“Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god” –Francis Bacon
8 10 14 22 26 34 36 42 44 48
Book Twelve : 2011
strokes American Gun
Michaela Pilar Brown Piccolo Spoleto Festival
Alex Smith Kendal Turner
Stephen Chesley Andi Hearn and Davey Mathias Reliquarium for a Dream
on the cover: Alex Smith photographed by Scott Bilby (mua: Jade Johnson)
contributors Cynthia Boiter … Associate Editor Mark Pointer … Associate Editor Kristine Hartvigsen … Managing Editor
Ed Madden … Poetry Editor Kyle Petersen … Music Editor Jay Quantz … Lead Photographer Michael Miller … Writer
Scott Bilby … Photographer Thomas Hammond … Photographer Jonathan Sharpe … Photographer Laura Bousman ... Design Intern/Logo
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A message from the editors. On March 21st, local Columbia dancer and musician Steven Ferguson was unloading books from the back of his car to return to the Main Branch of the Richland County Public Library when, out of the blue, an automobile hit the car behind him, pinning him between the vehicles, twisting and crushing his legs in the process. It was the kind of freak, horrible accident that shouldn’t happen to anyone, least of all someone whose legs are so fundamentally connected to his livelihood. Many of us in the arts community had seen Steven on the stage before – either playing the trumpet or dancing as a guest artist with a local company or his own group, Culture Splash. His dancing is powerful – athletic and gently lyrical at the same time. Though he came late to dance and doesn’t have a lifetime of classical training behind him, the energy he brings to his performances makes him one of the most moving and beautiful dancers we have seen. A man of integrity and sweet spirit, too, Steven’s combination of talent and character make him even more valuable to our community of artists, arts lovers, and friends. The news of Steven’s injuries spread quickly, and cries went up almost immediately from different segments of Columbia’s arts coterie with questions of how we could help. Steven’s close friend, film producer Lee Ann Kornegay, became the point person and liaison between Steven and his concerned friends. In a matter of days, three fundraisers were organized: one in which children would dance, another for professional artists to perform, and one more for those of us who sometimes have to stand and watch. The results? Well, with the shameful costs of health care, certainly not as much as we wish it could be. But more than money, the aftermath of a circle of likeminded people coming to the aid of one of their own benefits so many more than just the recipient of the gesture. It reminds us not only of the fragility of artistic aptitude but of its fervor and capacity. It reaffirms the outstretched branches of our family of artists and arts lovers and
makes us look a little more appreciatively and, yes, a little more lovingly, at one another. It is not an exaggeration to say that we at undefined are both honored and humbled to be a part of this growing body of artists and individuals who have made the conscious effort to make the arts a part of their lives. We are committed to making our own unique contribution to the efforts made by so many fine arts people before us, and so many artists and patrons working diligently in that direction today. It’s not that hard to do. Because like the chef in his kitchen and the tailor in her shop, the product of our work is only as good as the raw ingredients we have to work with. Like the man once said, “you can put lipstick on a pig, but …” Luckily, the local artists we feature in undefined need no adornments at all – we’re just happy to be able to present them in their natural glory. It all goes back to the old adage about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. If this magazine is good, it is good because of the artists and projects we profile in our pages. Visual artists, performing artists, writers, and designers from Columbia and beyond are not only flourishing individually, but they are coming out of the caves of their studios – and their disciplines – to support one another and become patrons of their fellow artists. Much like Steven Ferguson and the other talented people profiled in the pages of this issue of undefined – there is an authenticity to the artists who are making names for themselves in Columbia and the Carolinas. If undefined magazine can help to build a platform on which this community of outstanding artists and art lovers can continue to grow and thrive – well, we’re just happy to hold a hammer. Thank you for picking up another issue of undefined. Donations continue to be accepted for Steven and may be sent to Steven Ferguson Gift Donation, P. O. Box 1321, Columbia, South Carolina, 29202. We’ll see you next issue – in the meantime, take care of one another, and take care of yourselves.
Photograph by James Quantz
2011 Verner winner Heidi Darr-Hope Among the recipients of the 2011 Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Awards for the Arts is the Columbia-based artist, Heidi Darr-Hope. One of the 14 original artists who moved into Vista Studios at 80808 Lady Street back in the day, beginning the familiar cycle of gentrification of an area from the sketchy part of town that it was to the almost-too-hip district it is now, Darr-Hope was a trail-blazer then and continues to make her own path by walking it today. Her art and workshops on spiritual centeredness and healing icons have touched innumerable lives. With a talent for excavating and interpreting the sacred and the profane, and all that dwells between, Darr-Hope has built a career of significant consequence in the arts that allows her to do good work and share it with others, both in the US and abroad. The annual Verner Awards for outstanding achievement and contributions to the arts in South Carolina are the highest honor given by the state to any artist or arts organization. The awards were presented on May 5th at a noon ceremony at the State House and celebrated the evening before with a gala at the Grand Hall of 701 Whaley Street. Others individuals honored include Tommy Wyche of Greenville, Mary Jackson of Johns Island, Terry Hunter of Orangeburg, Steven Rosenberg of Charleston, and Linda Stern of Columbia.
For more on the artist Heidi Darr-Hope go to: www.undefinedmagazine.com and turn to page 64 of Book 2.
We choose Michaela Pilar Brown Michaela Pilar Brown is the kind of visual artist whose work makes some viewers squirm. Unafraid of the difficult and sensitive social issues so many of us avoid, Pilar Brown bravely confronts our culture’s most challenging questions regarding equality, and the lack thereof, taking on sexism, racism, ageism, religion, beauty, and class as these issues form the foundations of social stratification. Her work is potent and profound, often alarming, and sometimes intimidating. Invariably, it is beautiful. For these reasons and more, Michaela Pilar Brown is the winner of the 2011 Contemporaries Artist of the Year undefined magazine Award. Her photograph, Pugilist, was chosen from 100 submissions by 50 artists on May 5th by the editors of undefined magazine. The Contemporaries of the Columbia Museum of Art is a membership division comprised of a large group of youngish professionals with the explicit goals of promoting the museum and diversifying its membership. Charleston artist Dorothy Netherland was awarded the Contemporaries Artist of the Year Award by judges Karen Ann Myers, J. J. Ohlinger, Robert Lange, and Wim Roefs. Bryan S. Burgin was selected by popular vote as the winner of the People’s Choice Award. For a more in-depth look at Brown and the ideology behind her work, read Kristine Hartvigsen’s article on page 14 of this issue of undefined. For more information on the Contemporaries of the Columbia Museum of Art, go to www.columbiacontemporaries.com.
Devereaux – Cacti Pace EP Devereaux is the home recording project of Heyward Sims, one of Columbia’s most agile and pummeling guitarists. Mostly known for being the six-string master behind the jagged-yetcatchy indie rock of Death Becomes Even the Maiden, Sims has also played with the now-defunct prog rock group Bolt and backed up the comedy hip-hop duo Sweet Vans. While recent home recording successes in Columbia from Toro y Moi and Coma Cinema might have you thinking this is where Sims is going to let loose some reverb-laden slice of retro-pop goodness, think again. Devereaux is a home recording with a sound that is more fittingly described as “big,” “bold,” and “epic.” Using entirely original drum beats and loops, Sims clearly retreats back to his earlier work with Bolt here, as these five Kraftwerk and Dirty Projectors-inspired tunes make use of prominent, wide-angle lens synthesizers that hypnotically riff and play off one another. There seem to be any number of them beeping and blurping in the mix and Sims introduces his signature guitar riffs only as a counterweight, not the main act. The sparse lyrics and vocals are used for color and effect – so much so that it would be silly to call this anything other than an instrumental record. Brawny, thumping drums and gigantic keyboard lines are clearly the order of the day – this is music that wants nothing to do with “chillwave.” The opening composition “Perestroika” sets up both the sonic
template and modus operandi for the record with its title and opening dialogue making a nod towards Kraftwerk before moving into a Daft Punk-like dance tune, replete with a thumping back beat and catchy, melodic synth line. The second cut, “Capri,” sounds like a highly experimental and long-lost cut from a classic New Wave band from the 1980s, with vocals so heavily filtered and digitally garbled that they completely blur any line between machine, human voice, and instrument. Tracks three and four both move in more of a rock direction, with the former using live-sounding drums and a monster guitar riff that splits the difference between rock crowd nodding and head-banging and the latter using synthesized horns and a Latin feel and backing chants to great effect. The closing cut is the one that feels the most like Sims’ work in DBETM, with its gnarly postrock guitar lines and loud-soft dynamics. Despite the one-man, home recording nature of this project, this is large-canvas music just begging for some kind of public performance. It’s not so far from straight dance music that it couldn’t be worked into a DJ set, but here’s to hoping that Devereaux can move from recording project to live act soon, because this kind of energy and ambition belongs on stage and played in a pulsating crowd of sweaty, living, breathing music fans. –Kyle Petersen
H. apocalyptus More than one hundred years in the future, and after the inevitable Zombie Apocalypse has ravaged humanity by turning most of us into flesh eating thugs, three survivors contemplate their prospects in a Dean Poyner play giving its American premiere at the Piccolo Spoleto Festival 2011, in Charleston. Billed as a futuristic campfire tale about zombies, survival, and the meaning of family, H. Apocalyptus, formerly titled Homo Apocalyptus, was developed in 2009 at The Studios of Key West and read at the Garage Theatre in San Francisco in April 2010. Presented as a work shopped production at The Cairns Festival in Queensland, Australia last August, The Charleston production is directed by Katherine Brook and features Columbia artists Paul Kaufmann, Monica Wyche, and E. G. Heard. See H. Apocalyptus at the Footlight Players Theatre at 20 Queen Street on June 8th and 11th at 8 pm, June 9th and 10th at 9 pm, and June 12th at 6 pm. Tickets are $19. For more of undefined Magazine’s Piccolo Spoleto Festival picks turn to page 22.
rs story: Kyle Pete
is in American Gun
11, is about ased May 10, 20 le re , m bu al k w ne t tongue-in-chee merican Gun’s A ha of ew d m en so a ck in ba d, s on the a biting —and it’s calle One of the song g guitars and local rock band in a en in re g ca in be of of ll ails something -rock tune, fu the joys and trav ugh the song, sneering punk ro a th ’s It ay ” w lf p. U ha ’ in d alcohol. But ums go from fashion, “Break out and the dr , club dates, an ll es fa at rs m ita nd gu ba e t th eaty cynicism abou tune from a sw st a few beats, e ju th of ts e lif ac at sp th e s. In th lf-time groove entually striking happen t a muscular ha ck up again, ev ou ba ng ng ki so ar e m th to ard es from ruments build pummeling forw arena. The inst Todd Mathis go l ol er -r ng nd si -a ad ck ro Le e w purpose. ure. “But you barroom into th ard with a ne on for this vent rw as fo re e le ng ho lu w e r se is g th renewing thei ppy, nothing el tly summarizin ha an u yo eg el es to ak s m m proble / the music , what bemoaning his l you know to do at this is, in fact al th s s it’ es e dn us re ca su be as ard ll of a blind keep going forw eration, half fu sp de of ll fu lf ha true,” he sings, doing. be he is meant to
engineering and stuff, and creating really well-done pre-production recordings, made a big difference on this record.” Bodamer went out of his way to talk to each band member individually, which they all agree was a big part in making the new record more of a “straight-up rock and roll record” than they had in the past. “It sounds exactly like the four of us,” lead guitarist Noel Rodgers says, the pride made clear in his voice. “If you don’t sound like who you are at this point [in your thirties], you’ve missed something along the way.” This subtle stylistic change-up was something of a conscious decision, as the group was determined to present a more “honest” document of the band this time around. “It was the idea early on to have an album unlike our other albums, with half the songs we didn’t want to play live,” says bassist Kevin Kimbrell. Rodgers concurs. “A lot of times we would find ourselves trying to twang up something and Paul would say ‘Stop! You are being a great rock band right now. Just be a great rock band!’” This input and approach, along with the extensive pre-production, gave the record a different bent from the start. Pre-production kind of seems like a pseudo-professional term for “band practice,” but what it really means is “band practice for making a record.” In this case, during the spring and summer of 2010, as the band was hashing out some new tunes, Bodamer set up a makeshift recording room in the band’s practice space in the Rosewood area of Columbia so they could play the music back and shape songs more constructively. “We did a lot of recordings, and a lot of listening and thinking back on it,” which was something new, says Kimbrell. This approach freed up the band to both have “Todd walk in with a chord progression and lyrics and, by the end of practice, have a badass song,” says Rodgers, remembering the creation of the album’s title cut “Therapy.” This freedom also meant the group could re-imagine and try different approaches to tunes like “Movin’ Down the Line.” The song was brought in with Mathis’s sole directive to make sure it did not turn out “a white boy blues song.” After several attempts at finding a satisfying arrangement, the band was almost ready to discard the song. However, the next practice Kimbrell came across a fuzz-toned bass line that locked in perfectly with the mid-tempo rock groove Hoose was playing at the time. Bodamer lit up at this casual creation, and the band began re-building the song around it. The end result is a dark, noisy tune that owes as much to Tom Waits and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club as it does to rowdy Southern rockers like Lucero and the Drive-by Truckers. On the whole, Merckle’s departure also had another unexpected benefit in opening up new space in the band’s sound. While all of the band members will attest to the songwriting chops and talent their former co-leader brought to the band, his acoustic guitar presence “cut out a lot of the high-end stuff that me and Kevin are doing,” Noel points out.
ny band is almost defying the odds just by releasing a fourth album. As “Breakin’ Up” suggests, rock bands face a unique set of challenges and problems in staying together. Rock music is often a dangerous cocktail of rebellion, alcohol, and personal expression that makes for rather volatile situations. True to form, American Gun has seen members come and go, causing the music to shift and evolve in an effort to maintain the delicate balance that keeps the engine running. The group started out in 2004 with the stated purpose of writing “three-chord songs you could get drunk to” and quickly became Columbia’s go-to alt-country band. They released two LPs, Dark Southern Hearts in 2006 and The Means and the Machine in 2008, that mixed stone-cold rockers with tear-in-your-beer heart-jerkers and borrowed the talents of a bevy of outside musicians and producers, most notably pedal steel player Al Perkins, who has played with Bob Dylan, Garth Brooks, The Flying Burrito Brothers and Chris Stamey, who has worked with both Alex Hammond raphy: Thomas Chilton and Whiskeytown. The band toured throughout the Southeast, flirted with a number of regional record labels, and even got a few songs licensed to cable television shows. Still, the going was hard. Two thousand nine saw the group changing up guitarists and adding and subtracting a keyboard player, and, following the release of their third LP Devil Showed Me His Hand, the departure of co-leader Donald Merckle. Merckle’s departure, as disappointing as it was, pushed the band in new directions. In tandem with the songwriter’s leaving was the arrival of local record producer and engineer Paul Bodamer, who began serving as an unofficial “fifth member” and what drummer Andrew Hoose refers to as the “catalyst” for the new record. Bodamer himself describes his role as merely pushing a different approach to arrangements and vocals in a new direction and providing some technical expertise—things like “figuring out tone, whether you want the guitars to be dark or bright on a particular song, what snare to use, what cymbals to use—subtle things that serve the particular song.” Bodamer’s tech-savvy approach to recording and energetic enthusiasm for the band pushed the members to try new creative approaches. “This was the most pre-production we’ve ever done,” Mathis says. “His level of expertise, as far as
ultimately ended up laying a guitar solo on the rambling country-rock tune “1500 Jessicas”). The band would come out of the weekend with 11 songs largely completed, with just the vocals left to be recorded in Bodamer’s home studio and a few tracks awaiting organ and keys overdubs. Most of the credit for this goes to the pre-production approach, since the band laid so much of the important groundwork down ahead of the recording time. When asked about their ambitions for the record, the band laughs at the long odds of becoming a big rock band. Mathis remains optimistic about the licensing possibilities for his music but puts the emphasis on the fact that “this is what I like to do. I like making records in general. I like hanging out with these guys and, whatever we come up with, if it’s good, I want to record it.” He also asks of listeners new and old that “whatever you’ve heard about American Gun before, just toss it out the window. This is what we sound like now.”
Kimbrell and Hoose also felt somewhat tethered rhythmically by his style. “We just sonically have more space,” Kimbrell explains. Propelled by this new approach and Bodamer’s gentle prodding, the band geared up for another first—an out-of-town, around-the-clock recording session at the Fidelitorium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The recording setting was another of Bodamer’s ideas—he had already built a relationship with Mitch Easter, the studio owner and legendary musician and producer behind the classic early R.E.M. records Murmur and Reckoning. Part of the decision was purely technical – the drum sounds in a big room like the Fidelitorium are a definite plus – but there were other advantages as well. The band could really spread out in the large recording space, and having a separate hang-out room helped defuse any tension or sense of being cooped up. Easter’s role as a second engineer meant a living recording legend, with all of his accompanying gear, was making a significant contribution to things like guitar tone (also Easter
story: Kyle Petersen photography: James Quantz
The Many Voices (and Faces) of
Michaela Pilar Brown Michaela Pilar Brown leans across the café table to be heard more clearly. “It’s OK,” she offers sympathetically. “My voice is small.” It’s true that the beguiling, doe-eyed artist speaks softly. But a small voice? Hardly.
story: Kristine Hartvigsen Photography: Michaela Brown
rown’s recent Midlands shows have been alternately enchanting, insightful, shocking, and, at times, in-your-face confrontational − tackling issues of feminism and body image, historical bias, religious hypocrisy, and race. One of her most powerful creations is a recurring character she calls “Tinkerbell,” a curvy black woman made up in blackface with exaggeratedly large, bright red lips and an ever-present set of fairy wings. In her photographs, Brown models for the character herself, mostly nude. But she doesn’t consider them self-portraits. “For me it is not ‘blackface’ but a mask of ‘blackness.’ Like I am playing a role,” she explained. “I knew I could catch some flak for the blackface, but I also felt really empowered.” Brown sees this striking character as a powerful masked avenger. Like Disney’s sprite, Brown’s blackface Tinkerbell is silent, communicating primarily through bold gestures and facial expressions. Both have a core personality that can be alternately angelic and feisty. The similarities end there, however. While Disney presented a white, blue-eyed blonde fairy with an exaggeratedly sexual hourglass figure, Brown’s edgy creation is deliberately black on black with a contemporary real woman’s body and occasional giant prosthetic “man hands.” Younger audiences who may be unfamiliar with the term
“I’m not finished with her.” To use herself as the nude model for Tinkerbell and another character in her “pedestal envy” photo series is an interesting choice. But it makes a lot of sense the way Brown explains it. “My work has always been kind of autobiographical,” she said. “I had to work through some personal issues, things related to beauty and value and self-worth. Not that I am not comfortable in my skin; I have always been comfortable with who I am. I was an adored child. But it was about how the outside world related to who I am.” Another character in the series is an unnamed, faceless nude black woman with an enormous blonde afro (obscuring her downward-gazing face). Her hands are tied up with a noose. “The blonde image is about identity and finding beauty in who you are. Her hands are bound with a noose,” Brown explained. “It’s a sort of suicide. Every time you destroy part of yourself to pursue some idea of beauty, you are killing yourself. That is why the face is gone. You are no longer yourself. For black women in particular, it is the antithesis of who you are naturally to do that.” The artist concedes that, like many women in modern society, she once briefly experimented with blonde hair color. She has worn her head tightly shorn for nearly two decades and completely shaved now for two years now. It suits her. However,
I point out hypocrisy within the black church, which denounces homosexuality from the pulpit, but if you look at the choir stand, every man is gay. “blackface” should know that it was a form of makeup originally worn by white actors in mockingly derogatory stereotypical caricatures of black characters, a form of entertainment common to traveling minstrel shows in 19th century America. [White men in blackface also often portrayed black female characters as mannish and grotesque, which could explain the blackface Tinkerbell’s “man hands.”] Fortunately, over the years this form of “entertainment” on stage and screen − perpetuating an image of all AfricanAmericans as buffoonish, lazy, stupid, and inferior − eventually declined, although the blackface icon later gained success in advertising and product branding. Even though now considered widely offensive, this “darky” iconography, used to sell toys, soap, and many other products, still can be found all over the world. In fact, there’s a thriving niche market worldwide for vintage blackface “negrobilia” pieces. Brown’s blackface Tinkerbell is a darkly enigmatic superhero who vacillates intermittently from seductive to dangerous to defiant to ornery to spiteful, and more. Hers is a multifaceted personality that seems to change on a dime. Some theorists argue that continued white support for blackface images in vintage products and advertising is perpetuated, consciously or otherwise, to counter black progress. Another view is that stereotyping a stereotype, as Brown has done with Tinkerbell, can have the effect of canceling it out, robbing the icon (in this case, overt blackface images) of the power to cause hurt or harm. “The character is still evolving and changing,” Brown said.
she completely separates herself from the fictional characters she creates in her art. “I have a hard time seeing myself in images,” she said. “The work that really gets to the heart of what you are trying to say has to be honest. I need to tackle it from an inside source. I need to put myself in those images first. It is difficult. ... I also have to deal with my own vanity, seeing myself honestly as I am seeing myself transformed, confronting some ugly ideas.” One of the biggest challenges, Brown said, is allowing her mother and other family members to see the images. It’s less about the nudity than it is about the controversial nature of some of the imagery. “My mother is pretty open,” she said. “She was always exposing us to art.” However, some of the racial issues and, particularly, the religious commentary, tend to run counter to the sensibilities of her mom’s generation. “I point out hypocrisy within the black church, which denounces homosexuality from the pulpit, but if you look at the choir stand, every man is gay,” she continued. “My mother is 78 years old. She has said, ‘I don’t like that.’ My mom is from the culture and generation where you don’t air your dirty laundry. You don’t talk about it in public.” Everything Brown does with her art − whether it’s photography, painting, video, installation, sculpture, or performance – comes with an unspoken objective of engaging the viewer and inspiring meaningful dialogue. “I want to have real, honest conversations, and I think you have to be brave in order to do that,” she said. “I am probably also
Troopers charging the Johnson
life in DC. But sometimes you just have to face up to your role in the family,” Brown explained. “I was a woman, unmarried and without children. I was considered available for the role of caregiver.” Brown put her artistic pursuits aside to care for her father at the family’s rural compound. It proved to be a holistic and bittersweet experience that brought her back into the close fold of family and afforded her a chance to experience a memorable farewell with her dad. He died in 2007. She soon began to chronicle the family’s history, which took on a life of its own. “The last year of my father’s life, my brother and I basically documented the process of the goodbye,” Brown said. “He stopped eating and wasn’t taking any fluids. Despite the Alzheimer’s, he knew who his children were. He knew we were filming him. He first gave us the camera.” That planted the seed for a larger oral history project, the idea for which had taken firm hold. After her father’s death, Brown won a grant-funded curatorial position at the Fairfield County Museum, where she introduced her oral history project, focusing on the African-American midwifery legacy, to advance the museum’s exhibit schedule. For six months in 2008, the museum exhibited “Birthing a Community: Fairfield County Midwives.” It covered midwifery from slavery into modern
a little foolish. I want to do what I want to do. There is a little tomboy in me who says ‘you can’t tell me what I can and cannot do.’ But that is my personality. … “I think part of the reason people can’t move forward is that they absolutely refuse to face the hard questions.” The Call of Family The youngest of five children and the only girl, Brown left home to attend Howard University in Washington, DC. As a freshman, she came under the tutelage of a master ironworker. Just 18 years old, Brown had her first professional show, featuring her sculpture of a metal bust with swollen abdomen, titled “Pregnant With An Attitude.” That piece today resides in a private collection in Wisconsin. “After I took some art classes, I became convinced that I would never do anything else,” she said. “My family never once discouraged me from pursuing art. My mother worked in a museum. I knew professional artists when I was growing up.” Brown loved DC and decided to stay, working in a series of nonprofit administrative positions focusing on education and the arts. But in 2003, a family crisis called her back home to Great Falls, SC, near Winnsboro. Her beloved father, suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s, needed full-time, hands-on care. “I came here kicking and screaming. I didn’t want to leave my
and was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to the governing board of the National Endowment for the Arts. He also served on the boards of the Smithsonian Institution. He is said to have completed more public sculptures than any other artist in the United States. She had an opportunity to work with Hunt once in one of the first real professional projects of her life, and she said the experience lent real validation to her growing artistic ambitions. Hunt’s influence is clear, particularly in the personage of Brown’s aforementioned winged Tinkerbell character. Many of Hunt’s sculptures visually echo writer Toni Morrison’s themes of flying, often with bird or angel wings. “My own use of winged forms in the early ‘50s is based on mythological themes, like Icarus and Winged Victory,” Hunt told Sculpture Magazine in 1998. “It’s about, on the one hand, trying to achieve victory or freedom internally. It’s also about investigating ideas of personal and collective freedom. My use of these forms has roots and resonances in the African-American experience and is also a universal symbol. People have always seen birds flying and wished they could fly.” Brown has taken a hiatus from metal sculpture for purely practical reasons. “It’s not like I lost my love for it,” she said. “I felt very powerful. I liked bending the metal to my will. I like physical labor. I am a builder. That’s why I was so excited about the ‘Change for Change’ art project using decommissioned parking
times. Financial challenges eventually ended the run, but the fact that it happened is progress. “It was a very white museum in a very black community. They were trying to bridge that gap,” she explained. “Ultimately, it didn’t get fixed. Part of that is economic. Cultural institutions are habitually given small budgets. They simply couldn’t do more.” Meanwhile, Brown rediscovered a deep love for the rural South and her family’s “19th century way of life” on 250 rolling acres of land and four houses. Everyone in the community, she said, is related in some way. “There are things about rural life that are beautiful beyond words. I can trace my ancestors back to 1775,” she said, adding that her ancestry includes Irish, Catawba Indian, and English. “My family turned color in one generation. … Daniel Brown was a white man who took a black woman as a spouse and not just a concubine. In one generation, we became a black family. … “There is something about living here that I love. I love southern culture. I love the food. I love all the weirdness that is racial politics in the South. It is not all hate, and it is not all love. It’s a weird relationship. It helps define who you are. When I started working again, those were issues I wanted to tackle.” Brown cites Chicago-based abstract metal sculptor Richard Hunt as a major inspiration in her eventual decision to become a professional artist. The internationally renowned Hunt, 75, was the youngest artist to exhibit at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair
Fairy Goth Mother
“SC3D: an Exhibition of Three-Dimensional Art from South Carolina” running through May 29 at the 701 Center for Contemporary Art. It combines video and fabric sculpture. “I am attracted to the theater of video. It gives my work dancing light and movement. I am really attracted to storytelling and narrative, and I think video does that in the most concise and clear way,” she explained. “I really like the idea of being able to paint with light. That’s really what photography is.” This summer, Brown has a solo show running from June 24 to July 24 at Le Cochon Noir, an upscale Philadelphia restaurant and gallery. It will include images from her “frock” and “pedestal envy” collections. Private showings of the adult-themed Tinkerbell series are planned, and Brown is scheduled to give a salon talk on July 14. She also is scheduled to give a second salon talk June 25 at The International House on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania for an organization called Fourth Wall Arts. “Twenty years ago, I was told never to hang work in restaurants and bars, but it’s different now,” Brown said. Using social media, it’s possible to rally people to turn out for an exhibit. “In a restaurant, there is a quiet environment, and people spend time with your work. And this venue has had a lot of success; artists have been selling out.” Brown also looks forward to living and working for three months as the Harvey B. Gantt Artist in Residence at the prestigious McColl Center for Visual Art in Charlotte from September 6 to November 22, 2011. While there, she also will exhibit at the Gantt Museum for African-American Arts and Culture. “What I need to do right now is to talk about my work, to be in an engaging environment where there is rich dialogue,” she said. This residency fills the bill. “When you are isolated, you can get stuck. Your output atrophies.” The McColl Center’s mission is to connect artists with the community, and it draws artists from all over the world. Columbia-area alumni include Deanna Leamon in 2010 and Marcelo Novo in 2009. Because the Center asks its artists to include an outreach component to their work, Brown hopes to connect with people through a victim’s assistance program for a photo series on all forms of trauma − physical, emotional, and spiritual. Years ago, Brown’s brother suffered a brain injury in an accident. She plans to begin the series with photos of the physical scars he now has. They are surprisingly small scars compared with the internal trauma he suffered. “His personality changed after the accident,” she said. “He was an athlete but now has no interest in sports.” She also is planning to focus on a disfigured woman who was attacked in her home but has no memory of it. The perpetrator remains at large. “I’m going to use all real people and real stories,” Brown added.
meters (a 2010 fundraiser for the Climate Protection Action Campaign). I was so excited to weld again. … But metal sculpture does require a very specific kind of space and often some assistance. I do hope to return to it.” Installation art always will have a special place in Brown’s heart. She connects to the degree of compromise installation art requires. She feels it has a sort of spiritual connection to the African Diaspora. “I like installation because I think the ability to compromise is something that is unique to African-Americans,” she said. “It is the idea that you are making it happen right on the spot. You make a rhythm and stick with that rhythm, moving people through environments and ideas through installation.” Most recently, Brown has had an installation showing in
Nothing to Lose Brown looks easily 10 years younger than she is, but she is coming to embrace the benefits of aging. “I think everyone who tries to make art is brave. In order to be brave, I have to face myself as I am. Part of that is facing my age,” she said. “I am 40 years old and deciding to go back to a career in art. I have got nothing to lose. I also think there is comfort in being 40 and not 20. I have something to say.” After her father died, she reached a crossroads. It was decision time. Stay or go back to DC. “It was a shit-or-get-off-the-pot moment. What I have gained is the ability to keep growing. So I started working and showing again. Now I can never imagine doing anything else,” Brown said. “I felt an intense fire to get moving. … I have no apologies about my life. It is not the life that I imagined, but I am happy to be working as an artist.” The Pugilist, pages 14-15, was chosen for the undefined magazine emerging artist award at the 2011 Columbia Museum of Art’s Contemporaries Artist of the Year Gala in April.
Piccolo Spoleto is not your mother’s Spoleto Festival
n some ways, Charleston’s annual Piccolo Spoleto Festival is to its big sister, the international Spoleto Festival USA, what tailgating is to college football. But don’t make the mistake of relegating the surprisingly well-organized fringe festival that is Piccolo Spoleto to the category of afterthought. The reality is that Piccolo Spoleto is a little more casual than the main festival, a little less serious, significantly less expensive and, like tailgating, attendees almost always find themselves drinking adult beverages with their friends and neighbors at the gatherings. But here’s a not so well-kept secret about both tailgating and Piccolo Spoleto Festival – in many
story: Cynthia Boiter
ways, they’re a lot more fun than the main event. With hundreds of dance, comedy, film, theatre, music, visual and literary arts events – some designed specifically to appeal to the whole family, others not so much – spread out over a 17-day period of time, choosing which performances to attend may seem daunting. To that end, undefined offers an overview of the festival with a friendly rating system – with three stars meaning don’t miss and one star meaning why not? – to help readers decide how best to allocate their Piccolo Spoleto Festival time. If you don’t see what you’re looking for below, check out the whole program at www.piccolospoleto.com.
Dance It would almost simplify matters of dance at Piccolo Spoleto Festival if the series of performances were called the Jill Eathorne Bahr Show, given how many events are rooted in either her choreography or the Charleston Ballet Theatre, where she is resident choreographer. The recent Verner award winner has her hands all over everything dance in Charleston, and that is evidenced in the festival’s dance offerings. Many of the Piccolo dance events are performed by student companies, which is not the case with CBT-affiliated shows. The only other professional organizations performing are Sideways Contemporary Dance and Dancentre South Company – both out of Atlanta – and Annex Dance Company, a modern troupe from Pennsylvania that moved to Charleston in the winter of 2010. Best Dance Bets HHH Annex Dance Company’s Encounter is a program “inspired by chance meetings and the human connection” and choreographed by artistic director Kristen Fieseler. Fieseler is part of a new wave of professional dancers who, rather than enter the job market straight out of high school as was once encouraged for talented young dancers, continued her education, receiving an MFA and a much more mature outlook on dance and chorography. Encounter is being offered as part of the Dance at Noon Series with one showing on June 12th at Footlight Players Theatre, 20 Queen Street. Tickets are $16.
Annex Dance Company Photo: Matthew Wright
HH Also part of the Dance at Noon Series, Sideways Contemporary Dance presents Breaking Bounds, which uses contemporary choreography and spoken word to inspire social and political awareness. Breaking Bounds will also only be performed one time – at noon on June 8th, also at Footlight Players Theatre, 20 Queen Street. Tickets are $16. H For the best bang for your buck, attend the free showing of Charleston Ballet Theatre’s Sunset Serenade, which is part of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra and the Piccolo Spoleto Festival Orchestra’s annual pops concert. Charleston Ballet Theatre will perform Jill Eathorne Bahr’s original works, Wings and The Lark Ascending, May 27th at 8 pm at the US Custom House at Concord and North Market Streets.
Theatre While in years past, Piccolo Spoleto may have presented more comedic theatre than dramatic – attending a comedy performance may be one of the best aids in digesting the heavy menus of Spoleto Festival USA’s higher brow art – the 2011 festival demonstrates a pleasant balance of laughter and gloom, with some shows offering the chance to both giggle and weep for one ticket price. Local theatres and comedy troupes are well-represented, as are a handful of oneperson shows including Pure Theatre’s The Gentleman Pirate, Mandy Schmieder’s Separation Anxiety, and the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy presented in one hour by Charles Ross, who is, happily, no longer being sued by the company that owned the rights to LOTR. A handful of previous presentations are back on the docket as well. Some, such as Mary Kay Has a Posse, an ensemble of irreverent and hilarious women, make sense given the improvisational nature of the performances. Others, such as the not-that-funny-the-first-time Banana Monologues, are a disappointment and surprise, given the plethora of good comedy and improv at home at Charleston’s Theatre 99.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch Photo: What If Productions
Best in Drama HHH Though bordering on the pedantic, David Mamet’s Race, a play about two male attorneys, one black and one white, and their young, African American and female assistant attorney, is a heady study of the things that separate us as a society, couched in the potential trial of a mixed-race alleged rape. At one point, the female attorney comments that their case is not “about sex, it’s about race.” To which one attorney replies, “What’s the difference?” See it at Pure Theatre at 334 East Bay Street on May 28th and 31st and June 1st at 7:30, or on May 29th and June 5th at 6 pm. Tickets are $21. David Auburn’s 2001 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Proof, was, unfortunately, made into a film in 2005 starring Gwyneth Paltrow as the daughter of a mentally ill, mathematical mastermind grappling with the legacies left her by her sick but enlightened dead father. Forget that. Instead focus on the original four characters written into this brilliant play about the fine line between insanity and genius, and how much control humans actually have as characters in our own lives. You’ll have to drive out to James Island to see it at the Charleston Acting Studio, 915 Folly Road; June 1st and 10th at 7, June 11th at 6, June 9th at 8, and June 12th at 5. Tickets are $18. HH
Shakespeare’s R & J, presented by the College of Charleston Shakespeare Project takes the angst of the Bard from Elizabethan England to a repressive parochial boarding school while at the same time removing the constructs of gender and sexuality from the drama. The result is fresh and real. See it at Simons Theatre at 54 St. Philip Street on May 27th and June 3rd at 8:30; May 28th and June 2nd at 6, May 29th and June 4th at 3, June 8th at 5 and June 8th through the 11th at 8. Tickets are $16.
Best in Comedy For the kind of New York City comedy you don’t always find in South Carolina – seriously, we’re talking Saturday Night Live here – grab a fast ticket for Ted and Melanie, a sketch comedy show performed by Jet Eveleth and Paul Brittain on June 3rd at 10:30 pm and June 4th at 9 pm OR catch one of the Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Company’s improvisational comedy shows on June 4th and 10th at 10:30, June 5th and 6th at 8:30, June 8th and 9th at 10 pm, or June 11th at 7:30. Both shows are at Theatre 99, 28 Meeting Street, and cost $16. HHH
HH The bit of time travel that is Flight Out of Time: a Dada Cabaret is billed as surreal comedy – and that it may be. But more than anything it is a revisiting of sociologist/philosopher/actor Hugo Ball’s Cabaret Voltaire as it was created at the beginning of World War I in Zurich, soon after he had written his 1916 Dada Manifesto. Flight Out of Time begs the question whether anything has changed in the last almost one hundred years, via poetry, sketches, comedy, and more. Comedy for people who want to think while they’re laughing, it plays at Theatre 220 at the Simons Center, 22 St. Philip Street, on May 27th, 28th, June 3rd and 4th at 9:30 pm, May 29th and June 2nd at 8:30. Tickets are $16. H The Understudy is a backstage look at the uncertain yet witty world of the theatre told from the perspective of a lovesick stage manager of a newly discovered Kafka play and written by the Pulitzer Prize nominated author/writer/producer/screenwriter/ playwright, Theresa Rebeck. It’s at the Chapel Theatre at the Simons Center, 22 St. Philip Street, May 27th and June 3rd at 6, May 28th at 9 pm, June 4th at 8:30, June 2nd at 3, and June 5th at 8. Tickets are $16.
The Best of Laughing Until You Cry or Vice Versa HHH Tracy Letts, who previously gave us such odd and wonderful plays as Bug and the 2008 Pulitzer and Tony winning August: Osage County, also gives us Superior Donuts, a play about confronting change in a sweet and peaceful way – and laughing about it. See it at Pure Theatre at 324 East bay Street on May 27th and June 3rd at 7:30, May 28th at 4, May 29th and June 4th and 5th at 2. Tickets are $21. HH Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a poignant combination of stand up routine and rock concert, written by John Cameron Mitchell, is a must-see for everyone at some point in their lives. The story of a boy who loved a man and lost part of himself – literally – for the love of that man, Hedwig and the Angry Inch uses rock music and the absurd to make the audience not only confront provincial stances on sexual orientation, but also to examine sexuality and gender identity as the continuum that it is rather than the dichotomy we create, all the while grooving to some seriously good tunes in a live concert setting. American Theatre at 446 King Street on May 28th and June 3rd at 10 pm, May 31st and June 6th through 8th at 8 pm. Tickets are $23.
Music With more choral music than you can shake a triple shot espresso at, not to mention a surprising number of organ recitals, there really are other musical offerings at Piccolo Spoleto Festival that will not make you feel like you’re paying to go to church. Not that there’s anything wrong with church or church music; but it takes a special kind of devotion to the art to crowd into a hot auditorium during the middle of a sweltering Charleston afternoon when the bars are open and there’s a breeze on the waterfront. True to form, there are myriad opportunities to take in the blues and jazz concerts that seem to provide the soundtrack to most Charleston summer visits, and many of those concerts take place while boating around the beautiful Charleston harbor. The bottom line with festival music offerings is that there are numerous chances to hear scores of the same kinds of music – not just choral, blues, and jazz, but assorted classical and baroque music, piano concertos and duets, a quartet of violas, chamber music, antiquarian music, music by fresh young artists, and music by boring old artists – that you hear all the time at arts fetes and events. Here are three equally enjoyable opportunities to appeal to the out-of-the-ordinary arts aficionado in everyone.
Na Fidleiri is a Celtic fiddle ensemble made up of 20 fiddles plus percussion and the odd whistle and dulcimer. They play the kind of Scottish and Irish dance music that command the feet to move and the heart to throb. See the group twice at the Circular Congregational Church at 150 Meeting Street; June 3rd at 7 and June 5th at 3. $11.
Oil lamps light the way for foot-stomping, hand-clapping music best sung in Gullah to set the soul afire. Wash your sins away at the old-timey Camp Meeting at the Mt. Zion AME Church at 5 Glebe Street on May 29th, June 3rd and 10th at 8 pm. $13. HHH
Hailing from Atlanta with a Mardi Gras state of mind, the Seed and Feed Marching Abominable is a ragtag group of professional non-musicians who bring out the joyous nerds in all of us. The group was founded by Kelly Morris in 1974 as a guerilla-type marching protest band to play at political events and demonstrations. A special fixture of the Piccolo Spoleto Festival during Memorial Day weekend, check out any or all of their three performances: the Children’s Parade on May 28th from noon until 1 at Marion Square; the Pajama March on May 28th from 11 until 11:55 pm on the steps of the US Custom House; or the Patriotic Concert, also on the steps of the US Custom House, on Sunday May 29th at noon. Free.
Three more for good measure HHH Kcymaerxthaere is an exhibition of how the artist Eames Demetrios, (designer, TED lecturer, chairman of the board of directors of the design-centric Eames Foundation in California, and grandson of Ray Eames, famously of the 1940s era Case Study House Program for Arts and Architecture Magazine), has created a parallel universe – complete with laws, living beings, and everything that comprises a culture – and how he attempts to connect that created parallel universe to our linear world via the installation of bronze plaques throughout the planet. Confused? Check out www.kcymaerxthaere.com for a little more clarity, and then visit the exhibit at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at 161 Calhoun Street from 11 am to 4 pm, Monday through Saturday from the start of the festival until July 15th. Free.
Israfel: The Ordeal of Edgar Allen Poe is a new play by John MacNicolas and part of the Southern Arts Celebration Series which highlights the work of one Southern artist each year – this year focusing on Poe. Watch a rehearsed staged reading of the play, followed by a panel discussion featuring playwright MacNicolas as well as Poe scholars Scott Peeples and Jim Hutchisson, on June 4th at 2 pm at the Footlight Players Theatre, 20 Queen Street. Tickets are $16.
HHH Visual art abounds during Spoleto Festival USA and Piccolo Spoleto Festival. There is outdoor art at Marion Square at the corner of King and Calhoun Streets daily from 10 until 5, and there is a juried art exhibit at the Charleston Visitor’s Center at 335 Meeting Street daily from 8:30 until 5. Both events are free and easy and, like most Piccolo offerings, a perfect way to relax, reflect, and decompress from the heat of the city and the happy overload of art that both Spoleto festivals bring.
25 story: Cynthia Boiter photography: James Quantz
Alex Smith is a student of the 20th century Here’s a fun way to spend a summer afternoon – ask local artist Alex Smith to tell you about one of the many plays he has directed. Tell him you want to know all about it. Then sit back and prepare to be entertained. It’s not just the animation in his face, or the way he slips in and out of various characters without realizing it as he describes them – whether he has ever played the role or not. Alex Smith, the multi-disciplinary artist, brings something akin to transcendence to most any artistic mission he takes on, be it acting, directing, filmmaking, playing music, writing, or, his latest endeavor, visual arts. Smith’s unique take on whatever art form he embraces may result from the fact that his artistic career has developed like an organic flowchart; the near mastery of one discipline leading naturally to an embarkation on the next. Whether he is behind the camera or in front of the audience, in the wings or wielding a paintbrush, the mostly self-taught Renaissance rogue brings a distinct and analytical slant to his discipline artistique de la journèe, requiring friends and patrons always to question,
what’s next for Smith and how will he turn it on its end?
story: Cynthia Boiter Photography: Scott Bilby
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mith’s ability to execute his art well is even more interesting given that he became involved in the arts primarily because he wasn’t doing something well at all – going to high school. Born 37 years ago in Springfield, Massachusetts, in the same hospital Dr. Seuss had been born in almost seventy years before, Smith soon moved to Charleston with his mother and naval officer father and eventually attended Miss Mason’s private school, where he remembers “always painting and drawing.” He continued to dabble in the arts that children do, despite losing the ability to see blue and green at a very young age. Like many artists, Smith didn’t find school challenging – it gave him little stimulation and seemed “silly” to him in so many ways. Another family move brought the adolescent Smith to Columbia, where he found no improvement in his academic situation. “By the time I was 14, I was failing in school, misunderstood, and all that typical, tortured other shit kids complain about,” Smith recalls. “Let’s just say I didn’t thrive in the public school system.” But the arts made sense to the boy – in large part due to some specific and meaningful influences early in his life. “I met and was deeply affected by Scot Hockman, who was the art teacher at Irmo Middle School,” Smith says. Hockman, who is now with the South Carolina Department of Education, had an “invaluable influence” on Smith, supporting and challenging him, as did his stepfather, Mark Harons. “I have to give my stepdad credit,” Smith says, tracing much of his aesthetic sense back to early exposure to popular music. “He steered me away from hair and metal music and introduced me to groups like R.E.M., U2, and English Beat … the whole punk scene. Coming to understand that kind of music affected the way I looked at the creative process, even as a kid. I can’t thank him enough for that.”
Despite his positive role models, Smith says that he continued to fail in school, “because I knew what I wanted to do. I knew I was not dumb … I just didn’t want to learn the way they wanted me to, but I didn’t know how to convey that to my teachers. I mean, a 15-year-old boy is basically a walking boner, you know. But my mother came up with a brilliant idea.” She enrolled him in an acting class at the local independent acting company, TRUSTUS Theatre. “My mom went up to Kay Thigpen, [co-founder and managing director of the theatre group], and said, ‘Will you please do something with him?’” “I met Jim and Kay and fell in love with them and with what they were doing,” he says. Smith’s first break came when he was cast to play the part of Evil Elvis #2 in a late night production of The Adventures of Butthole the Clown. After that, he was hooked on theatre and the creative process. “I had found my home,” he says, recalling learning how to tech performances and watching as local actors transformed themselves before his young eyes. Though his grades continued to plummet he finally felt happy and understood. At the age of seventeen, and halfway through his senior year in high school, he made the difficult decision to drop out and get his GED. “It was absolutely the right decision for me,” Smith still says today. With more time to devote to his newfound passion, Smith soon found himself cast in a number of local productions including Bahram Beyzaies’ political play, Four Boxes and, eventually, even trying his hand at directing. “Jayce Tromsness has to have been the person who influenced me more than anyone else,” Smith says. Tromsness, who, in addition to his work as an actor and behind the scenes at TRUSTUS, also founded several South Carolina theatre groups including The Distracted Globe Theatre Company in Greenville and Columbia’s now defunct The We’re Not Your Mother Players. “Jayce gave me my first shot at directing. He taught me so much more than I ever could have learned in school and he instilled in me a tireless work ethic. He taught me that if you’re going to do anything you have to know everything about it – with theatre that means props, sound, lights – you have to know and understand it all.” This attention to detail followed Smith as he grew into a young actor and director who spent as much time in the wings as on the stage, developing a resume that reads like a primer to twentieth century theatre – think
By the time I was 14, I was failing in school, misunderstood, and all that typical, tortured other shit kids complain about... Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love, LeRoi Jones’ (aka Amiri Baraka) Dutchman, Nicky Silver’s Free Will and Wonton Lust, and Lanford Wilson’s Home Free! In March 2000, at the age of twenty-six, and after taking a brief hiatus to start a garage band with his friend and fellow actor Steve Harley – (it wasn’t his first foray into musical arts – Smith learned violin in the Suzuki method as a child and regularly played music with friends) – he directed his first main stage show at TRUSTUS: Moisès Kaufman’s Gross Indecency – The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, featuring local veteran actor, Paul Kaufmann. Working with Kaufmann also impacted Smith. “I can’t say enough about Paul as a human influence and a friend,” Smith says. “He was my closest ally when we were working together. I grew so much through working with Paul and watching him work. And I grew so much by working on this play. The years that followed saw Smith take on one demanding play after another, including Suzan-Lori Park’s Pulitzer Prizewinning Topdog/Underdog, Kaufman’s The Laramie Project, and David Lindsay-Abaire’s Fuddy Meers. But it was when the
artist first directed the East German rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch in Columbia, and then starred as the androgynous title character in the same play in Charleston, that Smith began to see his life and art taking on a new form. Not only did the part require him to be on stage almost constantly, singing well and speaking candidly with the audience, all while dressed as a woman wearing a wig and low breasts in a tattered I [heart] NY T-shirt; it also demanded an emotional commitment with which the actor was unfamiliar. “Performing the role of Hedwig opened up something inside of me that I didn’t even know was there,” the actor says, his face reddening and his eyes unashamedly misting over. “It was just so human. I had spent an extended time in my life during which I virtually never cried; it didn’t matter what happened. But when I sang in the song Hedwig’s Lament that ‘I gave a piece to my mother,’ it was incredibly cathartic. I sobbed. And I became a much fuller person then.” That experience prompted the artist to become even more serious about his art and move to New York City, where he took several jobs, including dog walker and barista, as well as actor,
but where he also found himself drawn to film. “I kept hearing myself saying that I wanted to make a film, and I began seeing the world not as an actor or the director of a play, but from the perspective of someone who was creating a series of images and interpretations from scratch,” he recalls. A trip back to South Carolina over the Christmas holidays in 2003 gave Smith the opportunity to begin work on a screenplay. “It was terrible,” he says. “But it showed me that I needed to figure out how to do it – how to make a film.” To that end, he began buying and watching the Criterion Collection of classic and contemporary films and, auto-didactically, learning what made them great. His next screenplay was written over a six-day period of time with little to no sleep. “Writing for film is all about the power of the subject … you have to focus on what’s not said,” Smith explains, admitting that, of all the art forms he enjoys, writing is the hardest. “I almost leave my body when I write,” he continues. He rubs his eyes and pushes his hair back on his head displaying a decidedly Jack Nicholson-esque hairline and profile. But Nicholson he is not, nor is he any of the other characters he channels so well. “I used to allow what I created to define me,” he admits. “But that is so dangerous … you lose who the fuck you are. I act and direct, and I make films … but I’m not an actor or a director or a filmmaker. I’m not an artist. I am a student of the twentieth century, nothing more.” It is in his devotion to the analysis of the last century that the essence of the visual artist Smith denies he is surfaces the most. He constantly assesses the situation, looking for symbolism and interjecting complementary stories either from his own past or from a past created via scripts and stage directions, literature, or scenes from a film. He sees the meaning in everything around him. It was almost inevitable that he would eventually pick up a paint brush and bring the icons in his head into reality. “It’s time to make our own new myths,” he says. “Jesus, Mohammed, Vishnu … in a thousand years will be what the Dead Sea Scrolls are to us now. We have to get busy.”
Which is what Smith did in late 2010 when he began painting again – he got very busy. Some visual artists tend to work for extended periods of time on their paintings, patiently waiting for the unique insight that will allow them to finish a project to their slow and contemplative satisfaction, while others tend to work in spurts, spitting out a completed painting in no time flat. An efficient and prolific artist, Alex Smith doesn’t adhere to either practice, but rather works in splats – taking on several projects at once and moving between them until they are whole. His influences and subject matter come from diverse directions – literature, theatre, philosophy, Biblical references, social commentary, politics, his childhood, and parenting his own child, with whom he is clearly and profoundly in love. With an uncanny facility for capturing emotion in realistic facial features set against improbable faces, Smith has a knack for eloquent poignancy. His two large paintings, Didi and Gogo, for example, inspired by Samuel Beckett’s tragicomedy, Waiting for Godot, depict the main characters from the play, Vladimir and Estragon, respectively, in boots and bowlers, with tattered clothes and pensive expressions, and Gogo, or Estragon, looking away from the viewer, perhaps pondering his next meal or more recent ache or pain. Like the characters from the play, Smith also references religion frequently in the subject matter of
Smith as “Hedwig”
letters: “Your fears and suspicions are absolutely justified. The his paintings but from a distinctively more irreverent angle. His old white men just don’t care.” And in a response to South mute-colored Saint Sebastian, for example, created on paper Carolina state budgetary threats to cut funding to educational cut from the inside of a box of Special K cereal, shows the television, Smith created a painting of a small green Kermitmartyr in creamy beige against a background of black, a single like figure spray painting the graffiti words, “Humans do not smear of blood on his shoulder despite the multitude of arrow despair – the Muppets will prevail.” wounds rendered by the archers of the Roman emperor “I wanted to make a statement,” Smith says, “but I didn’t Diocletian. Hollow cheeked, the saint’s blue eyes look want to be preachy.” disappointingly upward and the words, “HI DEFINITION SET” appear above the blood, and “WASTE” along the lower left of the painting. The phrase, “A CRACK IN THE VENEER OF HYPERBOLE,” has been crossed from the upper left border of the painting but is still legible. Other Biblical references include the artist’s interpretation of The Vision of Saint Augustine, Annunciation, The Unrepentant Sinner, and The Holy Family in which the baby Jesus is depicted with a stylized smiley face, typical of the icon created by the commercial artist Harvey Ball in 1963. Not shy of making socio-political statements, Smith often veils his messages in incontiguous lettering, dividing the words among spaces and lines. In The 9th Hole, for example, a foursome of golfers is represented on a knoll in thin white lines against a background of black while a single man looks on in the forefront of the painting, with the following Make-up and prep for Hedwig and the Angry Inch. statement spelled out in large irregularly spaced
That’s just Smith’s way. He takes in elements of the world around him, processes them carefully, and then returns them to his audiences newly formed in unique and provocative ways. “If it doesn’t come from the great book of the twentieth century, then it comes from inside me,” he explains about the subjects he creates in the newly re-purposed Tapp’s Building on Columbia’s Main Street. “Being here is a dream come true for me,” he says, explaining that his personal mission now is to expand the former department store space into a multidisciplinary arts arena that will promote the arts at the same time that it builds the city’s community of artists and arts patrons. The irony is that Smith is somewhat re-purposed himself. From actor to director, to vocalist and musician, to writer and filmmaker, all the hats he has worn surface in the newly formed iteration of Alex Smith as a visual artist. Not unlike his previous artistic proclivities, he has tackled visual arts like a madman just barely under control. He is driven, fervent, attentive to the most miniscule detail and, not surprisingly, he is good. With less than a year of production under his belt, and given the cumulative impact of all his years in other fine arts, the possibilities of what Smith may have in store are nothing less than thrilling.
Ghosts Someone fought for this, do you remember? Daddy tucking you in and night, swirling your dreams with a touch on the forehead, as mother rocked your fever into submission. The kiss behind the swing set in elementary school that lit your tiny heart on fire. The first time you said "I love you" and meant it. The first time you said "I'm leaving" and didn't look back. Hold me like breath until my lungs burst and I tell you the mystery behind family photographs. Muses passed from parents seep into cooking and the way we carry our fishing poles. Tattoos of ghosts filling our skin with ancestral messages, oujia board proclamations that Yes, we can hear you. We follow your footsteps daily and are proud that you learned from our mistakes and added your own twist. Don't let our memory haunt you. Use it as a guide to direct though the mountains of life, a pathway in the dark unknown. The eyes carry the family bible, pages formed from the family tree, a religion of where we came from and where we are going. Finality is fictional misdirection that makes us live fast and hard. The truth, a slow river, which takes pause in the body before pouring around the afterlife. 80 years is nothing in the timetable of forever. When our spirits unwrap the package of skin we'll use heaven as a landing pad. Stars stuck in teeth from driving around this universe like we have no where to go and forever to get there.
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Kendal Turner Southern Gothic Poetry Competition Winner Treadmill Trackstar is a Columbia-based band of four inordinately talented musicians who take the phrase art for art’s sake seriously. A not-for-profit organization, every penny the band raises goes directly toward the recording of a new album – once they accumulate enough cash, they cut another record. It’s as simple as that. In an effort to keep the community aware of their on-going project, Treadmill Trackstar recently held a contest in which they sought out original poetry from the Southern gothic genre. Adjudicated by undefined magazine poetry editor, Ed Madden, the winner of the contest is Kendal Turner for her poem, Ghosts. Raised on the shores of Lake Murray on property that her grandfather bought for fifty dollars an acre in the nineteen-fifties, Turner attended Wells College in Aurora, NY, back when it was an all-women’s school, graduating with a degree in English and minors in Theatre and Women’s Studies. The 28-year-old self-identified troublemaker began performing poetry in college and continued when she moved back to Columbia, often taking the floor at the now defunct Red Tub’s Open Mic Night. Her passions include cooking, swimming, napping, Verseworks every Tuesday night at the Art Bar, and performing with and writing for Columbia Alternacirque. For more information, or to become a part of Treadmill Trackstar’s next album, visit their website at www.treadmilltrackstar.com.
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Stephen Chesley has something to say story: Kristine Hartvigsen photography: James Quantz
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He really doesn’t care whether you buy his paintings.
“Near the Sea”. Oil on masonite. 8x20”. 2007
hile he supports himself with his art, he’s been a savvy investor to sustain himself through the economic peaks and valleys of the sometimes fickle arts market. But on the whole, Chesley’s livelihood is a byproduct of his lifestyle. “I paint for myself,” the 58-year-old artist says from a relaxed spot in his studio at Vista Studios Gallery 80808. “I do it regardless of whether it sells. It makes no difference to me. This is sort of a priesthood. When is a priest not a priest? If you paint for the public, you end up with mediocrity. If you paint for yourself, your artistry will stand out eventually.” That’s not to say he isn’t pleased if someone purchases a piece because of the sheer joy it elicits or because it moves them to introspection. But Chesley understands that more prurient or superficial motivations often drive sales in a culture of conspicuous consumption. It’s just the reality. Prospective customers actually have asked to see “sofa-sized” art or inquired whether Chesley had “anything in happy colors.” It’s true that critics have described Chesley’s well-known landscapes as “dark and moody.” And the artist acknowledges he uses a darker, earthy palette. “Natural umbers and ochres are just a realistic choice of colors,” he says. “You need to stay true to the art. If you are doing it solely for the money, your product is not going to be really good, no matter what it is. It will be second-rate,” he says. “The art museums are not full of paintings by people who painted just for the money. Their paintings are theirs and not like anyone else’s. Your only goal should be to paint your paintings better than anyone else could.” Having a conversation with Chesley is like watching a tennis
match between the right and left brain. The handsome, grey-eyed artist volleys easily between topics ranging from spatial intelligence and polycentrism to emotional nuance, romanticism, and even haiku. Growing up in Virginia Beach, Chesley longed to change the face of coastal development. After earning multiple degrees focusing on urban regional planning, he worked briefly as a city planner, only to abandon the profession in frustration. “Two of my favorite disciplines were science and art. The idea of combining science and art led to city planning,” Chesley explains. “My idea was to have centralized areas of development and areas of wildness along the coast. But there is a polarization with the ultra rich that caused problems with beach houses. I was very unhappy with that. … There isn’t any creativity in urban planning. That is why I got out of it.” So Chesley threw his wristwatch away and spent five years living simply off his savings, painting mostly sea islands, swamps, and rivers without any consideration of time. “I lived by my natural biorhythms,” he says. “I wanted to paint and still be free.” It was that period, perhaps, while painting in solitude with nature, that led to some of Chesley’s less-than-politically correct perspectives on overpopulation and the fragility of the world as it exists today. He believes the world’s overpopulation problem is, on one level, the result of a “campaign of fertility.” Achieving even a sense of solitude in modern times is becoming more and more difficult. Therefore, he feels an urgency to paint landscapes, essentially to record our most beautiful landscapes for posterity. “This planet is an island, and we are dying on the margin − one calorie at a time,” he says, recalling a moment of clarity he
had upon purchasing a cut of flounder in a Charleston grocery. “The label, said it came from Chile. Now think about all the calories it took to get that fish to the Publix in Charleston and packaged, of course, in plastic.” A fisherman in Chile expended calories to catch the flounder, Chesley posits. Then more people expended calories packaging it up. Then even more calories were burned, along with fossil fuels, to ship the flounder across the ocean to the United States. Then more calories were burned trucking the flounder to the store and marketing it to the public. “Easily 15,000 calories was spent to get 500 calories in the food that’s purchased,” he says. “We are in this horrific position where, economically, it’s cheaper to ship that flounder to Charleston. But, energy-wise, it’s tragic. Nature doesn’t make excuses. If you spend more calories than it takes to get food, you are dead. In urban culture, it doesn’t work that way. It’s a lesson that’s completely lost.” This leads easily into another scenario from the depths of Chesley’s vivid imagination. He talks rapid-fire as the thoughts tumble out of his head. “I am a human being in the year 2011. I am an earthling,” he says. “Imagine Saturn 5,000 years from now. Someone may pull out one of my paintings and say, this is a picture created by a human being living on Earth in the year 2011. This was called a tree. This was painted by one of our ancestors. … I don’t think we would recognize this today. The comfort I get from all of this (the planet’s decline) is that it’s a natural response to us (humans). We can’t see the life-or-death struggle of the plants, for instance. They fight tooth-andnail for that sunlight. It’s combat, an all-out fight for survival. It’s just part of the mechanism of nature. Our demise or evolution into something else through this is just part of that.” It might be easy to dismiss Chesley as another talented intellectual loner. But he would take exception with the “loner” label. “I enjoy solitude, but I also can be in a crowd,” Chesley says. “The truth is that you never really can be alone. It’s a practical impossibility. You can’t be a loner. We are moving towards unified communication at all times.” Chesley expands on this thought with examples of new technologies, social media, and Global Positioning System capability incorporated into so many products that can pinpoint where you are at all times. “It puts a different light on solitude. The term may even be antiquated already,” he continues. “You can be ‘alone in a crowd,’ but it’s a mental state. The physical ability to do that is almost impossible.” Just because he likes his solitude, don’t write off Chesley as antisocial. He has skills, to be sure. He’s absolutely charming and, unlike the stereotypical creative star, does not monopolize conversations with self-aggrandizing tales. He navigates the
obligatory crush of fund-raisers and openings with aplomb. “In a social situation, I listen more. I don’t talk that much because there is no point in talking about overpopulation stuff. It doesn’t make any difference,” he says. “I can be animated. I like to get people thinking. I have a lot of the anthropologist in me. I study body language. It’s funny to see what people think is important.” And for many, acquiring wealth and possessions is high on their hierarchy of needs. Chesley cites retail giants like Kmart and Walmart with feeding the “caloric imbalance” that comes with our culture of conspicuous consumption. “This neon and plastic crap, we need to live with it knowing it’s insane. You have to develop coping skills and roll with it,” he says. “It’s manufactured wants − a showcase of capitalism. You can have all these things but be the most miserable person in the world.” He likened the modern-day pursuit of “stuff” to a dog chasing its tail. But doesn’t Chesley, too, sell goods to consumers? The contradiction, of course, is not lost on the opinionated artist. He has made a name for himself in the region, and for some,
“Bather”. Oil on masonite. 14x10”. 1986
“Tide”. Oil on masonite. 18x48”. 2007.
“Street Sky”. Oil on masonite. 10x14”. 1995-1998
haiku poetic titles,” Chesley says. “You don’t know whether the day is starting or ending. That came from the Ashcan School. You see the tree, but when you get up close to it, you see it’s an abstraction. That is something I strive for. I really don’t want to paint the tree, per se, because the camera does that better. I am after a narrative.” “While Chesley’s scenes are realistic and representative, they often have an abstracted quality. He combines colors of similar values and shuns clearly drawn lines, forcing the viewer to study the soft-edged planes to detect what exactly they represent,” Columbia art curator and gallery owner Wim Roefs wrote in 2008. “Chesley may not paint the trees but the space between the trees, which still results in trees emerging from the canvas.” Though he produces primarily landscapes, Chesley seldom paints via plein air any more. One reason is the increasingly crowded planet and humans’ annoying tendency to claim every remaining bit of space. “You get so much crap from landowners asking why you are there,” he explains. “I used to paint early in the morning when there was nobody around.” These days, he often does field sketches or takes photographs and later paints at home or in the studio. Over the years, however, Chesley has discovered painting from memory to be the best method. “I found that painting from memory is superior to all else. The reason is because, when you remember, you remember why the
owning “a Chesley” could be considered a status symbol and be the impetus for a purchase decision − above and beyond one’s personal affection for a piece. Chesley would not have even a moment’s hesitation selling to a buyer in this mindset. “I don’t mind because the piece is working on them all the time,” he says. “That little piece of aesthetic, that portal to the creative universe, is open for them.” Chesley maintains that art buyers, whatever their motivation, will get something from the artwork, even unconsciously. And, over time, maybe one day they will appreciate it for reasons he would want. Though mostly self-taught in art, Chesley has taken his most prominent cues from masters such as Rembrandt, George Seurat, Robert Henri, Edward Hopper, Franz Kline, and Jackson Pollock. What’s perhaps most striking about Chesley’s thoughtful landscapes is their vivid contrast between light and dark. In many scenes, the flames of a distant nighttime fire or the dramatic backlighting of the sun behind dark clouds seize the canvas, making it seem to glow from some inner light. He uses the technique to create a sense of “temporal ambiguity” that he says is reminiscent of works from the Ashcan School’s spontaneously rendered, color-saturated, darker-hued scenes from ordinary life that can leave the viewer unsure whether it’s morning or evening, coming or going. “I often name my paintings ‘twilight’ or simple things like ‘trees, field’ − one-line
place was important − not how it looked but how it felt,” he says. “You can paint night, but you can miss painting the feeling of night.” Chesley’s approach to the fundamental process of painting is to let nature take its course. “If we cleared a field, the trees would grow without a plan,” he says. “So I put a random mark, a Franz Kline-kind of brushstroke, on the canvas. Then one thing leads to another. I try to lock into the emotional content. It is usually about solitude.” In addition to paintings, Chesley also has produced an impressive inventory of abstract metal sculpture. It comprises about 15 percent of the art he creates. Chesley knew he wanted to work in metal sculpture from the moment he saw the work of the late sculpture artist David Smith. Smith’s influence is evident in Chesley’s three-dimensional works, which are bold, geometric, often stacked shapes that, when welded together, comprise a completely individual identity as the sum of their parts. Like Smith, Chesley experiments with the idea of “abandoning the core” in sculpture, giving his pieces an organic, visual quality that seems to defy gravity. And perhaps in homage to Smith, many of Chesley’s pieces also have a reverential, totem-like appearance. His smaller sculptures often are assembled from five pieces he calls little “haiku sculptures.” For many, Chesley’s paintings are front and center. They already seem to have a “brand,” at least locally. “One day, a friend told me he had seen a ‘Chesley sunset,’” Chesley recalls. “That is a great reward when that happens.” Chesley has a very Zen-like attitude about his vocation. He says he can paint at home as easily as he can paint at the studio. He comes to the studio if he feels like it. And he still doesn’t wear a watch. So what does he do for fun? “I just be,” he says. “I get away from the popular crises of the day and the insanity of the world and get into this animal mode. Animals don’t care about the value of gold or anything. They exist day to day in that rhythm of nature. I try to go there.” Indeed, Chesley is unconcerned with the value of gold, or money for that matter, beyond meeting his basic human needs. “If you equate income with happiness, of course you are not going to be an artist,” he says. And asked when his next show will be, Chesley replies simply, “I will have a show when I have something to say.”
Andi Hearn and Davey Mathias are Taking Timeless Irish Music into the Future
story: Michael Miller photography: Jonathan Sharpe
Irish-music emissaries. They teach, travel, and promote Irish music at every opportunity, and for the fifth year, they will stage the S.C. Irish Arts Weekend in Columbia June 17-19. “We’ve been around the Columbia music scene for a lot of years, and we’ve always heard people say nothing ever happens in Columbia,” Andi says. “But I feel that to some degree we can all make cool things happen here, and a lot of people do. That’s why we started the Irish Arts Weekend … and also to lure some of our friends to town to play music with us.” They’ve lured some musical luminaries for the 2011 festival. While not household names in America, guitarist Patsy O’Brien, fiddler James Kelly, and flute-and-whistle player Turlach Boylan are all renowned practitioners of Irish music, and they’ll be bringing their talents to Columbia for the festival in June. Kelly’s participation will have special meaning for Andi and Davey, because he’s one of the primary reasons they’re playing Irish music. It was back in 1995 when Davey, a punk rocker who was always looking for new chordal paths on the guitar, brought home a CD called “Traditional Music of Ireland” that featured Kelly on fiddle, Paddy O’Brien on accordion, and Daithi Sproule on guitar. Davey was mesmerized by the driving rhythm of the guitar, and the fiddle sounds caught Andi’s ear. They were hooked. “We jumped in with both feet,” he says. “Dove into it and started exploring and traveling.” “Taking lessons whenever we could and going to sessions,” says Andi. “Going to workshops, going to concerts,” Davey adds. It was a total immersion into Irish music for the duo, and they’ve never looked back. It’s led them to performing concerts across the
“For the good are always the merry Save for an evil chance, And the merry love to fiddle, And the merry love to dance.” –“The Fiddler of Dooney” by W.B. Yeats. Start waxing poetic about the nostalgic charms of traditional Irish music, its emotional depth and ability to transport you to another time and place, and you’ll get a nod of agreement from Andi Hearn and Davey Mathias. But then you’ll get a gentle rebuke, too. “Yes, but it’s also a living tradition,” Andi says. “You might not realize that the tune transporting you is not necessarily from the (distant) past.” “It could have been written a year ago,” adds Davey. Irish music is certainly not frozen in time for these two. It’s a living, breathing, ongoing art form that’s as vibrant today as it ever was. “It’s not just about St. Patrick’s Day or ‘Irish Washerwoman’ or ‘Danny Boy,’” Andi says. “It’s just a huge thing that keeps growing and growing.” The traditional Irish music Andi is talking about is comprised of reels, hornpipes, and jigs played on fiddles, pipes, whistles, guitars, tenor banjos, and accordions. It migrated to America with Irish immigrants during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and received a rejuvenating kick in the pants during the American folk music boom of the 1960s. And Andi’s right. It has grown in popularity ever since. Andi plays the fiddle and sings. Her partner Davey plays guitar and tenor banjo. Together, they are South Carolina’s most ardent
Southeast and the formation of their own music school here in Columbia, the Redbird School of Irish Music. “This is it, the center of the Redbird universe,” Andi says sitting at a big table in the living room of a grand old mill house in Olympia. Two dogs, Polly and Piper, are curled up on the floor, stringed instruments wait patiently in their stands, and in an adjoining room shelves are lined with records and CDs. “We have Irish recordings on one wall, and punk rock on the other wall,” Davey says. “We’re both music nerds, no doubt about that,” says Andi. Davey is from Lexington. Andi was born in Charleston but grew up in northeast Columbia. She was the bookkeeper at Manifest Discs & Tapes for 15 years back when the store was owned by Carl Singmaster. Davey has worked as a cook, dishwasher, and for 17 years he manned the ticket booth at the Yesterday’s parking lot in Five Points. All the while he has been a punk rocker and still plays in a punk band today – a trio called The Wage Slaves. It was his search for new guitar sounds that led him to Irish music. “I’d been playing acoustic blues for years and was always exploring different guitar tunings,” he says. “Then around 1994 I started listening to this guy on WUSC who was playing some great stuff, a lot of Irish music. It had the same kind of drive that I’d looked for in other types of music. The guitar strumming, I really liked the openness of it. It’s similar to punk in some ways, and similar to bluegrass and the old-time music I grew up listening to.” Like Davey, Andi has roots in punk rock as well. She played piano as a kid, drums in middle school, and has tried her hand at various other instruments over the years. But when Davey brought home the disc of traditional Irish music, she zeroed in on the fiddle. “I just really got hooked,” she says. “It’s such fiddle-driven music, so full of melody. I was totally in love with the idea of playing the fiddle.” Folks who knew Andi and Davey started scratching their heads and wondering why these two rockers had roared off down the road of reels and jigs. “A lot of people still have that reaction because we still have this big connection to punk and rock and other kinds of music,” Andi says. “But to me, there’s a common thread in all the music I love, whether it’s Eastern European fiddle music, the blues, punk or whatever. I just really love honest music. I have no better way of describing it. Irish music is real honest music.” “Yeah, it doesn’t sound like they spent a year in the studio trying to come up with a sound,” says Davey. “And that’s the way it sounds in a real good session. You could record a good session, and it would sound just as great as a studio album.” There’s an old Irish proverb that says, “The most beautiful music of all is the music of what happens,” and that pretty much captures the joy of an Irish-music session in a nutshell. (For the uninitiated, a session is a gathering of Irish musicians, who, through their shared knowledge, can launch into a succession of tunes at the mere mention of a song title.) “A fiddle player might bend over and suggest a tune to another fiddle player, and someone will call the key for the guitar player and bam, we’re off and running,” Davey says. “You can sit down with people from all over the country and have 300 tunes in common and just play all day. It’s amazing.” “Everyone’s working together to get this one idea out there,” says Andi. “They’re all tuned in together,” says Davey.
“Right. That’s the lovely thing about it,” adds Andi. “You’re having this musical conversation with all your friends. You get that energy.” And when you get a lot of friends together, there are invariably new tunes to learn. “If we ever stop learning, we’re done,” Davey says. “Like Andi said, it’s a living tradition. It just keeps on going, keeps on unfolding.” “I love that about the music, too,” Andi says. “I feel like I’ve got …” “All your life!” says Davey. “Yeah, a lifelong challenge to achieve this inward thing. Even though I know the differences are subtle between this fiddle player from County Clare or that fiddle player from County Sligo, to me just thinking about that and enjoying all these different accents in the music, it just makes me want to represent it as authentically as I can,” says Andi. The music will certainly be authentic at the S.C. Irish Arts Weekend, which will take place on Main Street at the Columbia Museum of Art and the White Mule. (There will also be a big Saturday night party at the Knights of Columbus Hall.) In addition to lots of sessions, there will be workshops, mini-concerts, dancing, and a singers’ session. Attendees are encouraged to bring their instruments and rub shoulders with top-notch players such as Mike Simpson, who plays flute, fiddle and bodhran (and Irish percussion instrument), and Alex Reidinger, who plays harp, fiddle, and concertina. Andi and Davey met many of these musicians during their visits to vibrant Irish-music communities in towns such as Asheville, Knoxville, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. One of their main goals is to create a similar Irish-music community here in Columbia. It’s one of the driving forces behind their Redbird School of Irish Music. “We’re always excited when we get new students, someone who might really get into the music and take off with it,” says Davey, who teaches guitar and tenor banjo. “Sometimes you see that spark go off in their eyes when they realize this is a living tradition like jazz and bluegrass,” Andi says. There are very few fiddle teachers who specialize in Irish music in the Southeast, and when Andi started getting requests for lessons a few years ago, she wasn’t sure she was up to the task. “I thought, ‘Wow, I’m comparatively young at this thing. Do I really have something to share?’ But when I realized that I did, it became such a joy to teach, and now I’m really hooked on it.” It’s just another way Andi and Davey can share their love for Irish music and hopefully create one of those “little pockets of Irish music,” as Davey calls them, here in Columbia. It might be a small movement now, but it certainly doesn’t lack energy or passion. “Irish music has come through a lot of obstacles and a lot of hardship, but it’s enjoyed a lot of prominence, too,” Andi says. “So I love the idea that I can feel some small part of this great living tradition. Yes, it might give you the feeling of being transported somewhere else, but to me that makes it feel timeless.” For more information about the S.C. Irish Arts Weekend and the Redbird School of Irish Music, visit www.cornerhousemusic.com or call (803) 254-3461.
Reliquarium for a dream
story: Kristine Hartvigsen
As a society, all of us are pieces of a larger community. train them. The estimated cost of the entire project is about Sometimes, these pieces can be broken, lost, or forgotten. $30,000, and that mainly covers supplies. But the most Individually, we form emotional attachments that can be prominent need right now is ceramic artifacts to be used in this bonded, severed, and sometimes glued back together. As visual jigsaw reflecting the lives and times of Columbians. humans, there is inherent beauty in each of us. And together, Reliquarium represents an exceptional opportunity in the there is no limit to what we can achieve. This is part of the Midlands for the community to actually participate in a major idea behind the Reliquarium Garden Mosaic Project, the public art work that will both beautify and add character to the creative brainchild of Morocco native and Midlands resident city. Bencheikh is seeking ceramic donations of plates, mugs, Khaldoune Bencheikh. teacups, knick-knacks, tile, and sculpture. Each piece should An MFA candidate in studio art at the University of South have some sentimental value to the donor, which Bencheikh will Carolina, Bencheikh became interested in the plight of record before it is integrated into the wall. Columbia’s homeless after sketching a series of charcoal “These pieces are like people. Some have very interesting portraits of the same stories,” he said. “People subject. When completcan get so connected to ed in 2012, the their artifacts. It’s like Reliquarium project will they are part of them. be a 300-foot-long comWhen people release munity mosaic conthese things to me, it is structed on the outer like they are releasing wall of Transitions, a their emotion.” Midlands Housing Sometimes it is Alliance facility to help difficult to let items go. homeless people move Bencheikh shared stofrom the streets into ries of a man who donatpermanent housing and ed a ceramic clock his self-reliance. Fronting artist mother made back Main Street, the colorin the 1960s. He’s kept it ful wall will be highly all these years and wantvisible public art. ed something of his “I want to raise awaremother’s on the wall. A ness about the issue of young woman conhomelessness, to let Detail from an inaugural panel of the Reliquarium mosaic. tributed a ceramic bird people know about ‘the that she’d picked up at a other Columbia,’” Bencheikh explained, adding that, like various flea market several years back. She had a strong feeling that the forms of art, people often don’t know how to react to the bird was lonely and felt happy that it now would be in good comhomeless. “We don’t know how to react to public art here. It pany. empowers the community, brings them into the democratic “What makes this project unique is the participation of the process.” In other words, it’s about being counted. community,” Bencheikh said. “Without your donation, I can’t In developing the project, Bencheikh has been working make this work.” closely with Oscar Gadsden, founder of Keepin’ It Real Ministry. Donations of ceramic artifacts for the Reliquarium project can “Khaldoune poured his heart out to us,” Gadsden said. “When be dropped off in the lobby of the Columbia Museum of Art or you think about the homeless, you don’t think about a face. the Tapp’s Center for the Arts, both on Main Street downtown. Seventy-five percent have lost their jobs. Up to half are addicted Bencheikh said he has enough artifacts in hand to begin the first to drugs or alcohol. They are hurting. … He took out a charcoal of three panels to be constructed for the project. He will begin pencil. To see one homeless man’s face in that charcoal – that process in June at the art museum. For more information, visit www.khaldoune.com or e-mail Khaldoune captured his soul. God has blessed this man the artist at firstname.lastname@example.org. with talent.” Gadsden said that homeless individuals will be recruited to help construct the mosaic. It’s a skill they can learn. And Bencheikh was planning to hold a workshop this summer to
"I am convinced the only people worthy of consideration in this world are the unusual ones. For the common folks are like the leaves of a tree, and live and die unnoticed." â€” L. Frank Baum
Sacrifice When my father bound me, I submitted, closed my eyes to the lifted knife in his fist. Even now, the cords still hold my wrists, rough ropes of love. My chest is bare, my heart lies open. He loves his god more
Return than me. I open my eyes, watch my father raise his fist against a bright and bitter A crow walks along the fencerow— hedge of wet against the spring wind.
sky, no angel there to stay his hand.
Its wings shine black, dark shimmer in the green light, the sky grown white with grief and hunger. The crow is a bruise on the green hedge, it shines. Across the field, the light lies in scattered parcels of white and brown, the plow’s work persisting, the tractor’s smoke rising in the green air. The crow calls out to passing cars, it calls out to you as you drive by slowly in the light rain, toward home, drive slowly in the green light to a house where someone might be waiting, a house where no one is waiting.
by Ed Madden Ed Madden is an associate professor at the University of South Carolina. He is the author of Signals, which won the 2007 South Carolina Poetry Book Prize, and his work was included in Best New Poets 2007. He is also the poetry editor for undefined magazine
This is not the postcard for the monument to J. Marion Sims
That lies in a leafy corner of the grounds of the state capitol in Columbia, South Carolina. That card would describe the graceful curve of the marble line surrounding the niche, which holds the heroic bust, and the Hippocratic oath, above the tributes to the father of gynecology. On paper, as in stone, no other names would appear, no paean to Anarcha, Lucy and Betsy, the slaves who succumbed to his scalpel and speculum, no encomiums for the Irish destitute of New York whose names were lost after his work was finished. The engravers have packed up their own tools. As if the stone cannot bear the true weight of that history.
by Dan Vera A poet from Washington D.C., Dan Vera visited the Sims monument last summer. He is the author of The Space Between Our Danger and Delight (Beothuk Books), as well as a co-founder of Vrzhu Press and publisher of Souvenir Spoon Books. He also edits the gay culture journal White Crane, co-hosts the Capitol Hill reading series, and helped to create the new poetry incubator Poetry Mutual of America.