Flashflood, an energetic new collective, stormed into Hazmat Gallery Monday with a provocative debut show, which lasts only until Saturday. Along with its 14 members' straight photographs, manipulated photographs, photographic installations and all manner of arts that use photography as a starting point, the Flashflood exhibition offers up an evening of experimental film and videos, an opening party and DJ dance, and a print sale. (Performance art, and fiction and poetry readings were staged earlier this week.)
"We're trying to get exposure," says Rosanna Salonia, a UA photography student and a Flashflood founding member. "We're presenting our freshest work. We also wanted to invite other young up-and-coming artists in other genres."
The flash flood of photography coincides with GPI's finale, in the form of a last exhibition at the Tucson/Pima Arts Council Community Gallery. A group of local fine arts photographers that started up back in the 1980s, GPI has decided to call it quits.
"We all have other priorities at the moment," said member Kathleen Velo, a photographer and teacher at Palo Verde High School. "We're not able to give it the energy it deserves."
The emergence of a new group as another fades is part of the predictable cycle of the Tucson art scene. "Like a wave it comes and goes," Velo said philosophically.
The new Flashflood shares some of the goals of the old GPI, which "originally started as a forum for artists to meet and discuss, and bring programs to the community," Velo said. One of the most notable GPI projects was an exchange that brought Korean photographers to exhibit in town, and had the GPI'ers sending their work to Seoul. But early members drifted away, Camille Bonzani and Sean Justice among them, and the remaining members are preoccupied by jobs, family and their own art work, Velo said. Organizing the "mini-retrospective" at T/PAC helped give the last members closure.
Velo is pleased that Flashflood is poised to take GPI's place.
"There will always be groups for people who need to be together," she said. "It's great that a group can come along and pick up where GPI left off."
The Flashflood founders, oblivious to the GPI history, are as enthusiastic as their name implies. The name, Salonia said, is a pun that incorporates both a tribute to Tucson's dramatic weather and a reference to two common pieces of photography equipment. UA students all, in the undergrad and grad photography programs, the members aim "to bring student work into town and allow young and up-and-coming talents to create and exhibit their art." They see their opening salvo at Hazmat as just the beginning.
"There's a lot of excitement," said co-founder Jonathan Crumpler, a grad student who also instructs a beginning photography class. "We're hoping this will jump us off into other shows. Now, with all the competition, we're banding together. We're taking a new approach, one I've seen in other cities. The idea is taking charge yourself, making it happen, instead of trying to find venues to show your work."
"We have big plans," concurs Salonia, an Italian-born undergrad who will complete her BFA degree in the spring. Foremost among them is the dream of a new Flashflood gallery downtown.
With the demise of Bero Gallery, which showed cutting-edge photography downtown for several years, the pair said Tucson has few places for young photographers to show. They find the university world somewhat insular, and many of the successful galleries around town suffused in cowpoke art. And the contemporary art galleries, such as Etherton and Davis Dominguez, they noted, mostly show established artists.
Flashflood's first effort toward its own gallery foundered several months ago. "We had been getting close in negotiations," Salonia remembered, when a prospective downtown landlord advised them that the property was strictly no nudes.
The prohibition immediately ended discussions. Salonia, for one, frequently photographs nude figures placed in a landscape.
"I work with the human figure as an archetype for the human condition," she said. A series of black and white photographs in the opening show feature a naked woman among desert cacti. "I'm interested in finding a connection to the natural world."
Other members also traffic in taboo topics. Diana Berntzen "deals with pornography, and women in the sex industry," Salonia noted. Rochelle Hooker's work investigates child abuse. Jessi Atwood's black and white prints recording family memories are torn and taped.
Crumpler's color photos would have met the prim landlord's dictates: they're un-peopled pictures of rooms. He lives in a cheap apartment complex at Grant and Palo Verde, and he's been persuading his fellow tenants, mostly single men, to allow him and his cameras into their units. His series documents how different people treat identical space, in this case cookie-cutter apartments, offering up "a little snippet of Americana...the repercussions of Bauhaus 50 years later." One group shows just beds and the wall above the bed; another chronicles the debris that rules the men's lives.
"There's a beauty in the disorganization," Crumpler said.
The short Flashflood inaugural show is squeezed in between exhibitions on the regular Hazmat schedule, but the gallery, the current home of the Museum of Contemporary Art, has taken Flashflood under its wing.
"We're an umbrella project of MOCA," Salonia said. Under MOCA's nonprofit status, Flashflood can apply for grants to help anchor itself downtown. In any case, the Flashflooders are here to stay.
"Tucson," she said, " is a great place for an artists community."
Adds Velo of GPI, "Whatever pumps blood into the arts community would be wonderful."
Grand Finale, work by members of the Group for Photographic Intentions, continues through Friday, January 21, at the T/PAC Community Gallery, 240 N. Stone Ave. Gallery hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, call 624-0595.