From the Editor

by Claire Ruud

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      Pablo Vargas Lugo
      WorkSpace 12: Eclipses for Austin (production)
      Courtesy Blanton Museum of Art
      Photo Douglas Marshall

      And I am sunburnt. On Tuesday I spent four long, sticky hours in UT Austin’s football stadium as a volunteer for artist Pablo Vargas Lugo’s Eclipses for Austin, the next WorkSpace project at the Blanton. About one hundred and fifty of us—less than half the number of volunteers the Blanton had hoped to recruit—staged four eclipses that day. Vargas Lugo had hoped to film all 10 solar eclipses that will occur here over the next 340 years. But with enough volunteers to create only half of the sun in any one sitting, he had to scale back at the eleventh hour. Left with the physical reminder of my sunburn, I keep wondering: apart from an unpleasant itchiness and a lingering woozy feeling, what are we to take away from this event?

      Vargas Lugo’s plan was ambitious: Three hundred and fifty art-lovers converge on the mecca of Longhorn football and dramatize the next three hundred and forty years of history through the motif of the solar eclipse. Each of us received a huge double sided card, black on one side, yellow on the other. We were seated together in the stands so that when we all held up the yellow side of our cards at once, we would create a giant yellow sun. (Since only half the necessary volunteers arrived, we could only create half the sun in any one sitting. Thus, every eclipse had to be filmed in two parts, top half and bottom half.) For each eclipse, on our particular cue, we would flip our cards to the dark side to create the effect of a shadow crossing the sun, and then back to the yellow side as the shadow passed. Corralling 150 people to flip their cards on cue was quite a feat.

      On film, I anticipate that Eclipses for Austin will be striking. The whole thing was shot from the field below on the other side of the stadium. Once they’ve been spliced and edited, I’m sure the films will be dramatic. Imagine a long shot of the stadium, with 350 people perched high above the camera enacting a solar eclipse in beautiful accord. Conceptually, I see the appeal. Many individual acts align to create one beautiful collective moment, a meditation on the vastness of history and the universe, inspiring awe and wonder.

      On the ground, the experience was quite different. Wind and an inadequate sound system made it quite difficult to hear directions. Volunteers kept yelling out questions. “Do we flip the cards toward or away from ourselves?” “We’re too close together, can we spread out?” Organizers had to keep moving us around to adjust for the shortfall in warm bodies. “Row A, come fill in row J.” “There’s an empty spot in E8. Is there anyone who doesn’t have a seat?” We struggled against the natural entropy of a crowd to create order.

      For me, the struggle was the most interesting part. The ROTC or the marching band probably could have done what we did in half the time, with more precision. But our motley crew of grad students, professors, docents and artists were the ones doing it, and we stuck it out. Between official takes, a few photographers and videographers with team Blanton were sporadically documenting the crowd. These are the videos to which I’m most looking forward. In fact, I’d like to see them side by side with the films of the eclipses. Together, these videos might capture the way we assembled our disarray for a few brief moments of synchrony. The meat of the project is here, in the space between conceptualization and actualization. The artist’s vision was big, team Blanton was determined and enterprising and everyone was by turns eager, excited, frustrated and tired. How we got it done, what we didn’t get done, what else we were saying and doing while we were getting it done, and how it all coalesced into something—there’s the rub.

      P.S. Our next issue will include reviews of Erin Curtis, which opened last night at Women and Their Work in Austin, and the current works on paper show at Lawrence Markey in San Antonio.

      P.P.S. I was really disappointed with the National Summit on Arts Journalism. I wanted more specifics, more questions and answers, and less slick presentations. In an effort to remedy that lack of substance, in the next issue, I'm printing conversations with folks at 3 Minute Egg, Big Red & Shiny and maybe some others.

      Claire Ruud is Associate Director of Fluent~Collaborative.

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