Suffagette still throwing stones

On her 43rd birthday last November, artist Charon Luebbers received a seemingly innocuous gift: a balloon emblazoned with the maturity-denying gag, "I demand a recount!" Five days later, she awoke to find the balloon next to her bed and a real recount under way -- the one that forever changed the way America's presidential elections will be regarded.

"I don't consider myself a political animal," says Luebbers, a stone carver, photographer and 3-D artist who resides in New Smyrna Beach. (Her background includes participation in Guillermo Gomez-Peña's "Mexterminator II" performance at that city's Atlantic Center for the Arts.) "I don't subscribe to notions of conspiracy. But of synchronicity ... "

Of the synchronicity between balloon and ballot box, there could be no doubt. In the ensuing weeks, she carried that party favor (and others just like it) to DeLand, where she took photos of the recount process, and to Tallahassee, where she testified against the Florida Legislature's resolution to name its own slate of electors. And now a balloon bearing that same slogan plays a key role in "Nothings Carved in Stone," Luebbers' latest exhibit, which opens with a public reception this Friday, March 30, at the DeLand Museum of Art.

The latest of three identically named shows, "Nothings" (whose missing apostrophe denotes "the search for meaning in the abstract") was originally planned as a multimedia exhibit inspired by the cracks in the DeLand sidewalks. But seeing the area caught up in recount fever inspired the artist to steer the exhibit in a socially conscious direction, albeit one whose "serious fun" is meant to appeal to all ages, races and political persuasions.

So its stone carvings now form the foundation of an ersatz polling place, wherein actors impersonating government workers will lead museum visitors through a re-creation of the voting process -- with no guarantee, of course, that a ballot cast will be a ballot counted. As they peruse the surrounding smorgasbord of recount photographs, poetry and audio recordings, patrons will be invited to take part in "political party games" that range from Dimpled Dominoes to the reading of election-oriented Tarot cards. (With the help of digital artist Alex DeMers, Luebbers hopes to also have the Tarot deck available in computer-game format.) Knowledge-seekers are free to ask whatever questions they wish. Here's one to get us started: "Why did the Supreme Court make a mockery of everything we learned in civics class?"

Luebbers, however, asserts the exhibit's impartiality. She's been down the controversy road before, as when Miami's St. Thomas University questioned her inclusion of the word "abortion" in an artist's statement. The feedback, she says, actually helped make her work stronger, and she now avoids knee-jerk suspicion of perceived censorship. But it's hard to miss her personal feelings when she's asked to defend the "Nothings" installation's timeliness. Given that the outcry over the Dubya Gang's rub-out of democracy has quieted to a near-whisper, will anyone care about a simple art show?

"Some may say or think that I'm tilting at windmills," Luebbers acknowledges, "or in this case oil rigs. `But` I take offense when people say, ‘The election's over. Put it behind us. Get over it.' I'm of the belief that those who would ignore history are destined to repeat it."

Hormone treatment

Creative juices -- and certain other varieties -- will flow this Sunday evening, April 1, at Sak Comedy Lab, as theater troupes offer three-minute previews of the shows they'll present at the April 20 through 29 Orlando International Fringe Festival. Among the chemically dependent: comedian Jill Shargaa, who will perform an excerpt from her "An Evening of Estrogen," and Lakeland's Steppendwarf, who will weigh in with a bit from their "Four Men and Their Testosterone: A Love Story." At press time, 16 other groups were confirmed for the preview party, including two non-locals: Ireland's Slainte Productions, who will appear in person, and Chicago's Mission: IMPROVable, who will send a one-minute video.

The festival proper will feature more out-of-towners than ever, says its producer, Brook Hanneman. (Included in the tally is the seventh visit of Britain's Eyewitness Theatre, this year with a production of "Fanny Hill.") When locals are added -- and the continuous outdoor performances promised for Heritage Square are figured in -- Fringe 2001 will host more than 100 shows, Hanneman calculates.

The indoor venues will look slightly different this year, with the Fringe's presence on West Church Street probably restricted to one venue. New developments include more theaters in the increasingly arts-oriented Church Street Exchange, plus the retention of the Gallery at Avalon Island (which is currently slated to double as the Visual Fringe art space). Too bad we'll also see a return to the Don Asher building at South Street and Magnolia Avenue; its thrust-stage layout and crappy ambience perturbed many of the groups who were exiled there last year. The good news is that the venue will be used only for kids' shows. An even better idea: Anyone who complains gets sent to Chuck E. Cheese.

Lost highway

Stop by Robin Van Arsdol's Sprockets Gallery Sprockets in the Church Street Exchange this Friday, March 30, if you want to honor Chad Moor, the architect/interior designer/ antique dealer who died in a car accident on Valentine's Day 2000. In his memory, RV will be showing his own paintings and sculptures of Corvettes, plus four or five of the mechanical drawings and auto designs Moor turned out for his personal amusement. Half of the voluntary donations collected will go to the Spirit of Life Foundation at Kansas State University, the other half to an educational fund for Moor's two young daughters. That's a good way to feel like a big wheel.

Björk of shadows

As promised, last Sunday's Oscar-night viewing party at Maitland's Enzian Theater went ahead without an official emcee. One wasn't needed. Who alive requires official confirmation that a musical number by Sting is the time to get up and take a bathroom break? Neither did we need permission to guffaw at some of the broadcast's inadvertent highlights, like the unforgettable one-two punch of seeing a way-out-of-it Winona Ryder introduce that undisputed queen of chromosomal damage, Björk. I'm sure I speak for the tickled Enzian-ites when I call for the inscrutable Icelander to host the awards next year. Give it to her now; when her release papers are rescinded, it'll be too late.