Austin has its fair share of ways in which people can explore and exhibit their creative impulses. The sheer number of music venues, theatres, and other ad hoc creative spaces might even make a New Yorker jealous. However, much of the time, these spaces can be just as constricting on artists while furtively dictating social norms which participants must adhere to.
Luckily, two of Austin’s most dynamic movers and shakers, studio art major Katie Rose Pipkin and Olivia Pepper, have created a space that subverts expectations and social divisions called Wardenclyffe.
Leasing an old house on the grounds of an abandoned chop shop, Pipkin and Pepper are transforming the house and space around it into a creative commons in which the adventurous and the unknown can manifest
Upon a cursory glance, Wardenclyffe might seem like just another art-space (house) in east Austin, another notch in Austin’s creative community. However, the newly minted space serves as a sort of temporary utopia for creatives and non-creatives alike to do what they please. The only constriction on what happens there at this point seems to be the laws of time and space, and even that is up for future debate.
Ostensibly, the purpose of Wardenclyffe is to serve as a multi-use art-space that explores a variety of mediums.
“The concept came from Nicola Tesla’s laboratory in New York, Wardenclyffe, where he was trying to develop free energy,” said Pepper.
Indeed, the utopian and eccentric ideas of Tesla have often been a fascination for Pepper and Pipkin for some time now. Likewise, Pepper and Pipkin’s space embodies the spirit of Tesla’s failed laboratory, serving as a space where experiments in all mediums and human endeavors could take place outside of the sanctioned realities of both the prosaic and art worlds.
“The idea that you can pull energy from the air that came from a variety of sources and vibrational frequencies translates well into a metaphor for creating a unifying space for artists who work in different media to come together, a space where artists could feel safe to create without expectation or subculture norms,” said Pepper.
Taking its utopian ethos even further into the realm of infinite possibilities, Pepper and Pipkin’s intentions are for the space to exceed the mono-dimensionality of most venues in Austin.
“In addition to the normal mediums (visual, performance, music), I’ve had visions of tree houses, permanent installations, and pleasure gardens,” said co-founder Pipkin. “However, at the end of the day, it is really up to the winds, Olivia and I, and the people who come out to see what happens with the space.”
Indeed, Wardenclyffe’s open source nature will be re-written every week by the varied genres of people who come out, not just by Pipkin and Pepper.
“Anyone and anybody is allowed to submit a proposal for a project of any medium and we will surely discuss it,” said Pipkin. “While we may be the curators of the space, a lot of the things that will happen here are demanded by the community: community gardens, live drawing classes, and other participatory endeavors.”
No matter what one’s subculture affiliation one might pledge allegiance to (hippie, hipster, bro, etc.), Wardenclyffe’s refusal to be defined in terms of any specific thing makes it a safe commons where one can let their mask down and see what is behind the others’.
“I feel like other spaces in town have certain subculture norms that one has to adhere to and a sense of cliquishness,” said Pepper. “We’ve had so many different kinds of people from all different ilks and everyone relates to each other in a peaceful and cohesive way, even people who have legitimate reasons to have friction with each other. Everyone behaves very civil and cool.”
Likewise, many venues or scenes in Austin can seem insular, unconsciously urging one to stay within the confines of their particular demographic or social scene. On the contrary, Wardenclyffe strives to be a creative fertile crescent in which creators and spectators alike can explore novel experiences, and states of mind and body: a sort of liminal space characterized by the dislocation of established structures, the reversal of hierarchies, and an overall sense of uncertainty.
“People have the freedom to branch out into new avenues of experiences here,” said Pepper. “I’ve heard people say at our old venue (The Island), ‘That was the first time I’ve heard that kind of music’ or ‘I’ve never seen a movie like that.’ Just being able to have these new experiences in a profoundly vulnerable way is essentially what we’re all about.”
Wardenclyffe is located on 1101 Springdale Rd. Visit Wardenclyffegallery.com for more information on upcoming events and ways in which to get involved and volunteer.
William M. Bass