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For A Limited Time Only
The Tennessean, July 13, 2003

For centuries, serious artists have sought to create works that withstand the ravages of time. It's there stab at immortality, their shot at being remembered beyond their own death. Jim Haynes, a former Nashvillian now living in San Francisco, is a serious artist, and certainly an ambitious one. But he's interested less in making things last than in staging their deacy. He isn't even concerned about his work lasting forever, preferring instead that it be "completely obliterated" within his own lifetime.

With Magnetic North, an installation now on view at The 12th and Demonbreun Building, Haynes seeks to give visual and aural form to the natural process of decay. "My interest in decay is based on how life progresses, and that there is a birth and a death to everything," says Haynes, a 31-year-old Nashville native who graduated from Montgomery Bell Academy before going to Oberlin College. "That is how I view the world."

In the making for 18 months, Haynes' project begins with 99 photographs gathered and organized into four grids. Though the artist believes the subject of the images isn't particularly important, they were taken, for the record, at a New Mexico radio relay station; looking overhead, during a visit to Seattle, at telephone wires and the vapor trails of jets; and in Barcelona, Spain, where Haynes shot an image of TV antennae on the rooftops and a massive "circular structure" that Haynes says looks like part of a circus tent.

To these images, which are mounted to the wall, Haynes has applied a chemical mixture that begins to degrade what was originally visible on the fiber-based paper. Depending on the amount he applies and the length of time the images have been exposed, the photographs begin to take on different appearances in ways that Haynes himself can't precisely direct.

Also in Magnetic North, Haynes uses an eight-channel sound system that broadcasts the sounds of shortwave radio and various electronic disturbances, with very little thatc an be understood as traditional, decipherable communication. Is this the sound of decay? "Maybe," says Haynes, a connoisseur of alternative music who writes free-lance pieces for various publications.

A critical point here is that Haynes, who earned his master's degree from the San Francisco Art Institute, does not wish to convey any particular message: "I don't care for didactic work," he says. This artist for one, is not making a political statement about environmental pollution, not making a case for renewed spirituality out of the detritus of modern life. "I have created these things that reference decay, then I leave at that and don't force the issue too much. One of the problems with contemporary art in general is that you feel you need to have this broad knowledge of art history to understand what it's all about. Maybe you don't need that. The more untrained interpretations are, the more interesting they become than the trained ones, because they are more raw and immediate."

Ultimately, Haynes says, he thinks his work has an upbeat "benevolent" message touching on the cycle of life and death. That's not to say, though, that he overlooks the melancholy quality of the piece. "Darker themes are part of the natural world and part of the emotions intrinsic to the human experience," he says. "But I don't think that my goal is to build this dark, oppresive type of environment, but to allow these things to speak without the intrinsic threats that some people see in decay and rust."

To help this exchange between artist and audience take place, Haynes says, he feels it's essential to keep the viewer in place longer than the usual 8-15 seconds that some studies have shown people spend looking at artwork. "I'm really hoping the subtleties of the sound will capture and seduce the audience into stopping and listening. The act of listening is something that requires a longer period of time to understand."

Haynes' Magnetic North is the second installment in the Art on the Edge series launched earlier this year by Zeitgeist gallery. The point of the series, says Zeitgeist curator and artist Lain York, is to shake up the traditional gallery show and help put before the public work we otherwise wouldn't see. That means work that doesn't fit usual gallery requirements for such reasons as size, unorthodox medium or conceptual difficulty.

But this is work that still needs a home, York says, and the idea came up to place the work in different, more or less unexpected spaces, such as a section of the third floor of The 12th and Demonbreun Building. The developers of that building, as well as Manuel Zeitlin Architects, whose offices are home to the Zeitgeist gallery in Hillsboro Village, have supported the effort.

York's own vision is for a new arts district in or near The Gulch section of downtown. The district could take advantage of many existing buildings with wide-open spaces perfect for stylish artwork. As for the Haynes work, York says he's a big fan. "As an artist, I love it. He's trying to quantify something you can't quantify. It's reaching beyond language, and I think that's what we do as artists."