Filthy art: Exploring a building's bowels

The Second Street Gallery gave digital artist Shannon Kennedy unprecedented access to the gallery facilities. That is, they let her root around in the chimney vents, the basement, and the boiler room with a digital camera.
The resulting film, Kennedy’s no-access-withheld “Building Project,” shows why Second Street and the McGuffey Art Center haven’t opened these spaces to the public and probably never will. They’re disgusting.
With her work, Kennedy attempts to persuade people to rethink their relationship to their surroundings. To that end, Kennedy spent days on hands and knees in the bowels of one of Charlottesville’s more notable art centers. Using not only a digital camera but also a medical imaging device called an endoscope, she came away with several hours of film. The final film, edited down and projected on the far wall of the gallery space, includes extreme close-ups of dead birds, insects, and what appears to be insulation (it’s not really possible to identify most of the magnified, green and brown, quivering shapes) strung together with strands of spider web.
As Kennedy’s camera slowly and steadily rolls over McGuffey’s alien landscapes of grossness, tiny objects along the surface buzz and jerk like something out of a stop-action film. Adding to the ambience, Kennedy fashioned a soundtrack using found sound recorded on location, which, in practice, weds low frequency drones to keening, wind-like screeching. 
Watching the film (in the complete darkness of the window-sealed gallery) makes for a strangely compelling experience, like something between a derelict nature documentary and a looped snippet of a horror film. Wary viewers will be on constant look-out for giant bugs climbing out of the bilge. And the projection magnifies everything to such a large scale that it’s almost as if your face is being rubbed in it. 
“It was one of the most gross but beautiful things I have ever filmed,” said Kennedy of her work. Try arguing with the first part. It’s unclear how Kennedy wants her viewers to rethink their relationship to the art center, but if they do, they’ll probably be rethinking their need to ever actually enter the building again. 

Second Street Gallery presents Shannon Kennedy’s large-scale video installation, “Building Project,” through August 17. 201 Second St. NW. 977-7284.

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