On a recent Tuesday, East Grace Street is blocked off between Second and Third. City pavers compete with construction workers at Central National Bank for who can make the most noise.
Squeezed in between Cuban food and the mysterious Modern Coin shop, an unassuming art gallery occupies half of an art deco building. Inside, artist Carl Marin films himself meditating.
Marin hasn’t meditated much before. And this seems like rough conditions for a first attempt. In addition to morning jackhammers outside, noise bands have been practicing in the gallery basement at night.
So perhaps it’s fitting when, in-between bouts of Hemi-Sync, Marin takes an ax to the three-walled, 10-by-8-foot structure that serves as his canvas, methodically pulling out ragged rectangles of drywall from the wooden frame.
This would be one thing if it were merely his piece. But Marin is only the first of four artists who will live at Sediment Gallery for 72 hours, each with designs on that structure.
The curator and gallery director, Claire Zitzow, calls it “a conversation between the artists,” and likens it to exquisite corpse, the surrealist technique turned parlor game where each player draws a section of a figure, not knowing what previous sections look like.
Evelyn Walker arrives at Sediment a few days later armed with sleeping gear, three days worth of sandwiches, and a few tools.
Marin greets her in front of a giant mess. “Oh sorry, I haven’t cleaned yet,” he says. They sweep up plaster dust, mostly in silence.
“When did you decide to smash all the walls?” she finally asks.
Marin is purposefully vague in his explanation and leaves soon after.
“It feels like a slight,” Walker tells a visitor the next day, describing the interaction. “I don’t necessarily want to be associated with the wreckage of this.” She begins to hang the tattered pieces of wall back into place.
The only unaxed section of wall now projects the video of Marin meditating. She dislikes like incessant meditation voiceover and considers destroying Marin’s video. “It would be an equal counterpoint to what he left me with,” she says, but decides it “wrong.”
This is the challenge of “The All-Nighters,” the latest exhibit at Sediment, an artist-run gallery opened in 2013. The three-walled structure is a point of convergence for an artist collaboration that director Claire Zitzow describes as a “closed ecosystem.”
Except for Marin, each artist will be reacting to the work of previous artists, with varying degrees of comprehension for their purpose. Further, artists can use only materials that arrived in public drives, based on the wish lists that acted as their proposals for the project.
The ecosystem isn’t entirely hermetic, however. The artists are subject to a live feed of their work, with one camera trained on the structure and another on the table of donated materials.
The two artists who will follow Walker, first Janelle Proulx and then Alexandra de Leon, are both avoiding the live feed in anticipation of their turn. “I don’t want to know too much,” Proulx says.
She asked for relational items like “something that doesn’t suit you” and “an object or thing that matches your skin tone when you blush.” De Leon asked for items such as dried tobacco, shells, stones and minerals.
The structure that exists when de Leon leaves will be the focus of the exhibit. Zitzow, who runs the gallery along with her sister Kim and musician and tattoo artist Gary Stevens, will edit the live feed to play during its run and collect artist statements in exit interviews.
But halfway through, with two artists still to come, the ecosystem is fragile and tense. The artists express a desire to be courteous and generous to each other, but they don’t want their artistic contribution to be a faint ghost image in the final product.
It is difficult to imagine a final product that doesn’t reflect that tension, either in the form of a cohesive, thoughtful piece or, more cynically, an artistic tragedy of the commons.
As of this writing, the live feed was playing a 21-second loop, showing the small patch of undestroyed wall, projected with the video of Marin meditating. The video is turned off. Then on. And off again. S
“The All-Nighters” opens with a free reception Friday, Sept. 4, 6-9 p.m., at Sediment Gallery, 208 E. Grace St. The exhibition runs through Oct. 3. Gallery hours are Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 1-7 p.m., or by appointment.