Cameron Granger brings it all back home with ‘Heavy as Heaven’

The artist’s new film and installation will remain on display at No Place Gallery through July 9

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Cameron Granger photographed at No Place Gallery

Inside No Place Gallery, artist Cameron Granger, with an assist from gallery owner James McDevitt-Stredney, constructed the framework of a small house.

Built with reclaimed lumber sourced from Cleveland and Columbus — the two cities Granger has learned to call home — the structure holds a trio of televisions on which Granger’s new, three-channel short film “Heavy as Heaven” plays on a loop. The home also includes a small shelf built at waist height on which the artist has stacked dog-eared texts that helped inform the exhibit, including They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib, Home by Toni Morrison and The Memory Police by Yuko Ogawa, among others. "These are writers," Granger said, "who are able to show you those gaps [within society]."

In an adjacent room, Granger plans to screen an earlier movie, “The Line,” which has loose thematic ties not only to “Heavy as Heaven,” but to all of his work, he said, since his various films and installations have continued to build on one another, creating one large, interconnected web of art.

“With my work, so many pieces of previous projects end up coming back,” Granger said in a recent interview at No Place, where his current exhibit will remain on display through July 9. “And then I end up doing a lot of collaging and recontextualizing.”

More:No Place Gallery Moves Downtown

In some ways, “Heavy as Heaven” is Granger’s most intimate work yet, a bulk of it filmed in the Cleveland home of his late grandmother, Pearl, a soft-spoken woman with an eye for curation that has been inherited by the artist and displayed in galleries throughout Ohio. “She had these different tabletops with all of these photos that were perfectly arranged, and she had these greeting cards that she would hang up throughout the house,” said Granger, whose short lingers on the altar-like photo arrangements assembled by his grandmother. “Looking back, my grandma was an artist, and she was very intentional in everything she did and in the way her home was put together.”

In “Heavy as Heaven,” rapper Dom Deshawn stars as a man who returns to his grandmother’s house a couple of years after her death, entering into a space that still feels alive with her memory, populated by arrays of photographs, crossword puzzles left uncompleted and long-untouched dishware — an experience common to Granger, who can still see his grandmother’s fingerprints on display throughout her house more than five years after her passing. 

“There are to-do lists and all of these things of hers that are left the way she had them five years ago,” Granger said of the home, where his aunt and grandfather continue to live. “And I don’t want to move them, either. That’s her inside of these objects. It’s scary how much of ourself is in our things, but I think it’s also really beautiful.”

There is also a supernatural element to the film that plays out both internally (the spirit within the house is very much alive, entering into a gradual peace with Deshawn’s character) and externally, with events unfolding amid the backdrop of a looming invasion by monsters Granger dubbed “Titans.” (These Titans haunt the exhibit via a projection displayed on the gallery’s east wall.)

“So, there are two disasters happening in this film: There’s the internal grieving process, and then there’s this external threat from these monsters that essentially is going to level the whole area,” said Granger, who brought the project to life with assists from cinematographer Jeffrey Grant, 3-D animator Jaylyn Quinn and production assistants Kendra Bryant and Reg Zehner. “And, for me, it’s a really abstract way of thinking through how, when progress has to be made, or there’s development or [the effects of] climate change are felt, it’s always going to be the most vulnerable communities that are hit first. For me, the Titans represent those outer disasters — the things that are going to hit us first, while the people who caused those things continue to survive.”

These more abstract ideas take on comparatively concrete form in “The Line,” a film centered on redlining, Black migration and urban development that prioritized white Columbus neighborhoods at the expense of the Black community, focused in this case on the city’s Near East Side.

More:Redlining, race covenants: The roots of Columbus' ongoing color divide

“The piece talks about that community, that neighborhood, and how they built a highway through it and really severed it, and put a dagger through it,” Granger said. “But at the same time, it’s focusing on the love and the beautiful community that is still there.”

Granger’s exploration into these ideas began more than a year ago, when he was invited by the Beeler Gallery to contribute a work that “spoke to the current moment,” he said, including everything from the ongoing pandemic to the resurgent Black lives matter movement. But, in the same way that Granger’s work continues to build on itself — bits and pieces of past projects resurfacing in new contexts — he couldn’t dig into the “now” without first looking back at how we reached this point.

“I don’t like the phrasing of ‘the current moment,’ because it places the time we’re in now in a vacuum,” said Granger, who immersed himself in the history of the Near East Side by reading texts and engaging in conversations with elders, including Julialynne Walker, David Butler and Marshall Shorts, among others. “A moment is just the latest in a series of moments, right? So, it’s always been important for me, especially in regards to my practice, to be like, OK, so the world is like this now. This neighborhood is like this now. My home is like this now. But how did it get like that? Why is it like this? What are the actual factors that led up to that point? What was there before me? And how can I use my practice to work my way back, to find those connections and to then tie those to this moment."