ArtsATL > Art+Design > Review: Artists give lived-in look to Dashboard’s stimulating but unfocused “No Vacancy”

Review: Artists give lived-in look to Dashboard’s stimulating but unfocused “No Vacancy”

Performing on opening night. All photos by David Batterman
Ben Coleman and Henry Detweiler perform on opening night of No Vacancy.
Ben Coleman and Henry Detweiler perform on opening night. (Photos by David Batterman)

Since Dashboard Co-op‘s 2011 breakthrough project, “Ground Floor,” founders Courtney Hammond and Beth Malone have distinguished themselves as a team of curatorial visionaries who seek to activate overlooked Atlanta neighborhoods through innovative art projects.

Dashboard’s leadership impresses with its risk-taking drive and enthusiasm, and its openings regularly bring hordes of people to parts of town that some never would have found otherwise. Largely run for Atlanta’s younger generation of creatives, the organization, which recently received a $30,000 Rauschenberg Foundation grant, is making an important contribution to the city’s growth as an arts incubator and cultivator. But at times the artistic caliber of Dashboard’s programming lags behind the overall impact of its community relevance, and such is the case with its latest project, “No Vacancy: An Unnecessary Void,” a largely fun pop-up installation and performance at 91 Broad Street downtown through August 8.

For this alternative take on the intown artist residency, Atlanta artists Ben Coleman (of the band Judi Chicago) and Henry Detweiler (artistic director of MINT Gallery) committed themselves to living for three weeks in a former nightclub, severing themselves from outside influences: “human interaction, media, ritual — anything that routinely drives or blocks the artist’s creativity and ability to work,” according to Dashboard’s press release.

The project’s very general guidelines gave Coleman and Detweiler room to experiment and let their artistic hair down. The result, as presented on opening night, though charmingly enigmatic, was a series of ultimately disconnected sketches that seemed to work more individually than as a unified whole.

“No Vacancy: An Unnecessary Void”

The evening presented a long list of conceptual motifs, among them sensory experience through sound, texture, color and taste; the history of the 91 Broad Street building; the artists’ own childhood memories; cleanliness and sterilization; World War II; Dada-esque performance; creative process; and audience participation. This stream-of-consciousness take on process packed the evening with an enjoyable plethora of stimuli, but the lack of editing or paring down of such sizable themes prevented any strong direction or focus.

Upon entering on opening night, audience members were handed footies and plastic gloves, which seemed mostly for unknown effect, and led through a black curtain into a shimmery, sparkly, Pepto-Bismol-pink dance club. Hand-painted pink zigzag stripes covered the floor and walls. A pink pool table with pink pool balls was available for use, as was a small bar serving rosé wine from pink bottles.

The space was filled with music from a retro jukebox containing 100 copies of the same album, whose tracks were gathered from random CDs found in the building. A conceptual pillar of the evening, the jukebox spoke to the history of the building, and the artists, spiffily clad in white tailored suits, keyed their performances to the tracks that it played.

The artists activated the space with a variety of seemingly absurdist performances: cooperatively cleaning a very dirty toilet onstage; jotting down thoughts about the legacy of World War II; playing the game of “Operation” with invited participants in a back room; mechanically declaring some indecipherable gibberish; cranking the wheels on some mesmerizing upside-down bicycle contraption.

As someone who has a particular fondness for performance, I found the thoughtful absurdity of these vignettes delightfully strange and engaging, though how they corresponded to the overarching theme of the work was unclear.

The most thought-provoking aspect of the evening was the knowledge that Coleman and Detweiler had actually committed to living exclusively in this space — eating, sleeping, showering, creating — for three weeks. Remnants of this experience were visible here and there — a portable shower like something used for camping, a homemade tent filled with pillows and blankets for sleeping, a toilet — and provided a more resonant layer of meaning to what otherwise might have seemed mere spectacle.

“No Vacancy: An Unnecessary Void”

Though obviously not a new concept, the idea of artists living in their exhibition space as part of the art itself is naturally and wonderfully replete with content. It infuses “No Vacancy” with energy as authentic as it is obsessive and devoted. Like ascetics preparing themselves for some higher work through endurance, fixation and restraint, Coleman and Detweiler sought the unearthing of some revelatory constellation of thoughts, feelings, memories and sensations.

Even though individual elements do not culminate in a cohesive work, “No Vacancy” is an ambitious and admirable undertaking, and it succeeds in many ways. Among them are the raw impact of the performances and the all-encompassing character of the installation, a rare treat in Atlanta. At their best, such installations catapult the viewer into wildly unfamiliar realms of experience. (Think Ben Roosevelt’s “The Blue Flame” at Get This! Gallery last year.) “No Vacancy” definitely accomplishes a level of otherworldliness at moments. I hope Dashboard continues in this direction.

An artists’ talk will take place today, July 30, at 7 p.m. Video footage of the artists’ performance is on view in the exhibition space. The closing performance and closing reception will take place August 8.

View more photos from the exhibition space here

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