320 E. Churchwell Ave.
Knoxville, TN 37917
Open by appointment only.
Operated by: Marla Sweitzer and Kelsie Conley
Opened: November 2018
Most recent exhibitions: Perrin Turner, “True Self,” (December 7, 2018 – January 1, 2019); Colleen Billing, “Sister Genus,” (November 9 – December 3, 2018). Forthcoming: Eleanor Aldrich, “Serpent’s Quarters” (January 4 – 28, 2019).
BAD WATER is located in a formerly vacant structure, something between a barn and a garage. What led to your decision to open an artist-run space there?
Kelsie Conley: When I was visiting UT Knoxville last spring, Marla was in her first year in the painting and drawing MFA program, and I stayed with her. We were driving around the Fourth and Gill neighborhood, noticing all of the sheds and garages in people’s backyards, and I asked if anyone ran a gallery out of one of them. I had been living in New York, where the ability to have a backyard space like that is less common, but previously lived in Richmond, VA, where there was always a rotating cast of garage or apartment galleries. I remember texting Marla after I left about the possibility of looking for a place where we could both live and also run a gallery and her very confidently texting me back, “I’m in.” She did all of the difficult legwork on finding both a house and space to run a gallery out of while I was still living in New York, and she honestly couldn’t have found us a more perfect place.
Marla Sweitzer: It was clear Kelsie had the drive and initiative to open a gallery space; I was immediately on board. The search began for finding a place to live that also had gallery potential, ideally some sort of garage or space with a separate entrance. I compulsively kept an eye on Craigslist and Zillow and drove around town considering neighborhoods, and I visited quite a few listings throughout the summer. I remember looking up this property address on Google Maps street view before visiting it and thinking it looked like it had some sort of structure in the backyard—but it wasn’t advertised in the listing. Once I saw the space in person, I realized the backyard building had potential. It needed doors and a little fixing up but had unique architectural features including old wooden crossbeams, a strange stage, half-painted, multi-structured plywood beams, and a dirt floor. Thankfully our landlords approved our application and have been supportive of us transforming the space.
Tell us a little more about the current exhibition, Perrin Turner’s “True Self.”
KC: Perrin and I met five or six years ago while we were both at VCU, and he continues to be one of my closest friends and favorite artists. When Marla and I were throwing around names of people we thought we could ask for the first couple shows, people who would not only trust us and but also be excited about showing at a new space—which at that time still didn’t have a door, didn’t have electricity, was half-painted and full of spider crickets—Perrin was one of the people that came to mind. We asked him to do this show for December and one of the first things we talked about doing was making objects that glowed. Perrin texted me a pic of the spinning wheel from Sleeping Beauty. He’s been talking about making these glowing gourds for a couple of years now, and it was exciting to watch him actualize that! Perrin is full of true magic and understanding, and I love when we get to catch a glimpse of that through his work—especially in what he decided to show in “True Self.”
MS: I remember seeing a preparatory photo of Perrin mapping out the dimensions of the gallery in his studio — carefully arranging where the gourds would exist in that space. Each form is a unique shape with distinct features: a thorn wrapped around one gourd, bones hidden in a cavity of another. What is so magical about the show is how the gourds appear, in their unifying mysterious glow, to grow on the dirt floor, roots from the ground springing up around them. While I knew there would be glowing gourds, it was not exactly clear to me how they would be illuminated until the digging began. Buried underneath the dirt and clay of the floor of the gallery exists a trench-like extension cord network. Thankfully our neighbor seems to have every sort of tool we didn’t anticipate needing running a gallery, including a range of hoes and shovels that made the digging process go a little quicker than with our one trowel.
Following “True Self,” the next show will feature work by Knoxville-based painter Eleanor Aldrich. What can viewers expect from that exhibition?
KC: We did a studio visit with Eleanor a couple weeks ago at her place, which is only a couple minutes away from us. Walking into her studio feels a lot like walking into someone’s garage. There are paintings hung above paintings and resting on paintings that are leaning on the floor next to little objects she’s also made. It’s the kind of place where you can point to a milk crate on the table and be like, “Hey, so what’s up in there?” and before you know it, she’s tossing one after another of these amazing silicone caulk-image transfer-netting pieces onto the floor, and we’re talking about what it could look like to embed some of these in our dirt floor for her show.
MS: Eleanor has this mesh netting in some of her pieces that immediately made me think of these two strange rolls of netting that hang at the top of BAD WATER’s entrance. There are so many odd nooks and crannies in the structure that seem to inherently connect to the kind of materials Eleanor manipulates in her work. Sometimes her forms create a veiled window into the space behind it; I’m excited to see how the irregular plywood grid and the dirt floor engage in dialogue with those forms during installation. What is exciting about Eleanor’s work is that she doesn’t need to make work to fit the space—it already has a relationship to it.
What are your wildest dreams for BAD WATER?
KC: Something I loved about our first two shows was that Colleen and Perrin were both able to stay with us for a week leading up to the opening. One of the nights Colleen was here, she was installing in complete darkness by lantern and candle light because we had lost power from a terrible storm. The next night we were late-night driving to the 24 hour Wal-Mart to buy a monitor after we decided at the last minute to add a video to the show, and Colleen bought us matching checkerboard lighters—I hold these moments so close to me! Being able to make a show with someone has felt like a real miracle, and sharing our space and our lives and the city we’re living in with someone for a brief period of time has really kept me going in all of the changes that have come with moving to Knoxville. My hope is that we can get funding to provide the opportunity to do this for all of the artists we show.
MS: Giving artists ownership of their solo show was one of our first hopes for the space. It is our hope to continue to show works that respond to and interact with the particular oddities of the space. Having artists participate in the installation feels like an important, though understandably not always feasible, part of this. Being an artist-run space, applying for and receiving funding and support would allow for the artists we show to realize more ambitious projects. My dream is to exhibit artists in the space that feel perhaps feel somewhat like long-shot reaches but whose work we think would really thrive in BAD WATER.