Ramble On

Four galleries meet at the crossroads for Gas, Food & Lodging

Cooperation between art venues is often difficult in a city as spread out as Atlanta, where galleries often fig ht for audiences. And yet, it is vital if galleries and museums want to look beyond their own narrow viewership.

The collaborative exhibition Gas, Food & Lodging is therefore an ambitious effort for staging a themed show at four scattered spaces: Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery, Georgia State University's Ernest G. Welch Art & Design Gallery, the Rialto Center for the Performing Arts, and Agnes Scott College's Dalton Gallery. It's just too bad that spreading a concept out that much leaves it so wafer thin.

Most successful of the collaborative Gas, Food & Lodging endeavors is the Eyedrum show, Shelter, curated by Karen Tauches and Robert Cheatham.

Cheatham describes the installation of literal and metaphorical shelters as "a community of people who have nothing in common."

Shelter turns out to be an intriguing metaphor for the city itself as a place where diverse worlds coexist (or not). By sticking quite literally to the topic, the curators have allowed their artists to ponder the various meanings of shelter, both cultural and personal. Like kids building forts from blankets and chairs, the participating artists take to the idea of building their tent city from branches, fabric, wood and scraps with a charming joyfulness. That enthusiasm is infectious enough to entice viewers to get down on all fours and crawl into the tents hidden inside wooden wardrobes or scuttle down the birth canal hallway of Cooper Holmes' cozy patchwork cardboard structure.

From the sample huts built by the Mad Housers, Atlanta activists for the city's homeless, to the dioramas of animal dwellings created by children at the Atlanta School, the work is joined by a pure, philosophical belief in a personalized haven as a basic human - and animal - need.

Where the remainder of the Gas, Food & Lodging projects falter is in the fuzzy articulation of their concepts, and in the case of Imagining Escape at Georgia State, a sense that several artists - all past or present GSU instructors - have fit pre-existing works into the show's elastic theme.

Imagining Escape is the trippiest of all the projects for suggesting escape is often more intellectual and conceptual than literal. The participants are, after all, working artists whose idea of transgression is intimately bound up with making artwork.

Escape is psychedelic in Jon Rajkovich's limeade-colored sculpture of a child's rocking horse stretched like taffy into a magic carpet ride, and it's nearly impossible in Cheryl Goldsleger's mazelike paintings, which keep the eyeball captive in its intersecting designs. Matthew Sugarman also finds evidence of a profound cultural need for escape in a work combining retro images of the material culture of the early '60s and references to the space program. The work finds a fantasy of escape in a space program that exemplified America's prosperity and possibility. Images of a space capsule parachuting back to Earth suggest an inevitable crash landing for those lofty dreams.

The weakest of the four shows, Going South at the Rialto, is a vision of the South locals may find cringe-inducing. It's typified by Paula Eubanks' folksy recipes for peach ice cream and tomato sandwiches combined with magazine-slick images of almost lewdly succulent fruit and dewy tomatoes. Going South suggests the South is a neglected, depopulated theme park no one in their right mind would want to visit, what with its faded tourist traps, rusty cars and concrete-blanketed gas stations.

Corrina Mensoff's "Portal," in which a ship's window opens onto a video image of a perpetually rippling sea, suggests great things ahead in Dalton Gallery's Traveler show. But the show never quite gels with its odd mix of ideas. Advocating for Mexican immigrants is artist Richard Lou, whose headless mannequin wears a U.S. Border Control agent's uniform decorated with hundreds of tiny white nooses. For the homeless there is the collaborative installation by Ariadna Capasso, Damin Keller and Patricia Tinajero-Baker. The artists use a mix of video, photography, installation, wall text and fabric panels to document the lives of numerous street people. But the fragmented, visual bedlam of the piece builds a wall of sensory overload that instead of connecting us to the homeless, keeps them at a distance.

A relatively no-frills video, "Circle," by local artist Hormuz Minina is most successful in its ability to evoke the idea of travel in multiple ways and an idea of displacement that echoes in several of the works. In a slow zoom, Minina pulls in from a great distance to a rooftop somewhere in Bombay where a circle of women in festive saris dance in either celebration or mourning. The closer the camera gets us to the scene, the less clear the imagery becomes. "Circle" suggests an illustration of the artist's philosophical wandering, trapped between his Indian heritage and his new American life.

And that potent imagery of observing from a great distance conveys a cardinal rule of travel and proves Thomas Wolfe's contention that "you can't go home again." As close as you may get, the traveler - whether homeless or tourist - is always kept at a distance.


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