Last week, on the occasion of its third birthday, The LOW Museum of Contemporary Culture held its final gallery opening (Monday, May 23rd) as well as its final closing (Friday, May 27th).
I attended both, tracking down and interviewing the artists on display and the founders of The LOW to commemorate the occasion.
The opening itself was my first visit, despite wanting and passively promising to come for nearly two years. As my roommate and I approached the façade of the 550 John Wesley Dobbs Ave NE residence, we encountered feline, coquettish backwards glances from young people lounging on the grass, sipping drinks on the balcony, and smoking on the lawn. Luckily the space was peppered with faces I knew not only from their online avatars, including the dynamic Alessandra Hoshor, whose first solo show, Kissing Post 92, lined the walls in tropical hues of hand-painted silk tapestries and oils.
Hoshor herself was a vision in banana bright yellow, dressed in what she referred to as “the ‘What About Me?’ shirt,” which also made an appearance in her recent in-depth Q & A with Burnaway. The shirt was a collaboration with Valentina Tapia, who is, among many other things, the other half of Hoshor’s new music project BIG DED.
Music informs Hoshor’s visual art, and has in the past year stirred her from a kind of painter’s block, of which she says “music kinda unlocked a lot of stuff for me as far as opening up my practice and trying to be less forced but also really intentional with what I was making.” Tapia was also present, dressed in a structured yet ethereal light pink handmade top by Atlanta designer Eva Marie Nelson.
Like her shirt, nearly all of Hoshor’s pieces in the exhibit featured various “resonant…phrases or feelings” that recur through her practice. “They seem super symbolic to me,” Hoshor explains, “they change meaning in the work so I re-use them a lot.”
The title piece, “Kissing Post 92,” comes from “a way of thinking about romance in your life and how it changes as you get older…how a lot of your most intense memories or fantasies are based on real experiences, but you’re the one who generates that meaning and turns those moments into markers.” The “Post” refers to both “recalling a location and recalling a time.” Hoshor was only two in 1992, and specifies that “it’s not a realistic timeline or a real location, but it’s supposed to recall a feeling…how kissing changes in your life…how it feels when you’re older versus when you’re younger.”
The idea behind silk flags comes in part from the 3D renderings of flags Hoshor uses in some of her video work, but also her interest in tapestries, as “works that you live with over time.”
Two of her canvases neighboring each other also incorporate fabric hangings. “Faded in the Kitchen,” to the left, Hoshor describes as “a suburban piece,” exploring “the stillness of suburban life juxtaposed against the chaos of human nature” or how “people have a really sort of conservative performance in their daily lives but then…they still have moments where that totally comes into question or moments of self-doubt or introspection within that super guarded context.” Underneath the fabric Hoshor’s scrawled “Golden Paradise,” echoing the line from one of the tapestries on the adjacent wall.
The other piece, to the right, “Adapt,” recreates a still from Duck Amuck, the classic Daffy Duck episode where, as Hoshor recalls “the animator keeps sabotaging [Daffy] and pulling the rug out.” The moment here is when Daffy sees his reflection, and “the animator’s drawn him in this really absurd way and he freaks out realizing it’s him.” So this “punchy” piece is “kind of about constant change and how you’re constantly forced to adapt, not on your own terms, all the time.” For this piece, the hanging fabric isn’t meant to be lifted. I did anyway before Hoshor corrected me, and found traces of what may have been an old froggy meme.
Only one of Hoshor’s pieces on display had no words, a traditional looking oil portrait after a cell phone photo taken of someone Hoshor knows well, which she described as “a really complex portrait.”
Hoshor categorizes the pieces in Kissing Post 92 as “digital works, but not in the most obvious way."
I lured Kai Cherot and Brenden Flickinger, also known as vaguebabies, outside. Their collaborative work, and first show, hangs in BACKSPACE, The LOW Museum’s micro-project space (which is in the back).
When I ask about the origins of the name, Flickinger quickly clarifies that “vaguebabies…has nothing to do with the art in there.” The two share an Instagram by the same name, and the handle has become an umbrella term for the various art they create together.
“We didn’t give them any information,” Cherot says. She’s unsure whether or not they’ll continue using the name but shrugs, vaguely, “it’s nothing I’m pressed for.”
Like Hoshor, Cherot and Flickinger were not creating art for awhile, but within the past year have been changing that. For the pieces in this exhibit, “desertdreaming: a free play of things,” they were very limited with the supplies they used, both due to lack of accessibility and as a form of discipline.
The materials they used were all either gifted, traded, bought cheaply or found, but they refer to them aggressively as “seized” in their prose poetry artist’s statement. The statement was “semi-collaborative,” Flickinger says, as they “made a list of words [they] wanted to use.”
Yet Cherot seems to be more the poet of the pair, and says she “began to want to use words…write poetry, in the past year.” Writing layers into the paintings, “the tone of the words, especially the ones you see,” Cherot tells me, “have to do with movement or thoughts…thought brings motion…the thought becomes its coming before the motion.” This ties to their process together, whether they’re together or alone, “these bodies coming together in this space creating time together.” Cherot continues, “these lines are like traces of thoughts,” but what’s crucial is “where they lead you, and how you choose to live your life.”
“I think people have an idea about art that it’s isolated, that it’s something you do when you isolate yourself,” Flickinger contends, “I think it can be as collaborative as you make it.”
The two work together in part at least to challenge that relationship the artist is said to have with their work, to destroy the idea that it is one’s “possession.” Working and living together, and consciously trying to break down that unconscious territorial urge, Cherot says the possessiveness is transformed into the feeling that “I can let it go, I can show it.”
Most of the canvases had been painted on and painted over, “so some of them are a few paintings” Flickinger points out, “the large one especially.” Of the large one he refers to (none of them have titles) he says, “I try to think of it as confronting the police…when you’re at a demo and the police are blocking you off, how do you figure out how to get through them or around them?”
Cherot chimes in, “the same thing can play out in different movements or gestures you make towards things in life.”
The two credit the LOW as a “staple, socially,” for them, where they not only met Hoshor but, Flickinger says, “a lot of the people that I know in Atlanta.”
They stress the importance of collaboration and collective care, Cherot saying “I encourage people to share things, to work together…that bond…really just builds the strength that we need together.”
Flickinger responds, “when material resources are shared, we have more power together."
"The obstacles aren’t so hard to get over," Cherot says.
Across the lawn, I found one of the three founders of The LOW Museum, the warm yet enigmatic Jordan Stubbs, perched on concrete stairs.
“Theo, Lumumba, and I actually all lived together in Reynoldstown in a really awful house, back in the day,” Stubbs recounts. They relocated to what became The LOW in June of 2013, and had their first show in July. “All the energy was there, it took a matter of painting the walls white…we knew we already had enough know-how in terms of people to include or had been to enough shows to know, ‘it doesn’t take that much!’ So yeah, it all felt very natural.”
Of Hoshor Stubbs says, “she is first and foremost an inspiration, and a valuable artist and a great friend. I also live with her now, and hope to collaborate creatively…she’s just a powerhouse, and I’m caught up in her whirlwind and sometimes have to take a step back because she’s just going, going, going. It’s inspirational as well as overwhelming…I just try to toe that line. I try to keep up with her.”
“It’s a great dynamic,” he continues, “I’m happy The LOW happened, but I’m also happy to be where I am now and I couldn’t be where I am now, creatively or in my ‘art career’ without I guess taking the initiative with Theo and Lumumba and just start showin’ stuff.” Stubbs left The LOW about six months ago, and says “I had no involvement with planning the show,” but admires it as “all very cohesive.”
“The only reason The LOW was able to exist at all was because we did live here, and we didn’t have to pay rent for a home as well as for an art space, we had very hands-off landlords too who came to the space and kind of knew what was happening. So it was just this recipe of like, no one’s overseeing us, we already have this space and are willing to commit our living room to art, and we know enough people who are doing cool things and want to…spruce Atlanta up a little bit, so why not take a chance? I was just talking to so many people tonight who said like my first this was here, my first that was here and I was like ‘wow,’ I still haven’t quite realized the impact this place has had I guess and that’s great. It definitely got me to where I want to be, now, and I’m content, but to actually get to hear other people talk about how The LOW’s influenced them is really rewarding. Not to take credit, I’m simply in awe that it happened at all.”
Stubbs is in the middle of his Leap Year residency through MINT, which gives him a free studio at The Goat Farm for a year. He’ll be going to Hambidge for two weeks in a couple of months (he beams, “I’ve never had an art vaycay before,”) as part of that same residency, and will have a solo show some time in October.
In terms of organizing exhibits, he says “I still have the show bug, and I know that once I get past this ‘focus on my own work’ phase I’ll keep my eyes peeled for more people to show off.”
Stubbs’ last words: “Thank you of course to everyone who came and made The LOW something worthwhile. The reception was so quick…we had a reputation—if not always officially, definitely by word-of-mouth—as a place to go, and it’s all the people having come here that made that possible, so, appreciate that.”
Now a few drinks in, I get the confidence to introduce myself to Pastiche Lumumba, Executive Director of The LOW and the only founder still living in the space.
Lumumba tells me that he met McLee and Stubbs at Georgia State before dropping out in 2012. He traveled around and studied independently, saying emphatically “my art practice didn’t stop, my schooling did stop.”
“And when you’re in school,” he pauses, “everything is kinda done for you. You get into student shows, there’s this model. When I was out of school I realized that people my own age weren’t showing, anywhere. My friends weren’t showing anywhere, I wasn’t showing anywhere. And in addition to that type of work that I was getting made—digital work, things that are really relevant, queer, race-based work—that kind of stuff wasn’t being shown anywhere either. So, we moved into this house, because we needed a new house, and I was like, well we should have shows. And we just started having shows. Our first show was about memes, as they related to art history, I curated that. That was just like a group of friends, and just kept it going.”
On the foundations of The LOW, Lumumba says, “It was specifically started to fill in gaps, what I saw were gaps. So like, what are we not talking about? We’re talking about Black History Month. In 2013 we had a show about White Supremacy, because there wouldn’t be a Black History Month without White Supremacy, so we have to go to these like, roots. And just basically being the antithesis of what is the conservative institution that like The High Museum is. So like we can show porn screenings. That kind of stuff, that’s what we’ve done.”
The LOW slowed before stopping, after the two other founders (Stubbs and McLee) moved out, for various reasons, which put Lumumba even more so in the driver’s seat. The only person who worked at The LOW and did not live there was Hira Mahmood, also a Georgia State student. Lumumba explains:
“So for all intents and purposes, I am The LOW Museum, this whole year. So it limited the amount of work that I could get done without having a team. The reason that it’s not continuing outside of this space is that the same program I went to at the Bruce High Quality Foundation University... I got into a year-long residency there that I’ll be leaving for in August. So it wouldn’t make any sense for me to try to restart this thing in another space if I’m the sole proprietor and if I’m going to be leaving in a couple months anyway.”
However the main reason The LOW is closing right now is that the landlord increased the rent by more than 50% for June. The warning was, Lumumba says, “about 15 days for us to give them 30 days, so less than two months.”
Hoshor’s show was already slated before they got the news, and was actually the first art show as such The LOW had administered this year. “And then when we got the news that our rent would be going up that much,” Lumumba adds, “it was like all right, awesome, what a great way to end.”
Lumumba’s last words: “People have enjoyed this space, and I hope that they’ve been able to see the transparency with which our DIY is still DIY, and I hope that that transparency encourages other people who may not have resources to still feel like they can do this, because we’ve had immense support from the beginning. And you don’t have to have a non-profit board in order to make relevant art and for people to support it. So that’s what I want for people to feel, like in the absence of The LOW Museum, which was something filling in gaps, I want people to feel like, aw shit well we can do that too.”
Friday night I return, and the paintings and tapestries have all been taken down, Monday’s bright room now dimmed, packed with bodies and flooded with fluorescent pink light.
When I arrive, Softy is mid-performance. He’s having some kind of monologue directed at a woman sitting, occasionally echoing back and maybe drawing a skyline with a blue sharpie. There’s a TV playing and at moments a record. They’re surrounded by various items including advertisements for American Apparel and a carton of almond milk. Softy is talking in and out about ideas for a sexy protest film, stressing the need for a “splash” over and over, and referencing a nefarious President/Vampire Becker. At the end he and his accomplice pack up their items in a shopping basket and go outside.
Lumumba tells me the piece is called “Problematic,” and addresses “a lot of things,” “constrictions,” and “things that you liked…kind of going away, especially as it relates to Atlanta,” including the beltline, the murder of WRAS, and “these contemporary narratives of the government, the man,” or other symbols of “genericizing.”
Next vaguebabies performs. Cherot and Flickinger appear, dressed all in white. Cherot’s right hand is tied to Flickinger’s right, left foot to right, right foot to left. On the wall behind Cherot what looks like a white t-shirt is pinned up like a canvas, a paintbrush in her pocket and bottle of black ink or paint on the floor. They shuffle in synchronicity from one side of the room to the other, facing each other at times, at others not. When they reach the wall behind Cherot, she writes a line on the fabric. As she reaches out for the brush, Flickinger’s hand is pulled to rest on her right shoulder.
I finally catch the third co-founder, Theodore McLee, in a back room by some stacked ladders and ask her a few questions.
McLee describes the closing as “a very natural end,” asserting that “it’s not sad or anything, we still consider it very much a successful project.”
“We all got a lot out of it, we all learned a lot from it, I think that it contributed a lot to Atlanta’s art community…We didn’t completely plan to do this together, it was something that just more or less happened and then took off and we realized, like quicker than we could actually understand, that we were all responsible for this thing collectively…and so we ended up working together and learning to work together despite having really different styles and intentions.”
McLee says she, Lumumba and Stubbs “figured we would stay around as long as we’re relevant” and cracks a smile, “luckily…people didn’t stop investing in us.”
On her time at organizing with The LOW, Ladyfest and other causes/vehicles in Atlanta: “Getting involved in all of these projects has been really enriching, but it’s also kind of allowed me to see that I throw myself completely into it and I don’t really spend much time on myself. So I think it’s probably for the best that I go ahead and…finish focusing on me for at least two years, and then we’ll see what happens after that.”
McLee plans to move to Colorado and pursue grad school for counseling. She graduated with a psych and women’s studies degree while at The LOW, but stayed in Atlanta to continue with the space. Now that The LOW is closing, she feels “it’s almost like having this wild freedom.” She’s not ruling out returning to Atlanta one day, but isn’t planning on it.
The night continues with the energetic and diverse acts Warehouse, Swanky Ali, Kayla Steen, Dandy and BIG DED, before DJs JustHadSex (Lumumba) and Bitchcraft close out the night.
I catch Lumumba again as he goes on to DJ, and he affirms that this is “definitely” the largest crowd The LOW has ever had. “With the mass of people who have been here tonight and the diversity of those crowds…it was finally the crowd that I’ve always wanted all along, which is like old people, trap people, indie rock, you know, like everything.”
He leaves to join the screaming fans in their living-room-turned-gallery-space and I realize I’ve been there for nearly seven hours.
Congratulations, thank you and goodbye (hopefully see you later) to the lovely LOW Museum of Contemporary Culture. You did it beautifully.
Catherine Rush is a writer/performer/artist currently living in Atlanta, Georgia.