Our urban existence is noisy, complex, and infinitely overlapped with various sounds, dialogues, images, and encounters. Artists are able to pluck out of that reality crystallized observations of beauty. While art inside the gallery has the privilege of providing clarity and focus for this work, it is often perceived as a boring, elite, or intimidating space for unacquainted audiences. But when exhibitions move to the outdoors seeking to appeal to the general public, it is a challenge to make a show that protects the refinement of artistic tradition, yet keeps the 21st-century citizen engaged.
With the cacophony of a block party, the i45 gallery association’s Convergent Frequencies gave Inman Park a public art spectacle—a giant video projection, live music, performers on top of hefty shipping containers, Christmas lights, a giant balloon, and bags of merchandise. While it was successful as a charming neighborhood festival, did it do its best to present this intersection of artworks and urban space? Would it have been a better show, and thereby a better representative of fine art culture, if it was pared down and tightly curated?
Work by three artists, Matt Gilbert, Matt Haffner, and Nat Slaughter, co-occupied three shipping containers and an empty lot that was a rather compelling environment in and of itself. On one side of this gravel lot are architectural remains—a dismantled granite wall and a bridge over the street that goes nowhere. Both are evidence of an industrial building that has disappeared. On the other side of the street is a long, corrugated wall, full of the blocky paint-outs of removed graffiti so typical of Atlanta.
Perhaps the character of the space could have been better preserved if the placement and editing of art elements were handled with more delicacy. There could have been more places to rest and examine the works.
Were shipping containers the best expenditure of money? They are quite expensive and difficult to move. Did artwork need to be on every surface of those containers, including the top? Is it a coincidence that shipping containers were featured prominently in past events surrounding Art Basel in Miami, to the point of almost being unofficial mascots?
Did the drink bar, other promotional tables, and George Long’s “ubiquitous food cart,” as Jerry Cullum calls it, need to be lined up circus-style at the periphery, blocking the view of the ruins? Instead, could they have been placed across the street and out of the way of the art space?
The show harks on a collective identity that many local artists promote about our locale. Despite branding attempts by many a professional marketer, prominent subjects include graffiti, railroads, car culture, industrial architecture, and a nostalgia for quirky landmarks soon to be transmogrified by gentrification.
Haffner’s graffiti-esque illustrations, craftily installed over the difficult surfaces of the shipping containers, serve as a Rolodex of important local sites—the Stacks lofts in Cabbagetown, Dekalb Avenue’s MARTA overpass, the fantastic triangular dry-cleaning building in Little Five Points, and a convenience store. His silhouetted graphic fictions read like suburban noir. Haffner chose to show the discolored marks around those silhouettes left over from the adhesive medium. Was this a reference to paint-outs or a detail not necessary to cover up for an evening show?
Although it was not posted anywhere that I could see, what’s significant about Gilbert’s gigantic video projection is its technical innovation. That he chose to project site-specific video did not seem particularly important to his piece, Selective Disturbance. He employs a glitch that occurs in broadcasting digital video. Because the whole picture is separated into different channels during transmission, color data can be interrupted by movement data causing a ghost effect. The resulting projection consisted of the landscape mixed with the motions of dance performers and a violinist. Too bad it wasn’t dark enough to see well. In addition to the projection, Gilbert perched on top of one container, mixing the sound of the violinist, who played on top of another cargo container. Dancers jumped up and down on another. All this bled into and interrupted the subtle contemplation of the sound work inside the containers. I wonder: Was there a curator to reel all of this in?
At the subtlest core of this show, tucked inside the privacy of the shipping containers were Slaughter’s binaural sound recordings, taken from extensive walks down local streets, including Irwin, Airline, and Glen Iris streets. Reminiscent of Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s binaural audio walks, this sound portrait was unmanipulated and presented unceremoniously.
Alas, a few times I overheard a person proclaim, “Where’s the art?” At times cars swooshed and growled, terrorizing the interiors of the shipping containers, shuffling the faint of heart back outside to the party. At other times, birds chirped, footsteps crunched at a brisk pace, and church goers chattered softly after a service. Humble wooden crates for sitting upon were placed inside and lit from within.
Placed on top of the wooden crates are copies of Slaughter’s artist statements, which were quite informative as well as poetic, but were in low supply and unfortunately difficult to read given the low light. The inner walls of the shipping containers were left unmasked. At times, as small groups of people gathered patiently to listen with the rumble of hyper activity outside, it felt as if we were all traveling as hobos on some nighttime train ride.
Random, accidental overlapping of elements can be quite profound when manipulated with care. Classic avant-garde composers like Charles Ives and Pauline Oliveros influenced contemporary art with their innovative use of such free-floating mixology of sound.
In this case, however, I don’t think the overlapping, ahem, converging of frequencies was employed in a way that enhanced the content of the overall exhibit. The best moments of the show were the least crowded ones.
Then again, I’m not sure this show was intended to be more than a lightly entertaining joy ride working as an experimental tool to engage new members into the arts community.