10 Questions for Amelia Garretson-Persans [AotM]

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What's the last show that you saw?
Thanks to holiday traveling I got to see my friend Barry A. Noland’s photography exhibit “Pieces of Shelby” at the Nashville airport. The photos are stark and unsettling black-and-white images of Shelby Park in East Nashville. I didn’t make it to his opening — partly due to the mandatory body scanning required to get in — so I was happy my concourse ended up being his concourse.

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What's the last show that surprised you? Why?
Possibly David Byrne’s Playing the Building, an art installation at the Battery Maritime Building in New York I saw a few years ago. I love David Byrne as a musician, and this show seemed like the perfect visual interpretation of some of the best Talking Heads songs. He had hooked up a pump organ in such a way as to literally play the Maritime Building. Different keys would create noise through running air in the building’s pipes, causing vibrations, and physically striking different surfaces. Visitors were invited to “play the building” by waiting their turn at the organ. I found it surprising to be so moved by such a simple concept.

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What's your favorite place to see art in Nashville?
I really dig Space Gallery in the Arcade. The curator, Seth Hudson, has a good eye for interesting and interactive shows and his own work is really rad. Sheer pop culture apocalyptica.

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Where are you finding ideas for your work these days?
Ghost stories and ghost-centric films. I’ve always tried to take some cues from writers like Henry James and Shirley Jackson, both in my writing and drawing. I love the idea of taking a kind of cheesy format and making it into something very open-ended and interesting. Roberto Bolano is another genre-subverter I love; he often borrows the timing and language of mystery fiction, but he leaves the readers with fewer answers than they started with rather than solving anything.

I have also been really interested in superstition lately. My elderly neighbor has bones hanging in the tree in his front yard. I love something strange and simple like that, meaningless to me but probably of great importance to him.

Do you collect anything?
Paperbacks with covers by Edward Gorey. There seems to be an infinite amount of them. Kate Beaton even started interpreting them in her awesome web comic, Hark! A Vagrant.

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What's the weirdest thing you ever saw happen in a museum or gallery?
During college I had a summer job as a gallery assistant in the Hamptons. My boss was this gorgeous, brilliant 40-something who snagged a July show with a world-renowned Czech street photographer. Said photographer (pushing 70) fell madly in love with her that summer and spent every waking hour in the gallery, whether she was there or not, writing love poetry in any of three languages, or singing songs about her and playing guitar. As a matter of convenience, I became the confidante of both the lover and the markedly less enthusiastic beloved, and enjoyed a front row seat to the extreme highs and lows of an old world romantic.

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What's your art-world pet peeve?
Probably insincerity. I’m all for cynicism in art-making, but when I was in art school (in relatively recent history) there was an undercurrent of sarcasm in some work, a refusal to stand fully behind anything.

Do you have a gallery/museum-going routine?
Not a great one. I gallery sit at Coop Gallery once a month, so I peer in all the windows at the Arcade and on Fifth Ave on my way in and out.

What's the last great book you read?
The Ice-Shirt by William Vollman, the first of seven “dreams” about the colonization of North America. That one is about the Vikings, and combines historical fact, the mythologies of several Arctic-based cultures, and pure artistic fabrication in blow-your-mind prose. It was like nothing I’ve ever read before, and makes me feel like trying out some crazy stuff.

I also recently read Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by M.R. James recently. It was a random find at McKay’s (I’ll try anything that has a 19th century engraving of a phantom on the cover). Apparently James was the epitome of the eccentric British scholar, the leading expert on illuminated manuscripts in his day and a ghost story enthusiast. He wrote stories to share with his friends on Christmas Eve and eventually they were published. Because of his antiquarian background, the stories have a very plausible feel to them, i.e. demons unlocked by Hebrew incantations, haunted mezzotints, etc.

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What work of art do you wish you owned?
I would be happy to own anything by the Quebecoise artist Cynthia Girard. She’s an awesome painter who is constantly evolving. She was my mentor at Concordia University in Montreal, QC, and I’ve had the pleasure to see her work in progress and installed in various galleries and museums. She’s had a big effect on me as an artist through her feedback and continued encouragement. I also would just love to own something ginormous.

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