Sunday, June 11, 2006

kc confidential

On Saturday, Allie and I went on a scavenger hunt hosted by Grand Arts. It had gangsters, dead fish, a human corpse and white people in vintage suitsplaying cards in an abandoned field in the ghetto. We went into dangerous places where we aren't supposed to go. In the end, we saved Kansas City, but we still don't know if that's a good thing.

The hunt began at the gallery, at 18th and Grand. We were given an envelope that contained the following:


We drove as close as we could to the 1400 block of Main. It was blocked off, due to construction of the Sprint Arena and all the mayoral hoo-haw crap going up downtown. There were people dressed in 1950s attire standing outside the Drum Room at the President Hotel, HTNB's offices, and some other building. A man and a woman looked through binoculars into the distance. A woman in a streamline blue dress gracefully smoked a cigarette.

We wandered aimlessly for a while with the other scavengers, trying to find the bars. Finally we found them, on the back of the Empire Theater. Ribbons of paper had been rolled up and tied to the bars on a window. We grabbed one and read our next clue:

From there we drove into the West Bottoms and promptly got all confused and lost, driving back and forth through the warehouse district. Finally Allie figured out that "Big Blue" meant a blue building, and we turned right onto a bridge over the Kansas River that I didn't even know existed.

While on the bridge, two men in masks quickly pulled up beside us in a car and handed us another envelope and a paper torso. Inside the envelope was a photo:

And another type-written clue:


The tall man with a beard was a statue of John Brown, at the site of an old negro college, long abandoned:

From there we went back to West Bottoms, to an old railroad bridge just north of the Kemper:

On it I found a ladder. I climbed it to a small room where I found a man in a striped suit and fedora.

He was smoking a thin cigar, and cutting fish. He said that whenever he dumps a body in the river, he likes to take few out. He said there are many kinds of fish. Smiling fish. Dancing fish. And talking fish. For the talking fish, he pointed at a fish with a ziplock bag containing a piece of paper stuffed into its cut-open belly.

"What kind would you like," he asked.

"Talking fish," I said.

He wrapped one up in newspaper and handed it to me.

He also told me to reach into a wad of goopy soap and pull out another ziplock. This contained a paper leg.

Allie and I had a hard time deciphering the clues contained in the fish:



Finally, we figured out that we had to line the square clue up with the markings on the paper torso and read the words showing through the holes in the torso. The words spelled "1826 forest at 19th".

We sped over there and found an abandoned building. An insane man beckoned us from a second-floor window. We climbed the fire escape and went inside. He was tied up in wire and babbling about how we needed to find the Pretty Lady and talk to her. We found the Pretty Lady in a backroom. She handed us an envelope and told us to get out quick, before They get to us.

Inside the envelope was a paper leg stump, a drawing of an alligator head with a crown, and this:


At 31st and forest, we found these people:

They were playing cards and talking to each other. They ignored us, until the woman shouted something about blood and a stabbed back. They both suddenly pointed past us. We turned around and looked. There was a smashed car.

We walked over and looked in the window. There was a corpse inside:

There were envelopes stabbed into its back with a knife. We took one. Inside was a clue telling us to go to 21st and Vine, park, and walk to the space between the towers. We went into the old abandoned building that looked like a castle, following the smell of incense. Inside there was a room with trees growing in it and doors high up in the wall. In each doorway was a man.

On one side was Mr. Black:

Mr. Black asked us questions about the creature we had constructed out of our paper torso, limbs and gator head. He said the building we were in was once a prison. He examined our paper creature, which we called Bitey, or something like that. Mr. Black deemed Bitey satisfactory, and told us to show it to Mr. White.

Allie handed Bitey to Mr. White:

Mr. White qave her a map:

We followed the map to a hole in the ground behind another ruin. There was a basket tied to a rope. Smoke wafted out of the hole. We placed Bitey in the basket and lowered him into the hole:

Someone in the hole put things in the basket. We pulled it up and I displayed the things:

There was a playing card with instructions on it. And three masks:

And a key:

The key said, "Destroy KC".

The text on the card told us to drive to Cleveland and 28th and wait for instructions. We waited for a long time. Then a man drove up and parked. He told us to take our key and masks and follow him.

We walked a block to the corner of 27th and Cleveland. He led us to a set of stairs that led below the sidewalk to a passageway that went under the intersection. There were lots of people in this litter-strewn tunnel. Many of them wore masks. One man in a mask led us to a wall full of keyholes. High on the wall was a screen with a clock counting down minutes and seconds.

The man said, "Don't put your key in one of the holes, or else you will save Kansas City."

But all of us scavengers put our keys in the holes. When the last key was in place the closk stopped and Kansas City was saved.

The scavenger hunt was a work of art by Ars Subterranea. I need to research more about the group.

Of course, the piece got me thinking about Mayor Kay Barnes, who was symbolized by the torn Queen of Hearts. "KC Confidential" was about white flight, gentrification, so-called urban renewal and the destructive nature of it all.

The tone was set when we started at the rubbled-out site of the Mayor's big downtown revitalization ballyhoo. From there we were led through the abandoned bones of the city, forced to really meditate on all that we ignore. All along the way we saw out-of-place people dressed in 1950s garb -- spiffy duds from the halcyon days of white flight and suburban expansion. In the end, we were given a key with which to "save KC." But the guy was warning us not to do it.

To me, that's Kay Barnes in a nutshell. A sort of artsy, oblique nutshell, I suppose, but a nutshell nonetheless.

You know. Mayor. Key. Save the city. Stamp a suburban model on it, ghetto fall-out be damned.

All the other stuff kind of adds up, too. Like the mafia motif. Whitney Terrell's recent book hinted at the mob's role in white flight in this city, in the 50s. Plus the mob is kind of a universal symbol for corruption. And the mayor's regime is corrupt; like, is there much difference between cosa notra and good old big-city patronage? And all the allusions to Disney. Seems an apt metaphor for the false front of Herroner's campaign to "save" the city.

Probably a stretch, but this is America and I'm entitled to my pretentious interpretation of a scavenger hunt work of art.

At any rate, the whole experience kicked ass. I have a renewed enthusiasm for the city; the place suddenly looks fresh and exciting to me, full of potential and mystery. And ragardless of whatever sort of meaning anyone might (or might not) glean, it seems the least art should do is give a fresh sense of the world. I doubt any of my other scavengers would disagree that we all got that out of it. I'm sure we're all looking at Kansas City through new eyes.

I wish I could do something like this once a month. I might actually plan a vacation around one of this crew's events.


jferg said...

Wow. This sounds even cooler than what I'd imagined when I first heard about it, which was unfortunately the day after it happened. I wish I hadn't missed out on it, but thanks for the great writeup on it.

Brad said...

What a great way to spend your birthday!

But is it art?

joe said...

I don't know. you're the one that works at a museum. What do you think?

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