Last month, the International Association of Art Critics met in Asunción, Paraguay, to discuss art and criticism in times of crisis. Critics from Japan, Switzerland, Cuba, Ivory Coast, and a number of other nations met to participate in roundtables, lecture, and debate. Atlanta-based critic and CL contributor Cinque Hicks was there to give a talk that, among other things, discussed his work on Noplaceness: Art in a Post-Urban Landscape, the inaugural publication of Atlanta Art Now. In his conversations with other international critics, Hicks says, "There was absolutely no preconceived notion [of what's happening in Atlanta] at all. None that I could detect. So any information that I was giving them, frankly, was brand-new information."
This should come as little to surprise to most. Atlanta's not New York or London, the sort of cities typically seen as filters of culture for the rest of the world. Yet, Hicks had good reason to be discussing Atlanta with this international crew of heavy hitters. Noplaceness makes a convincing argument for Atlanta's role in an international conversation about our changing understanding of place and space.
That rather odd portmanteau, noplaceness, stands for a dense concept about the changing nature of cities and global culture. Artscriticatl.com founder Cathy Fox, veteran critic Jerry Cullum, and Hicks "attempt to describe the quality of space rendered abstract by the conditions of postindustrial capitalism and global information flows." Drawing on and deviating from notions about Atlanta posited by architect Rem Koolhaas and cultural critic Pico Iyer, they explore an understanding of Atlanta through the lens of contemporary art being made here. The conversation is underpinned by the question, "Where is our common ground when the space we occupy doesn't add up to a place we can define?"
The book's five main essays explore this question from varying angles. Hicks lingers on issues of space-making properties of the Internet and technology while discussing photographer Beth Lilly, The Dirty Truth Campaign, and K. Tauches' work. Cullum's essay draws on Wallace Stevens' considerations of identity as a way of approaching work by Fahamu Pecou and E.K. Huckaby.
Fox gives careful consideration to a number of engaging public art projects funded by FLUX Projects, a nonprofit founded by Louis Corrigan, the art patron whom she gracefully acknowledges to be the publisher of Atlanta Art Now. It might seem more like a conflict of interest to include if FLUX weren't producing such obviously important and relevant work. Instead, the overlap speaks to the vital force that Corrigan has become in pushing Atlanta's arts communities forward. (Speaking of disclosure, CL's culture editor Debbie Michaud worked as content editor for the book; she had no role in assigning or editing this story.)
Hicks explains: "We're really trying to take ideas seriously with this book. It's about something going on in the world that we're really trying to understand. This idea of place and space and how space is changing."
Hicks says other cities are dealing with this in very pronounced, very acute ways, places like Sao Paulo, Shanghai and Beijing. To that end, the finished book is presented in three languages: English, Portuguese and Chinese
"We knew that there had to be some opportunity to be in dialogue with people in these other communities who are facing literally the same problems that we are," Hicks says. "People who have learned some lessons or who are ahead of Atlanta in terms of the trajectory of these changes, they can read this and weigh in on and have an opinion about and say how Atlanta is or is not like their experience in Sao Paulo or Beijing."
The volume represents the most serious consideration of contemporary art in Atlanta in recent memory. For those who have been witnessing the explosion of work from artists like Shana Robbins, John Q, the Paper Twins, Ann-Marie Manker, Sheila Pree Bright, Gyun Hur, and others in recent years, there is something thrilling about these critics digging deep into the ideas contained in their work.
"We're not only doing the book as a written artifact," Hicks says. By bringing the project into conversations like the conference in Paraguay or in upcoming discussions in China, the project aims to explore ways to make "criticism do more than simply be written words on a page."
In fact, this is not a book solely for those with their finger to the pulse of contemporary art in Atlanta. Throughout the volume, the observations, considerations, and explorations of Atlanta and its environment should be mandatory reading for everyone from transportation and policy wonks to community organizers. It's a book seriously engaged with our city and our time.
Noplaceness: Art in a Post-Urban Landscape by Jerry Cullum, Catherine Fox, and Cinque Hicks. Possible Futures. $39.