Visiting artist explores health,’ localism and community

by Jordan Green


The last artist to work in the third-floor bathroom at Elsewhere decided to collect every bit of dust in the building and gather it there. So after an orientation that included learning the history of the thrift store once owned by Sylvia Gray and the parameters of the current enterprise — no item can be brought in or taken out — Guadalupe Martinez took a first natural step: four days of cleaning.

The Vancouver-based artist embraced a concept 180 degrees from the bathroom’s current “dark and morbid” state: “something light and lively.” She settled on the idea of an apothecary, a word that describes a 19th century analog to the modern pharmacy. Martinez’ project is more like a storehouse of cures.

“A lot of what Elsewhere is about is going back to local culture instead of big institutions and big industries, not to replace them, but to provide some kind of resistance and alternative. Pharma — how do you say it? — is so huge. A lot of other projects that are happening in Vancouver, where I live, are about preserving values that are slowly fading away.”

Martinez sipped sage orange ginger water at a station near the kitchen in the back of Elsewhere as visitors streamed through the building for the monthly downtown gallery hop that is First Friday in Greensboro. She approached curiosity seekers and asked them to write down recipes of home remedies on slips of paper.

“It’s a very passive culture,” she said. “Everything is geared towards receiving sensory information. Some people need a little more of a push to feel motivated to engage.”

Being that the bathroom project was not yet executed, Martinez had created an installation near the kitchen. A tattered paperback of 1970s vintage entitled Eat the Weeds: A Fascinating Guide to’ Sources of Free, Flavorful , Delicious Food lay on a countertop. A shelf held a pipe-tobacco tin, a bird in a jar of clear liquid — presumably vodka — with a note attached explaining that the bird was discovered dead on the third floor in the summer of 2005, and, inexplicably, a dead baby shark, also in a jar with preservative. The assemblage also included a sprig of mint in a small jar and piece of snake skin in a battered mess kit.

Martinez’s solicitation for home remedies demonstrated that, indeed, individual experience and family heritage is a storehouse of unique knowledge and imagination. One person wrote, “Bourbon for cramps.” Another conveyed a grandmother’s technique for removing a splinter: Eat a banana and wrap the peel around the affected area overnight. More poetic was a glass vessel of sand from Wrightsville Beach that was described as a cure for loneliness.

That in a microcosm more or less encapsulates the Elsewhere experience: seemingly random on the surface, fascinating in its details, begging for interaction and suggestive of alternate possibilities.

A large television box containing a manual typewriter, a painting and shelves of books also captures the idea.

It was First Friday, and the night beckoned. A warm drizzle, accompanied by occasional lightning, came on like more of a warm bath than a deterrent. Two Elsewhere associates pedaled a surrey to transport people to Beloved Community Center about a block away. Elsewhere had teamed up with Face to Face and the community center to host a party with free music and hot dogs in the parking lot. As if to underscore the promise of new and strengthened community bonds and to provide a grace note for the oppressive heat, a rainbow framed the brick edifice of the community center as one walked eastward on Martin Luther King Drive.