One man’s trash may just be another man’s come-up

The pop charts finally reflect some thrift-store love. Macklemore’s hit “Thrift Shop” passes on Gucci in favor of your Grandpa’s button-up and is as much at home digging for his “come-up” in a pile of musty clothes as he is rocking a zebra onesie in the club. Macklemore merges the thrift shop with the party.

Guilford College is also awash with thrift-store swag, recasting second-hand clothes into first-hand style. At a school threaded in thrift-shop garb, who is our Macklemore? Who merges seemingly disparate elements of style into something cohesive?

Visiting Instructor of Art Mark Dixon, of course.

Recasting the old and obsolete, Dixon’s performance art project, “Invisible,” explores new ways of making music. Along with primary collaborator Bart Trotman, Dixon digs deep into thrift-shop oddities, transforming outcasts of consumerism into instruments.

“There’s no way you can’t be fascinated by his work,” said Assistant Professor of Art Kathryn Shields.

So what exactly is “Invisible?”

Physically, “Invisible” is an hour-long musical performance using artist-created instruments, including the Selectric Keyboard, a typewriter turned piano.

Utilizing the engineering expertise of collaborator Fred Snider, the group created Rhythm 1001, a mechanical rendering of modern-day beat-making technology. A bass drum, a cymbal and even a plastic cup are fair game. As a peg passes a switch on Rhythm 1001’s wheel, it triggers the instrument’s sound.

According to the “Invisible” website, “Trotman has visited nearly every second-hand store in the Southeast and has taken from most of them a story.”

Pulling together “samples taken from self-help tapes, answering machine messages, acting instructions and vocabulary lessons,” Trotman stuffs the sensory overload of modern-day living into tracks that are simultaneously overwhelming and absurdly funny.

“You have a — BEEP — I was rudely cut off,” sounds out “End-User Archive,” Trotman’s creation reminiscent of “Revolution #9.” “I was trying to tell you to have a very safe, merry Christmas … and try not to eat too much. We got enough fat folks in the world. Love you. Bye.”

How do they integrate all of these different elements? The story began when Dixon was a student here at Guilford, studying the art of sculpture.

“As much as I could scrape off other responsibilities, I was in the art studio,” said Dixon.

At the same time, he played in a popular rock band, performing at least once a week. When Dixon left college, he directed most of his attention to sculpture, but also began creating his own instruments as a “sidelined thing.”

It was then that Dixon faced a stark new reality. Without the captive audience of college students, Dixon realized the extent of the competition for attention. How could he compete?

“This was the site of the crossroads,” said Dixon.

In 2006, Dixon started “Invisible,” uniting the rigor that shaped his sculpting career with the immediate spark of his music. The tinkering with musical instruments, previously thought to be a secondary focus, emerged instrumental in Dixon’s work with “Invisible.”

“That’s what I try to tell my students,” said Dixon, as he twisted a paper clip into a mini-lightning rod and twirled the new shape absentmindedly in his fingers. “You’re not sculpting because you’re taking long walks or playing video games or obsessively making lists. What you’re already doing can be brought into the fold.”

Admittedly, “Invisible” is messy.

“From loading dock to loading dock, it’s 12 hours,” said Dixon. “We perform maybe 40 minutes.”

Invisible is measured better by the experience than a neatly packaged mp3 and is difficult to translate into commoditized form. Yet, that very mess is what draws Dixon onward.

“If I didn’t love the mess, then I’d have to think about what I’m doing.”

While Macklemore says, “They had a broken keyboard. I bought a broken keyboard,” Dixon takes an old keyboard and makes a Selectric Piano.

You have a mess. What will you make?