It’s a Dallas Day, Part 1: Leigh A. Arnold

April 29, 2014 · Print This Article

Over the coming months, the Bad at Sports blog is featuring quick glimpses of the art world as it exists in smaller cities across the country and around the world. Each glimpse is byway of some of the said city’s local characters, which include but are not limited to artists, curators, creative writers, and critics. In this Dallas Day article, curator Leigh A. Arnold tours the Dallas sites.

Dalla[s]ites

Guest post by Leigh A. Arnold

I moved to Dallas over eight years ago, which by all accounts qualifies me as a true Texan. Though, to be honest, Dallasites are so friendly I am certain that the moment I signed my first apartment lease, I was considered one of their own. Regardless of how Texan I may be, eight years is unquestionably enough time to gain some perspective on the area arts community. What is interesting to report is that unbeknownst to me when I arrived in Dallas in 2006, the city’s art scene was on the cusp of a major upswing in activity. Since my arrival, Dallas has seen the development of several key contributors to our current state of affairs: the establishment of the vital CentralTrak: The UT Dallas Artists Residency, the continued progress of the Dallas Arts District, Dallas Contemporary’s move to the bigger digs in the Design District, the Dallas Art Fair, and most importantly: the development of what I would tentatively describe as an “underground” or at the very least, grassroots art scene at the hands of some of the area’s most talented young artists. Lumped within this “underground” development are a variety of collectives, individuals, galleries, and alternative spaces that have built and sustained a community that is grabbing national headlines.

Members of the weekly sketch club, Children of Artemis, meet at CentralTrak to paint their versions of George W. Bush paintings.

Members of the weekly sketch club, Children of Artemis, meet at CentralTrak to paint their versions of George W. Bush paintings.

My awareness of the local arts scene was magnified during my tenure as a researcher and curator for the Dallas Museum of Art’s 50-year art scene retrospective titled DallasSITES. The project sought to accomplish for the Dallas area what the Pacific Standard Time initiative did for Southern California, essentially the recovery of recent art history specific to our local geography. Not only did my research for this project familiarize me with the rich history of contemporary art in Dallas, but it also pushed me to explore what was happening in the now. What became increasingly apparent is that history does indeed repeat itself, if in slight incremental improvements. Artists’ concerns are universal and timeless – issues of space and support (financial, creative, emotional) continually plague Dallas artists, as they do nearly everywhere. But for every problem presented to Dallas artists, creative solutions abound.

Take for example, the issue of space. Fortunately for artists here, the old adage “everything in Texas is bigger” is true and unlike New York City or Los Angeles, big spaces do not necessarily come with outrageously expensive rental rates. Thanks to the support of several real estate developers around Dallas, exciting projects are happening. In the area known as Deep Ellum—historically recognized as the birthplace of early jazz and blues in Dallas—the artist duo Jeff Gibbons and Justin Ginsberg, also known as Apophenia Underground, have been hosting the curatorial project Deep Ellum Windows. Through an agreement with the neighborhood property owner, the duo have extended space to curators and artists who in turn have converted otherwise vacant storefronts into challenging and thought-provoking exhibitions. Past shows have included the work of Dallas-based artists Cassandra Emswiler, Stephen Lapthisophon, and Brandon Kennedy, alongside national and international artists Kristin Oppenheim and Rachel de Joode. Active for over a year, Deep Ellum Windows represents the kind of possibilities that can happen when enterprising artists connect with open-minded property owners.

Another example of this kind of synergy is happening in the neighborhood of West Dallas, a stone’s throw (or five minute drive on the freeway) from Deep Ellum. Previously blighted by lead contamination and a history of neglect from the City of Dallas, this area of town has recently undergone a complete renaissance with the development of neighborhoods like Trinity Groves and Sylvan/Thirty. Restaurants, shops, and new dwelling units are helping to gentrify the neighborhood and artist Arthur Peña’s various warehouse projects are making West Dallas a hot spot for the Dallas art avant-garde. Peña is an Oak Cliff native, who attended the Rhode Island School of Design for his MFA before coming back to his home town. Since his return, he has managed to develop the exhibition/performance venue Ware:Wolf:Haus, as well as the concert space Vice Palace, all while pursuing his own artistic career. On any given weekend night (and an occasional weeknight), Peña’s spaces are pulsing with energy, from the art scene regulars stopping by to check out the latest exhibition to the beats from the latest incarnation of Dallas performance artist George Quartz and his band of misfits and back-up dancers.

Exhibition opening for Matthew Koons, Allison Ginsberg and Randy Guthmiller's "Things and Places" at Ware: Wolf: Haus

Exhibition opening for Matthew Koons, Allison Ginsberg and Randy Guthmiller’s “Things and Places” at Ware:Wolf:Haus

Artist and musician Pierre Bürger at Ware:Wolf:Haus

Artist and musician Pierre Bürger at Ware:Wolf: Haus for THRWD Fest

Apart from Deep Ellum Windows and Peña’s West Dallas projects, the city has also seen a revitalization of artist-run spaces and alternative galleries. By now considered Dallas’ standard go-to for challenging work and off-the-wall installations, Oliver Francis Gallery located in East Dallas, started in 2012 as a labor of love for UT-Arlington grad, Kevin Jacobs. With the energy of a school boy, Jacobs curates his modest space with artists from his gallery roster (which includes Peña, Gibbons, Jeff Zilm, and Moreshin Allahyari, among others) and also willingly hands over the keys to artists seeking to explore their own curatorial concerns, most notably, the artists of DB14: Dallas Biennial: Michael Mazurek and Jesse Morgan Barnett. Jacobs’ day job as the Assistant Curator at the Goss-Michael Foundation uniquely positions him to have access to the ever-elusive institutional support. Through his position there, Jacobs is able to cross-pollinate his artists with those in the Goss-Michaels galleries, in effect putting his artists’ work in front of some of Dallas’ most well-known and deep-pocketed collectors.

Oliver Francis Gallery

Oliver Francis Gallery

A performance at Oliver Francis Gallery during Poetry Night

A performance at Oliver Francis Gallery during THRWD’s “Wow. Such Poetry” Night curated by Lee Escobedo

Operating outside the concerns of collectors, i.e., commercialism, Karen Weiner’s wonderfully intimate and cerebral space, The Reading Room, located around the corner from Oliver Francis Gallery and facing Fair Park, provides the kind of quiet, yet powerful programming that fills a void in the Dallas art community. With a focus on the influence of language on the visual arts, Weiner’s single-room gallery has hosted exhibitions by artists like Matthew Cusick, Rebecca Carter, Amy Revier, and The Art Foundation – a curatorial collaboration consisting of Ryder Richards, Lucia Simek, and Andrew Douglas Underwood, alongside programs and performances like a reading by Kenneth Goldsmith, a performance of Robert Ashley’s work by the sibling duo Nicolas and Andrew Miller, and even an exotic mushroom demonstration by local produce purveyor Tom Spicer.

Kenneth Goldsmith at The Reading Room

Kenneth Goldsmith at The Reading Room

What Weiner’s space and those of Jacobs, Peña’s and the Apophenia Underground duo’s prove is that support need not be top-down for an artistic community to thrive. For all of its accomplishments, the Dallas arts community is still a very self-conscious one, as the recent response to Artforum’s society-page-worthy recap of the Dallas Art Fair will attest. Yes, Dallas boasts a very active and internationally-known collector community, but that community is largely absent from any of the spaces/events mentioned above. This is in part due to the city’s persistent need to feel validation, and in the case of the deep-pocketed collectors, that validation must come from the outside, before it will garner any kind of support from them. Until those collectors feel secure enough in their own ability to make decisions about what to acquire/support, this divide between the collector class and the artist class will persist. Fortunately for Dallas, the artists here do not seem too concerned with bridging that gap. They are too busy making exciting things happen.

Leigh A. Arnold is a curatorial fellow at the Nasher Sculpture Center and consulting curator for the exhibition Robert Smithson in Texas at the Dallas Museum of Art, on view through April 2014. She has previously held the position of research fellow at the Dallas Museum of Art for the special project DallasSITES: Charting Contemporary Art, 1963 to Present, which culminated in an exhibition and online publication in the spring of 2013. In addition to her professional endeavors, Arnold is a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Dallas, where she is writing on Robert Smithson’s relationship to Texas.

All images courtesy Andi Harman

 

 

EDITION #29

April 28, 2014 · Print This Article

City Still Reeling from MFA Show

This years edition of SAIC’s annual behemoth was as sprawling as ever. Each person’s account sounds like a completely different exhibition than others, but I think we can all agree that SAIC is “on trend.” If we covered every piece in the fair MFA show this column would never end. Within the leviathan there were a few clear winners, and who wants to hear about losers anyway?

Andrew Holmquist Video

If you missed Andrew Holmquist‘s video you need to return to go and start over. Immediately on your left as you walk into the Sullivan Galleries, Holmquist’s video is reminiscent of video work by Alex Hubbard, flattening the world of objects into the two-dimensional register of his paintings (and maybe a little bit of the reverse).

Shining Shimmering Splendid from Andrew Holmquist on Vimeo. From the exhibition Temporal Figuration at LVL3.

In a similar shorter video piece, Shining Shimmering Splendid, shown recently at LVL3, Holmquist can be seen positioning the objects in a pair of black high heels and a sheer aquamarine raincoat. In Painting Space and Time at the MFA show objects (mostly) appear to be propelled by an unseen force, leading me to imagine the Rube Goldberg contraption of Fischli and Weiss’s The Way Things Go in Technicolor. Despite the conjuring of a million references, the color, light and sound are distinctly Andrew’s own, bringing his painting practice into time and space in a imaginative and captivating way.

Naama Arad window piece

Naama Arad‘s Bahad 1 was another personal favorite. Made simply from perforated xerox prints and tape the work was more impactful than a robot or any number of gigantic fabricated tongues. The hanging shifted subtlety as the sun set downtown, and mingled effortlessly with the throngs of visitors to the exhibition.

The title of the piece, Bahad 1, takes it’s name from the training bases of the Israeli Defense Force, the first of which is a well known school for training officers (according to Wikipedia). Rather than a geometric abstraction, the large scale print is an image of the old synagogue at Bahad 1, designed by Zvi Hacker with Alfred and Naomi Nueman in the late 1960s. Who knew the Bauhaus was so prominent in IDF architecture? Is Arad’s lattice something more sinister? We hope this promising artist doesn’t leave Chicago too soon after graduation, we want to see more.

These works and a whole lot of other stuff is on view at the SAIC Sullivan Galleries until May 14th. The shows tumblr-ish website isn’t half bad this year either.

#Scene at the MFA Show & Not

Painting MFA Caleb Yono and friends making a scene at Sullivan.

The crowd through McKenzie Thompson’s installation.

Thompson (right) with SAIC Curatorial Fellow, Alda Tchochiev.

The Weatherman Report

Helen Frankenthaler, Vuillard’s Chariot, 2006, Lithograph in 7 colors on Rives BFK paper, 24 3/4 x 30 1/8″.

Chromatic Consortium Vibrant

The Franklin, the sukkah-looking gallery located in Garfield Park, is one of the most thoughtful and innovative exhibition spaces in all of Chicago (it’s also the coldest in the winter). The stylized outdoor exhibition space seems to effortlessly adapt to the demands of it’s exhibitions, ranging from solo shows to large group exhibitions featuring dinners, bonfires, black metal and, of course, Edra Soto’s signature pineapple upside down cake.

Work by Leslie Baum, Radames Juni, Easton Miller and Candace M. Briceño-Connolly.

Closeup of work by Leslie Baum.

Soto, who built the gallery in the back of her home with partner Dan Sullivan, does far more than just bake cakes. The gallery is clearly the result of her love for art and the joy she experiences sharing it with others. Chromatic Consortium, which closed this past Saturday, was a prime example of Soto’s broad range as a curator. Only Edra could (or would) pair paintings by her students at SAIC with work by artists in the Whitney Biennial and make it work.

Works by Ryan Richey, Lisa Alvarado and Iryne Roh.

As Soto toured me through the exhibition it became apparent that what really binds the show is her relationship to the artists and her genuine interest in their process and production. Each artist has some personal connection to Soto, or she admired their work so much she decided to contact them cold. Who could resist Edra’s big smile and warm heart? She discusses a portrait made by a second year student with the same reverence as any #WhiBi artist. The consideration for each work position relative to the small space makes the exhibition click without feeling overcrowded.

Work by Leonardo Kaplan, Maya Hayuk and Mara Baker.

If you missed this show then we’re sad for you, but all is not lost. For the Franklin’s next exhibition Soto is teaming up with the firebrand Sabina Ott (proprietor of her own experimental ourdoor space– Terrain) for SCAPE with work by Alison Ruttan, Alex Tam and Assaf Evron, Joe Jeffers and Ott. The exhibition opens this Saturday, May 3rd at 6pm. Praying for no rain, but as Edra pointed out to me, nothing can dampen The Franklin or the art inside.

Honorable mention to Dan Gunn’s Instagram.

Header image features a detail image of Naama Arad’s Bahad 1, on display at the SAIC MFA Exhibition until May 14th.

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The lovely Ashley Drapes with Daniel Romeu.

What’s Black and White with Red lips? Gan Uyeda, Raven Munsell and Sharmyn Rivera.

Meanwhile in the West Loop: Ryan Travis Christian with Mike Rea and Heidi Norton at Christian’s exhibition Check Please! at Western Ex.

The drapes match the curtains at Check Please!

What You Should Have Noticed in April

April 25, 2014 · Print This Article

Welcome to this month’s edition of What You Should Have Noticed, wherein I try to hit the highlights of this month’s art news, paying special attention to those stories that touch on our city on the lake. We’ve got plenty to talk abut, so let’s get started:

United States Artists Comes to Chicago

In this month’s biggest local story, the LA-based organization United States Artists has left the doldrum left coast for sunny Chicago. The organization, which is backed by an over twenty million dollar endowment from the Ford, Rockefeller, Prudential, and Rasmuson Foundations, will continue to distribute unrestricted grants of $50,000 each to individual artists. Past awardees include Theaster Games, Chris Ware, Martha Rosler, Catherine Sullivan, and Mark Bradford. Selection is by nomination, but don’t let that stop you from buying drinks for new CEO Carolina Jayram, former executive director of the Chicago Artists Coalition, and the rest of the new staff at United States Artists: Meg Leary, Britton Bertran, Anna Harris, and Kipa L. Davis.

United States Artists

Union! Union! Art Handlers Win Big

It’s no secret that the work of art rarely ends in the studio. The shipping, crating, boxing, handling, transportation, installation, conservation, and restoration of art takes money, work, and a lot of workers. Last year, London-based Frieze drew widespread criticism by refusing union labor at its Frieze Art Fair in New York. This year, the workers were ready with protests after the fair announced it would again refuse to hire union workers. Happily, the protests were successful, leading to a reversal of Frieze’s labor position and an agreement to use Teamster labor at this year’s fair. Meanwhile, in Chicago, 31 of our city’s finest art handlers at Mana-Terry Dowd broke the company’s allegedly militant anti-unionism and voted to join Teamsters Local 705. Here’s hoping the movement spreads.

William J. O’Brien

This month’s highlight Facebook discussion came from an observation made by Marc Fischer (of Public Collectors, and author of consistently excellent status updates) that much of William J. O’Brien’s art at the MCA “very closely resemble the aesthetics of a number of African American folk artists, and developmentally challenged artists that the MCA (or the Renaissance Society) never exhibits,” especially evoking folky face jug traditions and works by Judith Scott. Were you surprised that the ceramics and craft on display at the museum came from a tweedy white guy?

Judith Scott

Judith Scott

William J. O'Brien

William J. O’Brien

Theaster Gates Café in Logan Square

Not news to everyone, but Theaster Gates has joined the Elastic Arts Foundation on a project to build a café in the Hairpin Lofts building at the corner of Milwaukee and Diversey. We call that Avondale, but who cares – visitors will be able to walk a few more blocks to see the amazing Big Smile Dentist display at 2833 N. Milwaukee.

Big Smile Dentist

Roberta Smith on James Franco, George W. Bush, and Roberta Smith

Next time it comes up in conversation, you might cleverly comment that ‘the worst part about celebrity invasion of the contemporary arts space is that it has only begun.’ From Jay Z and Lady Gaga’s collaborative works with (or riffs on) Marina Abramovic, to Wu-Tang’s revelation – technically a March issue – that they’ll be shopping around a single-copy exhibition of a new album at ticketed museum listening parties, the trend is gaining traction. Cue this month’s exhibition at Pace Gallery of actor James Franco’s recreations of Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled Film Stills,” described by Roberta Smith as embarrassing, clueless, narcissistic, desperate, confused, and (oddly) sympathetic; while Sherman herself describes the project as flattering, but not quite art. Somewhere in intellectual hell, Bourdieu pens appendices in disappearing ink.

Speaking of clumsy celebrity forays into contemporary art: while Franco may be shooting for the peak of art’s claim to cultural significance and landing somewhere in the zone of lame pretension, former president George W. Bush (two wars, etc.) is showing up on this month’s art radar from the opposite direction. His paintings of things, places, and political leaders, exhibited this month at the Southern Methodist University’s George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, are also shitty and interesting.

And – AND! – speaking of Smith herself, she gave a lecture this month at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, in which she introduced her own history as an art writer, encouraged every artist capable of doing something other than art to do that instead, and handled some of the most god-awful audience questions this writer has ever suffered. These included representatives of the true conservative art camp in Chicago as well as the kinda-pretty-conservative-sounding New Art Examiner crowd (they’re rebooting under the name New Art Examiner Now, so we’ll see how that goes).

Tony Fitzpatrick Leaving Chicago

Tony Fitzpatrick – local artist, writer, and monument to a decades-past kind of Saul Bellows Maxwell Street Market broad shoulders hard working class dimestore sticker soda Chicago culture – is leaving Chicago for New Orleans. Aw, he’ll be back.

Lamin 8 Buys Seaburg

Our favorite framer just got acquired. Bummer.

And that’s it for this month! I probably skipped some important news, of course, such as the bevy of MFA shows opening this week or which have opened already, or the late but beautiful arrival of spring in Chicago (and accompanying murder statistics), but hey, I’m trying to keep this thing under 1000 words. Tune in next month for May’s wrap-up.

Top 5 Weekend Picks! (4/25-4/27)

April 24, 2014 · Print This Article

1. It is Now a Matter of Learning Hope at Threewalls

hope1

Work by Irina Botea.

Threewalls is located at 119 N. Peoria St. #2C. Reception Saturday, 6-9pm.

2. 100 100s on the One and a Half at the Chicago Cultural Center

ShaneHuffman280

Work by Shane Huffman.

The Chicago Cultural Center is located at 78 E. Washington St. Reception Friday, 5:30-7:30pm.

3. Fujui Wang at Antena

2011White_Fungus_fujui

Performance by Fujui Wang.

Antena is located at 1755 S. Laflin St. Performance Saturday, 7-10pm.

4. Check Please at Western Exhibitions

BringHomeMotherLoad

Work by Ryan Travis Christian.

Western Exhibitions is located at 845 W Washington Blvd. Reception Friday, 5-8pm.

5. Weling at Document

email_1

Work by Thomas Killian Roach.

Document is located at 845 W. Washington Blvd. Reception Friday, 5-8pm.

Energies, Spectres, and Stars: In Search of Place, Part II

April 23, 2014 · Print This Article

For Heidegger, the work of art is that which sets up a world and sets forth earth; “the work lets the earth be an earth” (Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art,” 1936, 172). He says that the temple that sits atop a hill shows us, for the first time, the stoniness of stone. In describing a Van Gogh, he claims that we must look at paint’s color thus: “[c]olor shines and wants only to shine. When we analyze it in rational terms by measuring its wavelengths, it is gone. It shows itself only when it remains undisclosed and unexplained” (Heidegger 1936,172). The work of art is tied to the world and the earth from which is springs forth.

To continue my article last month that dealt with recent sculptural works made/shown in Atlanta that exemplify this setting to work the materials found in our urban environment, I’d like to address two recent image/photography-based projects by Atlanta-based artist Stephanie Dowda. Namely, her projects Topophilia and We Are All We’ve Got. These works, in their dealings with landscape and the cosmos, we find an intricate layering of space that spans prehistoric to astronomical time.

Stephanie Dowda. "Sense of Breaking Apart." 2014. Courtesy of Get This Gallery.

Stephanie Dowda. “Sense of Breaking Apart.” 2014. Courtesy of Get This Gallery.

The Uncanniness of Topophilia

Dowda’s Topophilia, which gets its name from philosopher-geographer Yi-Fu Tuan‘s 1974 book Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and Values, consists of 14 photographic works – all 20″ x 24″ silver gelatin prints. Made using an idiosyncratic medium-format camera, these soft, and often romantic, photographs are the material manifestations of energy emanations. Dowda states that the camera she uses “becomes a vessel [that] capture[s] the sensation” from and of the places she visits. Her process involves letting the camera decide how the light waves will write themselves onto the film. Dowda claims to be taking a step back during the process of making; she lets the landscape itself create and determine the exposure. For an artist intent on photography-based practice, the camera taking over can create an uncanny sort of situation.

Uncanny, unheimlich in the German as an adjective means eerie or frightening, though taken as Unheimlich, a noun, the term becomes an ontological condition, which for Heidegger means a not-being-at-home; in other words, a being-not-familiar-with (Being and Time, 1927, 182). In our everyday dealings, we become “tranquilized” by our familiarity with our habitual world. However, as Heidegger notes, the uncanny emerges when “everyday familiarity collapses.”

Two of the photographs in Topophilia, Sense of Revenant and Sense of Breaking Apart, come from the Walter de Maria Lightning Field. Both of these photographs capture spectral energies – both human and nonhuman. Standing in front of Sense of Breaking Apart feels like splitting. The photograph’s horizon disintegrates into the haze and so does my gaze. Without knowing where this photograph was taken, I felt the energetic pulsations of a place filled with electrical activity. Sense of Revenant combines a sense of the ghostly and the dreamy. Who is visiting this camera, filtering through its shutter? For Freud, the revenant figures as the dream visitor, a “reincarnation” of someone from the dreamer’s life and past. (Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams 1899, 523). But the revenant is also a spectre (i.e., Roland Barthes‘ Spectrum).

Stephanie Dowda. "Sense of Revenant." 2014. Courtesy of Get This Gallery.

Stephanie Dowda. “Sense of Revenant.” 2014. Courtesy of Get This Gallery.

Witnessing the ghost throws us into an unfamiliar yet familiar situation. We know this person, but this person should not be here now. The visitation is a strange rupture in our space-time experience. In his book The Memory of Place: A Phenomenology of the Uncanny, Dylan Trigg, writes that

“The relation between aesthetic experience and ontological disruption is not incidental. As an aesthetic gesture in itself, the freezing of the life-world means that, what is taken-for-granted is thus shown in its transcendental givenness. This, indeed, constitutes a necessary estrangement from the world, insofar as it is precisely the everyday world in its familiar assurance that is most susceptible to sudden reversal” (2012, 26).

For Dowda’s photographs, there is this freezing, but also simultaneously a putting into motion. The energetic pulsations of past lightning and the visitor pass through the shutter and make their mark on the silver of the film. These emanations reach out to the camera. However, Dowda, as photographer, reciprocates this reaching. Trigg describes how “our bodies reach out into the world, so a mimetic interplay arises, in which our sense of self becomes fundamentally entwined with the fabric of the world” (2012, 9). For Dowda’s photographs, we can see the camera as an extension of her world and thus it extends out into the world, becomes a sort of being itself.

Prehistorical Time and Astronomical Time

Lucy Lippard’s 1983 book Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory starts with her tripping over a stone – a stone she realized “had been placed there almost 4,000 years ago” (2). For Lippard, her interests do not lie in the use of “prehistoric images in contemporary art”; rather, she is interested in the relationship between the prehistoric and the contemporary. To do this, Lippard uses the figure of the “overlay,” which for her has multiple meanings:

“It is temporal – human time on geologic time; contemporary notions of novelty and obsolescence on prehistoric notions of natural growth and cycles. The imposition of human habitation on the landscape is an overlay … so are the rhythms of the body transferred to the earth, those of the sky to the land or water … Artists working today from models of the distant past are consciously or unconsciously overlaying their knowledge of modern science and history on primal forms that remain mysterious to us despite this knowledge” (Lippard 1983, 3-4).

The stone in the landscape carries with it a richness through its slow accumulation of history. Over time, geologic material adds to material, rock formations develop then deteriorate and change. These stones always rest underfoot. The trip, a certain kind of temporal and spatial disruption, causes us to pay attention, bring us back to the stoniness of the stone. Our bodies, composed of the same material, are inherently part of this earth. Those who were there before us are also part of this landscape. When we step on this ground, we connect to the organic material underfoot.

Stephanie Dowda. "Guardian." 2014. Courtesy of Get This Gallery.

Stephanie Dowda. “Guardian.” 2014. Courtesy of Get This Gallery.

Dowda’s photograph Guardian, taken in Desolation Canyon, UT, allows us to position our present in a broader temporality, one that takes note of the years required to create a stone and what it might have meant for those before us. During Dowda’s artist talk at Get This Gallery, Dowda described the sense of protection that these rock formations of the Canyon created for her. Some sort of energy emanated from this particular geology that affected her. Incidentally, those who inhabited this area before her also felt this energy; the rock formation contains a petroglyph depicting a man who is said to be the guardian of this valley. The particular shape of the formations serve as landmarks, guiding and orienting us in this landscape.

 

In another gesture towards spatial orientation, Dowda’s installation We Are All We’ve Got, which was installed at Emory’s Michael C. Carlos Museum for its event Veneralia, memorialized the extinct star constellations Antinous, Quardrans Muralis, and Argo Navis. Using slides culled from Emory’s Physics Department that are no longer used, Dowda projected these constellations creating a layered human orientation. These projections constitute an “overlay” of our place in this universe.

Stephanie Dowda. "We Are All We've Got." 2014. Courtesy of the artist.

Stephanie Dowda. “We Are All We’ve Got.” 2014. Courtesy of the artist.

Where we are at any particular point in time changes our view of the celestial bodies. Our vision is always contingent upon our position in space and time. Stars are born die. We are created from their dust. These cosmic beings provided our cartographic orientation as well as our bodily one. Socrates argues that the human head rests at the apex of the body so that it is closer to the heavens. From Plato’s Timaeus:

“Now we ought to think of the most sovereign part of our soul as god’s gift to us, given to be our guiding spirit. This, of course, is the type of soul that, as we maintain, resides in the top part of our bodies. It raises us up away from the earth and toward what is akin to us in heaven, as though we are plants grown not from the earth but from heaven” (90a). 

Considering Our Place

It may seem a strange move to discuss works that were not “made in” Atlanta in order to follow up a discussion of Atlanta as place. However, these works serve to broaden the horizon of our place in time and space. For phenomenology, the horizon is what allows us to perceive. According to philosopher Edmund Husserl, we perceive in terms of the horizon and background:

“What is now perceived and what is more or less clearly co-present and determinate (or at least somewhat determinate), are penetrated and surrounded by an obscurely intended to horizon of indeterminate actuality. I can send rays of the illuminative regard of attention into this horizon with varying results. Determining presentiations, obscure at first and then becoming alive, haul something out for me; a chain of such quasi-memories is linked together; the sphere of determinateness becomes wider and wider, perhaps so wide that connection is made with the field of actual perception as my central surroundings” (Husserl, Ideas I, 1913, 49).

In other words, the indeterminate haziness of the horizon gives determinacy to the object perceived; the object emerges from this horizon. For Dowda’s photographs and projections, the horizons of time and space constitute the images that we are presented with. These images, of this world but completely otherworldy, throw us into uncanniness. Instead of being destroyed by this mood as anxiety, however, it provokes us to consider where we stand. Where we are. When we are. As Dylan Trigg states,

“[t]he uncanny is strange rather than shocking, weird rather than annihilating. Often, we fail to recognize the power of the uncanny, its workings registered only belatedly and in parched fragments. At that time, we turn to ourselves in order to ask the following question: What just happened to me? A feeling of disempowerment occurs. The unity of self-identity becomes vulnerable. No longer do we feel at ease within ourselves. The uncanny leaves us in a state of disquiet, unnerved precisely because we lack the conceptual scheme to put the uncanny in its rightful ‘place.’” (2012, 28)

It would be too easy to deal with this uneasiness by passing it over, by claiming that there is no place that needs dealing with. I realize that the noplace of Noplaceness also gestures towards the duplicitous definition of utopia: utopia as good place and no place. However, since utopia holds within it a non-existence, it in fact is a nowhere, it is no place at all, it is the here, this place where we stand, that we must consider.