In the late 1970s, Sylvia Gray had amassed a huge collection of items in her 606 South Elm Street warehouse in Greensboro. The former Carolina Sales Company building she owned with her late husband Joe became her treasure chest for thrift store finds.
Fast forward to 2003, when Elsewhere founders George Sheer (Gray’s grandson), Stephanie Sherman and Josh Boyette visited the store.
“The objects that the young writers found sent their minds in a million directions!” Elsewhere’s website exclaims. The trio marveled at the ability of Sylvia’s collection to spark their imaginations and “stimulate personal connections” to times past. They wondered, “Could Sylvia’s collection become a thinking playground?”
Today, Elsewhere, a nonprofit organization, accomplishes just that. The old thrift store is now a living museum where artists come to peruse the hoard of objects. Its visitors experience the same sense of endless possibilities that entranced the museum’s founders.
Painters, videographers, sculptors, and lay-people alike draw inspiration from the walls of old knick-knacks. One of those people is George Jenne, an artist-in-residence through the Southern Constellations program.
The program encourages site-specific projects and creating work that reacts to its environment. It aligns with the Elsewhere’s goal of making connections to Greensboro’s history.
Jenne weaves video, sculpture and prose into his aesthetic narrative films. During his opening and reception event on Saturday at Elsewhere, he showed his short film “Spooky Understands.” This film, he said, would give us a better idea of what he was trying to do in response to Elsewhere.
The film overlaid his eerie, pitched-up voice over on top of fascinating visuals. For many of the shots, the subject of the image was unclear. The colors and textures were what made it fascinating and even mesmerizing.
Jenne conglomerates his narratives from a variety of literary sources. He extracts bits and pieces of texts from larger works that attract him. He’ll highlight a paragraph from one novel, then grab a few lines from another and merge them into one.
He showed the intimate crowd a look at his writing process. Jenne read from some of the books he’d found thus far at the museum. One of them was his favorites: “Love in the Ruins” by Walker Percy. Other selections included a book on bizarre Hollywood tales and a book on “all the stuff your sister never told you.”
The excerpts couldn’t have been less connected. Jenne juxtaposed an apocalyptic dystopian adventure novel, the bizarre death of Jayne Mansfield and an excerpt about the importance of using the withdrawal technique during intercourse. Despite their relative disconnection from one another, Jenne found a way to cohere them.
When Jenne arrived at Elsewhere, he wanted to try to make sense of the order of the museum—if there was any.
“I went around taking pictures, and I realized that essentially there is no order here and that it’s really just a kind of veil,” Jenne explained. “Well, it’s a series of categories that’s kind of a veil of order, you know? And those categories bleed; the lines are so blurred.”
He referred to the categories scattered around the museum. Things like “library,” “kitchen,” “fabrics” and the “collaboratory” where he gave his talk.
Jenne went on to show pictures of some of his favorite objects he’d discovered. There was a baby doll head on what looked to be a monkey figurine body. He photographed it in front of an out of focus quilt. The effect gave the same ethereal quality invoked by “Spooky Understands.”
The rest of his visuals he had compiled thus far were videos of objects rotating on a turntable. Each object was as mesmerizing as the last.
One of the audience members commented that the detail he got from the colors and the dirt was incredible.
“I started to realize the way to look at this place,” Jenne added, “Is to scrutinize it up close while at the same time just kind of stepping way back and letting it wash over you.”
In that respect, Elsewhere isn’t too far removed from his Chapel Hill-based studio. Just like the museum, his own space contains “bins of crap” that he sifts through to select what he needs for a piece.
“All of these objects become this mash. It’s very specific and it’s very general at the same time,” he mused. “This residency is timely in that I’m trying to come up with more abstract work that has that kind of specific texture that’s so acute, but the piece itself is abstract.”
Jenne is one of six artists interacting with Elsewhere’s collection over the course of the Southern Constellations project. The artists, selected by peer-nomination, each get three to six weeks to live and work in the space. All the artists’ work will become part of the museum until the next explorers come and leave their mark.
The project runs through October 24th at Elsewhere. Upon its culmination, the Southern Constellations Convergence will take place on November 7th and 8th to give the artists and the public a forum to discuss “contemporary art production and community building.”
Find out more at goelsewhere.org.
Categories: Arts & Entertainment, Reviews, Visual & Performance
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