BAD WATER & Anna Buckner's "Love Letters" [Review]





Image Courtesy of BAD WATER. February, 2019.

by Brianna Bass

BAD WATER, one of Knoxville’s newest galleries, opened during the Fall of 2018. It has wasted no time in advancing the Southeastern conversation of interesting, developed contemporary art. The gallery is run by Marla Sweitzer and Kelsey Conley, both artists and graduate students at the University of Tennessee. Sweitzer & Conley chose their home at 320 East Churchwell Avenue specifically for its large backyard shed, which they note is one of many viable potential venues in the area. They are inspired by other thriving art communities where artist-run galleries operate in abundance from sheds and apartments. They got to work renovating: sealing cracks, installing lights, ripping out shelves, and painting the walls.

Anna Buckner’s “Love Letters” at BAD WATER in February, 2019. Image courtesy of BAD WATER.

The result is a beautifully minimal and clean outdoor gallery, with white wooden walls and a versatile earthen floor (in their first show with Coleen Billing, they buried a humidifier in the dirt to create a steaming grate. No physical evidence of this magic remains today). BAD WATER is perfectly sized for exhibiting solo shows. The power in small exhibitions is that the utterance of a full thesis is contained within the bodies of just a few pieces. There isn't room for filler and fanfare. The idea is enclosed; you can both step inside of it, and turn it over in your hands. The BAD WATER aesthetic, according to its curators, is based on the space itself. They seek work that communicates with the scale and features of the gallery. Marla Sweitzer is a painter and Kelsey Conley is a sculptor, so they consistently choose work which hovers between those worlds, successfully blending elements of both.

Anna Buckner’s “Love Letters” at BAD WATER in February, 2019. Image courtesy of BAD WATER.

Anna Buckner’s Love Letters (February 2019), is a perfect example of the relationship brought to life by the dialogue between a show and its matrix. Her paintings are sewn together like quilts, and areas are selectively brushed with paint. They are made from clothing she accumulated over a period of time from her loved ones. The works’ textures abut and shift abruptly, yet are so delicate and deliberately composed. The lines bow to trace the movements made when stretching the compositions to their frames, giving testimony to the sturdiness or yield of each constituent. Bent and sinuous seams speak directly to the warping oddities in the gallery’s architecture: the wooden stage that lifts up in the center, the bricks of the foundation that seem to undulate slightly. The distinctive vertical and horizontal lines in the wood mirror the stacking, (almost)angular forms of Buckner’s paintings. Her works have a worn-in feeling that perfectly matches the space. As the pieces themselves are accumulations of lived-in and loved belongings, it could be said that both art and gallery inherently have a soul. Both have been restructured and sublimated by intention. The harmony between space and work is deepened by Buckner’s statement that her great-great-grandfather built a similar structure to this, giving the viewer the feeling that rather than being on display, the work is at home.

Spaces like BAD WATER are critically important because they tap directly into the heartbeat of a community’s creative drive. They both formalize and humble the experience of contemporary art. They add variety to the up-and-coming aesthetic particular to each community. They bring in artists from all over the country, and elevate artists in the Southeast. BAD WATER is certainly doing their part to reiterate Knoxville’s place on the stage of contemporary art in Tennessee.

BAD WATER is located at 320 East Churchwell Avenue in Knoxville, Tennessee. Stay tuned to their schedule via Instagram and their website. They have openings on First Fridays, but if you miss an opening, you can make an appointment to see the work. Curators Marla Sweitzer and Kelsey Conley hand-select the work, and design their program via their own research into the national contemporary art community. Though they do not currently have a system for receiving applications, artists are welcome to reach out to them by email.


& Anna Buckner: