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Young artists, new message: The euphoria of connection

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BASS HARBOR The projects of the Mohawk Arts Collective begin with the ideas of the two founders, Andrew Simon and Pavel Ezrohi, and evolve with the added energy of invited artists who recently traveled from New York City to Bass Harbor for a week's worth of rehearsal and performance.

Youthful and vibrant, the collective centers itself in a remote coastal village. But it is a spike of activity that originates in a wide world of cultural trends and links the euphoria of globalization with the connectivity of technology to spin off new messages in the arts.

'The idea that technology has allowed us to connect with, literally, billions of people, and how does that feed into the art you want make I think that's a real question of making art today,' said Simon.

Simon and Ezrohi were recently rehearsing a variety show's worth of performances with members of a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based arts collective called GodDamn Cobras. Simon is an actor, theater director and teacher. Ezrohi is a freelance filmmaker and photographer. Both are in their late 20s and primarily live in New York, but Simon's grandparents had a home and antique store in Bass Harbor, and the two have become increasingly fond of their time and artistic productivity by the coast.

The group is rehearsing a dance based on a song called 'Home,' which was written by the alternative rock/indie folk/neo-psychedelia band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. The song came out in 2009 and was an instant hit, thanks to its upbeat sound and catchy hooks.

'For me, this was an opportunity to reclaim this song in a different way,' said Simon.

The Mohawks got its start four years ago, when Simon had an idea to set up a working retreat at his grandmother's barn.

Simon and Ezrohi wrote and performed a children's piece.

'It was an important artistic moment for the two of us,' said Simon.

'We said, This is something really important to us,'' said Ezrohi. 'This is something we can make into a tradition, and it's something we can make grow. We talked about it in terms of decades.'

The signature icon of what was then the two-person collective came about in the mohawk hairstyle. Simon shaved Ezrohi's head during that first performance.

'It's an opportunity to do something a little drastic,' says Simon. 'And in terms of recognizability, we think that helps a lot.'

The two became aware of the GodDamn Cobras through a mash-up tribute to the filmmaker John Hughes the Brooklyn collective made. The video went viral.

The Mohawks are into experiment.

'I think the Cobras are very representative of what's going on in Brooklyn,' said Ezrohi. 'They're very internet-savvy.'

'It's a real remix culture in contemporary art,' said Simon.

This summer's week-long retreat involved 12 people who worked on different aspects of live and video performance pieces a sound installation, a song from an original rock opera, a comedy sketch, a theater piece, a puppet show and more.

All the pieces 'came out pretty organically,' said Ezrohi. 'We invited everybody up and said, Anybody who has an idea, look around the table. Everyone is here to support you for the performance.''

'That's the whole concept,' said Simon. 'A lot of artists come together and work together in a house. Each person brings an idea and everybody agrees to support one another, and it culminates in a free public performance.'

Simon and Ezrohi's 2009 show, called 'It Happened,' was a children's theater piece adapted from the work of Daniil Kharms and performed 'environmentally' on a playground, in the style of the Russian avant-garde Oberiuti movement.

The 2010 show was 'The Gunpowder Plot,' an original performance piece inspired by the work of Jules Verne, Jorge Luis Borges, Sufjan Stevens and the Bible.

In 2011, Ezrohi, Simon and Justine Lee-Mills created several varied pieces in New York, then spent the week on Mount Desert Island presenting them to the public. The collection included a piece called 'The Nuptials,' a night of 12 theatrical weddings, and a children's show called 'Another Part of the Island,' involving a lobsterman figuring out where all the lobsters have gone.

This year's piece was called 'Punch the Moon.' Journey and connection formed the theme.

'It's about travel in a broad sense crossing frontiers, crossing boundaries, crossing borders and performing for a community in another place,' said Simon. 'It's this fantastic combination of now knowing the Cobras, using the internet to get connected to them, and then coming to this remote place and living together and eating together and really forcing ourselves into this very small space to make the work, finding a connection with someone and expressing that, and then putting the work online. It's this cycle.'

For both men, the point on the cycle that is the Bass Harbor community has become an increasingly important source of inspiration.

'Each summer, both of us wind up spending more and more time here,' Simon said. 'There's something very special here for both of us. After living in New York for a while, there's a real appeal, a real charm to small-town living. It feeds into the work we want to do and the opportunity we see for making art and sharing that with the public.'

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