ArtsATL > Art+Design > Review: Public art, from street art and guerrilla acts to video projections and performance

Review: Public art, from street art and guerrilla acts to video projections and performance

It’s been a busy time for public art in Atlanta, and there’s more to come. This moment — tonight’s closing party for “Living Walls” at Eyedrum and with the prospect of FLUX 2010 on Friday evening — seems a good time to pause and take stock.

“Living Walls: The City Speaks.” Atlanta artists Monica Campana  and Blacki Li Rudi Migliozzi, aided by Eyedrum president Priscilla Smith, brought in a cadre of international street artists to bedeck the town with murals in August. These and other artists contributed smaller-scale work for the sprawling show at Eyedrum, which closes tonight with a party and discussion at 6 p.m. There was also a convocation about urbanism and public space.

The participating artists, some renowned in their world, show great technical skills: expert draftsmanship, facility with scale and smart use of space. One mural, in Castleberry Hill, wraps cleverly around a corner. It’s the choice of imagery that separates the men from the boys.

The boys — and most of these artists are male — seem stuck in an adolescent’s world of video games and comic books. Their work is larded with gore, grotesquerie and violence. It’s work by artists such as Remed, Doodles and Atlanta’s Paper Twins (who are, perhaps not incidentally, female) that makes a positive contribution to the environment.

In a departure from convention, Campana secured permission from property owners, which might have eliminated the sticky vandalism issue but for the punks who tagged over the murals. Fur-flying conversations on Burnaway and Creative Loafing revealed, among other things, the tension between the anarchic impulses in which the art originated and an emerging hierarchy based on (O.M.G.) quality.

“Convergent Frequencies.” This multi-media, multi-artist, neighborhood-themed event took place on successive evenings the weekend of September 17 in an empty lot on Krog Street. It will be re-staged at FLUX2010 this weekend.

A festive mood prevailed. There was a food truck, a bar and an information booth, offering  promotional material on local arts events and on i45, the gallery consortium that, along with Possible Futures, sponsored “Convergent Frequencies.”

My fellow critic Jerry Cullum approached the event as an immersive environment and quite enjoyed it. I was too disappointed in the parts, linked thematically by references to the surrounding neighborhoods, to feel favorably about the whole.

Matt Gilbert made a video projection of neighborhood scenes, which he distorted electronically according to the sounds of the musicians who played atop a shipping container, a process that is more interesting than its result. The same could be said for Nat Slaughter’s sound works, field recordings of ambient sounds on themed walks in the area. The idea of focusing on places where the street grid was interrupted, for instance, had poetic promise, but the actual recording, played inside shipping containers, had no distinctive qualities that I could discern. Perhaps the noisy festival atmosphere was not conducive to the required attention.

The urban scenes that Matt Haffner painted on exteriors of the shipping containers were expertly done but overly familiar. He uses them to much greater effect in his multi-media piece in “Quadrennial: Greater Decatur 2010” at Agnes Scott College.

“Roadside Haiku.” Atlanta artist John Morse critiqued ubiquitous sign pollution by making and displaying subversive look-alikes. Again, the concept was better than the execution — the haikus weren’t especially clever, and they were torn down so fast that I don’t know how many people saw them. But the brouhaha and consciousness-raising about public space, which we covered in a past post, were terrific. “Roadside Haiku” was commissioned by Flux Projects.

“Paint Shed.” Boston artist Doug Weathersby runs Environmental Services, a cleaning and repair business. His execution of humdrum work is part performance art, part Zen. By elevating ordinary actions into art, Weathersby intends to focus our attention on the way we live.

His project here, a paint-abatement service, is also part good works. The artist has collected some 300 cans of discarded paint and is disposing of it by using it to make a painting on a drop cloth, which he is executing in front of his paint shed in the parking lot next door to 350 Moreland Avenue. (He’ll be there between noon and 7 p.m. through September 30.)

The absurdist and amusing ”action painting” is a come-on of sorts. The real meat of the piece is talking with the artist. Conversation inevitably revolves around environmental issues, and I came away from mine more knowledgeable.

But I found myself wondering whether the project was a good use of the artist’s time and Flux Projects’ money. To attract visitors, Weathersby is basically dependent on word of mouth, which will generally be among those in the arts community, or on the curiosity of people driving by the paint shed. Perhaps the quality and character of the interaction are more important than the number of people affected, but it’s definitely a public-art piece with a limited public.

Whatever their individual merits or issues, the cumulative effect of these projects is all to the good. Atlantans have engaged in a wide array of art forms, ranging from graffiti art and multi-media spectacle to small-scale guerrilla conceptual art and performance. Like them or not, these works have stimulated conversation and awareness — about art, public space and quality. Kudos to all the adventurous sponsors and organizers. Keep it coming.

Disclosure: ArtsCriticATL recently received a grant from Possible Futures, which is operated by Louis Corrigan, founder of Flux Projects.

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