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Habersham Mills Brings High Art to the Hinterlands (well, Demorest)

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Installation view of “Roving Room,” with works by (front to back) Chelsea Culp, Rebecca Beachy, Mike Rea, and Amy Pleasant, with Ben Foch on the far right, at Habersham Mills.

Having enough space is a critical issue for most artists, especially for those scraping it out expensively in cities like Chicago and New York. Long gone are the days of cheap inner city art enclaves. Increasingly, it’s the odd outposts that offer space to create and show. One of those places is Habersham Mills, located about 80 miles north of Atlanta in Demorest, Georgia.

SCAD - Derrick Adams

Co-curators Cori Williams, an Atlanta native with a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Kelly Kaczynski, who lives in Chicago, used the grand spaces of this riverside palace for their appropriately titled invitational exhibition “Roving Room,” up through July 26. Williams’s father and a business partner Bob Cain, both architects, purchased the historic textile mill in 2007 with the aim of transforming it into a site for leisure, lodging, and art. (Four rental units are listed on Airbnb.com)

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Installation view of “Roving Room,” with works by Eric Ruschman (base of column), Annie Bielski (wall), and Hao Ni (light bulb).

“Roving Room” has no thematic pretense other than the generosity of the space itself. Artworks have breathing room to the point of disappearance: Walking into the main entrance, one barely notices artworks are strewn about every few steps. Labeling is quite minimal, which I almost don’t mind given the laid-back country setting. To identify artists, and not titles which are entirely excluded, visitors must scour a map as if on a treasure hunt. The tendency is just to let go and experience the work without the details. In organizing the show, the curators simply shared the opportunity with all of the artists they know, allowing “Roving Room” to grow inclusively. Works in the resulting assortment share a refreshingly relaxed, yet high-art aesthetic.

The main factory floor is deceptively full, and another gallery full of works awaits in the old post office near the parking area. After decades as a place of mundane toil, this sprawling site is romantically quiet. Works are placed on the deliciously time-worn walls, between the evenly spaced columns, on the scratched wooden floors, and in the dirty nooks, all with the sound of the river slipping by beyond the factory windows.

Installation view at Habersham Mills Roving Room, co-curated by Cori Williams and Kelly Kacyznski.
Installation view of “Roving Room,” curated by Cori Williams and Kelly Kacyznski.

Over 60 artists are included in the show, some with local appeal—Audrey Hynes, Michael Murrell, Hailey Lowe, Lucinda Bunnen, Donna Mintz—some with national and international name recognition—Slovenian-born Tobias Putrih, Californian Will RoganVirginia Overton (a native Tennessean) and Steve Reinke (his tiny embroidered pieces were in the recent Whitney Biennial). Still others are ones to watch, like Virginia Lee Montgomery (a video artist who will enter the Yale MFA program this fall).

I certainly knew of a few carloads of art aficionados headed north to attend the afternoon opening on May 16. Significant art centers have emerged in equally unlikely outposts, such as Marfa, Texas; Black Mountain, North Carolina; and Joshua Tree, California. While Williams and Kaczynski’s undertaking is generous in spirit and practice, the question remains: Will “Roving Room” prove to be a one-off or will Habersham Mills develop into a respectable art center in the North Georgia woods?

“Roving Room” is viewable by appointment. The closing party on July 26, from 12 to 5 PM, will have food from Atlanta’s Seven Lamps and music by the Boo Hoo Ramblers. A curator-led tour of the exhibition will be offered at 2 PM.

Karen Tauches is a local designer, artist, and curator.