Our Favorite Things: Remembering Atlanta Arts 2011

Malina Rodriguez (left) led a team of Dance Truck volunteers to install swing sets at the Goat Farm for PLOT. Photo by Karley Sullivan. Click the image to zoom.

Silence, emptiness, stillness—even the most stubborn absolutes also contain a hint, the seed of potential, of becoming their opposites. For instance, the blinding sun-bleached oblivion of Atlanta’s summer can suddenly subside into a cool midday shower. The year 2011 had many moments just like that.

If you found yourself caught in a rainstorm on the right day, perhaps you saw gloATL’s dancers dashing into downtown traffic—as a devoted crowd stood amazed, unmoving despite the downpour. Or perhaps you stayed indoors and attended Dashboard Co-op’s dinner party where strangers shared their “largest and most elaborate” visions for Atlanta’s future. These are among our favorite memories from the past 12 months.

About this “Top Ten” List

For the past three years, BURNAWAY opened its year-end survey to readers only. We invited ten guests to write about ten arts events they considered the “most personally inspiring,” with little to no interference from our staff. The format for Our Favorite Things 2010 was roughly the same as 2009 and 2008, the year this publication began.

Now we’re mixing things up by letting you know what BURNAWAY thought of 2011. Eight staff members contributed nominations and collaborated in writing the descriptions below. As in previous years, the events follow in chronological order. So, collectively, these are our ten top favorites from the year, but it isn’t a “top ten” if that means the first is better than the last. Enjoy!

Trends for 2011

Where others see nothingness, artists see opportunity. In July, Dance Truck installed swing sets to transform an overgrown lot outside a former factory into a performance site. Other projects invaded public parks, spilled across train tracks, disappeared down hidden trails, and materialized overnight on the sides of buildings dozens of feet high. Notable items in this category included the Four Coats murals, Elevate: Art Above Underground, Living Walls throughout the city, and the aptly named performances in near-inaccessible environs.

Many of the biggest developments, however, involved crossovers between dance and the visual arts. Atlanta’s dance scene coalesced in 2011 with a renewed recognition of the power of collaboration—among dancers, across disciplines, between companies, and between Atlanta-based and visiting artists. The continued drive to interact with the public beyond the stage produced strong work, and dancers clearly took cues from the cooperative spirit that’s recently built momentum among Atlanta’s visual artists. But the especially interesting part was how the visual arts scene began to take a greater interest in dance. The ingredients have existed for some time, but now the beginnings of a singular and potent movement are taking shape.

Scroll down to read our ten picks for 2011, in order by date!

Photo courtesy Ryan James.

Modes of Operation
Curated by Dashboard Co-op
999 Brady Avenue

January 15—February 12, 2011
Featuring artists Sean Abrahams, Kombo Chapfika, Patrick Flibotte, Helen Hale, Johnathon Kelso, Katy Malone, Duncan Shirah, Johnathan Welsh, and Jay Wiggins

Dashboard Co-op’s Modes of Operation realized a big group show of nine young artists curated with impressive elegance and scale, especially in a raw space without white walls. Set up temporarily in a large empty warehouse in the Westside Arts District (the address is now home to Fabrefaction Theatre and Miller Union restaurant), the exhibition also provided a backdrop for a dinner party with a surprise dance performance by Helen Hale. Guests watched in amazement as the choreographer and her partner danced and fought and became exhausted in a sequence of abstracted, expressive movements. Hale has a particular abandon in the way she moves: a sense of intimacy, unpredictability, and real emotion flows out from her without overt histrionics or sentimentality. Very cool.

IngridMwangiRobertHutter, The Cage, 2009, single-channel video, 12:01 Minutes. Image courtesy the artists.

Constant Triumph
By IngridMwangiRobertHutter
Spelman College Museum of Fine Art

February 4—May 14, 2011

The husband-and-wife collective IngridMwangiRobertHutter exhibited the largest presentation of their work in the U.S. to date at the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art. The exhibition Constant Triumph consisted primarily of video, which functioned both as the medium and as documentation of their performances in South Africa, Kenya, Germany, and other parts of the world. The show pushed their personal boundaries, using “their body as canvases, and the blood as ink.” Their performances create intimate experiences between the audience and the artists, a dynamic echoed by the couple’s willingness to share their artwork with Spelman’s students during the two weeks they visited Atlanta. In keeping with the museum’s reputation, the show again pushed visitors to reconsider what’s possible inside a gallery space.

Click here to read BURNAWAY’s review.

Craig Dongoski, Durations: Spring, 2009, oil pencil on birch panel, 63 x 48 inches. Image courtesy Whitespace.

Attack/Decay/Sustain/Release
By Craig Dongoski
Whitespace Gallery

March 4—April 16, 2011

Attack/Decay/Sustain/Release presented Craig Dongoski’s audio-graphic drawings whose repetitive energy is both esoteric and hypnotic. Black and blue lines bubble, bleed, and loop out over large wood panels and, in one case, an air-brushed scene depicting downtown Atlanta. His marks compliment the physical striations of the natural wood surfaces and also reference sound waves much like the gyrations of a pen that measures earthquakes. The images are visualizations of audio recordings of pencils scratching on drawing surfaces, an interest in sound that the artist has pursued for years. And, once again looping the show’s concept back on in itself, Dongoski performed a live drawing accompanied by traditional musicians on trumpet, percussion, digital sampler, and sax. His collaborators read the drawing as a musical score from left to right. Since it started with empty space at the top left, all players were silent for the first several minutes.

Danielle Roney, On the Edge of Self (installation view), 2011. Image courtesy the artist.

On the Edge of Self
By Danielle Roney
Kiang Gallery

April 14—June 4, 2011

Danielle Roney’s solo exhibition at Kiang Gallery (recently renamed Kiang Projects) took viewers on a journey that plumbed the nebulous psychology of a world that’s becoming increasingly transnational. Roney’s two-channel video On the Edge of Self, which inspired the title of the show overall, dominated the gallery’s space. The work depicts two characters who remain disconnected as they move through separate spaces, seeking something indefinable without resolution. International travelers would immediately recognize the environments even without knowing their location (although local viewers may have noted that Roney shot some of her most striking imagery at MARTA’s Peachtree Center Station). These terminals and transit stations exude a globalism that erases their local specificity. The video’s dreamlike quality hints at the feeling of confused recollection often experienced when crossing borders of time and space. Meanwhile, Roney’s characters resist the dehumanizing effects of homogeneity by reminding us that, even as we travel strange distances, we are all the while constructing our personal narratives.

Images courtesy the High Museum of Art.

Exhibiting Radcliffe Bailey’s work alongside John Marin’s watercolors introduced a new dimension to the viewing of each show. We decided to list them both and present the shows as we experienced them, side by side.

Memory as Medicine
By Radcliffe Bailey
High Museum of Art

June 26—September 11, 2011

The fact that the High Museum hosted a major exhibition by an individual Atlanta-based artist was a milestone. Memory as Medicine demonstrated Radcliffe Bailey’s unique technical and storytelling virtuosity: his work is grounded in specific history but it’s also accompanied by a resonating, even heartbreaking, individual sense of the transcendent. His painting, sculpture, collage, and installation—shimmering with deep incandescent blues—employed a visual language informed by the history of slavery, segregation, migration, pain, and injustice. The collected work told a story that was at once profoundly simple and unexpectedly intricate and ineffable.

Click here to read BURNAWAY’s review.

Watercolors: A Medium for Modernism
By John Marin
High Museum of Art

June 26—September 11, 2011

Modest in size, Marin’s slightly cubist landscapes from the 1920s and ’30s are both heartwarming and stunning. Many visitors entered the show from the back, where it connected with the end of Bailey’s exhibit and emphasized the contrast between Marin’s loosely abstracted paintings and Bailey’s more photography-based work. For Marin, seeing is a “repetition of glimpses,” and each painting gathers from “the eye one looking” a single composition through washes, economy of line, and empty space on white watercolor paper. Although the practice has sadly gone out of fashion, this work stand as a reminder that artwork observed from life, and then translated through a refined stylized lens, is precious. And the frames, which often can be so tedious in museums, were brilliantly integrated as part of his work: sleek unobtrusive rectangles of iridescent silver and white.

Photo by John E. Ramspott.

Liquid Culture
By gloATL
Five locations throughout Atlanta

July 9-23, 2011

gloATL’s Liquid Culture comprised a sprawling series of five site-specific dance performances that took place over two weeks. Each episode created a “utopia station” in public locations across the city, ranging from the store fronts of Little Five Points, to Sol LeWitt’s sculptural installation 54 Columns, to the Lindbergh MARTA station. The piece was densely-packed with multiple dreamlike narratives, little vignettes, shifting groupings, intricate movements, and surreal images that all seemed to spill out from the locations themselves. The final evening, which convened at the busy intersection of 15th and Peachtree, had the feeling of a watershed event in Atlanta, particularly when two dancers ran through the intersection diagonally to embrace at its center, surrounded by traffic all around them. Optimistic, aspirational, risky, tender, and defiant of the regimented patterns of everyday movement, the action prompted the pondering of a million possible utopias.

Photo by Karley Sullivan.

PLOT
By Blake Beckham
Presented by Dance Truck and The Goat Farm

July 28-31, 2011

In choreographer Blake Beckham’s site-specific work, four dancers evoked the phases of nature’s cycles at the Goat Farm in West Midtown as the production roamed through and physically transformed several spots around the arts center. One particularly memorable scene was in the cellar-level Rodriguez Room where an elaborate tree-like root system held up a raised stage, lit by vintage light fixtures that were found at the Goat Farm, dusted off, and repurposed for the performance. PLOT was as remarkable for its bleak, gorgeous vision as it was for the way it was built: the fledgling organization Dance Truck, under the leadership of Malina Rodriguez, marshaled an army of volunteers and visual artists who worked together to build the large-scale piece from the ground up, thereby demonstrating the outrageous potential of smartly guided collaboration. PLOT was a landmark performance, a large-scale, communally constructed, immersive work whose immense possibilities were realized and grasped as the creation unfolded over several months.

Micah Stansell, installation view, 2011. Photo courtesy MOCA GA.

The Water and the Blood
By Micah Stansell
Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia

August 27—December 3, 2011

Micah Stansell’s installation at MOCA GA, The Water and the Blood, orchestrated a tightly structured analogue of memory through eight large-scale video projections and three available soundtracks. The artist  represented fragments of his memory with just enough of a gap in the narrative to allow viewers to fill in the blanks. The choose-your-own narrative follows a selection of Southern characters and tropes that elicited a sweet nostalgia without being overly stereotypical or too sentimental. The Water and the Blood provided a fully immersive environment—physically, psychically, and emotionally—that was constantly new through multiple viewings.

Photo by Thom Baker.

Nosferatu
Film score composed by Felipe Barral
Presented by Possible Futures at The Goat Farm

October 27 & 28, 2011

The Goat Farm’s Goodson Yard was the perfect setting for screening the moody silent cinema classic Nosferatu, the unauthorized German bastardization of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This intelligent Halloween alternative to Atlanta’s Netherworld was accompanied by a live, original score composed by Felipe Barral, presented by Possible Futures. The Chilean artist (whose interests include music, painting, photography, and writing, on top of his work as a producer at CNN) first conceived his rock-Romanticist fantasy for Murnau’s film in Santiago in the late 1990s. Although he developed earlier versions, the score presented by Possible Futures last year was the fullest realization yet. Built around a framework of poetically-freighted guitar and bracketed by bass (Eddie Cortes) and drums (Daniel Renjifo), these live performances added the vocals of Delonda Harvey, whose haunting improvisations respond to images onscreen. We hope the event has a sequel in 2012, perhaps involving contemporary artists interpreting other classics such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Golem.

As a way of saying Happy New Year, we’ve included two tracks from Barral’s Nosferatu score below.


Click the player above to listen, or click here to download the MP3.

Click the player above to listen, or click here to download the MP3.

Thanks for reading! For the time you spend sharing with us, we are immeasurably grateful. As always, we are:

Yours truly,

BURNAWAY


Disclosure: Possible Futures awarded significant grants to this publication in 2010 and 2011. The grants, however, were given unconditionally with the understanding that “meaningful arts criticism is vital in that it challenges artists to do their best work.”


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