Generational perspectives

Cathartic Art Spot show reacts to 9-11 tragedy

It would be churlish to bring matters of taste or ability to bear on an art show responding to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Like all of us, artists seem compelled to revert to a child-like questioning of how a safe world could suddenly be exposed as so fragile. America post-attack often can seem like a mutually agreed upon cruelty-free zone where even emotional expressions that might be sloppy or vulgar or cloying are tolerated as we recognize how fundamentally words and images tend to fail us. We are, amateur and professional, united in our painful ineloquence.

Evoking the children’s drawings that decorate the walls outside of New York fire stations or the posters for missing relatives on New York lamp posts, the artwork in What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding? at the spanking-new Inman Park Art Spot is most often a form of public catharsis, laced with some of the earnest emotionalism such projects entail.

Mostly made up of work by Georgia State instructors and graduate students, there are obvious generational and ideological divisions that crop up between the students’ and their teachers’ work. The teachers cast a more skeptical eye on issues raised in the wake of the attacks. Their work is laced with a degree of cynicism about joining in the mass event of public mourning, or else they turn to the same media that offers reassuring entertainments for national solace, as in Craig Dongoski’s biting audio mix of the infamous radio broadcast “The War of the Worlds” with sound bytes from the WTC attacks. Georgia State professor Alex Kvares’ video is an example of the darker strains discernable beneath Peace’s air of public grieving. “Pissfull Landscapes/Shallow Puns,” a purposefully crude, faux-cheerful video loop, offers a scathing assertion that things will never be so innocently blissful again.

Joe Peragine’s patented childhood vernacular laced with battery-acid humor finds a new medium in two video works on display. It’s hard to look at this oddly detached exercise in “South Park”-era jadedness and see evidence of recent claims that irony — post-attack — is dead. The work is slick, fitfully funny and upsetting all at once in its tart documentation of the lightning-strike shifts in public disposition from teary sentimentality to bloodthirsty rage.

On the contrary, the student work in Peace seems to lack the vocabulary or life experience to offer such relativism and deconstructions of our responses to the attack. Rather than commenting upon, their work simply reacts, self-medicating via the healing tonic of artmaking.

One of the consistent themes in Peace is the spiritual and intellectual uncertainty of this younger generation, which — as the show’s title indicates — takes its wisdom not from politicians or writers or religious leaders, but from pop stars. Lacking the experience or the tools to mourn, several revert to a personally defined sampling of Eastern religion and ad hoc group therapy as a panacea to a religious void. Both Sigrira Perret-Gentil and Julie Puttgen allow viewers to comment upon the terrorist attacks by inscribing their thoughts on bits of paper or in a handmade book. Such gestures demonstrate a belief in shared, impromptu expressions of grief that seem uniquely emblematic of the 21st-century trend for emotional disclosure and a belief in healing through sharing.

But the purest expression of all in Peace may be curators Mia Merlin and Ann-Marie M. Downs’ inspired decision to include a 7-year-old neighbor’s “piece” in the show. Sidney Gross’ painting of clashing colors, which she has color-coded: “Yellow is for people,” “Purple is for the building,” shows the ultimately cathartic function of all of these works. “I do not like people to kill” Sydney writes, showing how these events speak to the child in us all.

What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding? runs through Dec. 14 at Art Spot, 704 McGruder St., Studio N. Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. 404-659-0088, ext. 30.