Twice as Strong
WUTK 90.3 FM has been on the air a little more than 25 years. General director Benny Smith wanted to do something special to celebrate the station's quarter-century anniversary in 2007, but it took a little longer than he anticipated. It's coming soon, though: the local compilation CD Re-Distilled, which features 17 covers of local songs from the last two and a half decades by some of the city's biggest contemporary acts as well as a few old-timers, will be released on April 15.
The bands and performers covered on Re-Distilled range from the obscure (Roger Smith, whose "This World Is Run by Weasels" is sung by R.B. Morris) to the wildly popular (the V-Roys' "Goodnight Loser," recorded by Angel and the Love Mongers, and Superdrag's "In the Valley of Dying Stars," by Stewart Pack). Some of the pioneers of Knoxville's music scene—Teenage Love, Balboa, Sea 7 States, Smokin' Dave and the Premo Dopes—are featured, as are bands from the heady days of the 1990s (Taoist Cowboys, 1-900s, the Judybats, 30 Amp Fuse, Dim Kitchen). Morris, Superdrag, Todd Steed, former V-Roys Mic Harrison and Scott Miller, Tim Lee, and former Judybats frontman Jeff Heiskell appear on both sides, with new performances and songs of their own covered by new bands.
Re-Distilled will serve as a fund-raiser for the station, which receives no financial support from the university. Smith urges fans not to burn copies of the compilation, since proceeds go to WUTK.
"It's a way to put something in people's hands for the money they put in our gift fund," Smith says. "This is what they call in public radio a premium. It's a document of a lot of history and what's been on the air for a lot of those years. But the number one objective is to raise money for the station. It's been a tough semester for us."
WUTK is also planning an all-ages benefit concert at the Valarium, with as many of the artists from the disc as possible, on June 27. (Matthew Everett)
A soft-spoken woman crouching behind a desk—maybe with a potted plant, maybe without—quietly punching away at her computer keyboard for a few hours over three consecutive nights. That, if you'll bear with us for an explanation, is going to be one of the more interesting events going on this weekend, a First Friday weekend no less.
The woman, Chicago-based arts critic Lori Waxman. will be offering her services up to Knoxville artists seeking reviews of their work, beginning Friday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Art Gallery of Knoxville and continuing at the Birdhouse on Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. and A1 Lab Art on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
In a program called the 60 Wrd/min Art Critic, Waxman, a freelance writer for such erudite, internationally-read and non-Knoxville-based publications as ArtForum, Parachute, and Modern Painter, takes artists' submissions—live and in person only—and gives herself 20 minutes to look them over and write out a succinct, but serious, review. 60 Wrd/min started in 2005. Waxman had already been reviewing art for the better part of a decade—first at F News Magazine, the student-run magazine at the Art Institute of Chicago, and then professionally.
"When you do something for so long, you eventually become sort of self-critical as you get better and better at it," Waxman says. "You start trying to make it more difficult. You start asking, ‘What is the purpose of this? Why do I do this? What good does this do? What bad does this do? What are its limitations?'"
One of the limitations of criticism, she realized, is the relative anonymity, and thus the safety, afforded the critic. In practicing his or her craft, the reviewer, as opposed to the artist being reviewed, doesn't risk a whole lot. In her introductory statement, Waxman says the short art review is many things: "at once a challenge, an insult, a record and a piece of advertising." And in responding to it, the 60 Wrd/min Art Critic is a mixture of serious criticism and consciously self-parodying performance art.
"The project sort of evolved as an experimental way for me to turn the tables on myself as a critic," Waxman says. "It exposes me to the type of critique that artists expose themselves to, but it also turns the tables because I don't get to pick what I review."
It's a shift in the power dynamic, she says, from critic to artist. Artists can filter out everything but their best work, and, hopefully, come out with a good review from a well-known critic, which can be essential in getting exhibitions. "Reviews are legitimizing," Waxman says.
Having never performed anything before, she says that when she first did the show, she "kind of freaked out."
"I felt like, ‘Oh, my God, I'm being completely exposed here and what if I've offended these people? They're right here,'" she says.
Waxman, a doctoral candidate at New York University's Institute for Fine Arts, has performed the 60 Wrd/min Art Critic at the DUMBO Art Festival and the P.S. 1 performance space in New York and has had excerpts published in The Believer magazine. It was during a performance last year at the Mess Hall in Chicago that Art Gallery of Knoxville director Chris Molinsky caught on to the project and began lobbying Waxman for a Knoxville appearance. Molinsky says he sees the performance as a way to galvanize the arts community in Knoxville.
"This sort of thing helps motivate action downtown," Molinsky says. "That was the real motivation to get Lori to do this."
For Waxman's part, she says she has no idea what to expect from the city's artists. She expects to see a wide range, though. She and Molinsky have already fielded dozens of calls for appointments.
"I have to admit, I've never even been in the state of Tennessee," she says. "But that's part of the fun, isn't it?"
Waxman and Molinsky are no longer accepting appointments for the 60 Wrd/min art critic, but walk-ins are allowed. Waxman reviews work in all media, including time-based art like video and live performance pieces, provided they fit into the 20 minutes alloted. Artwork that requires Internet access will not be considered for review. (Charles Maldonado)