When Eyedrum lost its performance and exhibition space in 2010 because its landlord wouldn’t renew the lease, its future looked uncertain. Would the 13–year-old alternative arts collective, once described by co-founder Marshall Avett as “a pirate ship floating in the waters of Atlanta,” reinvent itself or fade to black, leaving behind a legacy that few arts organizations could ever hope to top?
Eyedrum forged ahead with “satellite” programming, partnering with galleries and other venues around the city, such as the Goat Farm Arts Center, Horizons School Theater and the Big House Gallery. Now, almost three years after losing its former home, Eyedrum, with Priscilla Smith as executive director, is ready to embark on a slate of ambitious programming in its new space at Fuse Arts Center, operated by C4 Atlanta.
Eyedrum will celebrate the move on Saturday, June 1, at 7 p.m. with a blast-off soiree of music featuring Zack Kouns, Moira Scar and Bella Beau. The first exhibit will start June 28, focusing on Eyedrum’s new online literary magazine. “We’re calling it Eyedrum Periodically,” Smith said. “The first issue will publish the very end of June or first of July, with the ambition of publishing a print annual. ‘Im/Permanence’ is the title theme, and we’re going to mount a gallery show as well.”
Before that, on May 23, Eyedrum will host the International Noise Conference at 529 EVA, showcasing such acts as improvisational collective Yakuza Dance Mob from Birmingham, power electronics dynamo Tyler Keen and Miami’s infamous Laundry Room Squelchers.
Other events in the planning stage include four gallery exhibitions between now and late October. Smith also hopes to reinstitute the popular Thursday Night Improv at Fuse and is looking to add film and performance art back into the mix.
Some of Eyedrum’s popular recurring events will continue for the time being at satellite locations around the city, such as Invent Room Pop at Beep Beep Gallery, a monthly performance where musicians collaborate on improvisational pieces, and the well-established Writers Exchange, which will continue on the third Tuesday of each month at the Warhorse Cafe at the Goat Farm.
Smith, whose staff is all volunteers, says the reason Eyedrum’s programming is consistently thought-provoking and engaging is the high standards of its board members. “Things are not smooth on the board, you know,” she said half-jokingly. “We bicker and argue and we’re all opinionated. There is this dynamic tension between wanting to cherry-pick and be rigorous and not wanting to cater to the audience.”
She is excited about the possibilities of the new location and for collaboration with other artists at C4. But the search for a permanent space is not over. Eyedrum’s lease is for a minimum of six months, though it’s quite possible it will negotiate an extension. “If we find a building of our own, it’s gonna take us some months before we can be presenting in there,” Smith said.
Some of the pressures were alleviated when Eyedrum was selected by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation to receive a grant of $10,000 each year for next three years, based on the organization’s rich legacy and recommendations from other Atlanta arts institutions. Smith said Eyedrum’s challenge is its own legacy as a cutting-edge venue for the arts.
The music programming alone was been remarkably ambitious and diverse from the beginning. The Japanese free form psychedelic band Acid Mothers Temple, multi-instrumentalist Baby Dee, Nathaniel Bartlett and his five-octave acoustic marimba, soul legend The Mighty Hannibal, electronic wunderkind Dan Deacon, composer/percussionist Klimchak, actor/director/provocateur Vincent Gallo and his experimental band RRIICCEE and the avant-garde rock group The Plastic People of the Universe from Prague’s underground scene of the late sixties have all appeared here. Many have gone on to bigger careers on a national level such as Mirah, The Dirty Projectors, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, and The Books and the same is true of local indie bands like Deerhunter and The Black Lips.
Sharing the same space was Andy Ditzler’s Film Love series, which introduced Atlanta audiences to Sun Ra’s rarely seen “Space Is the Place,” the experimental cinema of Warren Sonbert and Joseph Cornell, Andy Warhol’s screen tests, offbeat documentaries like “Plagues and Pleasures of the Salton Sea” and live appearances by filmmakers such as underground legend George Kuchar (“Pussy on a Hot Tin Roof,” “Hold Me While I’m Naked”). The collective has also hosted performance art and gallery exhibitions.
“I do feel a huge incumbency,” Smith said. “I look at the arts scene in Atlanta and I see the number of galleries and nonprofit galleries that show the work of — I hate the term “emerging artists” — of artists previously unseen. So are we still relevant is the question. And consistently when that question is posed, the answer is yes.”
A performance artist and writer, Smith is especially passionate about Eyedrum’s Writers Exchange. “The quality of work that comes through is pretty amazing. While it’s really only a stand-alone thing, that’s been a really important part of keeping Eyedrum going while we’re homeless.”
Eyedrum has always been a destination for those seeking unexpected, challenging and different ways to think about art. But how does it reach new audiences? What would lure the already initiated to C4?
“It is a place where you can see visual art and performance that you won’t see anywhere else,” Smith said. “It’s a place where established artists can take risks. And where we’ll take the risk of bringing out artists who may not have been seen in other places. We have a reputation in the international music world for presenting electronic music and noise that isn’t heard in other places. And we know we have a dedicated, devoted audience that will come out and see it.”
Learn about some of the celebrated writers who participate in Eyedrum’s Writers Exchange (including one of ArtsATL’s own) here.