ArtsATL > Art+Design > Review: Emerging artists intrigue in Dashboard Co-op’s “Boom City”

Review: Emerging artists intrigue in Dashboard Co-op’s “Boom City”

Light box from Stephanie Dowda's installation, “Utopohilia"
Bethany Collins: “(Unrelated),”
A detail of Bethany Collins’ installation “(Unrelated).”

Dashboard Co-op stages yearly exhibitions to showcase emerging artists. “Boom City,” the young Atlanta curatorial group’s third major presentation, features 12 artists whose work sprawls through the third floor of the historic M. Rich Building downtown. Its offices lend themselves to small gallery-style hangs, but the most successful presentations ignore those boundaries and transform the space.

Mike Black’s “Disregard Series #1” best represents the ethos of “Boom City.” Part of Dashboard’s mission is to create interest in vacant spaces in the city. (The third floor has been empty for more than two years.) Black’s piece cleverly highlights the structure of the building and draws the eye down the corridor with a network of Easter egg-colored PVC pipes that extends down a hallway, into rooms and seemingly through partitions via air ducts. The colors are inviting and the shapes dynamic, as if the PVC was flowing throughout, bouncing off the floor and bursting through walls.

Black’s previous works have been interventions in galleries and urban settings. The move into an office interior allows him to more fully integrate the piece into the venue and illuminate the building’s inner workings. His largest intervention to date, “Disregard Series #1” makes the structure seem like a living thing with a respiratory system rather than air ducts.

Mike Black: “Disregard Series #1”
Mike Black’s “Disregard Series #1” makes the building seem like a living thing.

Two of the strongest installations in “Boom City” exist within the confines of rooms, but to transformative and even transportive effect. Landscape photographer Stephanie Dowda’s piece is her first foray into installation. For “Utopohilia” — a cross between “utopia” and “topophilia” — she painted an interior room black and covered the ceiling lights with black cloth. The floor is covered with AstroTurf and wood chips; a mound of papier mâché rocks leans against a wall. The sole illumination comes from four light boxes showing Dowda’s photographs and from small punctures in the cloth covering the ceiling lights. The effect is starlit. The light boxes are like scenes glimpsed through trees, glowing as if by moonlight.

On opening night, the crowd’s response reinforced the scenic quality of “Utopophilia.” Visitors clustered in small groups and couples paired off, their faces barely visible. The mood was that of a gathering of stargazers and young lovers in a field, celebrating a solstice.

Stephanie Dowda installation, “Utopohilia"
A light box in Stephanie Dowda’s “Utopohilia.”

When I returned a few days later, “Utopophila” was empty, the wood chips shuffled to the side. It was like returning to the scene of an outdoor gathering the next day and surveying the detritus-strewn lawn. Though the effect was diminished, the feeling of a recent party haunts the room.

Bethany Collins’ installation is more minimalist, yet stunning in its deceptive simplicity. She has created a solo show within an interior room. One wall is painted black and inscribed with “(unrelated)” in chalk in vertical rows, like the punishment of a grudging schoolboy. She has partly erased the lines of words, leaving gauzy blurs in which the text is still faintly visible. Clouds of the characters composing the phrase amass atop the blurs and partial erasures. These clouds are like snow flurries and snowfall; they have a muffling effect, silencing noise and demanding the viewer’s attention. A smattering of black canvases on an adjacent wall displays the same style of erased text and character clouds.

“(Unrelated)” references a photograph of Collins and her family that was published in The Montgomery Advertiser, in which she and her family members were falsely identified as “unrelated.” Collins’ family is of mixed race; the misidentification evoked defensive feelings. Collins says, “Much of my work has come from these small moments of having to clarify, justify or defend.…”

The other wall in Collins’ room (the fourth is given to doorways and interior windows) holds works on paper from her “Webster’s New World Dictionary” series. The series uses dictionary definitions which Collins carefully transcribes, replicating the font, and then aggressively erases so that the paper tears. Pink eraser stains mingle with the shreds. In some works a few words are left intact, drawing attention to the void left by those removed and heightening the sense of violence. The images are like raw emotions, the remaining words emerging as if through a throat choked by anger.

Not all the works in “Boom City” are successful. Charlie Watts styled a room like a butterfly house, complete with tropical plants, netting and live monarchs. In the chilly air of opening night, however, the butterflies seemed to wilt; one escaped and eventually died on the roof of the net and was still there several days later, long after its brethren were whisked away (hopefully to safety).

Though the butterflies didn’t fare well, the artists in this year’s Dashboard presentation mostly thrived in the space. “Boom City” gives the artists an opportunity to experiment with larger scale and explore new mediums. Though some of the pieces were for opening night only, the most intriguing works are on view through March 2.

The gallery is open Mondays and Wednesdays 6-9 p.m. or by appointment.

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