Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Oliver Smith - Absence of Need

The show's full title is Absence of Need: Images of Urban Abandon, and it runs through June 14 at Eyedrum.

I had forgotten about this exhibit until a few moments ago, when I unearthed Smith's artist statement from beneath a pile of dirty clothes, business card confetti, empty matchbooks, and other assorted bachelor detritus. I hadn't actually planned to write about the show (and I'm still not going to write much), but I was struck by a few phrases from Smith's statement:

"One strip shopping center was knocked down and cleared out before it could be rephotographed. In a few days everything was gone. Without the original photographs it was hard to remember how things looked. Architectural amnesia. Transformation of place and loss of the familiar created an involuntary displacement. I expected something to be there and it wasn't. Desire for a continuance of memory was swiftly negated. It didn't matter. A new memory/place connection would eventually form over the old one."

That phrase, "I expected something to be there and it wasn't" captures so much about my experience growing up in Atlanta - I feel as if the city as a whole is constantly moving towards some new stage, but consistently falling short of the dreamt-of "New Atlanta"/"New South." Perhaps some of that feeling is based on going to a high school named after Henry W. Grady, the Athens-born journalist who coined the phrase "New South" in an 1886 speech:

"The New South is enamored of her new work. Her soul is stirred with the breath of a new life. The light of a grander day is falling fair on her face. She is thrilling with the consciousness of growing power and prosperity. As she stands upright, full-statured and equal among the people of the earth, breathing the keen air and looking out upon the expanding horizon..."

Can a show be called "good" because of the thoughts and memories it inspires, even if the art itself lacks that thrill and tense fingered feeling that great art inevitably provokes?

I can't really recommend the show to you - unlike a lot of the other art I've written about here, I don't think there's much difference between seeing these photographs in person, and seeing them online. In both settings, the concept of the work is much more powerful than the work itself.

Perhaps Smith realized this, and understood the problem inherent in inviting people to view photographs which purposefully avoided artistry; he's also included field recordings taken at the abandoned strip malls he photographed. I wasn't able to listen to the recordings (a band was tuning up in the next room), but, with the recordings included as part of the viewing process, the whole exhibit could definitely be worth a quick look. And certainly worth a long evening's thought.

[top two images are from Eyedrum's website]