Art: The Quiet Agitator

Terence Hammonds unleashes a Quiet Riot at Clay Street Press

Jared M. Holder

Terence Hammond's "Get Up on the Down Stroke, I & II."

Terence Hammonds is a mild-mannered 30-year-old artist whose work isn't nearly as meek as he is. his' prints, drawings and objects, now on view at the Clay Street Press (1312 Clay St., Over-the-Rhine), beg for the return of belief, power, fearlessness and all else that has gone missing in the ongoing fight for civil liberty.

His solo exhibition is a kind of dance back into time. Hammonds was not yet born when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April of 1968. Nor was he alive for the astounding James Brown concert that took place in Boston the following evening, which was televised on PBS channels across the country.

That apparent anachronism is irrelevant. The gallery is flooded with the sounds of the James Brown concert, the cry for peace and the promise to live Dr. King's legacy. The music is soulful and sad, but also "soothing and joyful," says Hammonds, as it streams from a vintage black-and-white TV set atop an antique cabinet. An ingenious corruption of Russell Wright dinner plates surrounds the TV, and all together makes up the titular work, "The Quiet Riot".

Corruption is a carefully chosen word. Hammonds took these plates and others — as in his 2003-2006 piece "B-Boys Breakdown"— and used a delicate silkscreen printing process to transform the bland dinner plates into visions of rioting, civil disobedience and peace.

Hammonds culled his images mostly from old issues of The Cincinnati Enquirer, which he found at the Historical Society. Hammonds remembers overhearing a duo of older ladies, looking at his work in Philadelphia, horrified that any artist would "ruin" such beautiful china.

It's striking that the imagery comes from our own neighborhoods: the black-and-white pictures of rioters clashing with police in Avondale around the time of King's death show so much "conviction that is lacking in our current culture," says Hammonds. It's true — we fight for different things now, and less convincingly.

The 1960s conviction that has impressed Hammonds so much is especially evident in the images he chose for his two low, table-top-sized dance floors, "Get Up on the Down Stroke, I & II." More pictures of civil rights riots, and a beautifully brave one — a little boy, unarmed, pushing away the face of a white police officer who is clad in riot gear and carrying a large gun.

As in "The Quiet Riot", music and the fight for civil rights go together on the dance floors. It's not a simple connection, but it's a profound one. According to Hammonds, the dance floor is a place for cultural exchange. Soul and Funk music gave people a place to "go crazy," to burn off inequality — the dance floor. And the dance floor allowed all kinds of people to come together, to create a new culture.

To Hammonds, the late 1960s is a mythical time. People believed in the power of change, and they used any means necessary to achieve it. It's obvious, though, that the artist likes the peaceful kind of riot, the quiet riot of James Brown's Boston concert, as opposed to the violence that occurred in almost every other U.S. city that day. Grade: A

QUIET RIOT continues at Clay Street Press Gallery thyrough Aug. 18

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