by Blair Le Blanc
Founded in 2016 by artist and curator, Dianna Settles, Hi-Lo Press is the heart of culture for artists in the city of Atlanta, Georgia. The gallery started out as a space for Settles to house her printing press and business, but has transformed into a revolutionary experimental center run by a cohort of Atlanta creatives. Together they host an exciting schedule of events including exhibitions, potlucks, screenings, open mics, and parties. Now celebrating over five years, Hi-Lo Press has cemented their reputation in the Atlanta art scene.
Follow @hilopress on Instagram for their latest programming and publications.
What’s the origin story of Hi-Lo and what is its future?
Hi-Lo was started in January of 2016. I took over the building that had housed Beep Beep Gallery for the previous 10 years. Initially I was just looking for a place to keep my presses with an idea to do commercial work to pay its rent. The luck of moving into the former Beep Beep spot made me want to continue for that address to be a place for people to look at art and share ideas. Pretty quickly on I realized the commercial work was uninteresting and unfulfilling, so I started to phase it out. The art shows and workshops felt best. With the ever-shrinking amount of spaces in Atlanta to experiment, share knowledge, and commune together, it felt important for as many things to happen there as possible and for as many people to feel a claim to that space. Friendships born out of Hi-Lo have made for countless collaborations. There have been poetry open mics and readings, potlucks, perfumery workshops, drag drawing classes, film screenings, parties, and more. At the start of the uprisings last summer, we started weekly outdoor screenings of revolutionary Black cinema.
We were informed that our lease would not be renewed this past January after 5 years likely because of our efforts to organize a rent strike with the other tenants on the block. For three months following we were granted use of a house in the neighborhood to host a few shows in. We’ve been figuring out how to hold events again safely and have been putting a lot of energy into publishing. We are currently formatting the third issue of our poetry quarterly, Spoil and are plotting more art shows and programming without a brick-and-mortar location.
Much of what I see at Hi – Lo reminds me of the dreamy, nature, collage work that came out of Black Mountain College. What influence, if any, has the experimental school had on your gallery?
I love learning about things that took place at Black Mountain College. Considering that students were in charge of determining their own timeline for study and often opted to continue working on creating work and happenings together rather than graduate, it seems safe to assume that people participating enjoyed what they were doing and what they were engaging in. I want for people to feel like the time they spend at Hi-Lo events and reading the material we publish feels similarly substantial and pleasurable. Something that makes people continue to choose to show up. To grapple together with material that doesn’t necessarily avoid the ways that the world around us is brutal and isolating, but to recognize that reality together and identify how much more important that makes things like finding affinity with others and building interdependence. BMC also seems like they were often low on money and managed to do a lot of important things so that feels relatable.
And which art movements are you inspired by? How does your artistic practice link with your curatorial work?
I like realism, I like surrealism, I like fauvism. I like the Taller de Gráfica Popular, WPA murals, the Situationists International, The Mission School, The Shakers. I feel like I could find inspiration in most art movements – and most things for that matter – if I spend enough time learning about it. I like learning and thinking about the sorts of kinship that artists built with one another. One of the most valuable things I got in school was feeling like part of a group of people materially invested in teasing out the things that are latent within us, making our own and each other’s work stronger. I think that everything that we do informs everything else that we do, so sure, my artistic practice feels linked to curatorial work. I think that dedicating time to your own work helps you take others’ endeavors more seriously and helps you become more considerate. The past several months hi-lo has felt much more collective with the collaboration of Keelan O’Sullivan, Sophie Whittemore, Yoon Nam, Malik Jalal, and Steffen Sornpao. It’s a blessing to have these friends whose thoughts and opinions I esteem and respect so highly to flesh out details and plan with.
How do you approach your exhibitions? How has that changed since Hi – Lo was founded?
I feel like each exhibition has been different so there isn’t necessarily anything that formulaic. I’ve learned so much from every artist who has shown work with Hi-Lo and that each collaboration helps shape the ones that follow. It’s felt really incredible to talk through the installation of the work and the feelings that that creates. More minds make more interesting and dynamic ways of doing things.
What do you hope Hi – Lo contributes to the world?
In Atlanta, I want for Hi-Lo to provide people with a means of tangible, thoughtful engagement. I want for people to feel ownership over a city that we are increasingly denied access to, to refuse isolation and to build relationships, to exchange thoughts, share skills, look at good art together, watch good films together, and be together. Beyond Atlanta, I want for Hi-Lo to contribute by encouraging others to also make things happen together.
Why do you think artists should make art in 2021?
I think that the world can feel unbearably bleak. Artists help materialize alternatives to the despair. To understand that things can be terrible and still believe that it’s important to make art and to spend time making things beautiful and joyous and silly is one of the things that keeps me from lying down on the ground and not getting up. Not living seems a lot easier than everything required to be alive, so working towards not just surviving but carving out a life worth living feels subversive and important.
And finally, given unlimited resources, what would Hi-Lo do with them?
Blair LeBlanc (b. Atlanta, GA 1994) is an American artist living between New York City and Atlanta, Georgia. Her first solo painting exhibition (September – October 2020. Athens, GA) marked both her transition from photography and her homecoming from a year living in New York City. Recently, her photography landed in international press including Artforum and ARTnews in January 2020. Her next exhibition opens at Guggenheim fellow Craig Drennen’s The End, in 2022.