Conflict the focus of ambitious, flawed show

Dashboard Co-op is a novel enterprise that combines art and urban revitalization. Founded by Beth Malone and Courtney Hammond, Dashboard creates pop-up art exhibitions in fallow spaces throughout the city, attracting an audience and often making these venues more appealing to developers as a result. Former Dashboard exhibition spaces have been transformed into restaurants, galleries and music venues.

Dashboard’s current exhibition occupies a storefront at North Avenue and Spring Street. The group has used that drive-by location advantageously, installing a video piece by Atlanta artist Ruth Dusseault in two windows, to attract passing eyes. Dusseault’s work is one of the best in a show titled, “Dialogue: Conflict/Resolution” whose loose concept is social and personal tensions examined through various artists’ work. While the show is ambitious in its scope, it can often feel disjointed in its execution. But “Dialogue” is certainly worth a look, partly because so few local exhibitions are examining contemporary social issues.

The artwork ranges from the heavy-hearted to the optimistic and, even, humorous, in Matthew Maher’s “An Angsty Cocktail Party.” Maher’s video unfolds on a stage set populated by mannequins and a token bottle of white wine that stands in for an anxiety-fraught cocktail party where, as alcohol is consumed, awkwardness gives way to excess.

Dusseault’s “Theory of Killing,” on the other hand, traffics in vital social commentary on the toll of war on the human psyche. Two simultaneous and identical video projections feature kids engaged in a Massachusetts paint ball battle. The video features one participant tragically frozen in a hunkered down position, appearing too panic-stricken to play. The point is clear that unlike Hollywood films and video games, killing—even the make-believe kind — is difficult to undertake. A complementary work in the same room by Ruth Stanford “Deliberation 2” examines the recent Michael Brown killing. Stanford has installed a police cruiser in the gallery space covered in a plastic exoskeleton that allows a swirling blue light within to echo spookily throughout the gallery in a silent evocation of conflict. A gravel of crumpled papers containing testimony from the Michael Brown case surrounds this ghost car. Together that eerie blue light and those documents shine a light, but not necessarily the light of truth and revelation. While the Michael Brown case may have revealed racial divides, surmounting them seems profoundly difficult in contemporary America.

A related examination of race during the civil rights era defines Dr. Doris Derby’s documentary photography. An activist in the Mississippi civil rights movement, Derby documented the grassroots efforts of the 1960s, in community theater or in health care clinics to uplift and serve Southern blacks. The images of ordinary housewives in cotton shift dresses engaged in social change are deeply moving.

More known for folksy examinations of Southern culture, Atlanta artist Michi Meko moves in a tentative new direction with a sound piece in “Dialogue.” His syncopated sound installation “Pots and Kettles” features a repeated refrain including the taunting “black, black, black” emitted from seven kitchen tea kettles and pots perched on white pedestals. The piece evokes the adage about the “pot calling the kettle black.” The sound work, which draws some of its language from online comments, seems to tap into the name-calling and degree of fury that often underlines contemporary interactions both online and off.

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