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'It Decays And Renews': 'TOOO' Is An Outdoor Art Exhibit That's Not Meant To Last Forever

Northern-Southern Gallery

In early February, Northern-Southern Gallery presented the first iteration of the outdoor art exhibition TO, with the works of over a dozen artists scattered around town for people to seek out and/or discover on their own. “Then the ice storm hit,” says exhibition organizer Phillip Niemeyer. “And the show was kind of derailed. And a lot of artists asked, ‘hey, can we continue it?’ But by that time, some of the work had already decayed, so we did a second iteration, TOO (with two O’s), to add extra work in order to make up for the work that had decayed. And it opened a door to TOOO, which is a complete replacement of the entire show that was originally TO.”

The current version of the ongoing-but-ever-changing outdoor show opened on April 10, and Northern-Southern says the show will be an “active concern” until May 5; after that, according to their press release, “some pieces will renew or repeat, some will endure, others will degrade.” People who want to view TOOO in person can subscribe on the Northern-Southern website to receive a map to the works.

“And you’ll look for artwork that could be staged in some scrubby land by the side of a bike path, or down a trail, or in a hidden cove in a neighborhood,” Niemeyer says. “And that experience of searching for that work can be just as beautiful as finding the work itself.”

The idea that some of the works could and will decay with time and exposure to the elements is a key component to the exhibition, Niemeyer says. “The TOOO series doesn’t close. It doesn’t stop. It decays and renews. The metaphor of the TOOO series, where we had an opening of a certain group of work that’s all decayed and all kind of faded, and then within the same show a new batch replaces it – options reappear where other options had faded – that’s a beautiful metaphor,” Niemeyer says. “I think it’s instructive to think about. At least it was for me.”

Laura Latimer was one of the artists in the original version of TO, and she’s created new works for TOOO. “My piece was starting to decay – it was being affected by the weather pretty dramatically,” she says. “So I disassembled it and then now have created a new work that I just installed this morning, in fact. I’m always kind of interested in this idea of the manmade and how the manmade may end up becoming a foundation for nature at some future point. So I’ve taken salvaged materials that I’ve found around town… construction fencing and things like that, and then I’ve created these organic forms out of these materials and then I’ve installed them back onto a utility pole.”

“I was super excited when Phillip invited me to join the most recent TOOO series, because my work’s very much rooted in place,” says artist Cheyenne Weaver. “With this recent work, I’ve been looking at the city’s Confederate memorials in the form of street names, to take on as a site for making work. So part of the work I’m doing is a petition to rename Confederate Street to Mayes Street [for Maggie Mayes, who opened a school in her home in the early days of the Clarksville neighborhood].”

In addition to the (hopeful) street name change, Weaver has also left some physical artwork in the area. “I’m placing work in the wooded area sort of behind the dead-end of Confederate Street,” she says. “My work always integrates natural materials into it, and so for this I’ve used lime whitewash from local limestone and charcoal that I found in the firepit of an abandoned encampment area. And so those materials will wash off over time but I’ll be visiting here and there to kind of change and iterate on the site.”

Jesse Cline, an artist and designer, is making his TOOO debut with this current version of the show. “I have made a kind of mutated windmill. Basically my propellers are hanging in a tree off of a creek off of Cherrywood and 40th Street… kind of fighting each other for space” he says. “And it’s loosely kind of conceptually oriented around want versus need, and I think this comes back to where we’re all at psychically at the end of these pandemic times, where we have multiple desires kind of pulling us in opposite directions.”

The works of Cline, Weaver, Latimer, and several other local artists will be refreshed and maintained for a little while, and then they may decay and disappear and they may be replaced by something else. Is there another iteration of the show – this time called TOOOO, with four O’s – on the horizon? “Maybe,” says Niemeyer with a hearty laugh. “It could happen. TOOO might be a good place to stop, but it might continue being a thing. Who knows? Maybe we’ll have to use exponents for future versions! We’ll have to use commas.”

More information (and subscription links) is available at the Northern-Southern website.

Mike is the production director at KUT, where he’s been working since his days as an English major at the University of Texas. He produces Arts Eclectic, Get Involved, and the Sonic ID project, and also produces videos and cartoons for When pressed to do so, he’ll write short paragraphs about himself in the third person, but usually prefers not to.
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