Interview with Artist Tom Zarilli

FALSE: Since you’re an artist interested in yard sales and other “micro” aspects of Atlanta culture, how do yard sales affect your perspective on the bigger picture of life in the city?

Zarilli: I look at yard sales basically from a sociological viewpoint. I’m very much a voyeur in certain ways, and I very much want to see how people live in this house and in this neighborhood. For one, what they’re doing is this micro retail outlet in their yard, and they’re saying, “This is what I have. I actually use these things.” And there you see attempted and failed marriages and all kinds of personal details.

There’s a certain amount of disposability among everything in America, and life style is something disposable as well. One thing you especially see is roller blades, particularly in Midtown. I think every man who moves to midtown says, “I’m gonna get rollerblades and cart around the park,” but then a few years they’re selling them off.

FALSE: The highways are a very big part of Atlanta life. It seems like we use them in greater proportion than other cities. In your Unbuilt Atlanta presentation, you decided to flood the downtown connector, creating a “Grand Lago” and a “Freedom River.” What’s your perspective on the interstates?

Zarilli: In some ways, I felt like I was behaving like an angry god flooding downtown connector and then giving the blessing of this lake after destroying these expressways that are just horrible. As I mention in the piece, it’s an eyesore. There’s nothing beautiful about them, and there’s nothing communal about them.

In the 50s and 60s when the major expressways first started, you’d get post cards that say, “Look at this beautiful expressway.” They felt expressways would become the lifelines of our economy, and people would just give in to them. But it’s just not really on a human scale.

So now there’s this chaotic system of roads where everyone is just making up their own rules as they go along. We have this shield of metal all around, and no one is talking to anyone, unless they’re on a cell phone. If anyone’s ever seriously gone and stood beside an expressway, they would say, “This is not a human habitat.”

Part of the exhibition piece was to bear witness to the fact that the expressways really do rip apart downtown. It follows the movement in the 1950s and Robert Moses’ proposals during the New York World’s Fair in 1939 and in 1964. He basically built the expressway through the middle of the Bronx, and pretty much destroyed the neighborhood doing that.

Here in Atlanta, for instance, you can see that Auburn Avenue was severely damaged by building the Atlanta downtown expressway. And some of these things were done in the name of “urban renewal” which means tear down a bunch of poor people’s homes throw those people out. All of these great urban schemes are done at the expense of the poor.