Visual Arts

The 337 Project Rises Again: Afterimage & Present Tense @ the SL Art Center

by Beryl Kosta

The 337 Project was, without question, one of the most exciting visual arts events of 2007. Bringing together one abandoned building, 150 Utah artists and 10,000 visitors over its brief six-day life, the 337 Project demonstrated not only the great talent in the Utah arts scene, but also revealed the existence of a population here so desperate for a new kind of artistic experience that many visitors were willing stand in line for up to four hours just to get in.

When the 337 Project closed its doors after its six-day run, the building went dark, the artists dispersed, and the audience went home. For the last year, as the structure at 337 South 400 East first gathered dust and was later demolished, it has remained an open question whether the 337 Project would turn out to be a memorable one-off event, or a catalyst for something more enduring. That question has now been answered, at least in part, by two upcoming events arising directly from the 337 Project.

The first event is the release of the documentary film Afterimage: The Art of 337 by Alex Haworth and Davey Davis of The Dada Factory. Haworth and Davis joined the 337 Project in its inception and therefore had unparalleled access to the artists and organizers even while the project was itself unfolding. The scope of the documentary reflects this access, following the growth of the community that coalesced around the project, as well as the transformation of the building from its earliest days through its destruction.

Ephemeral art is at least as old as the sand mandalas of Tibetan Buddhism, extraordinarily elaborate patterns and images, created over a period of days from nothing but poured sand, and then ritually destroyed after a single viewing. The lesson of the sand mandala—that life is transitory—lies at the core of Buddhist teaching and also at the heart of the 337 Project. The documentary carefully explores the varied responses to the ultimate destruction of the art, contrasting the artists, who expected, and even desired, the end of their own creations, with visitors from the community, for whom learning of the planned demolition was most often a source of shock, disappointment, and dismay.

For those community members who had trouble letting go of the 337 Project, as well as for those who never saw it, the excellent documentary by Haworth and Davis does the trick. The dictionary defines “afterimage” to mean “a visual image or other sense impression that persists after the stimulus that caused it is no longer operative,” and that is precisely the result Haworth and Davis achieve now that the building itself is gone. The documentary, which serves as the definitive record of the 337 Project, includes extensive interviews with the organizers of the event, the participating artists, members of the community, and pundits, each of whom provide a different take on the ultimate meaning of the 337 Project.

The undoubted climax of the film, however, is a 10-minute montage of images from the building, filmed beautifully in high-definition just after the show closed for good. Devoid of any human presence or narrative explanation, the images from this sequence are especially haunting because of the knowledge that the original art will never be seen again.

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The second event inspired by the old building is Present Tense: A Post 337 Project, a new show opening at the Salt Lake Art Center on the evening of June 20 and running until September 27, 2008. The show features 25 local artists from the original 337 Project who have created new works that explore their experiences at that building while also taking a wonderful leap toward the future. On opening night, a shuttle bus will run nonstop between Nobrow Coffee and Tea Co. (315 E. 300 S.) and the Art Center every 10 minutes for those who prefer not to walk from other Gallery Stroll events. The five monitors on the shuttle bus will show Afterimage: The Art of 337 on a continuous loop, both for the Art Center-bound who want to get excited about what they will soon see, and the Nobrow-bound who want to reflect on what they have just left behind.

The world premiere of Afterimage: The Art of 337 will be at the Salt Lake Art Center on Friday, June 13 at 7:30 p.m. Afterimage will be shown there again on July 11, August 8, and September 12 at 7:30 p.m., and on June 21, July 19, August 16, and September 20 at 4:00 p.m. DVDs of the documentary, which will include bonus footage of the art, will be available for sale at the Salt Lake Art Center and other local merchants for $15.00, a portion of which will be donated to the 337 Project to fund future artistic endeavors.

A short segment from the documentary Afterimage: The Art of 337

Categories: Visual Arts

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