Several years ago if you sorted through the commentary on the ARTNEWS listerv (which was the source for happenings in Atlanta’s arts communities) you might see an announcement for something called performances in near-inaccessible environs, public and private spaces. The series spanned from 2004-2007 and was part urban exploration, part psychogeographic dérive, and part social criticism—tacitly asking participants to venture to uncanny spots in Atlanta and examine their relationships to the city’s rapid development. It’s hard to understand the current spate of public interventions without considering these pioneering performances, and yet the documentation has evaporated (click here and here for what little writing is available online). Their announcements tended to be short and slightly cryptic: the day and time (usually the announcement went out the morning of the event) and then a description of the place, but without link to a map.
For example, the most recent announcement for their performance of Brian Parks’s 2008 piece “A Look Forward String Quartet Number 2” stated only the following:
6:15 post meridiem | friday 2 september 2011 | atlanta georgia (kirkwood)
coming from dekalb ave, turn (south) onto arizona avenue
turn left onto rogers street
park when possible
there is a path, beginning as sidewalk, that runs parallel to the train
tracks and begins as soon as you turn ontro rogers street; the sidewalk
path and rogers street separate, rogers turning right (south) and the
sidewalk continuing east, parallel to the tracks; the tracks will be on
your left, the fenced-in old train buildings will be on your right. they
are owned by the georgia power entity. at the end of this path, there is
a fence with a large opening. proceed through. the performance will take
place one hundred to two hundred paces therefrom. [sic]
Part of the “eventing” of these performances requires that the audience become mutually implicated. Spectators must physically cross boundaries, walk though tall grass in unkempt easements, and wander across the detritus-strewn remnants of some long-neglected building. The performances transform the urban space of Atlanta as the people attending become part of the sinews of the city.
According to Nat Slaughter‘s Pecha Kucha talk from December 2007, performances in near-inaccessible environs, public and private spaces was established as a collaborative investigation of the relationship between sound and environments. The series also seeks to understand the changing urban landscape resulting from “the urban invasion [by] suburban culture.” Often the sites of these performances—over sixty between 2004 and 2007—were purchased and redeveloped after the artists intervened. With each new development, Atlanta became, to borrow a phrase from Cinqué Hicks, more of a “noplace” (click here to read BURNAWAY’s article on the forthcoming book, Noplaceness: Art in a Post-urban Landscape).
This certainly was the fate of the incredible, but sadly rundown, Citizens & Southern National Bank on Moreland Avenue, the place where I last attended one of these performances. A Facebook page titled “Save This Crazy-Unique Mid-Century Modern Classic” is a good repository of photos of the building, from its heyday to its recent standoff against a demolition crew. I’ve never seen any building like it before: more Jetsons than Bank of America, it looked like humanity’s last remnant before the story line to Planet of the Apes would begin. Alas, the building is being destroyed.
But it’s hard to imagine how the latest site near Rogers Street could meet such a fate. The location abuts the MARTA and freight train tracks alongside a row of homes in Kirkwood. Really it is just a path where it appears neighborhood dog owners bring their companions to do as nature calls. Worn by the wanderings of humanity and humanity’s best friend, this path was the perfect spot to host this musical intervention.
The performance consisted of four people (Daniel Clay, Brian Parks, Nat Slaughter, and Blake Williams) singing a staggered sequence of the familiar “Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti-Do” in something like a round. The audience and performers arrived for a total of maybe a dozen people. At first it was difficult to discern that the performance had begun. It was so intimate, and the exchange between the musicians wasn’t immediately obvious. But over time the nature of their exchange revealed itself as their fingers began to mark out the sequences. They became metronomes.
The piece was difficult in its requirements for restraint, as became apparent towards the end. Performers would occasionally break a welcome smile as they found themselves becoming, perhaps, overaware of the timing. These moments of connection, as they sought to find one another in the rests between vocalizations, created a sense of cohesion not only between them, but also for the audience: we all found one another in those moments of searching.
There was a certain romance to the event: late afternoon in late summer, on a dirt path next to those train tracks. Atlanta is a city because, paradoxically, it offers expedience in transit. This is not a city on a hill. It’s a city that happens when we meet along our lines of flight, to borrow from Deleuze and Guattari. We are a city of nomads, as are the performers: the event was possible only because several of them happened to be in Atlanta at the same time for several days. They performed and then dispersed, back to their current bases of operation (one person in Connecticut, another just returning from working in Maine).
Since the series began in 2004, performances in near-inaccessible environs, public and private spaces has precipitated a citywide conversation about interventions in the social sphere. Today the conversation is not only more audible, but it also continues to generate more interesting events such as Living Walls, Free Art Fridays, Le Flash, FLUX, and site-specific performances by Dance Truck, gloATL, and the Zoetic Dance Ensemble.
I hope that anyone who has documentation of these performances will share those materials. In a recent email conversation, Brian Parks stated that he wasn’t interested in recordings because that’s not what the performances are about. I see that he is making a point, but it’s only one point.
Works of art don’t make only one point. They are constellations of potential meanings, and they are promiscuous in their associations. Their place in time is weirder than only their current moment; they project themselves into other temporalities. Future observers have to understand themselves differently in light of these weird pasts that reveal themselves. In order to understand what the “contemporary” in contemporary art means, we must recognize, in the promiscuity of weird sites and weird works, their fidelity to our common human condition: that we are always in transit. This is precisely what makes living in Atlanta so special.