"We’re always looking to discombobulate people’s focus," said Lawrence Mesich, one-third of the art trio Trouble, the group responsible for You Are Here, a life-size string-maze within the gargantuan Knockdown Center in Maspeth, Queens. Over the next few days, the maze will fill with dancers, DJs, and musicians, from heavy-hitters of the NYC experimental scene like Arto Lindsay and Zs to a “uniquely performative pagan gospel act."
This is the ninth iteration of the Trouble Maze. For the first, in 2007, Trouble was still just a duo: husband and wife Sam Hillmer and Laura Paris. The pair worked with Chashama to build a maze out of 80+ salvaged doors from Build It Green in an unused Midtown storefront, which they filled with unusual performances, like a bicycle-powered turntable that changed the record’s tempo based on how fast the bike was pedaled. “It was this surprising little avant-garde pocket in that area,” Paris said. “It was really magical. We knew we had to do it again.”
Next they mounted a more ambitious version at Death By Audio (RIP) in 2009, with different “realms” in different colors and a lot more art. A month’s worth of musicians were scheduled to play, including NYC DIY staples like Skeletons and Stars Like Fleas. But right away the team discovered a problem: “People were like, 'I’ve come to see a show and there’s an art installation in my way,’” Paris said. After watching concert-goers start to climb the flimsy doors the first night, Paris and Hillmer went in with jigsaws and cut strategically placed viewing holes throughout.
In the next iteration, at Secret Project Robot in 2012, transparency was part of the plan. But that didn’t mean things got less complicated—Trouble collaborated with a host of Brooklyn artists and groups, filling the maze with installations, interactive treasure-box videogames by Babycastles, and wall-to-wall projections. “That one was so maximal, like, throw everyone into it,” said Mesich, who by then was part of the group.
Over the next few years, Trouble took the maze on the road: It popped up at Berlin’s West Germany Gallery, where members of Einstürzende Neubauten were among the performers, and in Chicago at refurbished Opera House Thalia Hall. Trouble also created a “kid-friendly” version at Paris and Hillmer’s daughter’s elementary school, and one for the Select Art Fair, where the structural posts were actually human. “This is a thing about the maze,” Paris said, “there’s always a tension between ideas and practicality.”
The Knockdown Center offered new ways to conceive the project. Given that the massive building, a 1903 glass-making factory, is about 50,000 square feet, “this was the first time we had a space where it didn’t make sense to push out to all corners,” Mesich said. “Here, it became an architecture. It has its own interior, its own shape, its own character and form.” Added Paris: “It goes from dark to light, and from 8 feet up to 16. It was scary adding the upward dimension; we didn’t know if it would work.”
It works. Crafted from purple 2x4s and around 55,000 feet of hot pink and orange twine, the maze has a stripped-down, minimalist quality. It’s deceptively simple-looking, and it’s not until you walk in that you realize it really is full of dead ends. There’s a schadenfreudian glee to watching people trying to get to a good spot for selfies or to watch the performances, only to be confounded by the maze’s twists and turns.
The variety of performers scheduled have similar twists and turns. Opening night featured a glycerin-slow hour-long dance performance, queer Afrofuturist Abdu Ali, esteemed hip-hop producer Sporting Life, underground art-punks Unstoppable Death Machines, Harlem skate-rapper Black Dave, and Venus X, DJ and producer of the underground GHE20G0TH1K parties. Coming up are grime and drone music, trap-influenced deep house, dancehall, electroacoustic, and more. The music was curated by Hillmer, who is also the programming director at Trans-Pecos, and several of the were bills co-curated by NYC nightlife producers like House of Feelings, MeanRed, and Beat Haus. “I tried to line something up that’s intergenerational and draws on different demographics and lifestyles,” Hillmer said. “Aesthetically there’s a kind of through-line, but socially there’s a lot of heterogeneity. And I think there’s a resonance there with the maze.”
The collective theme is part of every element of this project. During the build-out, Trouble had help from collaborators old and new; Hillmer’s parents even came in to help paint and cast sculptures. “It’s like one person has an idea, and the idea becomes this thing that gains momentum because other people are contributing their ideas,” Paris said. “Eventually it doesn’t belong to any of us. It becomes its own being.”
You Are Here (Trouble Maze) will be at the Knockdown Center through July 4th.