“CELEBRATING ART ABOVE UNDERGROUND”
August 26 – October 29, 2011
2011 was the inaugural year for ELEVATE programming. For 66 days, almost 30 artists presented 19 temporary installations and 26 live performances in the heart of downtown Atlanta, breathing new life into vacant storefronts and activating nearby public places. Elevate: Art Above Underground attempted to transform and connect underused sites in Underground Atlanta into an open-air, living art gallery that attracted more than 10,000 visitors and set the stage for future art initiatives downtown.
The entertainment and retail complex known as Underground Atlanta, with its rich history that predates the Civil War and its prime central location, continues to be an area in transition. Its wide pedestrian plazas, surrounded by Georgia State University, the hub of MARTA’s rapid transit system and all major government complexes, make the area active with people day and night. Yet many have rarely visited a formal art gallery setting. Our goal was to present art that was accessible and inviting for downtown’s many populations, as well as Atlanta’s art community. The idea was to continue the conversation about contemporary, often experimental approaches to art in a public setting.
Art was placed in full-length storefront windows, painted on walls many stories high, installed along sidewalks and in unexpected places throughout the Underground Atlanta complex and spaces nearby. Due to high vacancy rates, availability of empty space was plentiful. However, working closely with building owners to identify and reserve easily accessible sites became an ongoing exercise in flexibility due to an ever-changing real estate market.
2011 PRESS / RESOURCES
Artists from Spain, Chile, France, Argentina and Portugal showed their work side-by-side with artists from Atlanta (72 percent) as well as artists from Miami, New York and Washington State.
2 KIDS AND A DREAM is an inter-disciplinary group of many talented Atlanta artists working in dance, music, theater and social commentary. Their performance titled What cha’ Don’t Wanna Tap Into spoke directly to the down side of negative lifestyle choices like drugs an d physical violence that rob our community’s vitality. Instead, the upbeat choreography and amplified sounds offered positive alternatives.
LILLIAN BLADES of Atlanta produced a seating environment with four benches surrounding a central totem encrusted in the rich colors, shapes and textures of assemblage and mosaics. Memory Totem paid tribute to Underground Atlanta’s railroad history and its historic Zero Mile Post, marking the spot where the city limits and its railroad system began. Calling upon roots in her native Bahamas, Blades honors ancestral and matriarchal traditions of creating memory sculptures from cast off pieces of mirror, tile and every day objects. During several public workshops, participants were invited to sift through the artist’s collection of loose trinkets to add their own personal touches to the installation, changing it over time.
CHRIS CHAMBERS of Atlanta uses vintage television sets as his medium, stacked in various shapes. Each wall of TVs broadcast unexpected imagery and sounds that simultaneously ebb and flow to create one rhythmic kinetic painting. Chambers’ site-specific installation in a narrow storefront window used 32 televisions, placing the smallest sets up front. TV screens grew larger as they moved away from the window giving the illusion that every set was the same size when viewed from outside the window. An interactive component provided a box where anyone was invited to drop off videotapes that were integrated into the mix. Every 10 days, the TV walls were updated to incorporate images from donated tapes, adding another layer of random visuals to the finished product.
CARLOS EGUIGUREN, a photographer from Chile, spent two weeks in Atlanta to create his site-specific photo sculptures. The first week was for photographing the city and getting to know his surroundings. In the second week, he traveled between Atlanta and New York to perfect the technical aspects of Refections of Atlanta, two architectural images measuring eight feet, mounted on glass for a translucent effect. Each photograph was placed in a storefront window adjacent to the real location where the image was made. At night, the images glowed from back lighting to mimic surrounding lights reflecting on the downtown buildings featured in the photos.
SARAH EMERSON of Atlanta created site-specific window installations that used the actual full-length windows as her canvas. Working with colorful translucent vinyl, her piece titled Zero Mile referred to the historic post marking Atlanta’s first city limits, imagining how Atlanta was built up in the 1830s, burned to the ground in 1864 and rebuilt again and again. The artist was inspired by what the natural landscape might have looked like hundreds of years ago. By day, the whimsical cartoon-styled forest appeared opaque; at night, the landscape glowed like stained glass, echoing the sheen of the Georgia State Capitol Building’s gold dome nearby. Visit here for more images of the piece: http://www.sarahemerson.com/zero-mile-
SIGNS FOR DIMES is a collaborative of muralists in Atlanta. Their project titled Window Shopping transformed vacant storefronts into an alternate shopping experience by offering things money just can’t buy. Using a nostalgic style of sign painting that recalled how downtown Atlanta’s retail shops looked in the 1940s, the artists created fantasy stores called Love Shop, Friend Emporium and Respect Store. The paintings became clever tricks of the eye that at frst glance appeared to be real shops. Using colorful graphics and humor, their work was a compelling statement on what’s really important in today’s commercialized world.
DOODLEDRAG was founded by Melissa Paternoster and street artist LNY who proudly use the tagline “Drawing is way cool.” This art collective from New York is known for engaging the public in drawing and gathering experiments on city streets and public transportation. During Elevate’s opening party, they led an interactive art piece called Chalk Mob where hundreds of drawings were created by Elevate participants. LNY also produced a mural on Pryor Street as part of the 2011 Living Walls conference that honors New York’s World Trade Center’s fallen towers. The figures in the mural are inspired by his two volunteer assistants throughout the project. The portraits show his appreciation of the collective efforts by many people required to bring his work to completion. Doodledrag led two drawing and painting forums for the public who contributed to a second mural also on Pryor Street.
ALICE LOVELACE AND LISA TUTTLE of Atlanta created Harriet Rising, a tribute to the heroic courage of former slave Harriet Tubman who led 70 slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad. The piece also honors eight courageous women working in Atlanta today on behalf of minorities and women including Grandmothers for Peace, SisterSong, Women of Color, Reproductive Health Collective and the Refugee Women’s Network. Eight towering columns featured a different story about Tubman and a portrait and statement from each local leader. All of the women are dressed in white in response to a recurring dream Tubman had in the years before her escape to freedom. Drawing parallels between Underground Atlanta’s historical significance in the Civil War and Atlanta’s role in the civil rights movement, the site was also used for poetry readings and performances led by poet Alice Lovelace.
FAHAMU PECOU is an internationally acclaimed painter in Atlanta who blends self portraiture with clever humor and false identities to tackle difficult issues in contemporary African American culture. In his work Rising Sons Lounge, he becomes the focal point of sensitive subjects such as black masculinity, using his art to address topics usually considered taboo and untouchable in public contexts, inviting the public into his space for candid discussion.
CORRINA MENSOFF, an Atlanta sculptor, presented three metal sculptures installed above Underground’s fountain plaza. Often using imagery of boats and ships as a metaphor, each piece was a variation of a rowboat being morphed into a bird’s body that seemed to fly over the water below. Mensoff owns Phoenix Metalworks specializing in sculpture, furniture and architectural work.
SAM3 of Spain is well known in his country as a street art legend for his powerful, large-scale public murals. Through a partnership with the 2011 Living Walls Conference and the City of Atlanta’s Offce of Cultural Affairs, Sam3 produced his frst mural in this country. It’s also arguably one of the tallest murals in the world. Covering over 15 stories, the image is intended to express a sense of hopefulness and a “full heart,” feelings the artist experienced while visiting Atlanta. Sam3’s murals are often painted in monochromatic tones and put emphasis on the negative space within each painting.
ALLISON RENTZ of Atlanta presented a provocative performance called Donorcycle. Based on a dream the artist had after the nuclear disaster in Japan, her performance brought attention to what she believes is the inherent danger of motorcycles. Both topics were addressed, as well as the importance of organ donation. Ten performers, dressed in full-body white hazardous materials suits, seemed to expand and contract following the artist’s cues, as if simulating breathing.
SUNDAY SOUTHERN ART REVIVAL is an Atlanta collective of five artists – George Long, Jesse Creegar, Michi Miko, Jon Tindel and Mario Schambon. Each one is a successful artist in their own right. Individual styles remain defined throughout their large-scale, collaborative public paintings on exterior storefront walls. By using vinyl imagery, stencils, paint and anything else they can find, the group produced a façade mural featuring a preacher holding a Bible in one hand; a gun in the other. The intricate and dynamic painting entices the viewer to look closely. The longer they look, more hidden layers are revealed.
NATHAN SHARRATT created a powerful performance piece titled Be My Blood Brother. The artist transformed a bleak, empty storefront to resemble a sleek yet nightmarish version of a doctor’s office. The public was invited to participate in several live performances, one at a time, where individuals sat across from Sharratt, looked him in the eye and trusted him by following his silent cues. Every blood brother left behind a fingerprint dipped in the artist’s fake blood. Each print was added to a new kind of family tree built by hundreds of people over the 66 days. Everyone was also photographed and images were posted on an interactive website where the artist encouraged comments and connections between his newly created brotherhood, a family that was both random and very deliberate.
DEANNA SIRLIN of Atlanta is well-known for her boldly colored installations on windows done in abstract painterly style. Her site-specific work titled C-Flow became a colorful carpet of cerulean, cobalt and ultramarine blues cascading over an otherwise blank concrete stairway in the center of Underground Atlanta, adding motion, texture and whimsy. Remi-niscent of cool water fowing over rocks, the striking image came even more alive when people interacted with it by walking and sitting on it.
VALERIA YAMAMOTO creates sculptures inspired by organic natural forms. In her site-specific wall installations titled Flying Away Composition IV, the artist worked with actual fight patterns of a flock of birds, then abstracted those patterns in cast hydro cal, a durable form of plaster.
ZYGOSIS is an artists’ collective at the Savannah College of Art and Design’s video and digital arts department. During Elevate’s opening night party, Zygosis presented a series of digital works titled Micro Macro. Storefront windows were transformed into back-lit projection screens that featured dioramas and digital face mapping with interactive videos that invited audience participation.
WONDERROOT was founded in 2004 in response to Atlanta’s need for a community arts center that unites art and advocacy. By blending two of its artistic disciplines – photography and their literary publication Loose Change magazine – the group presented On History and Condition.The project documented parts of downtown Atlanta in photographs that were enhanced by a written narrative intended to create new realities through storytelling. Believing that artists have the potential to change the world, WonderRoot supports more than 1,000 musicians, photographers, writers, flmmakers and visual artists in Atlanta by offering resources and support.
ESCIF is an internationally acclaimed street artist from Valencia, Spain known for his large-scale public murals. His work often draws connections between the image, the place around it and the actual surface where the mural is painted. In partnership with the 2011 Living Walls Conference, Escif was invited to Atlanta to produce his striking, six-story-tall mural especially for Elevate. The oversized red fire extinguisher with the caption “Emergency Only” brings color, unexpected scale and humor to the downtown environment.
F. GEOFFREY JOHNSON of Atlanta created Currents as an homage to moments in African American history blending old photographs, found objects and computer circuit boards. The artist views the circuit boards as a metaphor for currents of energy and struggles for freedom experienced by his ancestors dating back many generations. The circuits also represent the intelligence, strength and creative power shown by African Americans over time.
PRISCILLA SMITH AND EDWARD WENZER of Atlanta teamed up with video artist Neil Fried and dancer Taye Beasley to create a multi-media piece titled Reunion. Smith is a performance artist and Wenzer is a painter. All mediums came together in a video the group shot at the Five Points MARTA station in the heart of Underground. Several video clips were selected as still images that were painted on a wall near the train station. Digitally enhanced video clips were projected over the paintings to create an animated, living mural that was visible at night for one month during Elevate.
RUTH STANFORD of Atlanta presented a light installation titled Promise, a single vertical searchlight shooting upward into the night sky to mark Underground Atlanta’s location. Stanford reprogrammed the powerful beam, usually used for movie premieres and store openings, to be more subdued. The beam moved uncertainly – just enough to hint that something big might be happening.
OLA BAD is an Atlanta street artist who often uses smiles and dream catchers as visual symbols of hope and strength through optimism. The artist marked one mile of sidewalk in downtown Atlanta with the yellow letter “s.” Viewers were asked to begin at a spot on Peachtree Street and follow the winding path to experience their environment from a new perspective.
RICHARD ARNOLD of Atlanta created light boxes for storefront windows with hidden messages formed by hundreds of infrared LED lights. Messages, invisible to the naked eye, could only be read with a mobile phone or digital camera prompted by signs that led viewers to where each message was located. The artist’s intent was to make people think about how the tactile world can be perceived in many layers. By using technology to alter reality, Arnold was also making a statement on the future of the human experience.
THÉÂTRE DU RÊVE of Atlanta is the only French- speaking theater company in the U.S. For Elevate, they partnered with Derezo, a theater group from France to adapt an award-winning performance piece called Microfctions. Based on a novel by French writer Régis Jauffret, Microfctions features 500 very short stories that celebrate the diversity, fragility and commonalities of the human condition. Microfctions was performed in Paris in 2008 during a nine-hour event at the Théâtre du Rond-Point on the Champs Elysées. In Atlanta, eight site-specifc performances were adapted to Underground Atlanta’s urban landscape. Small groups were taken to hidden alleys and balconies they would probably not experience or even notice on their own. Performances included storytelling, puppetry and a live jazz concert by local and French musicians.
October 29, 2011
What an extravaganza it was! The nonstop energy of live performance in a carnival atmosphere crystallized the contribution Elevate brought to downtown Atlanta. Concentrated in two blocks in the center of Underground, more than 100 artful performers made the streets come alive by attracting about 1,000 people throughout the night. The action was presented in four themes beginning with a Halloween-styled celebration geared to kids and families. A creative costume contest was featured along with dance performances by Moving in the Spirit and the twirling neon hula hoops of HoopEssence. The energy ramped up as the program moved into a Carnival theme with fre eaters, stilt walkers and acrobats from The Imperial Opa Circus, Liquid Sky Aerial, Museé du Coeur, Howie the Great and the Thimble Rig Circus. Next was a dynamic two-hour segment called Disguise with performances by contemporary artists 2 Kids and a Dream, Lelavision, Allison Rentz and Medeology Collective.The finale took a Salon theme with unforgettable burlesque-style performances by the Syrens of the South.