issue # 60, December 30, 2005 Austin, Texas
I. On Performance Art: Prone at the Kitchen in Chelsea and Ice at Southwest School of Art & Craft
II. In the Media: A Response to "Morphing Marfa" and a Critique of PBS's Survey of 20th Century American Art
III. Best of Show: Readers Tell ...might be good About the Best Texas Art Exhibitions of 2005
I. On Performance Art: Prone at the Kitchen in Chelsea and Ice at Southwest School of Art & Craft
Prone: The John Jasperse Company at the Kitchen in Chelsea, NYC
December 2 through 17, 2005
Imagine you are lying on a clear inflatable mattress, comfortably relaxed. You and thirty other audience members, who also lie on mattresses, are lined up in straight rows, head-to-toe, waiting for the performance to start. Suddenly, you cannot move to sit up or turn around because you are part of a performance. Though the nearly-naked bodies of three dancers (Luciana Achugar, Levi Gonzalez, Eleanor Hullihan) are an inch away from you, their movements are so precise they never physically touch you. Their dance transports your emotions from fear to awe to amazement to comfort and back, all in the space of 90 minutes. This is the Prone experience. (See image above.)
Prone is performance art in your face and in your space. Choreographed by John Jasperse with original music by Zeena Parkins, Prone deals with a myriad of emotions evoked when one’s personal space is unexpectedly invaded and there is no means of escape. But, the lack of egress in Prone is not terribly concerning. This surreal, exciting and fulfilling event is so entrancing, the audience does not wish to escape. Instead, they voluntarily surrender to the experience.
It’s not like the audience hadn’t been warned. Upon entering, viewers receive a written warning: “We have allotted a small number of seats for audience members who are pregnant or have other physical conditions where this risk (physical) would be inappropriate. On behalf of myself (John Jasperse) and the dancers, I would like to personally thank you for your adventurousness and your trust in accepting this invitation.” Coats, purses, and shoes, get checked at the door. Audience members are given clean, white house slippers and are led one by one to inflatable bed on the floor. The room turns black, the performance begins and you are at it’s center. Three dancers clad in revealing knit tops emerge from the darkness. Throwing clear garbage bags filled with air, the dancers make their way across the prone audience to the other side of the room where six lights hang in a row in the corner. The clear garbage bags fall on top of the audience—and so begins the physical interaction.
To see the dancers, you can either turn your head or view the performance by looking in mirrors on the ceiling. But, any physically comfortable viewing position soon becomes scary. What if the dancers accidentally step on someone’s head? What if they fall on top of someone while they colliding into each other? The audience experiences this fascination and fear simultaneously. I lay there, fearfully captive.
About an hour into the performance, the dancers left the space. After a brief musical interlude in the dark, they emerged again wearing clear skirts filled with small black silk bags. One by one the dancers delicately placed sweet-smelling pillows over the eyes of each audience member moving slowly from row to row while straddling—though not touching—each person. With eyes covered, the music became more meditative. The sweetly-scented pillows and the comfort of the beds sent some drifting off; it was unavoidable. Soon an unrecognizable pounding, like basketballs bouncing hard against a floor, pervaded the space. Were the dancers running around quickly? There was fear and confusion for a few moments until the noises stopped and, one by one, ushers slowly woke each prone audience member by lifting the pillows off their eyes and guiding them to chairs surrounding the performance area. Now it was the seated audiences’ turn to experience Prone for themselves and my turn to be a voyeur.
The second phase of the performance began with inflatable bags appearing out of the mattresses between each audience member’s legs. The dancers hit each other violently with black garbage bags and collapsed into each other. The performance slowed. The dancers’ exhaustion becames more and more apparent and they intentionally collapsed onto the ground as the music follows their movements. The dancers tried to get up, but could not find the strength. Their efforts continued until they could no longer move. The performance was over. The audience left with the indescribable feeling of wanting to experience it again like a scary, yet fascinating, sensory rollercoaster. I didn’t feel like I had watched a theatrical performance, but like I had performed in one myself.
Ice by Dwayne Bohuslav and Joanne Brigham at Southwest School of Art & Craft's Russell Hill Rogers Gallery
Next performance: January 8, 2006 at 5:30 PM
The Southwest School of Art & Craft’s Russell Hill Rogers Gallery smells like a pool toy right now. Clear poly-vinyl drapery hangs from the ceiling like a circus tent, tugged at by colored ice blocks melting away on spring-loaded scales. These props provide a theatrical setting for Dwayne Bohuslav (San Antonio) and Joanne Brigham’s (Houston) performance Ice, which began three years ago when the artists fell in love with the quirky gallery space.
Bohuslav, who teaches architecture at San Antonio College, believes in the “secret life of buildings.” Ice’s venue, a former Sears automotive center, was very appealing to Bohuslav and Brigham for this reason. The gallery’s floor is a reflective, mottled black; the ceiling a recessed concrete grid with 31 all-thread rod brackets. The artists use these lasting industrial remnants, fixing their diaphanous vinyl sheet to the ceiling and transforming the high-gloss floor into a watery surface. The result is an imagined world after the polar ice caps have melted. There is both irony and justice in the realization that, while so much environmental destruction comes in the form of exhaust emissions, an automotive center is now home to a performance about our planet’s delicate condition.
I have seen Ice performed twice now; the first time during the WAX (Writers and Artists Exchange) conference in mid-November and most recently during an informal presentation on December 22—Winter Solstice. This last event’s timing was especially meaningful as people have been celebrating the Solstice for millennia and, on this night, the fabric between us and the spirit world was, supposedly, quite thin.
Watery effect, both real and fabricated, pervades this exhibition. It’s in the buoyancy of all the interconnected points of contact, including the translucent vinyl, the tree branches that orbit the circular column, the scales rising, the ice melting and the lights bouncing and swimming across the floor. The artists also make use of an existing floor drain, placing a mossy mound over it which is continually fed by a melting block of celadon-colored ice through a snaking tube. All this can be seen during the exhibition’s run and will look different from moment to moment as the ice melts and vinyl rises.
During the performance, a whispery soundtrack takes the place of a narrative. The sound, almost like that of waves beating against a canoe, is actually a recording of the glaciers melting that Brigham found on the internet. Her voice whispers soft warnings over the track like, “This is too fast” and “There’s so much more. It’s all gone.” This is the soundtrack that plays as Brigham slowly enters the room with heavy strides. She drags her small feet across the floor while wearing a papier maché Eskimo coat and her masked face appears framed in the round hood. The coat’s stiff sleeves make Brigham’s movements eerily puppet-like until, after crossing the room and performing various symbolic actions, she removes the coat and puts it on an antique dressform. She then climbs a ladder to a darkened level above the vinyl “ceiling” in an imitative apotheosis of the rituals of native peoples now on the brink of becoming no more than the stuff of museum display. I thought to myself, “Wow. That was beautiful.” And then it continued.
About five minutes of unresolved action between the first and second halves is the least successful part of an overall stunning performance. Brigham lies on an overhang that looks like a fire escape landing above the vinyl ceiling. Whispers on the soundtrack become moans—very heartfelt, but maybe a bit too, um, emotive. At this point in the performance the background sound changes from melting icebergs to recordings from outer space, changing the space from underwater to otherworldly.
Brigham eventually climbed down from the ladder and mimed canoeing around the room, still in the dark, while hanging a few blue lights that swing from tree branches. While the voices increased in volume and emotion—her slow, Butoh-like movements, enhanced by her brittle costume, kept opposite pace. This section sometimes drug a bit, but I was fascinated to hear Brigham later relate it to borders and scientific “Lakes of Wada.” Named after a Japanese mathematician, Wada is an esoteric term used by chaos theorists, physicists and those with “beautiful minds” to describe the concept of place-ness.
There is more to this performance than meets the eye and the layers deserve to be peeled back and examined. The artists keep a log of Ice, from their initial proposal to post-performance reflections. You can read about this as well as their other projects on their website www.movingbodies.org before catching the last performance on January 8.
II. In the Media: a Response to "Morphing Marfa" and a Critique of PBS's Survey of 20th Century American Art
Response to "Morphing Marfa"
It seems that there are two related areas of contention that The Chronicle puts under the headline “Morphing Marfa.” First, there is the popular but pointless one-up-manship of “I went to Marfa before you did.” Though the nostalgia and reminiscing get old quickly, everyone in Texas seems to fare well in the game of six degrees of separation from Donald Judd. Second, the article deals with some interesting questions about the politics of gentrification. These questions, however, are just as valid and timely in East Austin as they are in West Texas. What happens when high art and hipness move in? Espresso bars and wine shops follow. Cheese selections improve. Buildings start to look better. But, the people who live next door to these swanky restored spaces struggle to pay their increasing property taxes. This is a classic problem for urban planners, but it seems silly to saddle artists with the burden of guilt for the social Darwinian effects of their successes.
A third topic in the article is the Marfa diaspora. In addition to the Chinati interns who return to their corners of the globe and share their stories about Marfa, we have magazines like Travel and Leisure to thank (or condemn, depending on your thinking) for reporting on the town. Their five-page spread, “Art Oasis” (September 2005), showcased Marfa from bookstore to Big Bend. But, by my informal poll of visitor lists at hotels and galleries a few weeks ago, most of the tourist traffic on Tuesdays in December seems to be coming from Austin, San Antonio and Houston.
If Marfa is morphing, it’s probably changing into a place more similar to the cities where tourists flock from. That’s unfortunate for people like me. I don't go to Marfa because it has everything; I go there because it has something else. But, as we keep vigilant watch over Marfa's evolution into a place with the finest comforts, we would do well to notice the signs closer to home that some of Marfa's best qualities are developing here. With the strength of art being made in Central Texas, it’s surprising that The Chronicle would commemorate the disappearance of old Marfa to the neglect of emerging and improving arts venues here in Austin. What's happening with hip art in Austin? Maybe we should check the pages of the Big Bend Sentinel.
A Critique of PBS's Survey of 20th Century American Art: “Imagining America: Icons of 20th Century American Art”
PBS’s documentary “Imagining America: Icons of 20th Century American Art” begins with a statement by Jonathan Feinberg, an art historian and the co-writer of Imagining America with John Carlin. Feinberg declares: “Artists feel things that are emerging in the culture before most of the rest of us.” This cliché provides the foundation for a program based equally on artist biography and loose cultural history. Though "Imagining America" is a bit reductive for the avid student of modern art, the documentary has some merits as a primer for newcomers. About twelve American artists (all of whom are white, only two of whom are women) are offered up as icons. As such, the documentary begs the re-asking (again) of Linda Nochlin’s 1972 question with a few amendments: “Why are there no great women artists?” Black artists? Any other kind of great artist, but the white and the male?
Lay viewers may know the names of Georgia O’Keefe, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol whose works serve as touchstones to introduce artists less familiar to the average PBS viewer. Cindy Sherman, David Wojnarowicz and Robert Smithson are also introduced as pivotal figures in defining what is particularly American about American Art. The documentary argues for a rugged individualism as exemplified by Pollock’s stoic air, O’Keefe’s communion with nature, Warhol’s focus on our nation’s media culture and Robert Rauschenberg’s rebelliousness in erasing a Willem de Kooning drawing. A few consistent themes cycle, finding new artists to bear the torch with each passing decade. O’Keefe, Pollock and Smithson demonstrate the artists’ relationship with nature, Joseph Stella, Alfred Steglitz, Stuart Davis, Warhol, and Sherman address the mass media, industry and the city. And Pollock and Wojnarowicz consider the self.
“Imaging America” makes art easy to digest by sticking to tried and true myths of what it means to be an American and an artist. Of all of the artists featured, only Rauschenberg and Smithson challenge the hegemony of two dimensionality (painting and photography) in the program's history of American modernism. It also came as a surprise to me that twentieth-century American art apparently ended in the mid-eighties with Basquiat and Wojnarowicz. (Both artists’ biographies have been cleaned up, steering clear of drugs and AIDS.) Minimalism, feminism, conceptual art and anything more recent are skipped over—it’s a 2 hour program after all. European artists are generally avoided with the exceptions of the brief mentioning of Duchamp and Picasso where their oeuvres were needed to elucidate particular lineages and ideas that emerged in America.
Thinking about who was left out, I found it hard to pinpoint who from the nineties would fit Carlin and Feinberg’s limited history. The increasing internationality and plurality of contemporary art that occurred as museums warmed up to artists previously excluded has made both the terms “greatness” and “American” even harder to define these days. So why try to do it again now? You can catch "Imagining America" again on KLRU 2 on January 1 at 8 PM.
III. Best of Show: Readers Tell ...might be good About the Best Art Exhibitions in Texas in 2005
To close out the year, we asked some …might be good readers and contributors to tell us what they thought was the best exhibition in Texas in 2005. Here’s what they had to say:
I really liked Threat Zone curated by Basim Magdy. It was the first show at Triangle’s new space in San Antonio and unfortunately it did not get seen by enough people outside the city. Kudos to Luz Maria Sanchez!
~Regine Basha, Adjunct Curator at Arthouse
Robert Gober: The Meat Wagon at The Menil Collection. As I was walking through this show, and especially when I came upon Gober's replica of an ordinary closet in the back gallery, I was reminded of the scene from Orhan Pamuk's novel Snow when the poet reads the woman he loves his new poem. He asks her, "Is it beautiful?" "Yes, it's beautiful!" she replies. "So what was it that made it beautiful?" "I don't know," she says, "but I did find it beautiful."
~Kelly Baum, Assistant Curator of American and Contemporary Art for the Blanton Museum of Art.
My favorite show was Dan Flavin at the Fort Worth Modern.Seeing this on a grey rainy day made the lights look even more stunning. Also, Dialogues: Duchamp, Cornell, Johns, Rauschenberg at the Dallas Museum of Art was a strong show. It was an intelligent and well thought out little exhibition that really showed off Duchamp's legacy. Plus there were lots of Duchamp valises.
~Alex Codlin, Writer
Robert Gober's plough through the Menil Collection, up now, absolutely catch it if you can! A gorgeous, generous read of Menil family history, an exquisitely poetic context for Gober's own ideas and forms, perfectly installed over that patinaed, bell-tone floor. Not to be verbally described—it is as open as any art exhibition I have ever seen. Jaw-dropping, visceral, inspiring.
~Annette Carlozzi, Curator of American and Contemporary Art at The Blanton Museum of Art
I think the show that best blew my mind was the one I did with my international artist collaborative group The Mindwrestlers at Parson’s School of Art and Design in Paris this past November. The students there really were impressed and challenged by the diverse dialogue we have in our paintings and digital prints. We even had Jesse Morningstar, a folksinger from Bristol, England come and perform. What a night! Little did Paris know that there was so much energy coming from San Antonio!!!!
~Joan Fabian, Artist & Curator
Indelible Images: Trafficking between Life and Death at the MFAH.
~Ali Fitzgerald, Artist
FotoFest's Nazar-Photography from the Arab World in Houston this summer was a world-class exhibition that explored the human situation in the Middle East by pushing aside Western cultural hegemony and presenting a genuine and sophisticated lens viewed by 32 international artists from both the East and the West.
~Rosalinda González, Curator, The Station
Well, my favorite show of 2005 had to be Bojan Sarcevic's minimal exhibition at Artpace, San Antonio this Spring. The main sculptural element—a soaring abstraction of 1920s architecture crafted out of patinated metal—generated awe and inspired thought, achieving what I hope for in art. It radically changed as one walked around it, and conveyed a thoroughly contemporary take on the swift and monumental lines of Art Deco. It made me look at history, architecture and sculpture differently. I will never forget its beauty, breadth or depth.
~Kate Green, Assistant Curator of Education and Exhibitions at Artpace
The Dan Flavin retrospective was the bright spot of my museum-going year. I appreciated the understated way that Flavin's cleverness came through. I also have an inexplicable fondness for the John Wesley exhibition at the Chinati, which I saw in 2005, but that was more properly a 2004 installation. Honorable Mentions go to Lora Reynold’s Gallery’s entire 2005 lineup and Twombly’s 50 Years of Works on Paper at the Menil.
~Caitlin Haskell, Writer
For personal reasons...Harold Wood and Hector Miller in ArtMatters 9 at the McNay. Also the Pre-Raphaelites [Waking Dreams: The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites from the Delaware Art Museum]. Great collection!
~Allison Hays Lane, Director of Olana Group Art Consulting
Karen Mahaffy's exhibition [Recent Work] at Sala Diaz was a time altering, transcendent piece. She took the subject of a still-life and created a mesmerizing piece that questioned one’s perceptions.
~Leigh Anne Lester, Artist & Co-Director of Cactus Bra
John Chamberlain’s foam sculptures at Marfa. Very sensual, graceful.
~Anita Lewis, Artist
Hey Supher, Can You Lend Me Two Dollars? at Flight Gallery—not only was there fabulous artwork in the gallery, but he spray-painted the insides of cars in the parking lot. Very energetic, true to the discipline of graffiti and spray paint artists. Also, Confections by Brian Jobe at Joan Groana—a tight, magical installation of pink, plastic elements in regular formation. Very mysterious and beautiful.
~Nancy McGalliard, Artist & director of Mu Gallery, Blue Star Silos
It hasn't been too long since I have seen it, but I would have to say Meat Wagon by Robert Gober [at the Menil Collection]. It was not at all what I was expecting, but has haunted me ever since; leaving me at loss for words to pinpoint its resonance. His selection of works from the archive of the Menil in relation to his own works was poignant and dumbfounding; charming and quixotic and just altogether timely.
~Karen Mahaffy, Artist
African Art Now: Masterpieces from the Jean Pigozzi Collection, at the MFAH (January-June 2005). The word "masterpiece" seemed ill-placed in reference to the works on view in this marvelous survey, which showcased detail, filigree, satire, affect and intricacy in lieu of the pomp and circumstance that the title might have led one to expect. The exhibition twinkled with the reflections of a thousand foil gum wrappers and nearly full-size wooden statues of dancers from a Cape Town club looked more lively than the viewers who gaped at them with such delight.
~Dorothy Meiburg, Writer
Hills Snyder's Book of the Dead was by far the best piece of 2005, if not the best piece I've ever experienced. It is rare that visual art has the power to transform/transcend in the same way that music does. Book of the Dead is a piece that is physically, psychologically and spiritually experienced and so it has an ongoing life and dialogue.
~Michele Monseau, Artist & director of Three Walls
**Artists Justin Parr of Flight Gallery and Andrea Caillouet seconded that motion and chose Hills Snyder’s Book of the Dead.
Robert Gober’s Meat Wagon at The Menil Collection. It was like that reality show where the master chef comes over unannounced and makes a five-course meal out of whatever is in the fridge, except that in this episode the fridge’s contents were already gourmet and the results take much longer to chew. Gorgeous if not straight up delectable.
~Kurt Mueller, Artist
1. Hills Snyder driving a bomber through the 1st annual "Dignowity Hill Pushcart Derby"—it was poetry in motion.
2. Daniel Martinez at Artpace [New Works 05:1]—Bobby Seale and Stokely Carmichael as little white cut-outs is just too scary!
3. Seeing James Cobb at work on his 'Chalk It Up' [an Artpace public event] piece—like feeling the first breeze of a cold front.
4. Luz Maria Sanchez [Spanglish] at Artpace—for some reason when I heard all those voices it made me feel like I had the upper hand in a mean game of poker.
5. The (re)opening show [Threat Zone] at The Triangle Space—its about time someone got with the program.
~Cruz Ortiz, Artist
Hills Snyder, 'Book of the Dead' at Artpace. Hills' piece restored my faith that a single work of art can truly change a viewer’s life. Just to be sure, I went back to experience the piece on two other separate occasions. Hats off to Mr. Snyder. "Don't be a Pussy."—Ram Ayala (borrowed by Hills in Book of the Dead).
~Arturo Palacios, Founder of Art Palace
I loved Landscape Confection at the CAM, Houston. I wanted to lick and touch everything! I think Helen Molesworth is an awesome curator, always taking very bold risks. Alfredo Jaar’s installation at the MFA, Houston…haunting. Since Phil Collins’s show at Lora Reynolds had me humming Smith’s tunes for a week after it deserves a mention too.
~Risa Puleo, Independent Curator
I was bowled over by Hills Snyder's Artpace installation. After feeling my way through claustrophobic black space, I emerged into the room seeing Mr. Snyder, gloved and looking like Neil Young in Tonight's the Night. A sort of rebirth for all of us. And for me, it's really special when art completely transports me, unsettles my view and hands me a shot of tequila to bring me back.
~Erik Sanden, Singer & Guitarist of Buttercup
Despite the overtly self-congratulatory nature of Brought to Light: Recent Acquisitions in Latin American Art at the MFAH, the collection of works demonstrated the growing breadth and depth of the museum’s Latin American holdings. Overall, the exhibition proved that, with enough oil money and curatorial skill, Houston gets what Houston wants, and the rest of the state, and the nation for that matter, will benefit from their relentless drive.
~Erin Smith, Writer
Angel Rodriquez Diaz's paintings at Southwest School of Art & Craft were absolutely spectacular. He's scary-good.
~Gary Sweeney, Artist
I haven't been able to forget about Landscape Confection at Houston's Contemporary Arts Museum which I saw the same day as Cy Twombly: Lepanto across the street at the MFAH. The phosphorescent colors seemed directly descended from the master.
~Catherine Walworth, Artist and Writer
We hope that 2006 will be just as exciting!
1. First Night Austin: A new tradition will begin in Austin tomorrow night. As the organizers of First Night Austin explain, this event will be “a public celebration of the arts that revives the ancient tradition of marking the passage of time with art, ritual and festivity…The stage will be the city's plazas, parks, streets, storefronts and building facades. Indoor venues will be settings for a palette of performing and visual arts.” Between 2 PM and midnight more than 80 artistic groups will perform or exhibit their work. Get an event map at www.firstnightaustin.org/program and see what it’s all about on Saturday night!
2. New American Talent: The deadline for submissions to New American Talent 21 is fast approaching. Go to Arthouse’s website to download an entry form today. Submit your materials by January 20. This year’s guest juror will be Aimee Chang, Exhibition Coordinator and Assistant Curator at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.
3. The Rose Bowl: The University of Texas Longhorn Football team will compete for the 2006 National Championship in the Rose Bowl on January 4th. We hope to see some winning artistry from Vince Young and his team and we’re sure the city of Austin will become a spectacle in burnt orange if Texas beats the USC Trojans!
Image Courtesy of John Jasperse Company. Photograph of Prone. Coreographed by John Jasperse and performed by Luciana Achugar, Levi Gonzalez, and Eleanor Hullihan, music by Zeena Parkins. Photograph by Julieta Cervantes. Fluent~Collaborative is a speculative non-profit initiative established to increase awareness of new developments in the contemporary visual arts and the ideas and issues that inform contemporary culture. We are a place where a critical and creative mix of visual, media and performance artists join authors, filmmakers, musicians, architects, poets and other diverse communities outside of the arts to enable a new awareness and sophisticated discernment of changing thought and culture around the world. …might be good is a bi-weekly e-magazine that covers contemporary art
in Austin, San Antonio and beyond. Written with a critical eye and an
art-lover’s admiration, …might be good is an independent voice that
provides readers an avenue to engage with serious art in central Texas.
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