by Ken Abbott
An exhibition of photographs and artwork about Asheville’s former Stockyards, site of the new New Belgium Brewing facility along the French Broad River, will open on January 15 at the Grove Arcade offices and gallery of the Asheville Area Arts Council. The exhibition will include photographs I made on the site in the late 2000s, as well as work by Lisa Smith and Elaine Bleakney, Zen Sutherland, and Rod Murphy. I wrote the following statement for the exhibition and thought I’d share it with you this month.
We know in life the only constant is change, but change is still an uncomfortable force for most of us. Even when change represents a clear improvement, as when an empty lot down the street becomes the site of a new house, or an outdated bridge is replaced with something solid and modern, it reminds us at a deep level that nothing is forever. Whether it is the mundane landscape of our daily commute or a treasured building at the center of important history, when these places disappear without a trace our sense of connection to community and place is lessened, and perhaps we are reminded also of the inevitability of our own passing.
Since its inception, photography has been valued for its ability to create lasting documents, preserving faces and facades for posterity. Photographs provide a kind of facsimile, and remind us for a while at least what a place was like and what it once might have meant. Despite this utility, photographs are deceivingly abstract, and are limited as factual documents (the world isn’t two-dimensional, doesn’t reside within a frame, and can be seen from many perspectives, not just the point of view captured by the camera’s lens). They are also unfailingly disappointing as recordings of experience (every tourist knows this). At the click of the shutter we are promised a kind of identity between the picture and the world, but the picture, with its own properties and inevitabilities, is never, of course, quite as good as the thing itself.
Yet there is sometimes great beauty and meaning in these new things, the photographs. The limitations and challenges of the medium, like the frame that defines a picture’s edge, can be seen as something like the rules of a game, the more satisfying for their complexity. Ultimately, it is the variety in artists’ strategies for overcoming these limitations that drive the medium’s power as an art form, and in this exhibition several of these strategies are represented.
My goal in the exhibition is to celebrate and preserve Asheville’s Stockyards and the people and places that once gave it meaning, while recognizing the artists’ compulsion to find meaning and beauty in the change and loss of its passing.
The exhibit, “Brownfields to Brewery: Asheville’s Stockyards,” will open with a reception on February 5, 5–8 pm, as part of the First Friday series, and will run through February 20, Monday through Saturday 10 am–6 pm, in the gallery at the Grove Arcade, 1 Page Avenue in Asheville. For more information please contact the Asheville Area Arts Council; visit their website ashevillearts.com, call 258-0710, or visit ashevilledowntowngalleries.org.
Ken Abbott received his MFA in photography from Yale in 1987, and received a North Carolina Arts Council Fellowship Award for his photography at Hickory Nut Gap Farm in 2006. Reach Ken via kenabbottphoto.com.