Q&A with Lyle Owerko, Creator of the Boombox Project, and This Weekend in Charlotte

Copyright © Lyle Owerko Courtesy of SOCO Gallery

Old-school hip-hop blares from in an unfinished room on the fifth floor of Mint Museum Uptown. Dozens of speakers adorn the walls of the pop-up gallery, but these are portraits, not real machines. The music is just part of the reception for The Boombox Project, an exhibit that highlights the work of photojournalist and artist Lyle Owerko. It’s also the debut of the Mint’s experimental space, a fitting backdrop for the artist’s renderings.

This free exhibit (which you can access by asking for a sticker at the museum’s front desk) displays Owerko’s varied depictions of boomboxes. The pop-up is organized by SOCO Gallery, which was founded by Charlotte’s Chandra Johnson. Owerko answers some of our questions about the exhibit (Sept. 17-Oct. 19) below.

So what was the genesis for this project and the 2010 book of the same name?

It started out that I was a boombox collector. I used them for props or whatever else I needed in the studio. Then eventually, it became incubating them as a fine art project. That led to the book deal and what people see now.

What makes the boombox work for this purpose? Is it the variety between each one produced in the ’70s and ’80s?
It’s absolutely the variety. On top of that, it’s a metaphor for free speech, fighting the power, and social disruption. When you talk to a lot of musicians, the boombox was the first device they had for creating. Bands like Nirvana, I think, used it because the condensor mics gave it a good sound.

Do you find that the connection to the boombox is universal for people of certain generations, even those that aren’t musicians?
I grew up skiing. People used to sit in their rooms and listen to a boombox as they wax their skiis.  Locally, I was talking to NASCAR drivers, and they also said they always had a boombox in the shop growing up. I even talk to painters, and they’ve said that sometimes, the boombox was just as important as the paint brush to their work.

You’ve worked as both a photojournalist and fine artist. The fine art angle is obvious, but how much of this work is journalistic?
I always want I do to have a message behind it. This totally was a journalistic project, trying to find the meaning behind the boombox.

Does that Mint Museum space serve the work in a way that polished venues would not?
Absolutely. The unfinished space frames the work so well. In fact, last night, people were saying, “Don’t change this. This is cool!” It's a really raw space.

You can read more about The Boombox Project here. Check out what else is happening this weekend in Charlotte below.

In its 50th year, the Charlotte staple returns in a big way with a main stage for bands, 180 artists, and wide variety of food. The event runs for three days and is absolutely free.

Presented by the Jazz Arts Initiative, Ryan Saranich plays the music of George Gershwin. The legendary composer’s work includes the musical Porgy and Bess, which had a recent run at the Belk Theater.

Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 3,” or “Eroica,” is the main attraction with this performance, but the orchestra also plays selections from Sibelius and Dvorak. Christopher Warren-Green conducts, with Gary Hoffman on cello.

This stacked line-up includes Chris Sanchez, Red Honey, Robert Johnson Jr. & Pam Taylor, and The Menders.

The West Virginia-born country star is known for reaching across genres, but continues to gain praise from country purists. Moonshine in the Trunk was released in August.

Millsap recently opened for Patty Griffin in the same venue, but he returns in September as the headliner. The 20-something is known for a folk voice and songwriting prowess that rivals veterans of the genre.

The quarterly concert returns with a new line-up of musicians. Fifteen acts will perform a couple songs, culminating in an all-out jam by the end of the night.

Famous for her role as Chloe on 24, Rajskub was a comedian and stage performer first. She also hosts a podcast called “Kickin’ It Mary Lynn Style.”

This musical adaption of the tail-wagging adventure is relatively new. See what the pup protagonists do when faced with Cruella de Vill.

In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 put these prog-rockers through to the mainstream. For this show, they play that entire record for the sake of mega-fans, and newcomers will have a chance to hear the band’s best. 

Categories: Arts + Culture, Revue