Please welcome today’s guest contributor, Evan Levy, an artist, organizer, and activist who has served as director of Art in Freedom Park, president and editorial adviser to ART PAPERS magazine, and coordinator of the City of Atlanta’s Public Art Program.
The interview with Louis Corrigan below is the culmination of over a month of email conversations. It appears here in full and unabridged.
It began as a mystery: Who was this person with resources and ideas advocating and seeding structural changes in the Atlanta arts ecology? I was intrigued and found out quickly that many people shared in this curiosity. My intention was to have a broader dialogue about art. What appears in this interview is not only an answer to what drives Louis Corrigan, founder of Flux Projects and Possible Futures, but also an intellectual challenge to use the entire city as a platform for the imagination.
Evan Levy: You have chosen a relatively obscure genre of art to support and bring to the public realm. How did you get interested in performance and temporary conceptual works?
Louis Corrigan: I’m not sure it’s really that obscure. In many cities around the world you see tremendous interest in fairly conceptual temporary public installations and performance work. Lee Walton, who did the Momentary Performances piece for Flux Projects, has done interactive pieces in numerous cities, including some not known for cutting edge art. Nuit Blanche public art nights in cities like Toronto, Paris, and Madrid regularly feature such work.
In fact, in his ART PAPERS Live! talk three years ago, Daniel Canogar showed an amazing piece about immigration that he projected onto Madrid’s old city gates. That got me and Susan Bridges scheming about what could happen here.
I think there’s rising interest in temporary work in the public sphere partly due to disenchantment with conservative civic forces that seem to equate public art with boring permanent sculptures. If it’s not permanent, you can take more risks and potentially have more impact.
We are all more connected than ever before through cell phones, email, texting, IM, and Facebook, but we’re less connected physically, and have fewer reasons to be, especially in a car culture like Atlanta. Temporary public pieces bring people out of their virtual bubbles and invite them to engage each other and re-create public space.
Now that you have immersed yourself in this field, what qualities define successful public intervention?
The artist Raphael Lozano-Hemmer was here recently for ART PAPERS Live!, and he talked about his public art work as creating “platforms of participation,” meaning participation by the audience. He’s doing conceptual work where he provides ways for people to engage the piece, often by engaging each other. That’s a powerful idea.
It also speaks to something that any successful public intervention requires, which is that people have to notice it and be drawn into some dialogue with it. I don’t care how elegant or rich the idea of a piece might be, if it doesn’t succeed in engaging a significant number of people then it’s a failure in my view. That seems like a modest criterion for success, but it’s something that many artists rooted in a studio practice don’t think about: How will an audience experience a piece, and what impact do you want it to have?
I wouldn’t say I’m a huge fan of what often falls under the category of “conceptual art,” because I think it can be off-putting in an art-about-art way that functions to exclude most of the public. It can be merely clever so that the artist statement is often better than the actual work. I like art that works aesthetically, with a sensual, experiential impact.
But I’m increasingly interested in work that implicates the viewer in its strategy as some form of active participant. When I was in grad school in literature, I taught a class about reader-response theory. I thought a lot about the role of the reader/viewer in creating meaning even in conventional narrative texts, and I had a chance to push my own comfort level with how far one could take this as a narrative strategy before it became so open that I lost interest.
Atlanta is a city long dominated by a conservative business culture and a consumer culture of contentment. These can be shallow, soulless things. Our city needs public art that engages and challenges this dominant culture. Atlanta has a rich and complex history that continues to evolve in interesting ways, and I believe public art can play an important role in that evolution.
The best art interventions create fissures that break up the complacent surfaces and create a space for new flows of energy, for people to re-evaluate what is possible both in their own lives and in this city, to create new relationships. At one level, this amounts to literally reclaiming the streets as a place for community, for art, for joy, for those things that you cannot buy. To do this, I’ve realized we also need to query the city’s history, including the history of racial conflict that has greatly shaped public space in Atlanta.
Was there a first moment or a specific work that you encountered that catalyzed your interest?
I was a big Beatles fan growing up. One of the first pieces of interactive conceptual art I ever encountered, quite indirectly, was in reading about John Lennon’s first meeting with Yoko Ono where he saw her piece inviting viewers to hammer a nail into a board. I was probably 11 years old when I read that, and I was like, “Whoa, really?” It expanded what I understood art to be.
In a previous conversation, you also mentioned the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
Yes, I’ve been inspired by their work, and in particular the great Maysles brothers’ documentaries of their work, which I watched about eight years ago. I especially love the Running Fence project in northern California in the 1970s.
The Maysles’ film gives you a sense of what the work involved. [potlatch — that is, the gift — in grad school through George Bataille. Now Bataille is crazy, but he discussed the idea of potlatch within an odd economic argument that I liked. Basically, some expenditures seem to make no sense; they seem to be a mere squandering of resources, beyond reason, for “mere” pleasure. Why does anyone spend money on fireworks, for example? You’re almost literally burning your money by doing so, and for what, a momentary spectacle. But think how important fireworks are as a communal ritual in America, and in Atlanta, as a way to drive traffic to Lenox Square mall or the Braves game or downtown Decatur. They create goodwill, and in the accounting world, goodwill is an asset. What at first seems like an extravagant waste, something completely unnecessary and useless, suddenly looks extraordinarily productive.
I came back to this idea five years ago when I was working with the artist Amber Boardman on a potential collaboration. It became clear to me that a potlatch-like gift can be very generative. It can create new social relationships and even obligations, but those obligations can be paid in many ways. It’s a call that asks for and even requires a response that in turn leads to more responses. Potentially, it’s a means of triggering a cascade of new social relationships that can transform a community.
So Christo’s fence, like much art, is a completely nutty and pointless thing – a potlatch — that’s recouped by the fact of its sheer beauty and its success in structuring and creating a new public, which is perhaps the key part of the project.
Shared public experience seems to be important to you, but you also used the term “tribal” in a former conversation. Do you see art as more shamanistic or revolutionary?
Until recently, I would have said revolutionary, though maybe I’m not clear what the terms mean to you. I think of revolutions in art and science, paradigm shifts, as mostly an intellectual, analytical, formal process. Even if the thinking gets done in paint, that new work changes people. But history shows that the social milieu and the power relations embedded in it determine whether a good idea catches or not. That is, revolutions involve people, social relationships, and not ideas alone.
One of the things I’ve become interested in is the possibility that you might be able to foster a transformation through a shared public experience. Call it a conversion experience. It’s knowledge through the senses.
I think Le Flash 2009 succeeded partly due to a sense of “too-muchness” where you’re confronted and surprised by the diversity and amount of creative talent around you, partly by the communal energy that comes from gathering everybody together, and partly through a liminal sense of breakthrough, of experiencing a new psychic space where suddenly you see something new that’s possible.
In Blake Williams’ film of that evening, May the Light Affect, he captures a moment that perfectly conveys this feeling. About 15 minutes before the end, the screen fades to black before entering the final segment focused on gloATL. Then a blurred image appears. The dancers materialize in slow motion from the blur coming straight at the viewer in a swarm. You’re suddenly in the alternative reality of a dream where the world is much more beautiful than you ever imagined. That’s what the evening felt like to me and I think to a lot of people.
Film readily produces this feeling of strangeness and expansiveness, but it’s rare to experience this in the real world, particularly in a communal setting. But that’s something to shoot for. So by “tribal,” I mean an emotional experience that might solidify a new sense of community.
If metaphorically speaking you are conducting an experiment on the Atlanta arts community by awarding grants to artists, writers, and organizations, is a theory at work, and is your hypothesis working?
I’ve used the word “experiment,” but that sounds very clinical, like I’m running a science project. That’s not the way it is. I’m emotionally involved and cheering for success. But it’s kind of like a relationship. You love her. You see the potential for something beautiful. But you can’t be sure if it’s really going to work out, if you’re both willing to risk enough to see what you can become. What is Atlanta’s arts community really capable of?
The hypothesis is that there’s amazing talent here and that some significant, directed financial help and encouragement can tip the arts community so it reaches a new level where the momentum begins to feed on itself. For example, more artists might reasonably want to stay here to do their work and maybe even move here to work. More collectors would collect Atlanta’s artists and buy from Atlanta’s gallerists. More arts patrons with more money would step up to fund bolder projects.
This often seems so close to happening that it’s easy to see how it might. I am here because Lucinda Bunnen is here, because Louise Shaw is here, because Corinne Adams is here, because Marcia Wood is here, because Susan Bridges is here, because Marianne Lambert is here, because Anne Dennington is here, because Nancy Solomon is here, because you, Evan, are here. Monica Campana and Blacki Migliozzi can make Living Walls happen partly because Matt Haffner is here, Hense is here, Michi is here, Karen Tauches is here, Chris Appleton is here, Priscilla Smith is here. Fahamou Pecou is here because Radcliffe Bailey is here, because Kojo Griffin is here, because Charles Nelson was here. Gyun Hur is here because SCAD is here, because Jiha Moon is here, because Scott Ingram is here, because Lloyd Benjamin is here. Janelle Monae is here because Big Boi is here. You can play this game ad infinitum in every direction and into the future. What happens if Gyun Hur stays here? What happens if Lauri Stallings stays here? What happens if Michael Rooks stays here?
I think this all requires a dual process of community-building: making the Atlanta arts community visible to itself and to others. Atlanta is a small place. So I’m always surprised when arts people that I assume know each other don’t. This is even more true when you step outside of the traditional silos. Visual arts people don’t know performing arts people and vice versa.
Clearly, many different arts organizations and artists in Atlanta have been finding great ways to collaborate for years. This is not new. But not enough of the participants have a clear sense of the entire arts ecosystem here — I know I don’t yet. If people did, they would find even more opportunities for getting involved, for collaborating, for helping each other succeed. And everybody would be more ambitious. As soon as you even begin to grasp the diversity and richness of talent here, you get very excited about the possibilities and start expecting more of everybody.
A number of my initiatives — the support of arts criticism, support of membership drives for the Atlanta Contemporary and MOCA-GA, and the evolving series of art community gatherings — are designed to nurture awareness, conversation, and more active participation at least from the core constituents.
But ultimately, the issue does come back to insufficient financial support for the arts in Atlanta. My theory is that we can all do a lot before we run into that hurdle, but the hurdle is still there. The only way you ever get over that hurdle is for artists and arts organizations to be more visible and relevant to the rest of Atlanta. You have to matter to more people so that more people want to support what you’re doing. What I tell everyone is that no matter how great your programs are, no matter how hard you’re working at them, the number of people you’re reaching is a fraction of your potential audience. What you’re doing is nearly invisible to most people in the city. But there’s no reason that should remain the case.
Flux Projects and other public art initiatives like i45’s “Convergent Frequencies” are one way of trying to engage a broader public. Thankfully, other talented groups are working at this too, including Art on the Beltline, WonderRoot, Living Walls, Luminocity, Atlanta Streets Alive, and Public Acts of Art. These things may begin as relatively modest infiltrations, but I would like to see them become pervasive. I want to feel like I live in a place saturated with creativity. This needs to happen both within the natural communal geography of arts-friendly in-town neighborhoods but also in less expected places like Lenox Square mall. You want to create a feedback loop where you build it and the audience comes, and because they come, you can build it bigger and better and bolder next time.
Lenox, in particular, is interesting to me because it’s probably the largest gathering place in the city, with over 100,000 people passing through there on a Saturday. [Click here for a review of Bloom, presented by Flux Projects at Lenox Square mall.] While it’s located in an affluent, mostly white suburb, it attracts a racially, ethnically and socially diverse crowd, including tourists from other parts of Georgia and other parts of the world. Most of these people are rarely exposed to Atlanta’s art culture. A month-long project at Lenox will potentially reach over half a million people, which is equivalent to a blockbuster show at the High.
Atlanta’s artists and arts organizations also need to see themselves in the context of the international art community which must in turn have a way of seeing Atlanta’s artists. Artadia has just published a book that presents some of Atlanta’s best artists alongside their peers from four other U.S. cities. This is a surprisingly rare opportunity for Atlanta’s artists to enter a broader dialogue. The new Possible Futures book Atlanta Art Now that Cinque Hicks, Cathy Fox, and Jerry Cullum are working on should complement the Artadia project by presenting a broader look at Atlanta’s art scene and offering at least one angle for making it intelligible.
So far, the experiment is showing promise. The attention that Flux Projects and I have received from the arts community certainly suggests this is all a good idea. I’m also grateful that so many talented people have stepped up to provide their creative energy for Flux and the other initiatives. None of this would amount to anything without that buy-in. But it’s still early on. Keep in mind, it’s also an experiment in the sense of simply trying some new things and seeing what works and what doesn’t. Some things are not going to work. You try to be brutally honest about that and find a better way in the future.
What encounter with art left you most baffled?
I’m frequently baffled going to galleries in Chelsea where I wonder why anyone is buying some of the work on display and how the gallerists can find it worth showing. The art world definitely suffers from an emperor has no clothes syndrome because not enough responsible voices are willing to say that certain work is bad and not worth our attention, despite what the market or some major institution says.
I was in New York last year for the Armory Show weekend and got to see that, plus the Whitney Biennial and the controversial Jeff Koons-curated show Skin Fruit at the New Museum. It was all a bit demoralizing. The New Museum show, for example, elicited much criticism for the ethics of featuring work from the collection of one of the museum’s directors as curated by an art star who’s an important part of that collection. I must say, none of that bothers me much. The real problem is that Dakis Joannou’s collection is pretty horrible. Even the stronger pieces were sullied by the association.
It may be an old-fashioned idea, but I still believe that critics have the power to hold major institutions accountable for their aesthetic choices and help them to become better.
Many works in the art historical canon were controversial and pushed buttons and could be deemed unpopular with the public. Can you describe a work of art you did not like but thought was important?
I put a lot of artists in the category of “good at what they do, but I’m not that interested in what they do.” Examples would be folks like Dan Flavin or Sol LeWitt. I’m actually surprised when I’m engaged by something in this minimalist conceptual vein. A year or so ago, Zwirner Gallery in New York had one of Fred Sandback’s yarn installations that created these wonderful spatial planes that felt like a force field of overlapping volumes. I walked around it for a long time and had a hard time leaving the gallery.
But I tend to be drawn more to figurative, more emotionally messy work, especially stuff dealing with the body. One thing I saw again recently that I think is important but that I don’t really like is Nathalie Djurberg’s stop motion animations. Her work is partly about claiming female power through a very playful, abject exploration of sometimes pornographic representations of the female body. This work is surely offensive to a lot of people. I find it ultimately assaulting. Still, it feels important in the sense of clearing a space for maybe more nuanced work.
In a different vein, the Marina Abramovic retrospective at MOMA was one of the most powerful shows I’ve ever seen. I spent hours going through it and left just emotionally drained. This was a blockbuster show at America’s leading modern art museum, and yet it still pushed many buttons. A number of artists that I respect feel uncomfortable with this work, some of it over 30 years old.
Take something like Rhythm 0, the performance Abramovic did in 1974 in Naples. She assembled dozens of items, including a gun with a bullet, a knife, and lipstick, and for six hours she let audience members do whatever they wanted to her. At one point, someone loaded the gun and posed her with it aimed at her throat. This performance survives mainly as photographs, and in many of them she is crying. This is a major work that has lost none of its power to shock and move. It’s the kind of piece that every contemporary artist must measure themselves by.
The exhibition gave me my first chance to see many of her early video pieces where, either alone or with her then partner Ulay, Marina tests her will. I love some of these pieces. Like AAA-AAA where she and Ulay scream in each other’s face for 15 minutes until they’re exhausted, or Light/Dark where they slap each other in the face for 20 minutes, or Expansion in Space where they each batter themselves by repeatedly walking naked into mobile columns trying to move them.
Other pieces go too far for me. Like Rhythm 10 where she jabs a knife as fast as she can between the fingers on one hand, changing knives each time she cuts herself. Or Rhythm 4 where she sits over an air blower, taking in as much air as possible until she passes out. All of this work would seem pointlessly masochistic and appalling if you couldn’t arrive at some confidence that Marina is exploring something that’s important and relevant both to her and to us: What are we capable of enduring, and how does that empower us? But this is difficult work, and it’s interesting to me which pieces cross my threshold.
You are on the board of ART PAPERS magazine, and have funded ArtsCriticATL and BURNAWAY. What type of dialogue around art can be of consequence to anyone outside the art world?
You have to begin with the notion that aesthetic experience matters to people whether they realize that or not, and so a dialogue around it can too. I think most art people appreciate the hermetic fine art experience. But you also need to see the aesthetic as part of society.
Our culture is actually permeated with aesthetic experience in areas like religion and sports that have a powerful pull on most Americans. For example, I was recently struck anew by the amazing pageantry of a high school football game, the elaborate and colorful costumes worn by the players and the members of the marching band, the synchronized and ordered rhythm of the entire evening’s performance. You get a different version of that from a Christmas Eve Mass with the procession of priests and altar servers, the red-robed choir, and the audience itself dressed to the hilt. If you took these colorful rituals out of their natural settings and placed them within an art museum, they would seem absurdly spectacular greatly in excess of whatever you’re likely to see hanging on the walls.
Part of the problem is that the people most engaged in the art world discourse — artists, curators, academics, critics – now go through a long process of professionalization that, oddly, can leave them feeling like they can only talk to themselves. It can blind them to the idea that art can and should matter to a broader world. It’s true that these folks need to be conversant with art history, critical theory, the art market, and a specialized language. But the crucial intangibles are talent, taste and judgment.
The best critics are driven by a morality of the senses that amounts to a form of social conscience. You see something that matters and you want to make sense of it, for yourself and for others. If it’s important enough to talk about, the critic must be able and willing to be generous with readers and explain in clear language why it’s important.
Art serves as a place of both play and critique. It can analyze and question the world we know, but it can also propose alternatives. In fact, the power of art is often to make alternative worlds so real that we are no longer willing to think of them as mere fictions. That’s one way art vies with the role of traditional religions in shaping how we live.
From a different angle, art can also create a space for interactions and conversations that otherwise aren’t taking place in our society. Sometimes it does this through disguise, like the way Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show provides better news than TV news shows. Nato Thompson of Creative Time recently spoke at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center about traveling around with Jeremy Deller’s art-as-conversation piece It Is What It Is: Conversations About Iraq. He said regular people on the street would come up to him and ask, “What’s going on?” They were curious. But he would never say “This is an art piece” because he learned that that would end the person’s curiosity — as in “Oh, it’s just art, ok.”
People who write about art ultimately must find a way to nurture that broader public’s curiosity rather than preemptively closing it off.
Sometimes even in the business sector a large influx of capital can create problems. People have questioned whether your style of direct philanthropy could warp artists into distorting their practice and that specific arts organizations could become too reliant on one donor. Can you address this concern and how short-term financial support might serve as a model to generate long-term revenue streams?
If you know the answer to that, please tell me! Seriously, I’ve tried simply to give people a boost. It’s more significant in the case of BURNAWAY or ArtsCriticATL, but neither depended on my grant to stay in business. Each has developed its own strategy for using the grant to help grow and develop the business, and creating more ad revenue is part of that.
The truth is that most small to mid-sized arts organizations depend to some degree on a handful of key donors. You can lose a couple and keep going, but you might need to start cutting your programming. That’s just the reality.
It is true than an influx of capital can lead to distortions in the business world. But history also shows that, if an opportunity is significant and the influx of capital great enough, it can lead fairly rapidly to meaningful innovation. Think of the advent of railroads, the rise of the automobile or the internet boom. Enormous amounts of money are utterly wasted, but something genuinely new is created. I would love to see my investment in Atlanta’s art community spur a frenzy of investment by others that leads to something much better than what I can imagine.
As for warping artists, I don’t think that’s possible. Artists are looking for opportunities to do their thing, but they are smart, stubborn people. They have to be. I’ve talked to a lot of artists about project ideas, sometimes even suggesting possibilities. My good ideas lead to excitement and brainstorming; my bad ideas lead to polite silence and, later, a much better idea from the artist.
Can you cite a convincing argument for government funding?
Yes. Creative centers attract smart, innovative people, and that’s good for the quality of life and economic well being. I believe that the true multiplier effect is so great that you can’t count it accurately; it amounts to the difference between being dead or alive. The public discussion around government funding is astonishingly ignorant on this point. If you think about where the United States sits in the global economy, we have to nurture our creativity, innovation, and problem-solving abilities, or we are simply lost. This is still America’s great competitive advantage, but we will certainly lose it if we continue to take it for granted. We have to fund our imaginations.
Unfortunately, arts advocates sometimes seem too fearful of losing what little funding that the arts receive now, and they don’t risk a frontal assault on the retrograde forces of ignorance that always seem to pop up and scare politicians. At the same time, artists, arts organizations, and their advocates must understand that they need to be more relevant to a broader audience and become more articulate, organized, and persistent in educating politicians and the public. Everyone who gets significant money from the government has a powerful lobby, and arts leaders must learn to play that game.
Why did you choose a very hands-on approach to funding as opposed to anonymously contributing to Metro Atlanta Arts Fund or a donor-advised fund at the Community Foundation?
The Community Foundation and MAAF play a crucial role in funding Atlanta arts organizations, with major grants over the last few years to two organizations I’m involved with (Atlanta Celebrates Photography and ART PAPERS). I also think MAAF’s Lisa Cremin and her colleagues showed real leadership in assessing the recession’s impact and reconfiguring their support into operating grants to sustain organizations.
But I’ve been close enough to the Atlanta art world trenches to see both opportunities and needs that were, at least for now, beyond the funding parameters of such traditional entities. Plus, I realized I could personally have an impact, potentially a decisive one. There simply was no Atlanta entity like Flux Projects devoted to presenting temporary public projects throughout the year and on a fairly ambitious scale.
Very few established funders are willing to support young, nearly start-up ventures like ArtsCriticATL or BURNAWAY. But it seemed completely obvious to me that they had identified a gaping void in Atlanta’s cultural conversation and were doing a great job of filling it and that almost nothing was as important to the Atlanta art scene as supporting them. So a lot of this has been just thinking through a need and stumbling upon the obvious solution.
Of course, the other answer to your question is that I just like being hands-on. What could be more fun than encountering gloATL, this incredible one-month-old dance company, and thinking they would be amazing in the streets of Castleberry, then helping make that happen and being blown away by how amazing they were? Very few things can top the deep satisfaction of something like that. I’ve always spent my time around creative people, especially writers and artists. It’s a great honor to play some role in their endeavors. It’s addictive.
You mentioned that Atlanta’s arts ecology has “obvious” needs. What else might be on your “obvious” list, in case another arts patron was interested in following your example?
There’s plenty to do, particularly if you could find a group of patrons with sizable checkbooks that wanted to have a legacy impact on the city. Atlanta needs a contemporary art institution that’s capable of staging major exhibitions by national and international artists. I think it should eventually house a related permanent collection as well. We simply need a better way to educate Atlantans about the things they’re currently missing.
I get to travel a lot, and I look at art everywhere I go. In the last few years, I’ve seen amazing exhibitions by William Kentridge, Chris Ofili, Janet Cardiff, Nick Cave, Jeff Wall, Barkley Hendricks, Jesper Just, Julie Mehretu, Bill Viola, Shepard Fairey, Candice Breitz, Olafur Eliasson, Anish Kapoor, Tino Sehgal, and many others. Almost none of this work has been on view in Atlanta.
Atlanta-educated Kara Walker is one of the most critically acclaimed artists of the last 20 years, with a major Whitney retrospective, and yet she’s essentially unknown to most of Atlanta. If you’re not familiar with these artists and many others, then you don’t know what people are talking about when they talk about contemporary art.
At the moment, we have a patchwork solution where a number of institutions contribute to the contemporary dialogue here by staging shows or hosting artist talks. Saltworks gallery, for example, recently brought a great painting show by iona rozeal brown direct from Cleveland’s contemporary art museum. Yet that’s just one out of a hundred shows we should see. (Cleveland, by the way, is an economically challenged city that’s building a new contemporary art museum.)
We need a well-funded institution focused on this mission. A viable candidate is the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center (ACAC), which already offers fantastic programming that takes a broad view on contemporary art practice. ACAC would require a substantial boost in funding, including a major capital campaign, if it were interested in taking on such a mission.
I’m not promoting any specific solution as I don’t know what the right solution is at the moment. But it’s something Atlanta’s art patrons should be thinking about. It would take a concerted effort because the right solution will require a multimillion dollar investment. A number of potential models exist for patrons to consider, including Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, which four years ago moved from a relatively modest space on Boylston Street to a new building on the waterfront that allows them room to do exactly the kind of major exhibits I would like to see in Atlanta.
There are also many smaller budget needs, including an artist residency program that could bring 6-12 promising artists to Atlanta for one to two year stints, and provide them with stipends and studio space while inviting them to enrich the local dialogue. This could be something along the lines of Houston’s Core Program that’s been so successful at nurturing the careers of talented artists who often end up staying in the city. This program could also offer similar stipends and studio space for a set of Atlanta’s artists.
Of course, all Atlanta arts organizations could benefit from increased support. Eyedrum is a crucial institution for artistic experimentation in Atlanta. It’s transitioning to a new space that could greatly enhance its impact, but it could use some help paying for build-out costs.
There are ample opportunities for patrons to have an enormous impact on Atlanta’s creative culture for a relatively small amount of money compared to what it would take in a city like New York. The glory of doing so is there for the taking.
What’s on the horizon for Flux Projects that you’re excited about?
We have a full slate of great spring projects including two that I’m particularly excited about. Last year, gloATL’s Bloom took on the energy at Lenox mall by having dancers bolt right into it and transform it. I thought it was hugely successful. This year, we are taking a maybe diametrically different tact. In March, Gyun Hur, recent winner of the Hudgens Prize, will do a large silk flower installation – her largest ever – in the middle of the mall, literally Santa’s space.
This is a process-oriented piece that will take about ten days to install, and this will be visible to everyone, hopefully creating curiosity while also showing the intense labor that goes into her artmaking. The sculpture will be strikingly beautiful thanks to Gyun’s wonderfully vibrant palette, but it will also be a quiet, meditative piece about ritual and family. This project is something of an act of faith because it’s a risk to put something so delicate in the middle of the mall. I hope that the shoppers will slow down to immerse themselves in the piece, to appreciate its fragility, and to embrace and protect it. Gyun’s work invites a deeply empathetic engagement that I think is both visceral and spiritual.
The second project, yet to be finalized but hopefully for April, is a major performance by Anya Liftig involving a large barricade on a vacant downtown lot. The piece references both Atlanta’s history of racial conflict and the French Situationists who played such an important role in the May ’68 Paris student rebellion. This is an ambitious project that’s tremendously exciting. Anya got her MFA from Georgia State University in 2004, and she is another fearless artist.
Last year she gained national attention for an all-day intervention into Abramovic’s live MOMA performance, in a piece she called The Anxiety of Influence. Someone asked Anya why she did that piece, and she said it was because it was the scariest thing she could think to do. I love that. That’s a good way to live a life.
The explosion of temporary events in the public realm has created an interesting dialogue in the arts community. In some ways you have become as much a part of the conversation as the art itself. As Atlanta’s own Medici of conceptual art in the public sphere, what do you envision happening over the next three years?
Maybe I’m wrong, Evan, but I think the conversation is not really about me; it’s about what I’m doing, or at least trying to do. The same conversations have sprung up around Chris Appleton with WonderRoot, Monica and Blacki with Living Walls, Lauri Stallings with gloATL. Everyone’s just excited to see new things happening. Everyone needs to have their Matrix moment where they realize the reasons why they can’t do something are mostly just in their mind. Every time something cool happens, someone else realizes they too could make something happen, too. I think this is part of what you did by organizing Art in Freedom Park. It woke people up to new possibilities. Interest in the “doer” is mainly just an index of our collective desire for action.
As for the future, I want to see the creative community own the streets of Atlanta. Whether and how that happens depends on the resources and creative energy of the people reading this and whether this seems like a good idea. But I definitely sense a desire for it.
(Disclosure: Possible Futures provided a significant grant to this publication in September of 2010. However, the grant was given unconditionally and with the understanding that, among other reasons, “meaningful arts criticism is vital in that it challenges artists to do their best work.”)