The end of the year is always a good time for taking inventory, writing lists, and otherwise making sense of the previous 364 days. If one were interested in taking an inventory of Atlanta's art scene in 2009, FORM: artistic independence would be a good place to start.
The annual publication, now in its second year, selects submissions from artists who live within 100 miles of Atlanta and binds them together in a big, hardbound book. Williams-England, a nonprofit design firm based out of WonderRoot Studio, has done an admirable job designing the volume and making sure the work has enough room on the pages to breathe.
Folks who've kept a close eye on local artists will likely recognize some pieces here. Among them is Aubrey Longley-Cook's clever "Blue Bird," a discreetly obscene piece of embroidery used in Mondo Politico earlier this year during the MondoHomo festival. Seen in context with Longley-Cook's other masculine embroideries, the hand-stitched middle-finger print retains the same clever power it held months ago as part of the exhibit.
Atlanta art-veteran David Baerwalde contributes a trio of sublime and unreal sea scenes. Each features a relatively cliché and nostalgic pen-and-ink drawing of a clipper ship carrying a massive, disproportional piece of cargo. One holds a molar tooth, another an anatomical heart, and the last ferries a fatty, T-bone steak. The scenes' gentle surrealism inverts the ships' sepia-toned nostalgia and infuses them with a light, droll quality.
The level of quality in FORM is uneven, though it certainly has improved over last year's volume. It should be said that there are a few stinkers that could have been cut from this bunch (Jenny Birdsong and Jinean Robinson come to mind), but, like any year-ending list, it's more pleasant to linger on the good or surprising moments, rather than the bad ones.
Some of the best work here comes from younger, emerging artists. Ashley Anderson's pixelated, post-Nintendo work is a lucid, focused twist on traditional portraiture. April Leigh Donaldson's photographs are pedestrian documents of Atlanta, but they exhibit an eye for color and composition worth watching.
Woven in with the images are quotes from a generic questionnaire ("Describe your overall aesthetic in five words," "What would you be if you weren't an artist?" etc.) that fall flat more often than they succeed. Baerwalde scores some clever points with his poignant and sole response, "Independence means not answering questionnaires. Never answer questionnaires." Occasionally the quotes lend some insight into the process, such as John Milam's confession about his Wikipedia addiction and the way research fuels his work, but future volumes might consider including work titles and material information instead.
In a sweetly ambitious introductory statement, the Williams-England curators express an intention to weave FORM "into the vibrant cloth that is Atlanta's arts community." They're correct to realize they're not there yet, but this volume indicates that they're on the way. The open call for submissions should encourage a wider diversity of disciplines in the future. It'd be good to see some of Atlanta's ubiquitous street art or more sculptural work included here. With any luck, that's exactly what we'll be taking inventory of next year.