The Art on the BeltLine program is an attempt to use art to celebrate the space in which our new public transportation system will flow. It’s a noble sentiment for a noble cause, seeking to engage general audiences in Atlanta for a political buy-in. But for art curmudgeons like me (KT), who adore the refinement of fine art culture, it’s a bit of a misnomer to call this a “curation.”
Community inclusiveness may be a goal for the BeltLine’s public art projects, but perhaps this inclusiveness is misplaced? For the program’s temporary artworks, the BeltLine opened the gates to practically every citizen who calls him/herself an artist. When it comes down to the actual redevelopment design, however, will the BeltLine committees listen to locals who are sensitive to what is already brilliant about our landscape? In this case, as with most urban planning initiatives, it’s easy to overlook what’s already there if you don’t call it home.
In this gargantuan, yet low-budget, public group show, the good and the bad coexist, democratically, and things begin to dumb down. Obviously, community inclusiveness and quantity are the goals. Fair enough. But many artists have missed the chance to make well-considered, and perhaps even political, statements about this oncoming change to our shared environment. Happily, local artist Hormuz Minina is the exception.
Minina’s Promontory, one of the few projects to challenge the BeltLine’s concept of changing landscapes, is site specific and is inspired by the natural community of its location. For Minina, the site is an urban sanctuary; the old tree standing here is important, and the area surrounding it is sacred. He has cultivated a spiritual connection with the place, mentally charted the paths squirrels take across limbs, and watched the trail emerge where his dog walks each day. Over the years at this spot, children played, birds hatched, and Minina spent a lot of time thinking. The artist set out to put everyone on notice: This is hallowed ground.
Minina’s project for the Art on the BeltLine is so serious and so well-produced, it melted away the larger, goofier context that often accompanies popular local art. What a nice surprise! Above the tract of land where the train will head north to City Hall East is an embankment overgrown with kudzu, behind which the artist hid for a duration of about 10 hours, from sunset to sunrise. Inside the chaotic natural geography, Minina’s breathing body, naked and painted gold, lies buried in a crevice of red clay beneath the trees. Hot lighting focused on the subject, and shadows overlapped the projection at times. It all seems very high fashion, like Fellini, but doesn’t detract from the personal and sensitive nature of the performance. The spectacle is spiritually charged. Even after the performance ends, a signature of emotional intensity marks this place.
The entrance to the installation is subtle: a dirt hiking path winding up a hill. At the top, through the greenery, a large projected image confronts the viewer; we see a pastoral scene like a Hudson River School landscape painting on a large vertical billboard. When I (KT) saw it, the sky was lusciously pink against the dark green foliage. It’s easy to assume that this is a projection still. But then if we wait patiently, it moves.
And that is the epiphany: A live performance is being recorded and projected. Beneath the viewers’ feet, the art opens up into reality. At times Minina’s hand reaches up or stretches. The gesturing figure seems liminal, perhaps in distress, or perhaps resting, waiting, enduring. Minina becomes the dying bee on our autumn window sill. Or conversely, he becomes the lazy pupa of spring. The abstract suggestion makes the audience’s compassion either rise up or totally turn off. Some visitors sat with him, and some carried on socializing throughout the night.
Was this an allegory of the hillside, instead of the allegory of the cave? A subtle jab at Urban Planning and its academic naiveté? Or was it just a personal rite and commentary on sacred spaces, the earth, and how we’re using it?
Minina’s Promontory elegantly reminds us of the possibilities of inclusiveness, a concept he pulls up from the ground and from the spiritual, from a place not found in a textbook.
Minina is a professional engineer, who makes art occasionally. But when he does, he goes for it. He admits that planning for this performance began four days out, but the idea was born years ago. He believes that time is necessary for it to be significant and, in this case, monumental.
Promontory is reminiscent of Minina’s first performance/installation produced for Joey Orr’s Shedspace in 2003. The artist tied himself to a rotating platform for hours, suffering like a sadhu, while guests drank cocktails next to a projection of a straw trick in a fast food restaurant. Promontory marks a graduation of aesthetics for Minina. What he presents in 2010 looks more classical and steps way outside the gallery, farther than ever before.
Hormuz Minina will conduct the final performance of Promontory this Sunday, June 27th, 7:30PM-12Midnight, followed by an artist talk at 8PM. Minina will open up the performance space and equipment for collaboration and use by other artists. Contact the artist for the date and more information at www.minina.org.