Seed Space

War and Rumors of War at Seed Space


One of my favorite exhibitions this year is currently on view at Seed Space, and the artist, Eric Dickson, will be present on Saturday night. I wrote some words about the exhibition for BURNAWAY, and I hope you’ll check out Dickson’s work! From my review:

War and Rumors of War is required viewing for anyone concerned about the policies that govern us, the wars fought in our names, and the ways we make sense of our present circumstances. Most of all, it helps to clarify what we should pay attention to and what we should ignore, for it challenges our political agency with advanced technological art-making that manages to somehow remain subtle and restrained.

Seed Space is located in the Track One building. Dickson will be there from 6-9 p.m. Saturday.

Update from the Front: Seed Space Happenings

Hello reader! As I write this, I sit in a bakery eating an autumnal roasted squash salad and wearing an oversized sweatshirt. That’s right. Fall is here!

And with it comes lots of arty happenings from Seed Space. If deep inside you were a little worried about the fate of this artist-supporting, experimentation-friendly little nonprofit with the departure of founder Adrienne Outlaw for St. Louis, this news will put your fears to rest. Here’s the scoop:

Courtney Adair Johnson Joins Staff 

Courtney Adair Johnson. Photo by Tina Gionis via

Courtney Adair Johnson. Photo by Tina Gionis

Johnson has been blowing up as a visual artist and curator, and she joins Program Director Andri Alexandrou and Curator Rachel Bubis as Seed Space’s Program Coordinator. Johnson will assist in bringing nationally renowned artists, writers, curators and arts organizers to Nashville for workshops, talks, and exhibitions. Johnson just finished up a residency in Fergus Falls, MN with Hinge Arts, and she’s not wasting any time in continuing her social practice work in Nashville.

War and Rumors of War, opens October 3, 6:00 pm

Installation artist and political scientist Eric Dickson presents an interactive sound installation of documented footage about American foreign policy over the past 30 years. Viewers will trip motion detectors that activate audio, like presidential addresses, congressional hearings, and military and intelligence briefings. From the press release:

A variety of different computer algorithms driving the installation offer visitors distinct experiences of history that are determined in large part by visitors’ own movements through the gallery.  At times, visitors may simultaneously hear speeches on Iraq from a diverse array of US presidencies; at other times, they may need physically to pursue a single voice around the gallery to prevent that voice from falling silent.

War and Rumors of War will be in Seed Space’s gallery through November 16.

NORF Wall Fest: Saturday, October 24, 2:00 pm. 

Seed Space partners with Jay Jenkins, Art History Class, and Televise the Movement to put on a street art festival. Thaxton Waters is selecting artists to paint sections of the North Nashville neighborhood, specifically 18th Ave North and Herman Street and Buchanan Street. Artists will work for three weeks, and the event will culminate in a day of festival programming including poetry, music, food, and live arts activities on October 24. NORF Wall Fest is funded by a Metro Arts Thrive grant given to Jenkins, who is spearheading the project.

Edgehill Muses, The Curb Center, opens October 29

Rachel Bubis curates “Edgehill Muses” at The Curb Center, an exhibition which “aims to look inward at the neighborhood where the Curb Center resides, a neighborhood on the border of both Vanderbilt and Music Row, providing a brief glimpse into its rich history and cultural influence while considering its future in a time of flux.”
Bubis states in her curator’s essay, “Selected works include imagery inspired by the neighborhood, work by past and present Edgehill artists, and work from artists outside of Nashville that address timely concepts pertaining to gentrification, boundaries and utopia.” Selected artists are William Edmondson, Alan Lequire, Scott Wise, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, John Baeder, James Threalkill, Courtney Adair Johnson, Macon St. Hilaire, Skye Gilkerson, Andy O’Brien, and Jodi Hays.

Deep Play Fun House, Track One, October 31.

 Brent Stewart puts on his curator hat for this All Hallow’s Eve videoart show. Stewart will choose 10-15 works to display from an open submission call. From the press release:
As an immersive video and sound environment, the viewer defines the narrative sequence by negotiating labyrinthine pathways in a large, formerly industrial environment alongside live sound performances for a one night event on Halloween.

The night will convene in Track One’s vast warehouse, tapping into the artist proclivity for going into abandoned spaces and appropriating them for artmaking. Alexandrou tells me that deep play is the phenomenon of when a group of people engage in an activity where the risk of loss is much greater than the risk of gain. When artists agree to terms of unknowability, they create. On November 3, Seed Space will host a traditional screening of the films.

They are still accepting submissions through September 30.

The Cloud Story Project 

Jana Harper‘s “The Cloud Story Project” remains on view in Track One until October 3, and you can duck in to see it any time or catch the closing reception at the October art crawl. During her residency with Seed Space, Harper interviewed people about clouds, and a variety of folks shared their experience. Drawn to the project by the memory of her mother’s obsessive relationship with photographing clouds, Harper’s innocuous question becomes an exploration of dreams and entrapments, desire and confinement. Blown up photographs of the interviewees are hung alongside their clipped responses. “The Cloud Story” may have a basic premise, but the human investigation that grew from it is anything but simplistic. The Seed Space Residency Blog has images and snippets of interviews.

Field Notes on Paddy Johnson’s Talk at Seed Space Event

Yesterday, Paddy Johnson gave a talk at Nashville Public Library as part of Seed Space’s Insight? Outta Sight! series. Johnson is the founding editor of the New York arts blog Art F City. She’s a sharp, pull-no-punches critic, and the blog is smart, hip, and bold. The talk comes on the heels of Seed Space’s Insight? Outta Sight! talk with Hyperalleric editor Hrag Vartanian. Here’s what Holland Collins had to say about both in NYT:

“Regular gigs in mainstream print journalism have all but dried up, but the Internet offers ambitious options in a growing number of blogazines including Art F City (edited by Paddy Johnson) and Hyperallergic (edited by Hrag Vartanian), which combine criticism, reporting, political activism and gossip on an almost-24-hour news cycle.

“And although both are based in New York, they include national coverage and in a feisty mix of voices, a welcome alternative to the one-personality blog of yore. That mix would probably be even more varied, and transcultural, if a few forward-thinking, art-minded investors would infuse some serious capital into such enterprises so they could pay writers a living wage and make online freelance writing a viable way of life.”

Johnson began Art F City as a single author blog ten years ago. She opened the talk by describing these humble origins, admitting off the bat that in the beginning, she feared being discovered as a fraud. “When you talk sometimes it is from a point of ignorance.” You have to do the research, and sometimes, it’s on an entirely new subject or artist. She added that there is still agency in that, and that it’s not all that unusual. “Ignorance takes courage,” she said, and her courage has paid off. When reading Johnson, I’ve always pegged her as a formidable expert on all things art, and all things culture, for that matter. But she does the legwork like anyone else and has trained her eye over the past decade.

Nashville arts writer Sara Estes commented that while she sometimes researches an artist deeply before writing a review, other times she wants to write from a blank place, allowing the work to work on her without prior conceptions. Johnson stressed understanding the context of an artwork; yes, she reads the artist statement and press releases. Yes, she tries to see if the artist’s intentions match the output. “Understanding art is understanding context,” she said. She also noted that learning about art does change your taste, and a way to get sharp at writing criticism is to practice in comments sections and on social media. Engaging in discussions teaches you how to think.

Mainly, I appreciated Johnson talking about the vulnerability in writing about art. I think that we (rightly) see that in artists themselves: putting out work that is important to you, that is in fact an extension of you, is hugely courageous. But just as courageous is writing about art in a way that “adds something more and better,” as Gilda Williams writes in How to Write About Contemporary Art. Nashville arts writers get knocked all the time for not dissing work enough. A Watkins student was just complaining about Scene coverage at Johnson’s workshop for the NFA program. But there are very few writers here and a lot to cover, and sometimes, it’s more useful to cover the stuff that’s worthy of consideration and let the rest be at peace in the shadows. This can totally change, as so much else has, but I love hearing successful critics talk because it makes us realize that excellent art criticism is a craft in itself that is difficult and scary, takes constant honing and practice, and requires natural talent. Kind of like making art, right? (So artists, give us a break.)

Art F City is funded in part by ads, mostly through grants, and through an annual benefit and silent auction. (Tickets are on sale now!) It was an inspiring talk, and like her writing, Johnson was honest and forthright. Laura Hutson has more takeaways on Country Life. Nashville artist, writer, and maker Megan Kelley has been documenting artist talks and events in her sketchbook, and she gave me permission to post her notes from the talk here. I’m glad Kelley is documenting what’s been happening in contemporary art in Nashville. Check out her notes from Hrag Vartanian’s talk as well, in case you  missed it. 10985033_10101990674749052_8084869732963067557_n

Guest Blog: A Subtlety

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.

Jack Ryan, "Sounds for Third Ear" (installation view). Seed Space, September-October 2013.

Jack Ryan, “Sounds for Third Ear” (installation view). Seed Space, September-October 2013.

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.

andriAndri 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.

Art in the Park: Your Workout Just Got Better

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A park visitor captures coins using Bryan Leister and Becky Heavner’s app-based fitness game at FLEX IT! in Centennial Park.

Exercise just got easier thanks to artists Bryan Leister and Becky Heavner, whose interactive, app-based game Pygmalion’s Challenge has Centennial Park visitors pointing their smart phones at batches of flowers and racing up the the Parthenon steps. As part of FLEX IT! My Body My Temple, new media artist Leister and landscape architect Heavner joined forces to riff on the theme of obesity prevention, healthy living, and community. The results couldn’t be more fun and require only a smart phone to get started.

Visitors must download the free app for iPhone or Android. The goal of the game is to collect coins that allow you to unlock sculptures and watch them come to life. The artists have set sculptural markers on the Parthenon law that are now lush with flowers. Pointing a smartphone at a marker causes several gold coins to pop up on the screen. Then comes the exercise: contestants can race to the “Treasury” behind the Parthenon to cash in coins for keys. They then race back to the markers to unlock colorful, animated characters from the sculptures. The app includes an option to take a picture with the dancing sculptures and post it to social media, which the artists hope will encourage participation from kids and adults. Gold coins are apparently heavy though, so they’ll have to make several trips to unlock all of the treats.

Leister’s interactive artwork is a perfect match with Heavner’s landscape architecture. Both disciplines require an audience. “It all revolves around anticipating what people want and providing them with that experience,” Leister says. “With landscape architecture and interactive design, there is no photo opp. It’s more about the experience of people walking through the space and thinking, ‘How can I make people happy and enjoy themselves more?’”

Leister’s interactive gaming and design work includes the creation of 2000 messages to survivors of the Mayan apocalypse, an app-based mood analyticator, and videos that track viewers’ motion. He will return to Nashville on September 19-21, where he and Heavner will present a talk on their design process for Pygmalion’s Challenge (Saturday 10 a.m., location TBD). At Watkins College of Art and Design, he will facilitate two workshops: Creating 2D and 3D Content for Video Games (Thursday and Friday, 1-5 p.m., room #403) and Augmented Reality (Saturday and Sunday 1-5 p.m., room #403).

FLEX IT! My Body My Temple is a set of evolving, socially engaged art exhibits in the Parthenon Museum and on Centennial Park grounds. Curated by Adrienne Outlaw of Seed Space, FLEX IT! invites participation and reflection on personal health and fitness, while building community.

Baking Bread at the Parthenon


Demeter’s Torch. Moira Williams and visitors of Centennial Park created this working, adobe oven. It is on wheels and can be used by visitors to bake bread on the Parthenon lawn during FLEX IT! My Body My Temple.

If you happened to be at Centennial Park during the first week of September, you may have seen artist Moira Williams walking along the loop with a wagon in tow or operating an adobe oven on the Parthenon lawn. As part of Adrienne Outlaw’s FLEX IT! My Body My Temple, the Brooklyn-based artist created an ongoing, participatory art event that invites visitors to consider what feeds us.

“When I do socially engaged work,” says Williams, “it’s always about the community and supporting the community.” The physical structure of Socrates’ Wagon Sings with Demeter’s Torch was in fact community-made. Williams worked with park visitors to construct an oven and the mini-Parthenon shaped adobe structure surrounding it. She set up a table on the Parthenon lawn and park visitors helped sketch out their ideas for the shape, the designs on the pediments, and the individual metopes. Together, they configured it to be about Athena, exercise, and eating healthy– topics that arose naturally in the course of conversation. Working with clay, they built a miniature version of Greece’s (and Nashville’s) doric masterpiece.

With the oven complete, Williams walked the mile loop with Socrates’ Wagon, collecting wild yeast and conversing with park visitors in a kind of Socratic Dialogue. “My work is always about starting a dialogue — talking and listening to people,” she said. After she harvested the yeast, she returned to the lawn and the oven and baked bread, pizza, yams, garlic, apple crumble, and dosas with park visitors. Together, they cut ties with the commercial food chain and ate food harvested from the park itself.  “When we eat together, we slow down, we think about things,” Williams says. She hopes that the experience will show participants how easy it is to step away from commercial foods.

Socrates’ Wagon Sings with Demeter’s Torch is now on display in the Parthenon Museum, and visitors can contact the artist for permission to use the oven on park grounds. She is drying Centennial Park yeast to send to FLEX IT!, and it will be available with sourdough starters for Parthenon Museum visitors. In November, she’ll return to Nashville and walk 70 miles south to The Farm, which has a legacy of teaching about community health.

Williams has made walking part of her artistic practice for many years. A founding member of The Walk Exchange, she also enjoys night walks through New York wearing various safety suits, walks pigeons over the Brooklyn Bridge, and makes trips to the post office to mail letters to the Milky Way Galaxy. When she’s not walking, she’s engaged in other participatory works, like commissioning teens to paint graffiti murals in Brooklyn, producing handmade paper from trash on the streets of Haiti, and distributing tomato seeds from 19th century Italy to community gardeners. Her work is all about reciprocity and is shared with Nashville in the spirit of relatedness.

FLEX IT! My Body My Temple is a set of evolving, socially engaged art exhibits in the Parthenon Museum and on Centennial Park grounds. Curated by Adrienne Outlaw of Seed Space, Flex It! invites participation and reflection on personal health and fitness, while building community.