The Atlanta Journal Constitution
profiled Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry this weekend, focusing on their ACP 10 Public Art Project
"Within Our Gates" which opens this weekend. If you're unfamiliar with the project, Drew Jubera wrote a great piece about the artists, the site, the project, and what the installation is all about.
Atlanta Celebrates Photography
Husband-and-wife art project
By DREW JUBERA
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Sunday, September 28, 2008
After scouting sites all over Atlanta for the public art project they'd been commissioned to create, Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry both were knocked out by a 100-foot-tall abandoned concrete water tower in the Old Fourth Ward.
"It was kind of this undiscovered jewel in the backyard of the city," McCallum said.
But staring up at it from the patchy grass out of which it seemed to sprout, the two had different notions about what to do with it.
McCallum first envisioned something displayed on the tower's century-old exterior.
Tarry's reaction: "You don't expect me to climb up there, do you? As much as I'm attracted to it, I'm not climbing up that ladder."
Yet it didn't take long for the husband-and-wife artist team to agree on a concept: archival video and audio of the civil rights movement displayed on the tower's interior and viewed from a platform constructed above a shallow pool of water.
The result: "Within Our Gates," a high-profile, signature exhibit for the 10th annual Atlanta Celebrates Photography, a monthlong festival of exhibitions, lectures and other events throughout the metro area and beyond that opens officially this week. (For a festival schedule, log on to www.acpinfo.org.)
Both in their 40s, McCallum and Tarry have come to similar aesthetic accords many times during their decade-long artistic partnership.
"The most important part of us working together is the trust," Tarry said from the couple's Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment, where they live with their 5-year-old son. "Even though I might say, 'No way, Jose, I'm not doing that,' I never 100 percent dismiss him and his idea. I always chew on it and come back to it."
McCallum added, "There are times when we're both moving in different directions. We try to allow each other to do that, with the sense that we'll come back to common ground."
The results have often prompted charged, even controversial, responses from viewers and public officials.
In their 2006 video "Exchange," the couple -- he's white, she's black -- swap each other's blood through transfusions to subvert the historic "One Drop Rule" of racial purity.
In 2001, they set up photographs of black worshippers from a nearby church in the pews of a predominantly white church, invoking the spirit of the black congregants who in 1820 were forbidden to sit on the main floor.
A 2000 project in New York, "Witness: Perspectives on Police Violence," included five emergency call boxes with speakers that played the recorded voices of brutality victims and their families. Then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani panned it.
"They have this ability to interrogate complicated ideas that we often don't have a vocabulary to talk about," said Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, director of the Spelman Museum of Fine Art.
A group exhibit at the Spelman Museum last year included "Cut," the couple's symbolic and penetrating video of them wordlessly cutting each other's hair. Brownlee said it prompted more discussion than any other piece in the exhibit. It was also the only piece in the exhibit that the museum purchased.
"When it comes to cutting-edge, contemporary art, they push boundaries that really play with our comfort levels," Brownlee said.
Atlanta Celebrates Photography, a nonprofit dedicated to the photographic arts, has featured public projects at past festivals. But for its 10th edition, Executive Director Amy Miller said, it wanted "something with teeth, that was socially responsible."
Project curator Lisa Kurzner approached McCallum and Tarry after hearing them lecture last year at a local gallery about their work, including the 2003 video "Endurance," a poetically stark chronicle of homelessness in Seattle.
McCallum and Tarry saw in Atlanta Celebrates Photography an opportunity to expand on their most recent work, which grew out of research for a memorial to Malcolm X: oil-painted copies of civil rights-era photographs, overlaid with silkscreen copies of the same photos.
"We were open to just about anything," McCallum said. "But it was when we discovered the water tower that things became exciting."
The long-abandoned tower, blocks from the King Center, once provided water for a nearby cotton compress warehouse, now converted into Studioplex, a mixed-use artist center. The tower itself seemed converted into shelter for the homeless. The circular interior was furnished with a ratty couch, fire pits, bottles.
But shafts of light also poured from small windows around the 70-foot-tall, rotundalike ceiling. The pebbled walls were colored by leeching minerals. Booming acoustics magnified the faintest sound.
"The minute they walked in they said, 'This is the place,' " Kurzner said. "It was like being in the Chartres Cathedral."
The artists spent days going through the vast film, TV and radio archives at the University of Georgia. They avoided footage of more recognizable leaders from the civil rights era. They concentrated instead on faces, crowds, interactions.
"We're probably the first artists who've used the archive in this manner," McCallum said.
The title, "Within Our Gates," is taken from the 1920 film by black director Oscar Micheaux, a kind of African-American response to D.W. Griffith's silent classic "Birth of a Nation," which glorified the rise of the Ku Klux Klan.
"The idea of borrowing the title 'Within Our Gates' is saying, 'OK, this our backyard. This is within the community. This is the kind of turbulence and struggle that was seeded here,' " McCallum said.
"It's not trying to present itself as a documentary of the Fourth Ward. It's gaining inspiration from this community as a kind of seeding place for the movement."
Tarry sees that inspiration as "more of a meditation on asking questions. Watching people passionately involved in political decisions and asking, 'Am I involving myself in the discourse of my day? Am I carrying on the legacy of the past?'
"Hopefully that question will be continually asked."
"Within Our Gates"
Art installation by Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry, in conjunction with Atlanta Celebrates Photography, a metrowide, monthlong visual arts festival. Saturday-Oct. 4 inside the water tower at Auburn Avenue and Irwin Street in the Old Fourth Ward. Opening reception: 7-9 p.m. Saturday. Artists' talk: Oct. 5 at 2 p.m. at TUBE Creative, 704 McGruder St., Studio N (near the water tower), 404-659-0088. For other info: 404-634-8664, acpinfo.org
This article may also be viewed at the AJC site here.