As the City Sleeps, a group exhibition hosted by MINT Gallery and curated by artists Brandi Supra and Sean Fahie, features work inspired by the idea of night. The included artists were asked to visually interpret this concept however they wished and in their preferred medium. The curating artists posed several questions as guidance, namely, “What are one’s expectations when going out?” “What do people do?” and “Where do they do these things?” The resulting artworks are couched in different ideas of place, ranging from interior to exterior, within Atlanta and abroad, but altogether they create a mostly cohesive exploration of the alienation and confusion that can come with the night.
For a few of the artists, the theme of night led them to depict an Atlanta beset with strange characters, featuring imagery with varying degrees of opacity. Jane Garver created a series of gold-leaf and ink drawings on wood titled A Cross Section of Norm’s Evening Activities, depicting and narrating said-character’s actions. Norm engages in mundane behaviors like riding Marta or getting lost on Glenwood Ave., or rituals like staying in during Shark Week. Norm confusingly appears to be both walrus and eggman, due to his smooth carapace, which distinguishes him from the walrus he sees on TV during Shark Week.
Sean Fahie’s Characters at the Bar features a Cartoon Network-style crowd of Atlanta’s unsavory types. A blank-eyed pig in a wife beater brandishes a beer; money rains down on a white-collar shark wearing a tie and monocle; a mad-eyed hare smokes a joint. These caricatures lack subtlety and the depictions unfortunately lack finesse. More interesting is the robed figure, wearing what appears to be a black burka with a white veil. This figure is very similar to No-Face from Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. Fahie’s version is multiplied on the gallery wall below the Characters painting, the only figures confronting the viewer with their gaze.
The collages by Brandi Supra and Estela Semeco reference places far away from Atlanta. Brandi Supra’s collaged artworks aim to create a chaotic experience of night through photos from foreign magazines, newspapers, and Thailand’s National Diary: 1984. Images of city nightlife (including clubs and neon-lit streets), chunks of Thai script, and loose watercolors are pasted on and punctuated with embroidery thread. The works convey the sense of visual overload with the exotic stimulation of another culture. Supra based these works on the perception Westerners often have of Thailand, as a seedy and chaotic place filled with pleasure houses and drug dens.
If Supra’s images present a view of chaotic city life, Semeco’s works depict a quiet domestic interior haunted by something outside. Loud patterned paper is gridded with perspective lines to create a room, overlaid with tissue paper cut in the shape of furniture or curtains. Each room features a window filled with neon color, as oppressive and foreboding as the blinding light used in films to announce an alien presence. Semeco’s works are named for the Scandinavian cities she plans to visit this summer, places she has heard of but never seen. These works speak to her excitement, but also apprehension.
Nikita Gale’s Don’t Look Up, a four-channel video installation in black and white, is the keystone of this show. Four individual screens display images ranging from neon signs to the moon and a backlit restaurant-menu display; we hear the quiet sounds of cars driving by. The neon signs dominate, fragmented into single letters forming words like wish, make, save, care, wait, think, and so forth. Sometimes the surrounding letters on the original signs are still legible (for example, give initially appears to be glixvpe). These seeming imperfections in clarity add a narrative layer to this work. This is no simple collage of neon signs forming words; the work presents the act of seeking signs within signs, so to speak. A character emerges, an isolated individual searching for instructions in the urban landscape and seeking both consolation and connectivity with the world around him or her.
With that realization, the other works fall into place. Garver’s Norm, a walrus creature living an ordinary life in Atlanta, is estranged from himself despite his ‘normal’ activities. He feels more community with the creatures on the Discovery Channel than with strangers on Marta. Likewise, Fahie’s Characters at the Bar is a work about alienation; the boisterous, belligerent people he sees at the bar seem like caricatures of men with vices, completely engrossed in their own undoing. In Garver’s work, Norm is alienated from those around him; in Fahie’s, the artist is the one experiencing this distance. The only person who notices him, the No-Face figure, is impenetrable and as such grows into an ominous, unavoidable presence. Supra and Semeco’s collages present a discomfort with the outside world, a fear of what goes bump in the foreign night: Supra from the whirlwind of being in it, and Semeco from the anticipation of the unknown.
Not all the works fit within this idea. Emily Pidgeon’s Instagram photographs of morning walks seemed out of place. She argues that Instagram and other technologies should be considered art, certainly an idea that merits consideration; just not in this show. Additionally, I was out of town during opening weekend and missed some of the works. A video piece by Jane Garver was only on view during the opening, after which she unhooked her personal laptop and took it home. I was also told that a sculpture of a shark fin on an anchor by an artist who did not want his name mentioned had been removed, possibly for display in a different exhibition. Despite those hiccups, this show presents work that, though sometimes incoherent, as an exhibition comes together and, if somewhat flawed, shows promise.
MINT Gallery is open Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays from noon to 5PM.