What is Speleogen?

A collaborative artmaking venture that teams artists working in different media (photography, music, writing, video) to produce a suite of interrelated pieces that have been provoked by encounters with the natural environment.

Speleogen focuses specifically on the morphology and biodiversity of caves and the activities and histories of caving, especially in and around the mountains of North Georgia.

What does the term ‘speleogen’ mean?

Speleogen is a type of cave formation that results from the removal of bedrock. It is an umbrella term that encompasses a number of different kinds of formations.

We chose the term as our title because it was mysterious and beautiful, and because something about the arrangement of the letters was pleasing both to the tongue and to the eye.

Metaphorically, it seems appropriate to our aims. Our project is an umbrella work all its own, encompassing different media that interact together. Although they may look and behave differently they all result from similar processes and pressures.

Where did the idea for Speleogen come from?

Speleogen is a team effort at its core, but Devin was responsible for catalyzing the group’s activities. Devin has always been drawn to the challenges and rewards of collaborative work. But after spending time ruminating about John Cage and members of the Fluxus movement he finally thought about trying an experiment of his own.

Specifically, Devin had grown weary of how repetitive and predictable the local music scene had become. He’d grown frustrated by the lack of dialogue between art practitioners from different media. He felt that the performance spaces to which musicians are typically confined, i.e. bars with fixed stages designed for one-way communication between rock bands and audiences, were not only stifling creative growth and exploration but were actually dictating how music gets written and how performances are conducted.

Devin approached the group of artists who would become Speleogen in the interest of positing alternatives to the models of art production he had hitherto (unthinkingly) prescribed to. He believed that if these artists worked together closely over a long period of time, observing and participating in each others’ processes, that the resulting work would not only dissolve divisions but would display the ways in which methods can actually be applied effectively across media to create strange and exciting results.

If Speleogen succeeds both as an installation/performance project and as a method of working across media we hope that other projects will spawn from it each with its own new themes and formal challenges.

Who is involved in the project?

The Speleogen Team is currently composed of Georgia-based artists/musicians Paige Adair, Mason Brown, Devin Brown, John Paul Floyd, Heather Kemp, and David Matysiak.

Although each team member is a specialist in a particular field (see the Personnel page) they are all artistically ambidextrous.

The Speleogen project is therefore not just about “mixing media” in such a way that reinforces the demarcations between who sings tunes and who shoots pictures. All team members have had to develop new competencies and to re-imagine how their roles might stretch in order to fit the demands of the project and especially the subterranean environment with which it converses.

Why caves?

John Paul Floyd introduced the topic of caves to the team. A previous photographic project had led John Paul to a specific bouldering site, which he elected to photograph at night. The process required him to develop some novel lighting techniques in order to get the exposures he wanted. He liked the challenge inherent in taking pictures in the dark and he was looking for an excuse to do it again.

On a separate rock climbing venture a friend led John Paul through the opening and first few chambers of Petty John’s Cave, not incidentally the site of our first few excursions. For someone interested in taking pictures of rock formations in the dark this location was paradise. It was pitch black and the formations were unlike anything he’d seen. John Paul was hooked.

At the time Speleogen was without a topic or a title. When John Paul suggested the cave theme Devin looked into the matter by conducting some preliminary research into the history of caves. He came back with a wealth of information and confidence that the topic was firm enough to sustain a substantial project.

Speleogen as it is now known was born.

How did you choose the sites you visited?

Accessibility and convenience. At least at first.

We began at Petty John’s because one of the team members was familiar with the area. You didn’t need a permit to get inside and it was fairly easy to traverse the beginning of it if you have no experience caving, which none of us did.

In fact this was something we were hoping to capture through the course of the project, a growing familiarity and fluency with the cave environment that had not existed before the project began. It is in some ways an excellent analog for the Speleogen project itself, which none of us really understood at the outset and which we’re still easing slowly into even now.

We returned to Petty John’s to follow up on ideas and to broaden and deepen our relationship with the place. This latter point is crucial to understand. Especially upon first entering this new, extremely alien terrain you need time to form a relationship with it. Your first pass is mostly about not slipping and busting your head open. The return visits are to become acquainted with the place’s personality, to commune with it in whatever way it is possible to do so.

Our hopes are to expand our reach to more caves in the area, specifically those that have been better protected from the public.

What are Speleogen’s goals?

– To continue exploring local caves, primarily in North Georgia, while gathering audio recordings and photographs to use for a future installation and the Speleogen website

– To become better acquainted with the caving community in North Georgia and to become better stewards of the speleological environments we explore

– To perform with visual projections in traditional and nontraditional spaces, including music venues, galleries, and museums

– To develop and debut a prototype piece and/or performance to introduce the Speleogen Project by November 2013

– To open a multimedia installation in a local Atlanta gallery such as Eyedrum or The Goat Farm Arts Center, including a live musical performance by the Speleogen team