Low on the southeast side of downtown Raleigh stands a nondescript grey building with a facade marked by four orange letters: LUMP. This cinderblock outpost houses the Lump gallery and project space — an artist-run enterprise in its fifteenth season. Lump does not represent artists and is explicitly committed to exhibiting work without commercial compromise. The vision of Bill Thelen, Lump’s founder and director, and the collaborative efforts of the swirling cast of artists who comprise Team Lump make the gallery home to some the most consistently rewarding and exhilarating exhibitions in the area. Thelen (an artist himself, with a new show opening in October at Vox Populi in Philadelphia) sees his role as more a facilitator of exchange than a traditional gallery owner: “I view the gallery space as an importer of artists, curators, exhibitions, ideas, and Team Lump as exporter of NC artists. We focus on getting exhibitions outside of North Carolina.”
Indeed, the Team — a variable, curated assortment of practitioners — gets around. In 2009, they traveled to London to install DIY Rapture at Cell Projects. Currently, their show Skins and Skeletons is at AVA in Chattanooga, TN. The team’s ready ability to serve as NC envoy — in addition to Lump’s sterling reputation as a gallery — means that Lump, more than almost any other independent arts-based enterprise in town, is pushing the Triangle’s rapport with a broader contemporary discourse.
As a locus and center of gravity for this kind of energy and conversation, Lump’s presence reverberates in strong ways through the terrain of contemporary practice here. The project’s reliability, consistency and rigor have inspired a generation of forward-thinking artists in Raleigh and beyond. I spoke with Harrison Haynes and David Colagiovanni — two artists based in other corners of the Triangle — about Lump and its impact on their practices, as well as about the broader issue of working in the South.
David Colagiovanni is an active member of Team Lump. He also teaches video and electronic media at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he is a Fellow and the first Artist-in-Residence at the Morehead Planetarium. Colagiovanni doesn’t hesitate to describe Lump as “probably the greatest asset to the Triangle’s art community… it’s one of the best places to see thought-provoking art outside of the museum and commercial market.” Colagiovanni’s practice reflects his emphasis on art that exists outside the veil of commodity, and certainly reflects the kind of experimental environmental eclecticism characteristic of Lump’s exhibitions and undertakings. This summer, his groundbreaking installation and collaborative project in the sixty-foot dome at the planetarium radically reconfigured previous notions of what might be possible in that space.
The planetarium was a 1949 gift to the state of North Carolina by John Motley Morehead III. Colagiovanni told me it served as a former astronaut training facility:
Every astronaut that set foot on the moon through the Apollo program trained on the same surface [Recent Projects in Dome Space] was projected upon…it was a huge inspiration for me based on the development of my work over the past few years which has involved the human desire for flight and escape (Larry Walters, Kent Couch, Adelir Antonio de Carli, Eilmer the flying Monk, Wan Hu, Boy in the Balloon, etc…).
Colagiovanni’s Recent Projects in Dome Space — in collaboration with Thom Canova and Benjamin Dauer — marked the culmination of months of research and development with the Morehead’s production team and the Renci Center. “A few times a week I would visit the Morehead’s production office located just steps from my studio at UNC and theorize with them about ways to create footage that would ultimately be distorted by the dome’s surface.” The resulting 13:45 short “pays homage to the surface of the dome and the greater heavens with a variety of immersive textures that are at times violent, energetic or calming,” Colagiovanni describes. The piece’s abstract imagery frequently speaks to 1960s liquid techniques for altering light, and at times the experience, with its cascades and drones, is a bit like a re-imagined Exploding Plastic Inevitable. But its installation in the Morehead’s dome — recently equipped with a new 16 million pixel projection system — results in an encounter whose character is surreally immersive: “most viewers tend to have a very physical response,” Colagiovanni observes. As light breaks through, it often feels as though one is flying, surging upward.
Colagiovanni also collaborates with the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, crafting videos and websites for artists and their exhibitions. Recently, he profiled David McConnell and outsider artist Mingering Mike for the highly-anticipated The Record: Contemporary ART and VINYL, curated by Trevor Schoonmaker.
One of the artists contributing to The Record’s “Cover to Cover” project (in which eight crates of albums will function as eight interactive conceptual pieces) with local ties is Harrison Haynes. I asked Haynes about Team Lump — he laughed and said he is sort of an “honorary member.” (We spoke via Skype from Haynes’ studio at Bard, where he’s currently pursuing an MFA. Bard’s low-residency program actually allows him to spend most of the year working from his Durham, NC studio.)
Lump is to some degree the basis or the foundation for my entire practice in that it sort of set forth this really ambitious notion for me in 1997 about the existence of contemporary art in NC… Bill (Thelen) and Lump Projects are this insidious yet really quiet presence… Lump is always there but always presenting these really ahead-of-their time pairings and conversations and shows… I can’t say enough about Bill Thelen in terms of his influence on me and my wife and in general the whole artistic community of the Triangle that I aspire to be a part of.
I asked Haynes about the particularities of locating a practice in the South.
99% of my schoolmates here at Bard all live in the city — in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan. Since it’s such a tight-knit community, the question of why I don’t live in NY comes up constantly. It can sort of wear on you… it’s really in some ways a limiting question, a question whose very existence seems to sort of presuppose there’s something wrong with that! I try not to be defensive about it; quite the opposite, actually… my wife and I are kind of like the NC chamber of commerce; we’re constantly pumping it up and telling people why it’s so awesome to live there.
(Haynes is married to independent curator and art advisor Chloë Seymore, with whom he founded Branch Gallery in Carrboro in 2003).
Haynes grew up in North Carolina and spent formative years here playing in punk rock bands. Wanderlust took him to the Northeast, where he studied painting at RISD in the mid-nineties. Haynes returned to the Triangle briefly after graduating, about the same time Lump would open in Raleigh. Then, a musical opportunity he couldn’t decline came his way in 1999 when Les Savy Fav asked him to be their drummer. He joined the band in Brooklyn and ended up spending the next several years there. Eventually, he told me,
My wife and I started having this conversation about New York’s limitations in terms of quality of life, and we started talking about moving… North Carolina was a place I’d never lost touch with… I’d always been really close to my family, and friends had either come back or stayed there… The question became how to move back and still participate in the kind of artistic, creative community we’d had in NY. A big part of that was starting Branch Gallery —which was predominantly my wife’s project — in Carrboro.
Lump was an inspiration and guiding light for Haynes and Seymore as they moved towards opening their own space in North Carolina. “The idea that we could do something like I’d seen in Lump in 1997, something anomalous, had so much potential,” Haynes told Brian Howe in 2007. “We went by Lump and talked to Bill, and on that same trip we saw the building for sale on Weaver Street. It all came together in a month.”
The gallery project provided “the chassis or structure on which we were able to come back and start this project we felt was ambitious and creative… and a way we could find our footing in the community.” Branch, like Lump, focused on bringing forward-thinking work to NC, and frequently exhibiting the work of local artists alongside. In that interview with Howe in 2007 — a few years into the Branch project — Haynes reflected: “I have been really surprised by the willingness of artists to come somewhere this remote.…”Some people ask, ‘Why Durham?’ But I love that. I love the idea of this satellite community, and this whole area has such a strong foundation for fine contemporary art. I love saying, ‘Why not Durham?'”
When Haynes decided to return to school, he and Seymore had to reaffirm their choice to stay in Durham. Many of the same factors that brought them to North Carolina in 2003 convinced them this was still the right place to be. “It was an important milestone to make the decision to stay; though now that the gallery’s not there, there’s a new question of ‘what’s our role in NC, what’s our position…’” Addressing this is a point of emphasis for Haynes. He seems to be finding an answer in a renewed focus on his studio practice, which had been somewhat at odds with his involvement in the gallery through the mid-00s. He’s reacquainting himself with his peers on his own terms, and reconsidering his work in light of its relationship to the South.
“Interestingly enough, the subject matter of NC — particularly my pre-adult years and experiences — is really coming to the surface in a big way, but my approach feels different and freer, and seems to have more possibility to exist on it’s own… it’s not quite as nostalgic, specific and illustrative as my earlier work.” His new work explores an almost sculptural side to his photographic process based in observation of the component objects of his specific environs. In these new pieces, Haynes employs photographic prints “posing as artifacts” in abstract installation scenarios. When we spoke, he was visibly excited about the promise this direction seems to hold for a new manner of engagement with his music practice — a parallel track that has somehow tended to remain sequestered from Haynes’ visual work.
Haynes’s 2008 performance piece, LRLL RLRR, emerged from an earlier attempt to investigate the intersection of music and art. Compared to his new work, it perhaps reads as less personal, but I believe it reveals an important commonality between the two genres of practice.
LRLL RLRR incorporates an extended drum pattern played by Haynes and Casey Cook, who face each other in adjacent storefront windows, separated by two glass panes and a foyer. An accompanying list of twelve points describes the ideas on which the project is based. Among these, number three: “Music and art as social, collaborative practices rather than as solo practices.” This point could be a manifesto for many artists and musicians who choose to practice in the South — often as motivated by the broader agenda of supporting communal aesthetic experience as by more traditional, personal artistic concerns. The embrace of social, collaborative work by many artists here reflects an acknowledgment that the best way to cultivate the values we want to see and maintain in our growing community is to pool our efforts. The disavowal of commercial paradigms expressed and implied — and central to projects like Lump — turns out, then, to be both a matter of necessity and an affirmation, crucial to building and strengthening arts communities in the South.