It's a truism every tourist knows: The best way to appreciate a city and enjoy the chance meetings and strange sights it affords is to walk it. Cities are where people of all stripes somehow coexist and where wonderful discoveries can be made on a simple stroll to the corner grocery store. But in a driving city like Atlanta, defined more by the pace of an SUV than a saunter, people are cut off from each other and often miss the small pleasures of public life.
The pleasingly lo-fi, whimsical show Here & There: City Acts at the Atlanta College of Art Gallery is an attempt to remedy or at least acknowledge the untapped potential the city offers for moments of human connection. The exhibition illuminates the humble, serendipitous, small-scale pleasures of city life, while also taking note of some new pitfalls in the urban melting pot.
For every expression of coexistence and community on city subways and busy sidewalks, there is the omnipotent corporate culture and surveillance cameras that threaten to take public space away from citizens and place it more definitively in the hands of Big Brother.
The point is made in a saucy, tongue-in-cheek fashion by the NYC-based Surveillance Camera Players, an activist art group eager to highlight how much of our supposedly communal space is in fact owned by forces of social control and private interests. In two quirky hand-drawn diagrams, "A Guide to Mapping Surveillance Cameras," the group shows how to identify a variety of "dummy" or high-tech camera models for a better appreciation of these ever-present corporate voyeurs. The diagrams come with the very post-Sept. 11 disclaimer: "Presented for educational and informational purposes only. Not intended for use in the commission of any crime or act of war or terrorism."
Here & There: City Acts is as humble as a hand-me-down cardigan, taking a cue from culture jamming, zines, public protest and other grass roots insertions of individual identity into a vast, impersonal social space.
For every police and retail surveillance camera eyeballing the sidewalk outside, the artists in Here & There assert that there are those making their mark on the city in small, fragile ways.
Harrell Fletcher's video work "Hello There Friend," which has also screened at Saltworks Gallery, asserts the presence of the human element on anonymous city sidewalks. In this visual poem of interconnection, a closed fist opens to reveal an array of found objects: pencils, candy wrappers, barrettes and all the myriad human leavings picked up on city streets.
French artist Didier Courbot also imprints public space with a cozy, domesticating human impulse that flies in the face of impersonality and corporate hegemony. His photographs document the artist planting a perky cluster of pink flowers at a generic highway road side and installing a wooden birdhouse on a busy Paris street.
In a joint project between former Atlanta artist Hope Hilton and presidential progeny Amy Carter, the pair have drawn on the gallery wall a minimalist walking map down Peachtree Street, offering small handwritten notations of interesting markers along the way, from Atlanta's first gay club to the site of an 1882 lecture by Oscar Wilde. The piece replaces the officious commemorative markers that indicate a city's historic moments, replacing them with more human-scaled, tender valentines to the fleeting pleasures of a beloved hometown (many of them old buildings now vanished in Atlanta's growth).
The project is also designed to get viewers to appreciate the stroll-ability and quirky pleasures of the city by giving them a "Self-Guided Walk" route and encouraging them to actually leave the gallery and hit the road.
Hilton and Carter have placed postcards as "rewards" at various locations on Peachtree for pedestrians to pick up on their own "Self-Guided Walk."
Not all of the work in Here & There hits the mark. Portland urban planner Jerome Unterreiner's documented stroll down a section of Midtown at Peachtree Street ponderously plots the signage and streetscape in photographs and drawings that tend to document, but not necessarily illuminate, the features of the city. Unterreiner's project illustrates ACA Gallery curator Stuart Horodner's interest in out-of-the-gallery, non-artist thinking in websites, zines and public art projects that bring approachability to the often intimidatingly conceptual, hands-off art world. That admirable desire for bridge-building and inclusion is just right for a show as human-scaled as Here & There, which even when it falters, never lacks for shaggy charm.
Little harsh, in'it?
Oh that's right...I DID say enjoy yourself.
Go to hell Kombo!
When will you be accepting applicants for the 2014 competition?
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