CAN-DO COMPLETES THE VISION
> QUARTET BRANDISHES SPIRIT OF DIY IN OUTING AT ODESSA
Special to The Commercial Appeal
In the midst of the burgeoning Broad Avenue arts district, a space dubbed Odessa has emerged an oasis of exciting, independent expression. On any given month, the gallery offers a mix of music, film and art that is at once alternative and accessible.
This month, the theme has been “Because We Can: An Exploration of the DIY Ethos.” Borrowing from punk culture (though with one eye on the arts and crafts movement of the early 20th century) the “DIY” (or “Do It Yourself”) aesthetic as interpreted at Odessa could be felt in its workshops on making tote bags and books from recycled materials, as well as its choice of indie films and touring musical acts such as Brightblack Morning Light, which recorded last year’s Matador outing, “Motion to Rejoin,” in the New Mexico desert using only solar energy.
Then again, the entire concept, functionality and low operational overhead at Odessa might best be described as DIY.
As a multipurpose arts venue, it’s an inclusive space, says local artist and Odessa member Jonathan Hart. “We try to tie popular culture with fine art,” he says.
Hart is part of a co-op of locals with diverse professional backgrounds that took over the 2613 Broad site about a year after it opened in early 2008. They include fellow visual artist Brooke Kanther, arts writer/critic Laura Sullivan, performance and instillation artist Kelly Ferris, deejays Jake Hendrix and Colette Means and others.
“We’re trying to bring something to Memphis that can’t be brought by a larger institution,” says fellow member Elisabeth Callihan, public relations manager for the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. “We can do whatever we want. All of us bring something different to the table, and so far it is working.”
The four artists featured in “Because We Can” also brandish something of a DIY spirit in their work. Jonathan Hart employs a type of “sgraffito” technique by scratching lines into gesso and black ink on board. The resultant images are raw and immediate yet carry an epic punch, eye-candy operettas of emotional and symbolic weight as in “Blood Embrace” and “Sunken Ship.” Emma Self’s work, “May Tornado,” strings together digital-print silk images of a young girl (May Eggleston from video by Joann Self Selvidge) to create an ephemeral funnel shape that seems to blow like sheets on the wind of childhood memory.
Shane McDermott, an illustrator at The Commercial Appeal, shows (perhaps not surprisingly) a flair for the topical in his brush and ink illustrations, such as “Shut Out: (Rape Crisis Center),” which portrays the Memphis Sexual Assault Resource Center logo as a metaphor of abandonment more than of healing. Finally, Michelle Duckworth’s haunting ink-and-stain renderings on wood resonate with the kind of other-worldly playfulness and mystery normally reserved for self-taught icon Henry Darger, an apparent influence.
Odessa may be small in size but its potential is great for connecting like-minded visual and musical artists who think outside the mainstream box. With the sad, pending departure of Power House Memphis, the dialog being nurtured at Odessa feels more necessary than ever. Coming events include a 7 p.m. screening Wednesday) of the film, “The Guatemalan Handshake,” directed by Todd Rohal and starring noted indie musician/actor Will Oldham (free).
Michelle Duckworth’s ink and stain ‘‘Scorpion Boy’’ intrigues; the Odessa exhibit includes three other artists.