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Blink of an eye

Eyedrum bids old space farewell with eclectic show

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Scrappy, artist-run Eyedrum has never been considered a vanity space.

A cluster of volunteer organizers mostly choose or curate the shows, as well as book the bands, and once in a while they play bit parts in conceptual group exhibitions. This month, though, 22 members are featuring their own work in Multiple Media Dimensions of Delirium. The exhibition celebrates Eyedrum's upcoming move from downtown to 290 M.L.K. Jr. Drive in September.

Definitely of a this-and-that aesthetic, works range from sculpture to painting to collage and multi-media installations. Curious dimensional works generally take the show. "Unnatural Channels: Green Lion Won't come, Elvis appears," Robert Cheatham's ode to St. Elvis (Presley) may be the most esoteric bit of symbology on view. A thrift store painting of Elvis sits inside a circle painted on the floor. The late musician joins a 4-foot swooping plastic shark and a time capsule-shaped gizmo atop a red-painted wood stove.

Occasionally, a great whoosh of thick white smoke is piped into the scenario through another gadget that Cheatham hooked up to the air conditioner unit above the front door. "It's expressing alchemical ideas, older notions about mythological structures," he intones mysteriously.

Sloane Robinson set up her clever (and infinitely more transparent) self-reflection behind a black curtain a few steps away. She shows a video in a carpet-lined niche beside a wall covered in the hand-written lines of Langston Hughes' poem "Harlem." The poem about blacks' struggle with racism is reinterpreted, examining the artist's personal "dream deferred" -- a childhood fantasy about becoming an actress is revealed in a flashback. Instead, Robinson grew up to work in carpet sales. Now a commercial temptress, she poses in black undies, draped or crouched seductively across rug samples. The cheesy pinup salesgirl/artist reckons with her wannabe illusions while exposing our own superficial desires. This is one clever twist on the poetics of discontent.

Ensconced in another curtained hideaway, "A Scene from Macondo" by Nisa Asokan offers up a strange feast. A table with two chairs is set for two for a dinner that is distinctly inedible -- plates filled with curls of shredded old linoleum and chunks of asphalt, along with a sickly green liquid in wine glasses. Directions for the viewer to switch on a small cassette player are nearby. The tediously long audio track includes intriguing ambient and staged sounds. Among them, we hear an elephant eating, family dinner conversations, noises at a four-way traffic stop in India and the voice of Gabriel Garcia Marquez reading in Spanish from One Hundred Years of Solitude. Writer Asokan seems to be sharing fragments of a short story, though the obtuse metaphors didn't make me all that curious about her books for sale just outside.

Hormuz Minina, Eyedrum's new chairman of the board, created "Two Spaces Laid Bare." Copper wires suspended from the ceiling reach down to eye level, transmitting power to two tiny monitors. Side-by-side video images in slow-mo scan across the old and new Eyedrum venues. Except for its clever, stripped-down technical elements, the barebones newscast sparks only one creative link as it shifts from the red-painted silo outside the new digs to the eye of Cheatham's shark in this show.

Anthony Tetloff's "Ambiguosity" is definitely vague. The artist plays with light and space in reverse. He starts by having the viewer switch a button from "on" to "off" before entering his dark-draped space. Vague phosphorescent images float around inside. His scarcely edited soundtrack is a mix of drama class rehearsal and Eyedrum documentary. The most notable moment is when the artist shouts, "This place stinks!" Could he be describing the scent of stale beer and cigarettes that lingers in the air? Would it be the beat-up furniture in the lounge and the gritty cement floors downstairs or the sinking floors upstairs? Maybe he means the memorable red-painted rock wall and sections of ceiling lined in tinfoil and black plastic.

In contrast, quieter contemplative works by Will Lawless (a photographic "Ode to Brassai"), Alicia Jenkins (the collaged assemblage "Diary") and Lisa Alembik's "arrow/arum" drawings attest to the remarkable spectrum of aesthetics for which Eyedrum has become known. This is not a full-throttle show like the earlier Switch or recent Hardware exhibitions, and there's no evidence of the ecstatic Delirium proposed by the title. Multiple Dimensions, instead, represents an effort to keep some visual energy flowing while Eyedrum takes a deep breath before making an enormous transition.

Sunni McGarrity, one of the musician-type founders, admits that some will miss what she calls "the dungeon effect" of the gallery's original space when it relocates to a one-level, 3,000-square-foot warehouse across the street from Daddy D'z three-quarters of a mile away. The new art and performance venue will be handicap accessible with clean white walls, central air and heat. And real bathrooms.

The move is purposeful. To become a certified nonprofit organization, Eyedrum needed a home that met building codes. The 501(c) (3) designation means a chance for grants and sponsorships, a way to finance more national and international projects and performances, explains McGarrity.

Will the gentrified alternative artspace lose its edge? No way, says Woody Cornwell, another key founder who, after four years of slumming, is totally ready to kiss all that "character" good-bye. "Our vision is the same ... A key word at Eyedrum is 'risk,'" he continues. "We've taken a lot of those, and it's always been worth it."

Eyedrum Music & Art Gallery presents Multiple Media Dimensions of Delirium through Aug. 25. 253 Trinity Ave. Wed. and Sat., noon-5 p.m. Thurs. 3-7 p.m. Any time during music shows. 404-422-6517. www.eyedrum.org.

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