For four weeks in October, artist Gyun Hur made her way to Piedmont Park every Saturday, laid out a yellow blanket on the grass, and stared at the sky. Nearby, a green metal box, originally installed to camouflage the park’s electrical needs, was transformed into a kind of billboard. Printed in vinyl letters, the narration reads:
“SATURDAY 11:00 AM
GIRL ON YELLOW BLANKET
STARES OFF INTO THE SKY.
HER PHONE RINGS.
RARELY DOES SHE ANSWER,
BUT YOU CAN TRY.”
Below in chalk, Hur has written her real telephone number.
Lee Walton and Flux Projects
This subtle performance was a part of Lee Walton’s Momentary Performances, a series of seemingly banal acts that Walton’s team has habitually repeated throughout Atlanta from October 4-31. These actions occur at specific windows of time and are literally and figuratively punctuated by the sentences describing them nearby. Stemming from Walton’s interest in everyday actions in public life, these happenings are described as amplifications of everyday occurrences meant to blur the lines between real life and theater.
Though the project had the potential to be little more than the physical manifestation of a Foursquare check-in, Momentary Performances was able to defy the spectacle associated both with traditional theater and contemporary online social platforms. Walton’s project succeeds at challenging the physical boundaries of performance, while encouraging a viewer to see their environment poetically.
Describing her role in Momentary Performances, Hur explained that it was “for people whose Saturday morning routines are in Piedmont Park, and out of nowhere they’re encountering the moment.” When I spoke with Hur, she expressed how the project aligned with her own art practice and her growing interest in performance.
Expanding on the impact of these subtle gestures, she writes on her blog that the encounter, as a fleeting experience, can be at the crux of a work of art: “Art sometimes should not require too much out of [the] audience. A simple response to a piece and a cracking moment of shifting [the audience's] way of seeing and thinking would be just good enough.” However ephemeral, the work’s content can be the moment in which the viewer’s perception and routine are disrupted.
Momentary Performances is just one example of a contemporary art practice that uses public space to confront an unsuspecting audience. Lee Walton can be contextualized within a group of artists seeking to engage with viewers and participants that would not normally go to a gallery or museum. Artists who engage in public practice are veering away from traditional art objects as the product, and instead thinking of objects as another means to an end. To be clear, I am not just talking about street art, but art that revolves around abstract concepts like participation, agency, and collective identity.
Nato Thompson and Creative Time
This kind of socially engaged art practice was echoed by Nato Thompson, the chief curator of Creative Time, in his talk at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center on October 19. As an organization dedicated to art in the public domain, Creative Time has set the precedent and continues to push the parameters of art today.
Thompson primarily spoke of three projects supported by Creative Time: Jeremy Deller’s It Is What It Is, Paul Chan’s Waiting for Godot in New Orleans, and Paul Ramirez Jonas’s Key to the City project. Each public intervention revolved around producing dialogue and tested the conditions of perception and interaction in the public sphere. Like Walton, Chan challenged traditional notions of theater to create a production of Waiting for Godot in two neighborhoods destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. For It Is What It Is, Deller used the remnants of a car that was once used as a bomb in Iraq to provoke conversations with Americans about the war.
In Paul Ramirez Jonas’s Key to the City project, the artist created keys to the city reserved for anyone—not just heroes and dignitaries. The keys opened up doors and gates within art and non-art institutions throughout the city’s five boroughs. Because the keys were collectible objects whose value was created only in associated with the project, their presence defies traditional constraints of measuring a work’s success. Instead, Ramirez’s focus was his attempt to raise consciousness about access, authority, and participation.
Where to now?
Though the intentions of Lee Walton’s Momentary Performances focus more on reception than participation, the project maintained, as Gyun Hur suggested, the possibilities of shifting one’s perception in an instant—a goal that currently resonates throughout contemporary art, regardless of the medium. From quite ephemeral moments to socially driven projects, art in the public sphere has no prescribed form or agenda, promoting interdisciplinary cross-pollination beyond the art world.
In his talk, Nato Thompson urged cultural producers in Atlanta to move beyond institutional walls, to think about participation at the root of making art, and to disrupt traditional notions of art practice. Although, recently, public art has been an initiative largely spearheaded by Flux Projects, we cannot rely on one organization to curate all public art endeavors in Atlanta.
I’m curious to see if Thompson’s call will be answered by others. Though it may seem counter-intuitive to object-oriented institutions, gallerists and museums can in fact become central to public practice by developing sites for archives, research, discussion, and ephemera. Critical dialogue can blossom in Atlanta, but only through a diversity of perspectives, references, and goals.
Lee Walton will be speaking about his work at 7:30PM on Monday, November 15, at Emory University Visual Arts Gallery.
Kristin Juárez is a recent transplant from Los Angeles conducting a fellowship at the High Museum of Art. This column maps her exploration of Atlanta’s art scene as a newcomer. With one foot testing the water of local arts practice and the other firmly planted in a greater landscape of cultural production, Juárez uses both to gauge the potential of the visual arts to impact our lives. How can art provide meaningful, sustained discourse that will help us articulate, and be held accountable for, what is at stake in the world today?
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