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BOOM City: A Liveblogged Experience

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Courtney Hammond (L) and the BOOM City gang. Photo courtesy John Ramspott for BURNAWAY.

Preface: This is not necessarily an art review so much as it is a meditation on the pros and cons of Dashboard Co-op’s tradition of housing art exhibitions in alternative spaces, as seen through a play-by-play of my experience at the opening of BOOM City. That said, there was art there, and I enjoyed it. Some more than others, but I would deem it all super worth seeing. Although, I’m pretty bummed that I suspect all of Charlie Watts’ butterflies didn’t make it out alive, and despite my best efforts, none of them would get into my purse to be rescued.


8:45pm – I think I just pulled into the wrong parking garage. I’m increasingly certain I will end up paying to park here. Mental note to not count this as a strike against BOOM City, Dashboard Co-op, or any artists/organizers therein; total user error.

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8:51pm – M. Rich building found. The Dashboard folks are always playing butler to their viewers’ entire visit. They don’t just put art in a place and wish you luck traversing the Park Atlanta-addled wasteland to get there. They’ll tell you where to park (although some people (this girl) will still find a way to fuck that up), and guide your steps to the event space, whether it’s with glittery sidewalk stars on Edgewood Avenue, or in this case, bright spotlights. It shows not only a refreshing consideration for their audience, but awareness that the spaces they use aren’t always obviously accessible.

Photo courtesy Terry Kearns.

8:53pm- This is probably part of what makes Dashboard exhibitions so fun. They neutralize the many pains of navigating under-developed, empty, or differently-used spaces, while retaining all the curious urban explorer-isms that makes us want to enter these buildings in the first place. They transform the functionality of the environments they inhabit without covering or disguising them. They don’t undervalue the existing usability of these under-maintained spaces, but do so without over-burdening their artists or visitors. 

8:53pm – NOPE. UGH. I AM NOT WAITING IN THAT LONG ASS LINE FOR THE ELEVATOR. Overly crowded elevators in old, dusty buildings make me anxious (because I’m a reasonable person with an attachment to staying alive. Those fools in line clearly don’t value their lives.)

8:54pm – Looking for an alternate way upstairs. Walked into door that said “Do Not Enter.” Seemed like a good place to find some stairs. Wandered around dusty, empty chamber (it’s a chamber—can only be described as a chamber). Only visible signage says “Food Court.” I’m becoming certain that breathing around these piles of dust is going to give me cancer, and tetanus, and herpes of the lungs. Can’t find stairs.

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8:55pm – Ended up tagging along as building manager ushered a small group of people up the staircase I never would’ve found on my own, and told us the building’s history on the three-floor walk. Good exercise. Definitely makes up for not going to the gym…ever.

8:57pm – We enter the event space through a side door the opens behind one of the bars. It’s already very crowded. While getting our first view of BOOM City, we are panting and rosy-cheeked from the cold and the climb, and it feels appropriate.

9:10pm – A comparison between the M. Rich Building and Earth:  The outer layers are cold, dusty, and jagged; penetrating deeper (wink) requires a bit of work; the core is a glowing, warm, energetic place full of active particles smashing into each other.

9:15pm – Dash has a knack for finding the vague balance of altering a space to make it suitable for displaying and digesting art, without ever engaging with the space in a way that feels disingenuous to its inherent qualities. It’s smart. It goes beyond what works for art in Atlanta, and speaks to what works for Atlanta’s forward progress as a whole city; every real estate developer who wants to work in Atlanta should have to sit down with Courtney Hammond and Beth Malone and have a conversation about using the historical and architectural integrity of old buildings to support new developments, as opposed to viewing them as mistakes to be erased and rewritten. Dashboard Co-op Real Estate Development Consultation Services: look into it, ladies.

9:27pm – I spot a person who I’ve known circumstantially for years, who I would swear on something sacred has never seen the inside of a gallery. She is a stalwart trend-follower. She hasn’t been to any bar except Church in the last year, if that helps you understand. But she’s here. Which means this show is on trend. Her presence (confirmed by a subsequent scan of the crowd revealing others like her—don’t ask how you can spot them, you just can) is a unequivocal sign that BOOM City has just switched from “art show” to “incredibly happening Saturday night must-attend social event also featuring some art.” Let me explain why that’s not an insult, even though it would definitely, usually be an insult: If that was Dashboard’s pre-existing goal, when it’s anyone’s goal, it’s almost always a recipe for shitty, afterthought art, the by-product of event planning that clearly just used art as way for the party to have more perceived cultural depth; the art is the scapegoat and it’s pretty fucking gross. BOOM City is different in that the focus was very evidently on creating a space to showcase art, not for the purpose of creating the perfect party vibe, but done so well as to not be able to help becoming an environment worth celebrating. Some people will always come out to see great art, others will always be down for partying in a weird, empty building; when you create scenarios that offer both, everyone gets the benefit of a broader experience. It’s a good thing all around.

Performance by Perfect High Fives Every Time. Photo courtesy John Ramspott for BURNAWAY.

9:38pm – The entire floor of this building has bones that bear art well. There are apportioned office spaces that afford convenient boundaries, allowing for distinct environments to exist within each artist’s space. For as rowdy and kinetic as the rest of the party feels, people seem to be genuinely simmering down and focusing on engaging respectfully and thoughtfully with the art in each “office,” which is really nice. 

9:45pm – Mike Black’s Disregard Series #1 is a fantastically vital presence in the space. The installation is a series of pastel-hued PVC pipes that you first see jetting down one of the main corridors. Further exploration reveals more intricate integration; pipes appear in one room, disappear into walls, only to reappear elsewhere, with alternating order and disorder that shift between being at odds and in harmony with the building. It feels weird to be having a party in the presence of this conversation between the pipes and the building.

9:58pm – I enter a room and am into it, and everyone in there is also clearly really into it. It’s sexy in here. Turns out to be photographer/curator Stephanie Dowda’s first real attempt at installation, Utopophila. Between the blacked out ceiling lights (with star-effect holes punched in them, hey girl hey) and the wood chips on the floor, Dowda provides atmospheric guidance for viewing her light box pieces. Make mental note to come back here to chill out if the rest of the party becomes too much to handle.

10:12pm – Someone just stepped on my ankle really hard, so I need a cigarette. I don’t think I can get out of there, though. Side note: If I judo chop the girl who is refusing to let me go down the secret stairs instead of waiting in line to get on the Deathevator, can I blame my rage on the fact that gin was the only liquor being served tonight?

10:12pm – Which reminds me: Everyone here is gin drunk. These are the gin-soaked evil twins of everyone I know. I don’t know what kind of twisted social experiment Dashboard is playing, but I’m tentatively onboard.

10:19pm – Start to contemplate the crowd. Why does this exhibition feel so much less manageable than other Dashboard events? So far, I’ve spent more time trying not to run into anyone than looking at art.

10:22pm – Upside to overly-crowded event spaces: Like any packed warehouse party, it feels a little un-navigable. (I know it’s not a “warehouse,” but whatever. Don’t be that person who has to point that out.) But unlike most other warehouse parties, there’s a point to being here. In this case, the stated goal of the event is to see art, and I see easily five times as many people waiting in line for a drink/bathroom/elevator than actually viewing art.

10:26pm – But hey, nature of the beast, right? When you choose to visit a Dashboard exhibition, you are choosing to participate. Despite every effort on the organizers’ behalf to make the spaces accessible and accommodating, this isn’t the same as visiting a traditional gallery opening, nor is it meant to be. Should we look at the perceived inconveniences of parking or waiting in line for a single slow elevator as hindrances to our experience, or essential parts thereof? Perhaps the choice to embed art shows within challenging environments is a demonstration of confidence in the adventurousness of the audience. As much as these alternative spaces change the way we view art in terms of visible, external contextual elements, the experience of being at the event—with all that that entails—is meant to shake up the viewer. Maybe the disruption of the tunnel vision, automated monotony that gallery-going can become—by way of imperfections in the evening that necessitate problem-solving, and elicit frustration, or bonding with strangers over certain impending elevator death—all leads to the viewer being a changed and altered part of the art/viewer relationship. Maybe BOOM City is just as much about building an experience that results in the viewer seeing the work with a slightly shifted demeanor as much as it is about offering up something different to see.

10:35pm – I walk past a door that smells like cigarettes. You know what goes great with gin? Cigarettes! I open the door, thinking it’s a smokers’ haven, but it’s just the green room for the band, and they all look at me like, “You’re not a Coathanger.” I close the door. Fine! Keep your cigarettes. Who needs ‘em. Bitches.

10:45pm – Okay, I think it’s game over for me. I’ve made the rounds; although I can’t be sure I saw everything, which I’m strangely comfortable with, I feel like I’ve done a lot. I zoned out (in a great way) in front of Pablo Gnecco’s projection for an indefinite length of time; I contemplated making out with a stranger in Andrew Hammond’s dramatically lit, phone booth-like Watch Me Reflect; I interacted with butterflies during what I can only assume were their final hours of life.

Photo John Ramspott for BURNAWAY.

10:47pm – More than anything, it’s time to leave because the line to go back down the elevator appears to be getting more hostile, and more populous. I have a feeling that shit is going to get pretty dark for those who are still around at the end of the night and attempting to leave en masse. Better get out now.

10:51pm – In line to leave. I’ll be here for a minute. Not sweating it. Resigned, in the zone. I’m thinking a lot about the idea of experience as art. Is that a legitimate thing, or a common cop-out for poor logistical planning? Why does Atlanta’s art community keep crying out for something unique and different, only to bitch about anything that requires a step outside the most convenient scenario? Why is gin so gross? Why did I drink so much of it? Where did I park?

Photo courtesy Terry Kearns.

10:54pm – I’m saying the word “maybe” a lot after this show. Maybe that’s the point. Possibility. There are a lot of different ways you can choose to think about BOOM City, these differences hinge on where you choose to draw the line between “intentional” and “incidental.” Is Dashboard Co-op deliberately trying to fracture our shells a little upon entry so as to more easily fill us with sensory input? Is a change in the disposition of the viewer just as important as a change in physical art viewing setting? Or am I just the optimistic sort who wants to find a positive way to view the slight pain in the ass BOOM City was at times? Either way, if those are the things people walk away from BOOM City contemplating, I can’t help but view that as successful.