BY THE TIME you read this, Raine Eliza Blunk will be halfway through a series of tasks that may completely change everything Savannah thinks about art.
Since Dec. 31, the 22 year-old conceptual artist has occupied ArtRise gallery—eating, sleeping, making and thinking in the plain white canvas of space in the Starland District. Titled UN/LEARNING, the nine-day, 24/7 project also entails the artist cocooning in a duct-taped comforter, ordering takeout and writing on the wall with teeth-only after a couple of shots of NyQuil.
A dozen and half more tasks will be executed throughout the exposition, each conceived with the objective of distilling down to the essential self—though the writer/illustrator/collaborator describes it as more of a process of “pulling out rather than uncovering something.”
“I know where the things are that I want to access about myself,” explains Raine. “I just have to take the steps to get there.”
The closing event—taking place this Friday, Jan. 9—will culminate in a cathartic summary and hopefully, the emergence of the artist now possessing a “deeper understanding my own perception on every plane.”
Self-described as “a white, pansexual trans-to-neutral able-bodied person,” Raine eschews traditional gender pronouns, though will alternately amend the classification to “resident bio-girl, half-birthed alien fetus” with an ironic raise of an eyebrow.
By day, Raine works as social media consultant for a game design company, and daily dress might involve dungarees and white leather dog collar. (Raine also sports a set of orthodontic braces, worn to treat a case of TMJ and incorporated significantly into UN/LEARNING; see Official Task #14.)
At night, however, the bespectacled blogger becomes a wildly-adorned associate with the House of Gunt, a free-form drag collective born out of the monthly Candyland queer dance party hosted at Hangfire. While it does employ a certain amount of singing and sequins, House of Gunt intends to elevate the concept of “drag” from the big-wigged, lip-synching tradition exclusive to gay men.
“As someone who was not assigned male, doing drag is different way to explore being queer, a way to pull off a personality,” explains Raine, who has enlisted House of Gunt founders Influenza and Monster to make appearances throughout UN/LEARNING.
Several more collaborations are happening along the way, including musical meditations with Trophy Wives and visits from former co-workers at Vinnie Van Go-Go’s. (Official Task #16: Serving pizza for 12 hours, during which Raine will re-enact interactions with “customers that didn’t go well and attempt to resolve them.”)
Raine has also invited Savannah emerging artists EmmoLei Sankofa and Ross Fish into the self-dissecting festivities, and those who contribute to the Indiegogo campaign will find themselves included into the exhibition. (For $5, Raine will eat your name off a spoon during Official Task #15.)
Like the project itself, the path that led to UN/LEARNING is twisted: The SCAD graduate had a childhood full of unusual influences, bouncing between grandparents in Arkansas and a United Nations videographer father in Cambodia, where refugees of the Khmer Rouge regime displayed a remarkable creative resilience.
“It was amazing to see how invested these people were in the local arts community, how they revived ideas after their entire culture had been destroyed,” recalls Raine.
“I learned the value of creativity.”
More artistic impacts came from British artist Tracey Emin, who locked herself in a gallery naked for two weeks to exorcise her artistic demons on canvas, and Molly Soda, the digital artist who made internet history for selling an 8-hour video of herself reading all of the messages in her Tumblr inbox.
UN/LEARNING is being live-streamed at raineblunk.com and the gallery is open daily, but Raine is hesitant to call it “performance art.”
“Performance insinuates an audience, and I’m not doing it for other people,” muses Raine, noting that that “art” of residential art projects happen mostly within the artist.
(Another in-residence exhibition made news recently when actor Shia LaBeouf installed himself in a L.A gallery and invited the public to interact with him while he wore a bag over his head, with disturbing results.)
In 2014, Raine pitched her nine-day self-examination project to Art Rise’s Exhibition Fellowship Program, designed to bring contemporary and non-traditional creative forms into Savannah that challenge the notion of art. If there ever was an artwork that fulfilled the fellowship’s mission to “defy conventional gallery dynamics,” this was it.
“When the UN/LEARNING submission came in, we knew immediately that we had to make it work,” says ArtRise executive director Clinton Edminster.
“This was by far our most absurd submission we’ve ever received, and I’m incredibly attracted to the absurd and the challenging.”
Accepting the fellowship was just the beginning; growing the foundation of partnerships has been what’s made Raine’s UN/LEARNING possible.
“I have so much respect for this community that’s bolstered me to get to this point,” offers the artist humbly.
About now, Raine is gestating within a womb seeded by many, a list of tasks still left to complete. When the last has been checked off, the artist and Savannah may never be the same.
“This project has so many collaborators, in so many mediums, for so many days,” marvels Edminster.
“What we learn—or un-learn—will have far reaching implications for our community’s art scene not only for 2015, but for all time.”