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Punk rock banjo



If there's a single object in the 23 HOURS exhibit that best conjures the history of Raleigh's home-grown music culture, it must be Sara Bell's punk rock banjo. Back when Bell was a teenager in the mid-'80s, she played this instrument in the groundbreaking band Angels of Epistemology. "I used to play my banjo through a fuzz-face fuzz pedal, and I played it with a bow for an Irish instrument called a psaltery."

Bell contributed her instrument, along with stacks of other things she's saved over the years, to an exhibit at Bickett Gallery that combines personal archives with the newly commissioned works of 36 Raleigh artists. Besides wall art, there are also 13-inch-by-13-inch cubbies housing mini-installations on pop culture, mock merchandising, music and the pursuit of icons. This five-week-long exhibit is about more than the collaboration between visual arts and music. 23 HOURS refers to the time spent making the art, and making a living--time shared with collaborators and friends eating, sleeping, rehearsing, mixing drinks, tossing pizzas--what we talk about when we talk about the "scene."

In those Angels of Epistemology days, Bell lived in a crowded house on the edge of downtown. Even in the late '80s, "there was still the remnants of this original punk scene in Raleigh," Bell recalls. "I was too young to hang out in bars, but there were a lot of places you could go and see bands. Sadlack's was kind of the nexus of this scene of punk rockers and hippies and design students from N.C. State and girls from Saint Mary's." Bell worked at a copy shop. "That was back before computers, so people would have to make their flyers by hand or use those black scratch-and-peel letters." She saved copies of the posters she liked best, many of which are in the show. Bill Mooney of Kung Fu Merchandising, which makes stuff for Beck and Sonic Youth, collaborated with writer Richard Butner to curate a wall of poster art from many people's collections.

At the heart of the exhibit are images documenting Raleigh's year-old Pidgeon English record label. Many musicians on the label came to Raleigh because they heard about the Raleigh scene and wanted to be part of it, a migration the show documents in various ways. Images of bands The Cherry Valence, The Tease, The Ready Set, the Rosebuds, Apple Juice Orchestra--and their audiences--are presented in unique formats, from collage to light boxes.

After seeing the exhibit for the first time, Bell mused on its meaning to her. "You see how many people save the scraps and leavings of those times past, the little aborted art projects and flyers and relics, and the new ones being generated, and fashion them into totems at the center of some new work. It feels like being part of some stream of continuity."

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