travis White