“What kind of nobody are you, anyway?”
It’s a rhetorical question asked by Roberto Bolaño’s narrator (also partly Bolaño), in his short story “The Vagaries of the Literature of Doom,” an acid-tongued analysis of the developments of Argentinian literature since Borges’ death. Bolaño loves to create literary lineages in his fictional work, to erect historical frameworks — the better and more fun it is to then dismantle them. But there’s always an undercurrent of loving, teasing attention to these writers’ work and the framework they inhabit. His provocation, to other writers certainly, but to the reader too, is a darkly playful one: everyone in literature is a nobody, some more so than others, and a lot of nobodies together creates a literary history. A spacious paradox, you could say. A smiling ouroboros. To write is to be a nobody is to belong to a community of nobodies making great things.
I’m talking about GEORGIA Art Space, a one-weekend-only pop-up gallery inside of Sommer Browning’s detached garage. A few miles away sat the recreated contents of her garage in the established gallery Counterpath, formerly a garage.
Gallery, garage. Both start with g’s. One is a dactyl, one is an iamb. One is a centuries-old word conveying a “covered space for walking in,” the other a twentieth-century word conveying a covered space for the storage of cars. Browning moved her car out of the space meant for it and filled it instead with art and, on Friday night at least, a bunch of poets and writers and artists and musicians and the collages of Joshua Ware. There was wine, casual conversation, and live, ethereal music emanating from the keyboards and organs and electronic wizardry of Path of Totality. The two spaces also featured livestreams of each other, a simultaneous reveal of what the other space currently is (and was, and will be again). Over at Counterpath, the gallery was filled with the stuff that previously filled her garage. From garage to gallery to art, an ouroboros that describes both GEORGIA and Counterpath.
Like a garage with no car, and an art gallery full of garage junk, this ouroboros is slightly subverted: it’s finite, having already ended after only one weekend.
That’s not really enough time for a lot of people to enjoy “Future Bodies,” the collection of Joshua Ware’s collages and mixed media canvases, which is a shame, because they’re striking, deft mashups of bright color field backgrounds and ridiculous images and dynamic typography, all of which seem, like their Dada ancestors, to be working together towards building an absurd, conceptual house (or garage, perhaps?) with impeccable architectural taste and materials. The mixed-media canvases, which feature thick, feverishly worked globs of acrylic paint inhabiting intense planes of color intersected with sharp lines of boldly painted wood resemble a fusion of Alberto Burri’s Arte Povera canvases and Carmen Herrera’s piercing geometries.
One weekend: that’s not really enough time to woo collectors, either. Or to bring in art consultants or interior designers looking to acquire some local art for their clients. Or even to launch a social media stab at branding.
All of which is to say, GEORGIA and by extension Sommer Browning, seem to be poking around in the weeds of Denver, creating a space for art to briefly exist before that existence fully coheres. There was no bold sans-serif wayfinding to the bar, just your BYOB house party instincts to head to the kitchen for a wine opener, no white gallery space, just a domestic space shared with friends and strangers and art alike. It was too dark to see, but I bet there were some actual weeds around too.
Browning probably isn’t working against a constructed history of Denver’s art scene, or against the current art landscape. The GEORGIA space doesn’t necessarily need to work against such a construction, but rather fill in some cracks that are overlooked by established organizations, something artist Derrick Velasquez is already doing with his basement gallery, and something artist Jonathan Saiz is doing at LEON with its accessible collecting program, SO WRONG IT’S SO RIGHT. The garage as community art space is a step beyond the creative work many artists and writers and musicians already do in their own garages, but it cautiously steps short of the complex web of city codes, sponsors, marketing, and nonprofit rigmarole a more “established” space must navigate. For now, GEORGIA can be a shared domestic space temporarily inhabited by creators of all types, dust and boxed wine and experimental music and all. It will be a difficult balancing act; there may not be a lot of money at stake, but as any organizer knows, it costs a lot of time and energy to produce such collaborations.
The poet Charles Bernstein once advised students that one of the most important tasks of being a poet is to limit one’s capital losses. As he pointed out, this is difficult: a piece of paper has capital value, but write a poem on it and it’s worthless. GEORGIA isn’t a poem, but Browning is a poet (in addition to being a comedian and, heeding Bernstein’s advice, a librarian by day) and it will be exciting to see going forward how such an endeavor balances the casual but vibrant feel of a pop-up art space with the codified limitations (and privileges) of a pop-up art space that keeps happening. Because to continue to temporarily exist is to inhabit a paradox, to maintain an unsustainable tension between existence and non-existence.
It’s a pressure many small presses and independent art spaces and bands and artists surely know well, that to simply continue making things requires a certain growth, that to simply exist is to continue to exist in different and bigger and better ways. The snake eating its own tail. You’re a nobody and then you’re something more and soon you’re both far away from where you started and right where you began. Sometimes it’s where you want to be, and sometimes it isn’t.
Bolaño’s “nobodies” are just that, and anything but, and everything in between.
I don’t know what or where GEORGIA wants to be, but somewhere in that garage to gallery to garage loop is a community of nobodies making great things thanks to Browning.
What kind of nobody are you, anyway?