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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Postmortem examination: Oakland — In the Greenhouse Ruins

click to enlarge A view of the crowd and ruins from the hill above.
  • A view of the crowd and ruins from the hill above.

Twilight had just set in when I arrived at Oakland Cemetery last Friday evening for Cooper Sanchez's one-night-only painting/planting installation Oakland: In the Greenhouse Ruins. From the entrance on Memorial Drive, flickering white paper-bag lanterns lined the cemetery's weathered walkways on a path that snaked through the graveyard and opened up on its northern half at the old greenhouse ruins.

Spirituals and jazz hummed from unseen speakers while an every-ages crowd swarmed in and out of the shed and through the greenhouse's adjacent remains. For Oakland, Sanchez installed 13 paintings in and around the building and its accompanying ruins, and about 30 cyanotype (old-school photographic blueprints) lightboxes inside the roofed structure. The lightboxes illuminated the ghosts of flora and fauna past from the artist's meadow in Clarkston: wraithlike strands of grass, the gossamer wings of a butterfly, the vacant skull of a small field creature. The plants had been photosynthesized in a whole new light, and the effect was sublime.

click to enlarge A view of the cyanotype lightboxes from inside the shed.
  • A view of the cyanotype lightboxes from inside the shed.

Sanchez's paintings summoned the graveyard's historic architecture and other Victorian ephemera. Peter Rabbit (or his twin brother, perhaps), wire animal forms, and botanical renderings sat atop swirling, creamsicle-colored backgrounds, and played Ring Around the Rosie in the the ruins. Tufts of orange, yellow and pink cosmos planted by Sanchez encroached on the paintings' lower halves for added dimension.

The entirety of the scene was an otherworldly sight and not overlooked by the throngs of visitors. I wasn't the only one there to remark, "This is the one of coolest things I've seen in Atlanta in a long time. Maybe ever." With Oakland, Sanchez truly managed to create something to die for.

As for Sanchez's next Oakland Cemetery project in Potter's Field, he says:

I believe that we will start with a couple of acres and if the thing proves successful, we will move to the rest of the area. I am still jumping through hoops and trying to get things done with the city and the oakland board. They have approved the meadow but have yet to say when we can break ground. I had hoped to have a spring display of poppies this May, but it may not happen til next spring. I hope folks will still care a year and a half from now. It will take a couple of years for the perennials to bloom so meadows have taught me patience.

After last Friday, I'm willing to wait, too.

(Photos by Dustin Chambers)

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