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THIS JUST IN: Old People get naked

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Not wanting to shower next to my toaster doesn't make me a sellout. At least that's what I tell my friend when he gives me that "I-visited-New-York, I-want-to-move-there" look. I sense his unease about the hip factor in Atlanta.

The fact remains that Atlanta is more often associated with winning sports teams, fine restaurants and budget-blowing shopping than cutting-edge art. But if you pay close attention, you will see that the arts scene here can be pretty strange and eclectic. The main difference is you have to get in a car and drive somewhere to find it. And at least you don't have to worry about where your next meal is coming from like my friend Hunter, a recent runaway to the City, who sends me infrequent dispatches updating me on his progress: still no job; almost homeless; had to break into a closet at the train station and steal candy bars to eat today.

Having convinced my friend that Atlanta isn't so bad after all, I become determined to experience all those unique, subversive events I claim are sprouting up in our city.

My journey begins at Eyedrum. The Electric Arts Alliance is hosting a performance art night. I am solo, trying to blend in, wondering when the thing is going to start. (Note to self: Add an hour to the start time when "art" is involved.) Finally, the lights are cut: I see flashlights ... and old people. Really old people getting naked. Really old, naked people with flashlights reciting poetry and performing acrobatics, balancing on one another in strange positions. Eeeew. If it makes you squirm, is it art?

Later in the program, the organization's founder, Adam Overton, stands in front of a mirror. He has an assortment of scissors and razors -- all wired to microphones -- and he prepares to shave. Simultaneously a guy at the front of the room, dressed like a news anchor, drolly reads soundbites while projected on a wall in another corner is film footage of random exterior shots spliced with porn.

Then Adam starts shaving. He begins with the scissors and lops huge chunks of hair from his beard and head. Then he cuts through his clothes until he is standing naked. When he takes up the razor, we hear the crude daily ritual that men go through: "Scrape. Scraaaaape. Scraaaaaaaaaape." We watch and wince. He continues until all his hair is gone.

My quest to seek out the unusual continues. I am burned on occasion (that traveling troupe that promised transgendered clowns and spoken word didn't pan out). But on the whole, I experience a fascinating series of events that feel like clandestine meetings held in renovated warehouses and dark, cool spaces that smell as if potatoes were recently stored there.

This is how I discover the Info Demos -- informal "lectures" centered around arbitrary themes cooked up by organizer JS Van Buskirk. Not performance art, not really anything at all, they involve regular schmoes talking about ... stuff.

The event takes place at another fringe spot, the ArtSpot gallery, which exhibits a sculpture show called Nail. We peek around Bo Zhang's larger-than-life-size acrylic fingernails, yellow and curled. They twist from the ceiling like some sort of silent, eerie wind chimes. Then it's show 'n' tell time for grown-ups. Presenters illustrate their ideas on the theme -- "That Ol' Timey Feeling" -- with scratchy minstrel songs played on an antique Edison Standard Cylinder Player and a personal PowerPoint presentation on the purifying benefits of a colonic lavage.

I begin to realize something significant about the arts scene in Atlanta: If there's something lacking that you want, stop whining and just do it.

It is a dark and stormy night when a group of us decide to venture to the West Side for Beacon Dance's final installment in a four-part exploration of the elements -- To Air is Human.

Dangerous black clouds blot out the vibrant evening sky -- pink and orange, alive and intense -- the air becomes strange and heavy. I can feel a tornado brewing somewhere.

We are on the pocked asphalt nearing the B-complex when the rain begins. I follow the taillights in front of me, splash through the flash-flood waters until we arrive safely in front of an old, brick warehouse-turned-artists'-complex.

Inside, the wind whips a suspended white sheet through the air, which the dancers try to tame so the show can begin. The weather keeps most of the audience away. Our small group of seven walks in. No seats. No stage. Just a raw space. Most of the windows are broken, and the wind billows sheets of white, gauzy fabric suspended from the rafters. Sheet metal rattles somewhere in the dark. Lightning flashes, and we see the dancers silhouetted briefly. Then a light shines on them. The men and women -- dressed in white slips and dresses, their heads and faces wrapped with rags -- sway and bob like shrouded apparitions.

They free themselves from their blindfolds and leap amongst us, whispering questions: "What dreams do you have?" "What are you holding onto?"

We follow the dancers as they move from one spot to another in the cavernous warehouse. The air is fed by the tempest outside. In the final moments, the dancers open a metal loading door at the back of the space. By this time the storm has settled down, and they happily leave us behind, laughing and jumping through the puddles. Free. Sigh.

The same night a few hundred yards away, a very different group of creative spirits refuse to be doused by the storms as they deal with another element -- fire. The RIPE event attracts pyros young and old. A belly dancer anoints herself with oil and a flame dances across her skin. Reverent shouts arise from jets of fire, metal sculptures act as human-sized lighters, and drumbeats reverberate in the air.

It's another night spent finding art in my own back yard.

-- Jerry Portwood

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