AAAC grand reopening exhibit: “Camped Out On Greasy Grass”

Sculpture by Molly Sawyer. Photo by Kyle Sherard
Sculpture by Molly Sawyer. Photo by Kyle Sherard

The Asheville Area Arts Council has momentarily put its “Point Of View” curatorial series, which would have been the organization’s inaugural opening, on hold. It will instead premier in the final week of September in the AAAC’s new space in the Grove Arcade. In it’s place is Camped Out On Greasy Grass: A Series of Portraits, a time- and politically-sensitive new exhibition opening Friday, Aug. 29, from 6 to 9 p.m.

The show features the works of 16 artists who rented studio space or were directly affiliated with The Tannery and Switchyard Studios, a multitenant and multipurpose arts space formerly behind Riverview Station at the southern end of the River Arts District. All of the artists were evicted on July 11, after the city issued an order to vacate the premises, citing a long list of code violations. Power was turned off to the buildings the following Monday.

For those who never got to visit The Tannery or Switchyard, Greasy Grass offers a window into the artistry produced during the studios’ 2 1/2 year existence. For those who did visit or work there, the exhibit is both a bittersweet and triumphant recollection.

The show isn’t bound by a specified thematic core. Rather, it’s a sculpture-heavy cross section of the works created by the studios’ former inhabitants. “We only had two weeks to come up with an idea that could tell the whole story,” says Jeremy Russell, who co-curated the show with artist and former tenant Jameid Ferrin. “It’s more about who these artists are, and offering visual proof of how we were using the facilities and pushing the work.”

Keeping their political defeat in mind, Russell and Ferrin delineated the exhibition’s title from the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn, otherwise known as the Battle of Greasy Grass, which was fought between the Lakota and the US Army. The Lakota though, unlike the artists in this case, triumphed. The sentiments of the last stand are still in line with their plight, Russell says.

The works in Greasy Grass run the gamut from traditional to experimental, documentary and philosophical. Several are notable for their reactionary stance. And they hit on every medium imaginable. Photography and clay, video, paint, dirt, faux-bronze and plastic flowers, among others, join together to create a clear-cut picture of the studios’ creative diversity.

Two photographs hone in on a view of the neighborhood’s industrial setting. “Change,” by Libby Gamble, depicts a floodlight-lit house poking out from a treeline across from the railroad tracks, a still-familiar but likely vanishing landscape feature. A digital print by Zaire Kacz captures Terpsicorps dancers mid-pose and backdropped by an old warehouse. The dance company, like many of those who rented space in the studios, is still in search of its next home. A Terpsicorps dancer will perform an improvisational installation piece specially tailored to Friday night’s opening.

The happenstance dance vein continues in two works by sculptor Angelique Brickner, who’s foot-tall green-hued figurative works bend and stretch in still, contemplative poses. “The Power Of One Bronze Composite,” a faux-bronze work by Molly Sawyer, tucked in the back of the gallery, similarly thrusts the human form in motion. Three successively smaller figures arch backward from a standing position. They’re one on top of the other, as if fulfilling a cyclical or circular yogic stretch.

Delicate, curvilinear wooden sculptures by Carley Brandau hang from the opposite gallery wall, gently moving with the presence of a passerby. Outside of this isolated and abstract display, they double as wearable fashion pieces.

The show also features a clay maquette for an in-progress public mural created by artists Alex Irvine and Ian Wilkinson. The two had rented Tannery space while working on a city-commissioned mural that’s set for installation on 51 Biltmore Ave. The maquette will be auctioned off to raise money for the completion of the project.

A sculptural work and video piece by Steve Spurgeon, who left the studios and relocated to New York, plunges the show in a contemplative direction. “Kayak” features the wooden skeletal remains of a kayak hull that Spurgeon found in the trash. He’s embellished it with strips of yellow and gold spandex. Only, the spandex is riddled with holes, rendering the device much like the former studios: useless. Above this work is a video piece — an aerial view of the Tannery and Switchyard Studios — that Spurgeon shot using an iPhone and a drone.

But none of the works capture the studios’ sense of organized, ephemeral chaos better than the plastic-covered, white monolith resting in the middle of the room. The piece, an unnamed collaborative installation by curators Russell and Ferrin, epitomizes the neighborhood — both in its concept and piecemeal aesthetic. It’s even made of remnants from the studios.

Sixteen silhouettes, representing the show’s participating artists, line the two sides of the structure. Two faces on each side contain portals that allow viewers to look through. Inside is a two-toned, night-and-day look inside the soul of the defunct collective. It’s split into two interpretive and opposing sides: half Russell, half Ferrin. Both interiors echo the feeling of a living room, with picture frames hanging on the walls and lights dangling from the ceilings. Ferrin has gathered and anthropomorphized a mesh of tacky polyester fabrics akin to those of “rustic” 1970s sofas. Russell’s side plunges viewers into a total darkness broken only by minimal DayGlo paint and a glowing galactic background. A wire cuts through the space. Attached to that wire is a small box with a small figure seated inside. It’s a look at the proverbial, isolated and abandoned artist. His ambitions are momentarily out of reach. But, like these artists involved with Greasy Grass, Russell says, it’s by no means a sign of the end.

Though the show functions as a relic of lost ground and it doubles as a celebration of what is still in progress and the possibilities ahead for these artists.

“Camped Out On Greasy Grass” is on view through Saturday, Sept. 20. For more information, visit www.ashevillearts.com

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About Kyle Sherard
Book lover, arts reporter, passerby…..

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