If you missed Laura Splan’s talk at APSU Wednesday night, check out my summary on Country Life. Splan is fascinating, funny, and peculiar–all the things I love.
By Andri Alexandrou
This story will have fewer readers than the one I wrote a month ago about the processes of cultural shift and responsibilities of ownership. Or, you know, the closing of Santa’s Pub. Before I write another sentence, let me say that Santa’s was never for a second even considered to be for sale, nor was it sold. Those are just the reasons people read it.
Alongside whatever ecstasy of whatever tiny influence I felt in seeing the readership number rise over the course of a weekend, I regret not conveying a worldview that depends on subtlety. Subtlety is the co-existence of opposing thoughts, and the ability to navigate complexity to the point of non-dogmatic conclusion.
Luckily, “For Sale” is not an essay that could not be written again by someone else.
Subtleties of the pursuit of knowledge are hard to communicate through soundbites. I admire Neil deGrasse Tyson’s ability to bring attention to the importance of science, but he acts as a politician for science, which is not subtle. I began my adult life thinking I would be an astrophysicist, a mathematician of the stars, and in that field I saw first evidence that nothing in the universe is concrete, though forms of objectivity may be applied to small phenomena to extrapolate about the larger whole. Truth is attainable by understanding interlocking systems; it is not isolated.
In the early fall of 2013 when I first began working at Seed Space, artist Jack Ryan installed his Sounds for a Third Ear. He brought in a few photographs of Ayn Rand that had been either collaged or monoprinted. Then he installed a lamp he built that would blink left and right according to Rand’s shifting gaze while she gave an interview, video for which screened on the analog TV set there in the gallery. Then, last, some speakers submitted a low buzz that oscillated just ever so slightly in the brain.
First, “bilateral stimulation” refers to back-and-forth eye movement, which Ryan emphasized by having the lamp blink on and off, left and right, to match Rand’s eyes. Bilateral stimulation has shown soothing effects, is even used in treating those with PTSD. It can act as a general mood relaxant. Second, the “binaural tone system” that emitted from the speakers contributed to the low, constant buzzing. Coming from two speakers were tones set 10 Hz apart, which in the brain’s processing turned into some third sound that only existed because someone is standing there to hear it. Cue the “third ear” in the title. That tone difference created the oscillation (a wave, if we want to speak in visual terms) in the (third) ear. At this certain tonal difference, the brain understands the oscillation as a frequency, and this particular frequency motivates the brain to achieve higher-level functioning. It’s better able to synthesize memory and information. I remember trying to record the oscillating sound on my phone, and on playback it sounded only as a flat tone—no oscillating. Well, I thought, the brain exists after all.
In a talk Mike Calway-Fagen gave in conjunction with the opening of his Story Breakers just a few weeks ago at the Hutchenson Gallery at Lipscomb, he referred to the nautical eye. The nautical eye operates like the ear does, in that it’s always open, always observing, though it may do so imprecisely. For Calway-Fagen, this is the extended metaphor that refers to the way we as human beings process the coded, visual system that dictates how we move about the world in an orderly fashion. Like a concrete block is able to demarcate where you’re supposed to put your car, and the rough amount of space we imagine that car to take up even if a concrete block is re-situated in a gallery setting. This out-of-placement makes us realize what we’re doing when we are out there in the real world and processing information only in a general, back-of-the-brain kind of way. Cognitive processing, or conceptual thought, is something always happening. We only recognize it when those thoughts are called forth to reconcile separate parts; when two eyes focus on a distant object to understand it as a three dimensional object; and when two ears allow external sounds to move the brain to higher function, to achieve another internal dimension.
When I sat in the space two days a week with Sounds for a Third Ear, almost a year ago now, I felt that Jack Ryan had created a space for the existence of nuance and subtle thinking. “One of the strengths of subtle art,” I said in an email, “is the ability to infiltrate someone’s regular thought processes without forcing them to surrender completely to the point of view of the artist, or the work… It encourages someone to exist in that place where conclusions haven’t really been reached, but where they’re also not precluded from happening.”
For all the scientific language of bilateral stimulation and binaural tones, it seemed that he intended to create a visceral response. In contrast to most visceral reactions, the usual kind being reactions to horror movies, to blood, to mutilation or euphoria, his installation motivated visceral nuance. It achieved something I can’t duplicate in language.
As people entered the space, they took on quiet. Of course, this always happens anywhere with white walls and dedicated preciousness that surrounds an object someone gives the name of Fine Art. But this show helped to materialize thought as a physical space one could occupy. I could reverberate in response to the images and sounds, and feel a meditative change in thought processes. Sounds for a Third Ear supported the notion of artistic product that for all its ability to be described, the mind’s experience of artwork is still something above the easily contained or defined. “The brain is wider than the sky.” Even if language has limits, the brain can still comprehend.
Ayn Rand studied cognitive processes as the interaction between the conscious mind and the automatic functions of the subconscious. Even in the most literal translation that brain function is equal to a series of inputs and outputs, we still yield that it is independent. “Art is the selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgements,” she says. Yes, it is selective. We know that we are capable of influencing that selection. Consciousness can understand itself.
*I do not like Kara Walker’s A Subtlety; I like that I do not like it; and I have not come to a conclusion about how I feel. I was told to like her early work in art history classes, and so I did. Is she hitting me, a white American, where it hurts? Is she blind to the general audience’s willingness to exploit, and therefore, not in control of her own intention? Is she removing herself from academic canon and going straight for the guttural that history isn’t history? I’m not sure, I’m not sure.
Andri Alexandrou has worked in the arts in Nashville since 2011. She is an artist and independent writer whose work has been published in the Nashville Scene and Native Magazine. She works currently at Seed Space, which is Nashville’s only nonprofit dedicated solely to contemporary art.
Photo courtesy of Lance Conzett, Nashville photographer and journalist.
Any yogi will tell you that there are as many ways to practice yoga as there are asanas. But the yoga body portrayed in mainstream media fits only one mold, and it’s the same one that the multibillion-dollar beauty industry dictates: the homogeneously slim, long, sexualized body of a woman. For this reason, yoga studios seem mighty unwelcoming to people whose bodies don’t conform to this standard and whose lifestyles lie outside the mainstream. One purpose of yoga is to go inward, to identify less with the body and more with the higher self or spirit. Doing yoga doesn’t require die hard athleticism or crazy flexibility, yet it’s developed a mythology that says the opposite: if you don’t fit the mold, you don’t belong.
Nashville’s yoga studio have something to teach us: as the city grows, so does its social consciousness. Curvy Yoga opened in East Nashville in September, led by teacher and practitioner Anna Guest-Jelley, who literally wrote the book on body positive yoga.
She notes that when yoga entered the mainstream, it was commodified and simplified. “So while it’s interesting and certainly sells products to have bodies that meet mainstream beauty ideals doing complex poses most of us could never dream of, it can also make people not even give yoga a try,” Guest-Jelley says. “In reality, yoga is many things to many people, and it can very much be done with the body you have today, no matter your flexibility or fitness level.” Over the past five years, Curvy Yoga has trained 150 teachers, and Guest-Jelley co-authored the just-released Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery and Loving Your Body.
Positive body yogis are all over the country now, and they want to inspire a sea change in how we perceive fitness, bodies, and beauty by claiming space for inclusive practice. I took a class at Curvy Yoga and enjoyed it. I’m not really a yoga person (though I’d like to be) and have attended a smattering of classes over the years. This one was different. I felt like I was checking in with my body more than usual. It was by no means easy–my abs ached the next day–but I also didn’t feel like I was killing myself to meet some expectations that had nothing to do with me.
Curvy Yoga is right above Five Points in East Nashville in a beautiful old home with hard wood floors. Your first class is just $5.
by Andri Alexandrou
So someone bought your favorite small-time quirky bar. It’ll be torn down, or at the very least remodeled according to contemporary design trends. It will be sold back to the public at a 50% increase. After this happens about four or five times in a given neighborhood, houses double or quadruple in value. The neighborhood gets a name, and starts taking on an identity. Old people move out, new people move in. It has been gentrified.
As more establishments and neighborhoods in Nashville undergo this process, people gather in uproar. These are the members of our current “creative class,” if I may collect something scattered and give it an identity. They have patronized these places all across town and documented their own youth and development by the underground maps they’ve drawn.
Now, see, at this point I become confused. I, too, am a member of this “creative class” (hurl). I, too, have gone to these same restaurants, these bars. I’ve passed an evening talking to a bearded bartender, benefited from $2 domestics. Yet I’m not offended. Actually, I’ve been pretty ambivalent, but the recent sale-after-sale, uproar-after-uproar has me realizing that this might actually represent a trend that I don’t agree with.
In these uproars, I sense something weird: Ownership. People are acting as if what’s being taken from them truly is theirs. It may be theirs as a part of their cultural past and identity, sure. But given that there are communities upon communities being displaced by this development, how can they justify this upset?
The problem with that sense of ownership over little places of cultural idiosyncrasy (and therefore authenticity, in one sense) is that, invariably, someone else will come in, and identify with it, and take ownership over it. I felt that Santa’s Pub was mine all mine for a while and became offended when the next iteration of college kids came in and took my place of solitude from me. They started singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” on a nightly basis. How terrible! How deviant from its true nature!
I had plenty of thoughts about the place, but I never did write a devotional essay about Santa’s because I felt there was some incomplete understanding that went along with my relationship to it. Now I see that the love I gave Santa’s was really just a love for who I was becoming, that I was too low in self-esteem to grant myself. The true story, from three steps back, is that I had taken ownership over it from the people who were there before, who I overlapped with for a while, and who eventually stopped coming. The story of Santa’s is not my own, but one of cultural cycles of inferred authenticity, popularity, tourism, and regurgitation.
Gentrification, or development, or urban revival, is happening. The nauseating part is how formulaic it seems. All across the country, a city will begin its journey by being mediocre, but affordable, and end here, on January 8, 2015, in Nashville, TN.
We cannot move backward and undo the changes, nor will uproar do much to stop it. Allow me to offer a different solution:
Let that upper crust develop. Let it seal itself into the Gulch and into Hillsboro village, build its little boutiques. Let the paisley prints and business cards and acoustic guitars get their time in the spotlight so that you can continue to have the true freedom of movement you’ve enjoyed all this time. Let the members of your community grow love for what you have together, not for what The Guardian says about you, or for the hangers-on that crowd around you in dive bars. Would it be so bad to continue being underground? Isn’t that how you became who you are today?
Every experience is a dead version of yourself you can never be again. Same goes for Dino’s. You can never go back to that awesome Dino’s show in 2009, even if Dino’s stayed open ’til the end of time. You can never re-create who you were in the past.
These sales reveal the uncomfortable casualness with which you’ve engaged with your city. If you want to stay here, you can no longer stand by and then rise in outrage against change. There comes a time when you have to go outside in the daylight and start taking the risk, because it’s in that risk that you actually have the collateral against what you claim to have loved all this time. If there is something in this town you can’t live without, make it for yourself. Do something to make your own establishment that looks like what you want it to, that charges and pays what you want it to. And when market prices go up all around you, see if you don’t sell what you’ve made after fifteen years of hard work to finance your children’s education so that they can be as fun and free and punk as you once were.
This isn’t just a statement for the well off, though if you are creative and have access to funds, you have every responsibility to put your dollar toward what you believe in. If you aren’t well off, and if you have the intelligence and taste of someone who considers himself a part of this community, then you are capable of starting your own thing. Start a booking agency that runs off your laptop in between breaks at the restaurant. Have art shows in your apartment for all those excellent painters you know who can’t get any attention from galleries or collectors because they’ve never shown before. If what you want is an authentic-feeling coffee shop, then open one, or at least start working in one with the intention of committing to it and learning its business and successes.
You live in an age where not only do you have access to an almost infinite amount of information, which you’ve already used to develop your discerning taste, but you can launch yourself as whatever you want for the big big price of absolutely nothing. You were the ones granting all of these places their cultural importance, and you can do it again. If you don’t like what’s happening now, all that means is that you weren’t paying attention.
The hardest part of being talented is not in the getting there, but in the responsibility to use your talent well, and in the contribution you offer in making Nashville what it ought to be.
Andri Alexandrou has worked in the arts in Nashville since 2011. She is an artist and independent writer whose work has been published in the Nashville Scene and Native Magazine. She works currently at Seed Space, which is Nashville’s only nonprofit dedicated solely to contemporary art. She is an Nashville native.
Editors note: To our knowledge, Santa’s is not up for sale. We apologize if the article led readers to believe otherwise.