On the front porch of Whitespace Gallery owner Susan Bridge's Inman Park home, the three artists of "Convergent Frequencies" are gathered in white wicker chairs. Danny Davis, a production manager Bridges calls "the bulldog of the project," arrives with a round of beers, the clear bottles sweating in the late summer heat. Soon enough, the artists will be the ones sweating, transforming a gravel- and weed-speckled vacant lot at the corner of Krog and Irwin streets into a pop-up gallery; a multimedia installation primarily constructed of 45-foot-long, 4-ton steel shipping containers. This night, though, they pass around the bottle opener and sip beer, reclined and shaded from the heat.
Bridges, who speaks in a cultivated Southern accent that might belie her impeccable taste in contemporary art, lives just a few blocks from that vacant lot. "I drive by that corner about five times a day, every day, and it's just crying for something," she says. In between playful giggles, she continues, "Then God told me in a dream that we needed to have shipping containers." The dream, Bridges explains, was to build a gallery from the same containers that pass through the rail yards along DeKalb Avenue.
Late last spring, Bridges contacted Matt Gilbert, Matt Haffner, and Nat Slaughter, the artists now sitting on her porch, and they began collaborating. When "Convergent Frequencies" premieres Fri., Sept. 17, Haffner's narrative wheatpastes will adorn the containers' exteriors, while stereo systems inside them will play Slaughter's Old Fourth Ward and Little Five Points field recordings. Gilbert will project videos onto a swath of an adjacent warehouse roughly the size of a small movie theater. Musicians from Oryx and Crake and dancers including Helen Hale of Dance Truck will perform on top of the containers. A food truck will sell hot dogs and refreshments. The entire art gallery will appear and disappear in a matter of days.
It's easy to believe that all this came from a dream.
"Convergent Frequencies" is the latest project from i45, a collective of galleries from Inman Park, the Old Fourth Ward and Little Five Points. Bridges notes that the group, which includes Barbara Archer Gallery, Henley Studios, WM Turner Gallery, and Whitespace, doesn't do the "walks and talks" that have become the norm for Atlanta's gallery-driven neighborhoods. "We'd rather have happenings like this," she says.
Through distinctly varied mediums, Gilbert, Haffner, and Slaughter's works have absorbed the landscapes and lives of the surrounding neighborhoods. Haffner's wheatpastes use the shapes of local architecture (an abandoned gas station, the Cotton Mill stacks) as the backgrounds for his subtle scenes. "I feel like I'm always recording little moments. It doesn't need to be a single, groundbreaking event, it can just be the way a person hands someone a piece of paper or maybe some drugs or their phone number to get together later," he says.
Slaughter's field recordings were made on walks in the Old Fourth Ward and Little Five Points at various moments throughout the night and day. "In certain pockets of these neighborhoods, there isn't very much of a difference between 2 o'clock in the morning and 2 o'clock in the afternoon," he says. A narrative, a kind of performance even, emerges while listening to the sounds of Slaughter's footsteps as he approaches the chatter of a bar or shuffles through the overgrowth along the Beltline.
Gilbert's video projections for "Convergent Frequencies" digest the surroundings in more abstract terms. Using fractured digital video that combines the movements of cellist Matt Jarrard and violinist Karyn Lu with images of Atlanta, Gilbert's videos simultaneously resemble distorted satellite television and evoke what he calls "the charged energy" between neighborhoods and cultures in the city.
The collective work is neither focused on nor ignorant of the history of these neighborhoods. A number of Slaughter's recordings take place at the site of intersections that no longer exist. "Because of things like the Freedom Parkway and this Robert Moses kind of urban design mind-set that Atlanta went through that was like, 'We need to move these white people that live on the periphery through the city with any sort of connection.' They tore down all these houses and they took intersections and created dead ends. So, those pieces are about these intersections that used to be but aren't anymore," Slaughter says.
Haffner has a direct personal connection to the pop-up gallery's location. Ten years ago, the street artist moved to Atlanta and put up a wheatpaste on the now-demolished building that occupied the vacant corner at Krog and Irwin.
"I wouldn't just slap up wheatpastes. I was never about just a tag, getting the name out there. It was about finding the right architecture, making a composition and using the bricked-up window as a patina, and using a rusted or broken downspout as this aesthetic element that would carry the line of sight, and using bits of wire or stained wall as elements for the overall composition," he says.
Haffner's wheatpaste process sounds like a metaphor for "Convergent Frequencies" — a way to make art that is as much for the location as it is about the location. The project, along with other recent public works such as John Q's Memory Flash and the Paper Twins' Beltline installation The Wanderers, reflects the growing tendency among local artists to offer meditations on Atlanta's spaces.
On the front porch, the bottles are empty and the summer sky is now dark. The group's eager to get the shipping containers on the ground and find out what factors they haven't planned for or can't control. With public art Gilbert says, "At some point, you just have to admit that you can't predict what it's going to look like. That's actually really exciting — you haven't made all the decisions and decisions will be made for you."