Report from the hinterlands

We got an email around a month ago from a place called The Art Gallery of Knoxville (Tenn.). One of the gallery directors, Chris Molinski, wrote:

We’re a new experimental space in Knoxville, TN – just opened in November. This January will feature “Global Groove (Nation Building as Art)”, an exhibition of artists dealing with the issue of “global” in contemporary Art. The artists are Sarawut Chutiwongpeti, Valéry Grancher, C M von Hausswolff, Phill Niblock and Superflex (with a further discussion of work by Gordon Matta-Clark and Nam June Paik).

(image from installation in Knoxville)

We were both so impressed by the international group of names from Bangkok to Sweden. Woohoo Knoxville. We wanted to know more. So we asked a bunch of questions (this is not the editorial we, but both Roberta and I).

Here are excerpts from our back and forth with Molinski:

Q. Who are you guys?
A. The Art Gallery of Knoxville was founded by myself, Leslie Starritt and Bryan McCullough. We met at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2001. We each are practicing artists (age: in our mid 20s). My focus is on new media (video, sound) – while Bryan and Leslie tend to focus on work in sculpture and painting (image, Grancher’s downloadable, hand-drawn Google page from the “No Memory” project).

Q. And why Knoxville?
A. The interest in Knoxville came up because Leslie grew up in a nearby town. When we were searching for a place for the Gallery – Leslie told us about the Knoxville area. We visited and decided it was perfect.

The Knoxville Museum of Art has shifted focus over the past few years – the management is young and has an interest in making the Museum stand out by investing in new artists. The current exhibit of work by new media artist Jim Campbell is excellent.

One of the reasons we created this space was to create exhibitions that are open, experimental, and expand the potential audience for contemporary artwork. We are interested in how artwork / ideas can be translated across barriers of culture and place.

Q. Are there other galleries doing this type of global/internet art? if so, who and where?
A. Global / Internet Art is becoming an important issue. There are certainly large groups of people who focus on it (For “internet” art – I would immediately suggest rhizome as an important resource) and artist today are often working within the idea of “global” and using the internet as a primary medium.

Cabinet Magazine recently published an issue on “Fictional States,” about “Micronations” – independent, often fictional, states.

I think the idea of Nations as Art has much in common with the work of Marcel Broodthaers, Andy Warhol, or Marcel Duchamp.

We are exhibiting “The Kingdom of Elgaland-Vargaland” by the artists CM von Hausswolff & Leif Elggren . In this artwork the artists created a new country, Elgaland-Vargaland, which claims territory of all borders. The kingdom claims the physical space between counties as well as abstract borders, as the space between ideas (image, stamps from Elgaland-Vargaland).

This work looks directly at one of the main concerns in “global” art – how people are connected, and how these connections can be understood around both physical place and a broad culture of ideas.

We will also be screening a documentary on The Principality of Sealand, “E Mare Libertas,” by Framed Nation Films (image, Sealand).

Q. What’s the art scene like in Knoxville?
A. Knoxville is an amazing town – the art community here is rising, particularly in regard to emerging art. The Knoxville Museum of Art has shifted its focus toward promoting emerging artists and lesser known work. The University of Tennessee is in the city, and the art school there is wonderful. Knoxville is a beautiful part of the state and it feels as though there is a real energy here.

Q. Do you see any irony in being anti-globalist as well as embracing the most globalist of tools, the internet?
A. Well … the issue really is not being anti-globalist. I think many of the “global” ideas reflect some sort of utopic ideal where all people can be connected in order to understand and help each other. However, there’s no question that globalization has hurt many people and can be used as a very negative term (image, a 1997 installation by Chutiwongpeti).

I am generally against abuse of power and harm against the human rights of others, but not against the idea of “global” communities.

Q. Tell us about the artist who made Guarana Power.
A. Superflex is a group well known for their art invested in social action. They create work with and around a particular community. Here the artwork Guarana Power, enables a remote village of farmers to produce a beverage independent of the large corporations (image, bottles of Guarana Power).

Q. What does Guarana Power taste like?
A. Guarana Power has a surprising taste – kind of like a natural ginger ale, but you can’t quite put your finger on it.

Q. Who do you hope to attract to your gallery with this work?
A. The goal is to create a larger community of people interested in viewing / participating in these types of discussions. At the moment, the gallery is trying to expand our website and get an increasingly diverse range of artwork online. We are interested how the Gallery can create discussions of artwork that extend beyond the traditional exhibition space.

Q. What’s next at the gallery?
A. Feb. 1 – 25 will be a remarkable show by Jaime Bravo. Jaime is an emerging artist working in fiber. He creates large sculptural work from old formal gowns and corsets (image, a piece by Bravo).

Q. Where’s he from?
A. Jaime grew up in Mexico, and currently lives in Chicago.

Q. Did you sell anything or is that not an issue or a goal for the gallery?
A. We are interested in selling things in order to support the artists and to continue the work of our gallery. To be honest, it is often hard to get people to spend money on art – but yes, things sell.

Q. Do you expect to be showing any local work or is your mission to bring international art and artists to Knoxville?

A. Both – we’re hoping to work with the local community as much as possible. Our interest is also in working with international artists – often people who have never been to Tennessee. We are hoping to create a “global” conversation where people can make and experience artwork separate from their physical space.