Now in its fourth year, “Art on the BeltLine” seems to have settled into a comfortable groove.
Works for the exhibit on the Eastside Trail and Southwest Corridor fall into categories that suit this public space: murals, functional objects (a bench, a bicycle rack), interactive pieces and found-material sculptures alluding to BeltLine history.
The vibe is fun and family-friendly, evidenced in the abundance of clever sculptures of animals and the absence of provocation. This is more an observation than a criticism, which is to say that “Art on the BeltLine” is best enjoyed as discovery of visual moments, some of them true delights, and occasional thought-provoking experiences.
The Knitterati’s latest exploit is one of the delights. The group has encased 22 (for the 22-mile BeltLine) objects that move — lawn mowers, bicycles etc. — in colorful knitted ensembles. The absurd non-sequitur of it all is part of the fun. Similarly, the Experience Collective has fastened uncountable numbers of shiny Mylar strips to a chain-link fence. The colorful pieces in “A Million Flecks of Light” ripple in the wind like a grass skirt or cheerleader’s pom-pom.
Consider — and appreciate — the labor entailed in both of these projects just to give the visitor a shock of pleasure.
Only a grump wouldn’t smile at the sight of King Pig’s colorful, Keith-Haring-ish mural, “Cheeseburgers and Unicycles.” Ditto the triumph of the underdog (or in this case a nail-wielding mouse) in Santiago Menendez’ mural, “You Won’t Step on Me.”
One of the project’s goals is to bring more people to the BeltLine and build a sense of public ownership in it. Art that invites participation is one way to do this. Misao Cates, a veteran BeltLine artist, offers a variation on her “write-in” theme in “Forest of My Three Words.” Visitors are asked to write three important words on a piece of organza ribbon and tie it to bamboo poles. To judge from the flurry of ribbons that flutter on the poles, people love it.
Several artists engaged children as participants. (Start ’em young!) Hailey Breckenridge worked with neighborhood children to paint the skyline mural, for example, and Terri Dilling collaborated with youth from the East Atlanta Kids Club and scientists at the Center for Chemical Evolution to create the delightful sculpture “From Stardust to Us,” an imaginative version of the life of a shooting star.
Mike Wsol’s “Lost Horizon” requires viewers to climb inside a funnel-shaped metal object. The prize: an unobstructed view of the sky, a la James Turrell. The swath of artificial turf ringing the interior of the funnel makes for a witty “landscape,” which, as suggested by the title, speaks to encroachment on our diminishing natural world.
Gregor Turk brings the most conceptual heft, at least that I encountered, to the BeltLine. In “Apparition,” a three-phased project commissioned by Atlanta Celebrates Photography, Turk meditates on place, time and man versus nature. He has installed a group of five under-scale billboards — a commercial Stonehenge — in a grove, a violation of expectations, accustomed as we are to seeing billboards on highways and roads and given the BeltLine’s rules prohibiting advertising.
The first phase features blow-ups of photos from a series Turk has worked on for 20 years: pictures of abandoned empty billboards in the landscape. As he has written, “You know you are nowhere when you see a blank billboard.”
During the second phase, photos of the actual view of the grove behind the billboards will replace those of the empty billboards, in another violation of expectations, and (like Wsol) a play on artifice and reality. In the final phase, images of General Sherman’s eyes will stare at the visitor.
I’m not sure how that relates to the first two, though certainly it works with Turk’s time and place themes. And it does echo a leitmotif that might be surprising for the BeltLine, which is all about renewal. That would be ruins. If Sherman brings up the specter of man-made destruction, the more dominant reference is to nature reclaiming the land. Some of these are unintentional: a number of sculptures from previous years are in various stages of succumbing to the elements. Turk’s rammed-earth, cross-shaped bench actually looks better now that vines are creeping up the sides and it has eroded slightly. J.D. Koth’s twig sculptures are slowly disintegrating; one has been colonized by birds.
Koth actually addresses this theme in his current piece. Well sited in one of the most atmospheric spots on the Eastside Trail — a narrow path flanked by granite outcroppings, foliage and remains of felled trees and little ceramic sculptures from last year — his “Rakashasa” is a contemporary gargoyle, easily imagined as a remnant of a lost civilization.
This isn’t a piece that would necessarily capture my attention in another setting: “Art on the BeltLine” is one of those events in which the whole is greater than its parts. It’s an opportunity for young artists to get their work out, for any artist to try something new, and a way to change up the environment. And if it doesn’t work, well, it’s only temporary. The exhibition closes November 11.
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