Catching up with Eyedrum

The South Downtown arts lab houses avant-garde spirit

Music Eyedrum1 1 03.59c431e99f9ee
Photo credit: Chad Radford
AVANT-GARDE SPIRIT: Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery has been a fixture of the local scene for nearly two decades.

October 11, 2017 marks Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery's 19th anniversary as the scruffy, volunteer-run, alternative arts laboratory, gallery and performance venue for adventurous art and music. For nearly two decades Eyedrum has fulfilled its mission as an innovation incubator where experiments are staged with impunity for small, but very receptive, audiences. It's an environment in which sold-out crowds, high volume beer sales and revenue are rarely, if ever, the measures of success.

"Someone once told me Eyedrum is the weirdo granddaddy of DIY contemporary art organizations," says volunteer board member and co-chair of music programming and more Grace Kim. "It's hard to believe, yet, it persists in being a wild, messy and organizationally haphazard institution."

The October date kicks off a yearlong campaign to gather material from artists, volunteers, former board members, musicians and regulars for a 20th anniversary exhibition celebrating Eyedrum's history, which will be mounted in Oct. 2018. From humble beginnings as a loft space on Trinity Avenue, Eyedrum has evolved, but not mutated. Now occupying a 101-year-old building with six storefronts on the southwest side of downtown, Eyedrum remains a haven for the fringes of Atlanta culture.

In 2017, Eyedrum has presented several events including a Composer's Concert Series, which featured Matthew Saunders performing solo trombone pieces, and a triple bill showcasing former volunteer, composer and pianist Olivia Kieffer with percussionist Klimchak and Amplituba (Bill Pritchard). In May, Southern Fried Queer Pride moderated a screening-discussion exploring how queer and trans Black persons see themselves in porn. In July, the closing of Sara Santamaria's art installation, "Who comes today and stays tomorrow," featured films on the Syrian war and the global refugee crisis. Gallery exhibits included a group printmaking show, "Out of the Frame-Off the Wall," and a solo show by Atlanta-based artist Tori Tinsley.

On Tues., Oct. 10, two masters of North Indian classical music grace Eyedrum's performance space. Rabindra Goswami (sitar) has long been recognized as a masterful player from Varanasi, India, birthplace of many outstanding Indian classical musicians. Goswami is known for playing pure, traditional raga music, although, recently, he has been experimenting with creating Christian ragas, marking him as an innovator in the genre. Ramchandra "Ramu" Pandit, a lifelong disciple of Pandit Sharda Sahai, is an engaging performer who delights in demonstrating and explaining Indian music to Western audiences. Goswami and Pandit perform together at Eyedrum starting 8 p.m. On Wed., Oct. 11 they will also host a lecture and demonstration Community Music Center of Atlanta, Little Five Points Salon. Tickets are limited to 50. On Thurs., Oct. 12 they perform together again at Emory University Cannon Chapel (Free, 8 p.m.).

Eyedrum is currently taking proposals for its 80 Forsyth St SW location. Ongoing regular showcases include Majid Araim's "Sonic Adventures," a monthly gathering of free improv musicians, and "Audible Laboratories," an electronic noise series, which picks up where the former monthly Improv Etc. left off. "I love that Eyedrum facilitates collaborations in ways that people would not experience otherwise," says Kim.

Eyedrum's monthly "Writer's Exchange" offers writers an opportunity to present and receive feedback on their material. Eyedrum Periodically is a peer-reviewed literature and photography publication, which has generated some 15 virtual issues and two, soon to be three, printed anthologies. Eyedrum is looking forward to a collaborative residency between Atlanta-based artists Meredith Kooi, a visual and performance artist, critic, curator, and educator; Johnnie Ray Kornegay, a storyteller, consultant and coach; and Ajmal Millar, a largely self-taught costume designer of Trinidadian heritage.

"The mission hasn't changed in 20 years," says Kim. "We continue to be the place for provocative and weird art and performance work, and for experimental music."

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