MBG Issue #144: Hungry for its Subject

Issue # 144

Hungry for its Subject

March 26, 2010

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Asher Roth, I Love College, 2009, Screen capture of YouTube music video.

from the editor

This week, as promised, ...might be good is joining the conversation about artist-run schools. To kick things off, in the thoughts that follow I scratch the surface of the relationship between today's artist-run schools and the museums and galleries that are increasingly supporting such projects. Meanwhile, in a related exploration  Mary Walling Blackburn addresses pedagogy and aesthetics in "Classroom as Ornament."

Within the field of art production, a lineage for artist-run schools* could be traced to the rise of relational aesthetics in the 1990s. It is not a large leap from the laboratories and workshops Bourriaud labeled as such to the classes and schools established more recently by a younger crowd. However, artists themselves are reluctant to claim this lineage; gargantuan names like Rikrit Tirivanija and Liam Gillick seem to bludgeon the nuance out most any conversation at this point, and moreover, their critique of capitalism has become problematically ensnared in a sticky institutional web. It’s easier reach further back for models, bypassing that history, than to yoke oneself with it. Instead, artists and critics alike cite current events—ballooning MFA enrollment and the rising costs of this professionalization process—as an impetus and turn to models such as Black Mountain College and the Bauhaus for historical precedents. This history and these circumstances—the legacy of relational aesthetics, the history of artist-run institutions, the growth of the MFA machine—are significant, and other writers have pointed to all of them.

What has gone largely unexplored, however, is the wholehearted embrace offered to the artist-run school by more traditional institutions. The Whitney in New York, the ICA in Philadelphia and Arthouse in Austin brought in Fritz Haeg’s Sundown Schoolhouse. After Anton Vidokle organized unitednationsplaza, a self-described exhibition as school in the tradition of the Free University, in Berlin in 2007 and 2008, the New Museum snapped him up to produce Night School, a year-long series of workshops and seminars in 08-09. SculptureCenter produced The University of Trash this summer. Last month the Winkleman Gallery opened #class, a series of events that will transform the gallery into a “think tank.” This institutional embrace has certainly contributed to the profile, if not the prevalence, of artist-run schools.

Why? Artists’ inquiries into pedagogy align perfectly with the recent educational turn within museums. Education departments have grown steadily and gained influence within museums over the past decade in an effort to increase the relevance and accessibility of these institutions to a wider population. These departments have played a significant role in developing lecture series, adult classes and workshops, and the now-ubiquitous yoga-in-the-galleries and monthly singles parties. At its base, the growth of museum education and programming is market-driven. In order to survive, museums must capture a larger audience. While ever-grander buildings have appealed as a mechanism for attracting the high-rollers, regular, hip programming has been seen as a mechanism for gaining larger numbers of loyal low-rollers. (Yes, I’m drawing a loose parallel here between casinos and museums. Harrah’s is well-known for having shunned the construction boom in Vegas, a boom fueled by casinos’ desire to attract the top spenders, to concentrate its effort on building brand loyalty among a broader base of smaller patrons.) Now that the economy has gone bust, wildly ambitious construction projects look less attractive, while, correspondingly, education and programming look all the more attractive.

In this context, I wouldn’t be surprised if institutional support for artist-run schools continues to expand over the coming years. Paying an artist’s honorarium is a whole lot cheaper than hiring another educational administrator to develop similar programming. Cast in a more positive light, grants for educational programming are often easier for museums to secure than grants for operational or curatorial work, and artist-run schools could become a way for artists to tap into those funding sources. (Something artists already do as administrators in museums and professors in universities.)

So then, the question arises, within the walls of a museum, what are the formal and qualitative differences between an artist-run school and a smart museum education program? Are institutions choosing artist-run schools simply because they’re cheaper and cooler, or because they possess formal and qualitative differences from the pedagogical endeavors that may be undertaken by a museum’s curatorial and administrative teams? The answers to such questions, no doubt, depend on the artist and the institution, the school and the programming. In very general terms, I’ll venture a few.

First, institutions are choosing artist-run schools because they provide a mechanism through which to support an artist’s processes and inquiries. Artist-run schools allow artists to develop curricula around issues relevant to their larger art practice. For example, the course Mary Walling Blackburn gave in Austin explored imagery of the women’s health movement, a topic relevant to works by the artist such as her video installation Black Divine Light (2009). A class provides a space for artists to test hypotheses without committing to the (apparent) fixedness of a painting, video or other work.

Second, institutions are choosing artist-run schools because they reframe viewer expectations. Walking into a museum, Most of us have very specific expectations about the structure and purpose of lectures, discussions, classes and workshops that will be offered there. By contextualizing an event of any sort as part of an artist’s project, the institution may evade some of those expectations. An artist-run school values experimentation, non-hierarchical structures, thought experiments. For a larger institution, this has practical implications. The technology doesn’t have to be state of the art, and if it malfunctions, it’s not embarrassing, just part of the casual atmosphere. The class may be led by an amateur rather than an expert, and the material may be presented unsystematically, even chaotically, rather than logically. For some viewers, framing a class as an artist-run project may heighten the viewer’s receptivity to unfamiliar pedagogical structures. Or, put another way, framing a class as an artist-run project may heighten the viewer’s tolerance for the low-budget, the less-prepared and the non-professional. For other viewers, framing a class as an artist-run project may increase the approachability of the material, the artist or the institution as a whole.

Third and finally, institutions are choosing artist-run schools because they provide a justification for repositioning the museum as a hub of public activity and cultural dialogue. If the questions faced by the museum are “toward what end and by what means can we move public interaction around politics, economy, and society into the museum?” an ideal answer lies in art that creates these interactions itself. The very existence of artist-run schools serves to justify and enable the relocation of all kinds of public dialogue to the space of the museum.

These are some of the same reasons institutions welcomed artists like Tirivanija and Gillick with open arms: the earnestness, the public engagement, the production of relationships and information. Inside a museum or gallery, artist-run schools are merely relational aesthetics by any other name. By reframing the work as “pedagogical,” these schools evade the questions and problems posed by these types of projects. Like the earlier work of Tirvanija, Gillick and others, these projects establish an outwardly democratic relationship with the community at large—anyone eat a meal cooked by Tirvanija or attend a class taught by Walling Blackburn, and by extension anyone is welcome at the museum. Yet as any practitioner of institutional critique will tell you, not everyone can participate. The museum is a privileged site. These projects may not charge admission but they do demand free time and the cultural confidence necessary to participate in them. Evading these issues may work for the time being—the art world notoriously loves a hip new trend—but in the end, we’ll end up back where we started. Outside the institution, it’s still an open question: are today’s artist-run schools significantly different from other social practices? At the very least, inside the institution, they don’t much look it.

*I’m using the term artist-run schools in order to allow slippage between schools-as-art and schools-as-schools-run-by-artists. This ambiguity—is a particular school an artwork, or isn’t it?—is already present within the field of artist-run schools today. Depending on your point of view, this ambiguity may be productive promiscuity, or it may be conceptual sloppiness. Either way, I think this ambiguity is an intentional part of many artist-run schools. While it’s an important issue to explore further, it’s beyond the scope of my reflections here.

Thanks to Mary Walling Blackburn, Mary Katherine Matalon and Eric Zimmerman for our extensive conversations on this topic and for reading an earlier draft of these thoughts.

Claire Ruud is Associate Director of Fluent~Collaborative.


Kathryn Kelley: On treading where no one hears her foot fall

By Claire Ruud

Kathryn Kelley, Installation view of treading where no one hears the echo of her foot fall, 2010, Remnant tubes, foam, door, window, hardward, rebar, Approximately 18 x 10 x 6 feet, when i shut up love/ the door bangs closed/ i pound and scrape/ my fingers bloody with prying/ but without love/ without hope/ tightly shut it remains/ i smell the void/ the vacancy/ the remotest parting/ and i find/ my lips part as they/ press to the frame/ to drink in the waft/ that trickles through/ i scribble down/ as fast as can/ the words that/ spill over/ and i reach/ for the handle. Courtesy the artist.

Kathryn Kelley's haunting exhibition at Women & Their Work, on treading where no one hears her foot fall, consists of  three large-scale sculptures made of old tires, door frames and other scavenged materials. Here, ...might be good talks to Kelley about her process and conceptual framework.

…might be good [mbg]: Let’s start by talking about your process. Where do you find your materials?

Kathryn Kelley [KK]: I harvest my materials from mom and pop tractor tire repair shops between Houston and Oklahoma, and Houston and Lubbock. Additionally, I harvest materials from the debris beside the roads, and I scavenge from big trash pick-up days in Houston. And I’ve been known to dumpster dive if something catches my interest.

mbg: Conceptually, why do you use discarded objects as the building blocks of your installations?

KK: Decay. Since the age of 40 or so, I’ve had a strong almost visceral attraction to decay. I assume this correlates to noticing the first hints of my own. I know beauty does exist in decay because I see it in the deep lines of rich life etched in my grand girlfriends’ (70 years+) faces. If I can learn to find the beauty in the broken and decay in the urban waste I harvest, perhaps it will aide me in finding the real beauty in myself and others—that beauty that develops from living deeply with both the joys and tragedies of life. Living causes decay. I want to live and not be afraid of the decay. Decay bears witness to life.

Redemption. If I can take this refuse, these broken discarded nonfunctional things, and re-value them, giving them new meaning, new purpose, and an odd sumptuous beauty, then perhaps to, I can learn to do this with my life. If I can but take the things I have considered worthless, broken, discarded, filled with shadow and sorrow, and build something new where a weird goodness can come alive right alongside the hard and hurtful things in my life, my life will be richer, deeper. If I can only learn from the making…

Parsimoniousness. For some reason, to which I have yet to understand, I experience a high degree of shame at being wasteful with money. Using mostly trash, which is free, allows me to follow my need to make without generating feelings of shame. That makes me feel a little a better about making art that sometimes feels like a frivolous luxury.
A little Green. When I harvest from the waste stream, if what I make is trash, I can toss it back without increasing the load of the stream. I am not a tree hugger, but some things just make sense.

Listening. There are huge places in my life into which I have been so very afraid to look for such a very long time. My work, which is material and process oriented, almost seems like my body’s response. Through the work, I am able to disclose to myself that which I am terribly afraid to name or see. As I work, as I make, as I write, I am constantly seeing and hearing from what the forms and process reveals.

Often this past year, I have made or written myself into many corners piled deep with discoveries I had previously swept from view. And I have listened with my gut and quit answering with my head because my head so often doesn’t want to hear. For me the writing, the making, is a listening to what God is uncovering in me. Writing and making has emerged as my primary interaction with God. Though I sense I am on track with the writing and making, I may be off in the way I apply these interactions to my everyday life.
The writing and making is listening, but it is obvious to me that I have a lot to learn in regard to what I hear.

mbg: The language you use to describe your work is quite spiritual—concepts like living deeply (as you put it) with our mortality, redemption, listening to God. Can you say more about how your spiritual framework informs your artwork?

KK: My spiritual framework informs my work in terms of my own seeking and trying to listen, trying to remain open to things beyond myself and my own understanding. The work is like a physical manifestation of my seeking to know, to understand and to revise as I am able in my living. Hours on end of sewing and making, with its physicality, is an intensely contemplative experience, so at some level my making becomes very much an interactive form of communion with myself, the materials, life and my maker. Cognitive prayer has always felt so forced and unnatural and has lead me away from listening. The making of these works leads me into a type of listening I have never been able to do before, teaching and showing me new ways to be open.

mbg: The way you describe it, I understand spirituality within your work to be mostly about process. But how does it manifest formally in the work?

KK: Ah. I am not sure the spirituality in the process is visible in the end pieces. I think perhaps the formal tension in the work simply bears witness to the more generic struggle to balance our light and shadow within ourselves.

My work is about process; if I was going to farm out the process of making to others, I simply wouldn’t bother. For me, the art is in the making, the process. The end piece is fine and dandy, I do care about it and consider it, but without the act of making, for me it would be somewhat of a worthless endeavor. Perhaps someday the process and end pieces will be more overtly linked for the viewer but today the pieces are ambiguous enough that the viewer typically overlays his or her own meaning on to the work. With that, I am ok.

mbg: There are three sculptures up at Women & Their Work right now. Can you talk a little bit about the relationships amongst them?

KK: I have been working with remnant tire elements for the past three years. They tend to be self-portraits of the silent struggles of my interior. My previous works have been more wall based, and of a singular material. These three combine various refuse materials I have harvested and are fully freestanding. Their outer shells, almost home like, represent the constructed part of my identity into which I try to force my silent self, my shadow self, which as in life, hardly contain me. All have doors, even if hidden from viewer. All have stairs. Points of entry. Exit. Opening. Closing. Each comes out of the things I have hidden from myself. For example, in my life I had built a princess like tower that kept me isolated, and I expected my husband to come for me to help me down. Yet this tower had a door, it had a ladder, and he was unable to help me see what I, too, had blinded myself to. Each piece is not titled but is instead associated with a poem I had written during the same period in which I was making.

mbg: Rachel Koper mentioned to me that your degree is in graphic design. How did you get from there to these large-scale sculptures?

KK: By a slow, accidental, unexpected fall.

The graphic design MFA program I was in respected thinking and research above all else (critical theory). They respected the computer as simply one of but many tools. I was overly dependent on technology and they wanted me to think and problem solve without it. So they (Fiona McGettigan, Beckham Dossett, Cheryl Beckett) encouraged me to set my techno crutches down. This, paired with contemporary art history courses (with Dana Padgett and David Brauer,) showed me that I simply could not just respond from the intellect, but instead had a deep need to make. And the clincher that pushed me over the edge into sculpture was the fine art electives (with Louis Jimenez and Paul Kittleson) we were required to take outside our primary field. It was like stepping into my own skin for the first time in my life. All the elements seemed to come together. It just feels so right. It is where I am supposed to be for right now.

Claire Ruud is Associate Director of Fluent~Collaborative.


Classroom as Ornament
(4 YouTube videos that touch upon aesthetics and education)
March 26, 2010

By Mary Walling Blackburn

Sevan Hanoum in Music of the Outsiders: Rembetika, 1988.

Music of the Outsiders: Rembetika. A documentary made around 1988
See minutes 3:30-5:16

Begin with Sevan Hanoum. In the film, she wears a trench coat and a fedora. A white shirt with a tie? Underneath that, a woman’s breasts. Underneath that, her lungs, and in there, her breath.

Hanoum is a singer of Rembetika songs, Greek-Turkish music made for, by and about the underground spaces for workers, street toughs and prostitutes; these songs are sung in a subterranean room where all go to smoke hash and opium, to avoid the police, to drink wine and dance. For some, this music is one way to annihilate a bad day’s work—the same work that erases the desire even to have a self. For others, who identify with their work, the taverna and its offerings operate like a glaze—the lacquer brightens, coats the surface, of their public lives. A celebratory song, with the right drugs, can make an abject profession shine.

Sevan Hanoum in Music of the Outsiders: Rembetika, 1988.

Why speak of Sevan Hanoum now when I promised that I was going to speak about the aesthetics of education? Because Sevan Hanoum is my teacher right now. She’s an authority without an institution, telling me something I don’t know. The melodies she memorizes and generates with her breath operate as both aesthetic and structure; within the songs themselves, pleasure, form and politic are sutured. There’s a lesson in that; the fusion of these elements is more powerful than each element on its own. Can there be schools for this, artist- or state-run?

The compulsory structure of institutionalized education makes some pupils, including myself, resistant to transmission—yet when Hanoum opens her mouth, I want to listen and understand. I seek her out. I stay quiet. I come away with more than I started with. Is this a bad deal? I could claim this felt moment of cognition, here between singer and listener, is endemic to the heart of education; but the school systems that enfold us typically produce vertical structures of learning that don’t consistently produce pleasure, sublime like this. Here, pleasure operates as unguent, transporting information both dire and decorative. Without it, some of us would never learn. It is the pleasure that makes us still—still enough to receive.

Sevan Hanoum:
I did go through a lot of danger
And that happened because [of] beauty…
We should all be aware, both males and females, that beauty is dangerous.

In Sevan’s brief interview she speaks of clubs, she speaks of women in furs slipping their hands under her clothes and claiming that they are checking whether or not her breasts are real, and then she speaks about the nature of beauty. Again: “We should all be aware, both males and females, that beauty is dangerous.” For me, this is a new vocalization of what I want to hold artworks accountable for. My new Gold Standard. So, if pedagogy is to be considered a form of art, how can I hold it to this as well? An education that is so beautiful it is dangerous. Or… danger so beautiful, it educates.
Results for “I Love College” (Asher Roth original)

Results for “I Loved College” (Asher Roth Parody)

School as a beautiful aesthetic form feels particularly remote within the mainstream U.S. university system.

See the incredible range and number of parody videos of Asher Roth’s 2009 hit "I Love College:" "I Miss College,” “I Hate College," “I Hate Knowledge” and so on. These ‘tributes’ to miseducation are overwhelmingly self-produced by white male college students, joined by a brown-skinned graduate student here, or black middle class high schoolers there. From their vantage points, satirical yet revealing, it is difficult to ascertain just who finds ‘book learning’ in itself attractive.

My introduction to these video responses begins with a man attempting to kegstand a water cooler at the office when he forgets that he isn't in college anymore. (I hated college because that guy was in college with me. Now I love that same guy because he simultaneously embodies and parodies a greater cultural confusion: what to do with the education we never bothered to engage.)

He (sorta) sings:
Man I loved college/I loved College/ I can’t tell you what I learned from school/I didn’t learn anything at school/ those college parties were awfuly crazy, I wish I had taped them/ now it is the real world with my real job and I hate it/

However, Whose Dick is This? Productions, the producers of this parody, aren’t simply nostalgic for bygone opportunities to not learn. Another form of (desperate) regret competes:

birthday on fake ids the only math I thought I’d need/I’m not prepared/ I’m not ready/ I don’t know how I got my degree/ Man I loved college!

Here, pleasure has undermined a collective American cultural presumption—that we value and strive for the acquisition of knowledge. But to love ingenuity and hate the intellectual is nothing new—H.L. Menken and Mark Twain remarked upon this American impulse. En masse, these videos describe an America that doesn’t crave skill and understanding. Instead we appear to be a people that alternately pursue sex and leisure. The diploma is key to actualizing these pursuits, but the learning is incidental.

Watching the slew of I Hate College/ I Love College videos, it is hard not to think of schooling as institution expressly for fools. Why do we think the artist-run school is any better, more attractive? Why do we feel that artists are immune to the way a codified structure reifies power? Why do we play the fool?

For Lacan, objet petit a is defined as what we lack, the unattainable desire embodied by the Other impossibly searched for. How did school, in this art world context, get to be objet petite a when it is glaringly objet grosse B?
Hannah Wilke, Gestures, 1974
This video was removed from YouTube prior to publication of this article. Here's a link to a still from the artist's website

Once, we visited young Aunt S. in a mental ward. Everyone was distracted, so I ate a bowl full of sugar cubes in the asylum’s café. I liked the structure of the cube bursting under the pressure of my tongue. As we left, I noticed they were screening Superman, Christopher Reeve’s head made enormous. It wasn’t such a bad place to be, that afternoon. Another institution, but not like school? No. There was sugar and movies all day every day. But like school, you couldn’t leave when you wanted to. We left; we left Aunt S.

The sun was setting when we got to the parking lot and it looked beautiful in the Summer of 1979, shot with gold, cars with places to go.

“The institution is ill” quips Dr. Jean Oury, founder of the experimental psychoanalytic clinic La Borde. I think he means all of the institutions: Hospital. University. Museum. School. But he does not pronounce these structures dead on arrival; when he says “ill,” that also means that he thinks repair is possible. However, the time frame for repair is so slow that it is absurd to imagine this current herd of artists as purveyors of institutional repair taking it on: a start-up mental ward in a geodesic dome in L.A., a nomadic loony bin that splits its time between Berlin and New York.
The closest artists get to psychiatric units, when not interred, is to document their remains. I recall Suzanne Kalinowski’s photograph of the projectionist’s booth in a deserted ward in rural Michigan. A hand-painted list of all the films screened. The list is both a syllabus and a lifeline. Yet artists stop at making records. They do not begin to generate their own mental wards. Perhaps, it feels unethical to directly mess under the hood of the skull; conversely, it seems unethical to let the insane disappear from the visual record. The artist’s tactic? To neither hold the crazy close or let them entirely out of sight. So while Antonin Artaud’s black spells are unhinging to receive and look very nice in a book, artists are reluctant to make aesthetic the structure that houses insanity. The school remains the safest institution to undo, touch, perform and play house with. It can be done without impunity and with speed.
Dr. Oury’s institutional reform requires slowness. He describes the durational necessities of his type of work:

Similarly, I had spoken to a child psychiatrist a long time ago, who had been working with a girl who was almost post-acephaletic, psychotic. After fifteen years, and gigantic efforts by the psychiatrist, she smiled. Fifteen years of effort, for a smile. This is what counts. But Social Security ignores this, it doesn’t care. A smile is spontaneous. We can ask, “how much does a smile cost?” The smile is not pure linguistics, it is much more, at the level of ergology, of the body, of a very complex logic. The smile is not a laugh because the laugh is more or less aggressive.

This time frame—fifteen years for a smile—is at odds with the speed of production demanded of artists right now—even those who traffic in the aesthetics of pedagogy. Market pressures motivate artists to generate continuously and abundantly. Thus a 1-hour class may become a “course” and a collection of get-togethers amongst friends may become a ‘school.’ Will artists take the time to radically restructure pedagogy? Will they invest hundreds of hours in figuring out if education can be both beautiful and dangerous (not simply safe and pretty)? Will artists work at the level of invention?

Oury “work[s] at the level of the poetic, a level infinitely more complex than the logic of computers and the neurosciences… We work at the level of gestures here at La Borde.” What level of gesture can organize the artist’s school? What gesture will we commit to and for how long? There’s the insanity of the comedian generating a hundred laughs in an hour. There’s the beauty of the psychiatrist waiting fifteen years for a smile. There’s the artist, this time, Hannah Wilke, searching for a gesture. And we viewers do not even realize that we can follow along while we watch, fingers splaying open our own lips.

We Don’t Need No Education

A little girl appears to be forced to sing.
Her lipstick is smeared, her eyes, teary as she chants about self-control.
It is a YouTube video. The context floats.

Pink Floyd’s Anti-Education anthem is the song.
Coercive rebellion, quips my friend Ben. Yes. It is. The whole chorus is miserable. Who delights?

I know this song, but the context is in reverse. My mother and all of her sisters have dropped out of high school by the summer of 1980, in the so-called Inland Empire of southern California.

My beautiful Aunt P. takes me on car rides. Dark eyes rimmed with black makeup. Dark hair. The windows are always down. She dangles her tan arm outside of the car. Anything can smash that long limb, hanging out like that. She smokes as she drives.

Aunt P. plays “Another Brick in the Wall” at full volume when it begins to play on the radio. We sing with it. She is teaching me. She is teaching me to take pleasure in rejecting the institutions that you can’t survive in, institutions that weren’t built for you or with you, institutions that will never accept you, unless its solely on their own terms. There’s pleasure in your rejection of the rejecters, joy in your expulsion.

Now I read that the South African government banned the song in 1980. It “had become the anthem of a national strike of more than 10,000 'coloured' (mixed) students and their white supporters. The students had been protesting the inequality of spending on education for the various races, as well as "intimidation" by teachers…The government ban forbids radio stations to play the record, stores to sell it, and individuals to own it.” (This story was found on the website of an Austrian Libertarian think tank located in Alabama, USA. No matter the source or its accuracy, this resonant narrative describes a global ambivalence about schooling, desired and hated.)

But the legendary chorus isn’t miserable.

There’s no YouTube video of it, no hearing 10,000 students singing “Another Brick in the Wall” together. There’s no video to place whether they are singing it in the buildings or on the roads. Nonetheless a dual-expulsion takes place. Both parties unseated, student and teacher. They return to a classroom after the boycott. The same classroom?

The artist builds a classroom; hand-built or readymade, it hardly matters. What is crucial is whether or not this classroom is merely ornament. And if the artist creates an institution or simply performs a version of it? If her iteration is sparklingly clever or entertaining, it isn’t enough. Is there danger and beauty in the work? Does it reach that new Gold Standard for art that Sevan Hanoum just taught me? Make a school that makes me sick to my stomach, radically overhauls my presumptions, or most difficult, is so lovely I can barely stand it. Make this school the equivalent of the Fifteen-year smile. The slowest bloom.

Mary Walling Blackburn, artist and writer, is the founder and director of the Anhoek School, a pedagogical experiment. Her work can be found at welcomedoubleagent.com and anhoekschool.org.

One for All
Trinity University Art Gallery, San Antonio
Through April 10, 2010

By Wendy Atwell

Emily Joyce,Grand Graham Bow Wow, 2009, Oil on canvas, 19 5/8 x 19 1/4 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Inman Gallery.

Only one of Jim Torok’s small, postcard-sized portraits is included in One for All, at Trinity University. Yet the potency of this 4-by-5-inch painting overwhelms Torok’s other work on view and carries its weight amidst multiple pieces, all larger in scale, by the three other artists included in the show. Curator Jessica Halonen’s choice to exhibit just one of Torok’s tiny portraits, hung directly across from Jose Lerma’s large-scale portrait of a Spanish king made from carpet, reinforces the varied ways in which the artists push the traditional boundaries of portraiture. These artists dispatch with decorous notions of celebration and honor to face the deeper issues that inspire portraits: power, mortality, and the question of how well one can really know another.

Because of their finely detailed renderings, Torok’s portraits, which are frontal and cropped from the shoulders up, have been compared with Northern Renaissance painting. Torok paints a composite image of his subjects (friends, family, fellow artists, himself) based on a series of photographs. The multiple sources of images give the painting an uncanny knowledge that seems to compensate for what gets left out, information that isn’t visible or accessible in either a sitting or a two-dimensional image.

Traditionally, portraitists included extraneous objects to symbolize details about the subject’s life. In 1533, Hans Holbein painted a mysterious anamorphic skull in The Ambassadors, bringing up issues of power and mortality. Compositionally, the skull begins to eclipse the figure as a point of interest in the painting. Today, Joey Fauerso takes this concept a step further. Fauerso’s figures appear and disappear, or are smeared, their existence literally giving way to the negative space surrounding them. These formal decisions become metaphors for metaphysical issues of being, time, and space. In the hand drawn animation, Four Ways To Disappear, Fauerso erases a figure slowly in four different ways. In one version, the silent disappearance of the figure ends with a blue smear across the white ground. In another, the figure is consumed by white clouds. Fauerso’s blurs and erasures of the figure suspend it between positive and negative space, subsuming the individual or ego. The model for this animation is Fauerso’s brother, Neil. She frequently uses Neil as a subject, and this adds poignancy to the work, as if she is sacrificing him to the void.

Jose Lerma’s Portrait of Carlos II de España, created on site with the help of Trinity art students, is a large-scale image of the last Hapsburg king made from commercial carpet in hues of green, brown and blue. Historical accounts describe this man’s life as one of madness, deformity and illness. Lerma captures the residue of these accounts in the relief of the collaged carpet. This sculptural piece drapes dramatically from the wall, an historic subject transposed into a non-traditional, base material. Lerma’s use of carpet mocks portraiture as a recording of royal legacy, denying the portrait’s subject the illustriousness of paint and the expectations of immortality that accompany it.

In Emily Joyce’s playful paintings, hands replace portraiture’s traditional subject, the face. A fist is painted with two black dots and lines to imply eyes and brows; the natural curve of the hand over the thumb creates a surprisingly effective frown, which wakes up the viewer’s predisposition to recognize a human face and even attribute emotions to it.

One for All removes the boundaries of traditional portraiture to imply a nearly infinite content within a single portrait, a content that extends beyond the individual into philosophical questions of power, psychology and spirituality.

Wendy Atwell received her M.A. in Art History and Criticism from The University of Texas at San Antonio.

project space

Keith Wilson

By Katie Geha

To watch the first five minutes of The Shrimp, click "02" in the slide show above. It's Flash. It will take a moment to load. The sound is subtle, so turn your volume up, too.

Keith Wilson’s new short film tells the life story of shrimp in Savannah, Georgia. The film, The Shrimp which just had a screening at the SXSW film festival, begins innocently enough. There are long luscious static shots of the Savannah landscape at sun-rise, the rustle of reeds as the camera peeks through the grass, images of marshes that billow out and then create a flat horizon line—a diagonal strip of green between two blue blocks of water and sky. Just as the viewer adjusts to the slow rhythm of the quaint landscapes, a loud clunking fishing boat slides into the frame and the narrative begins. The camera dunks under the calm trickling water and we are met with the subject of the film: a translucent shrimp floats back and forth through the murky water before a net suddenly snatches it up and away to its fate.

The fate of the shrimp of Savannah is perhaps the basic theme of the film. However, the journey in which they travel—moving from a fishing boat, to a packing plant, to a restaurant, to the plate garnished with lemon, to the mouth of a bawdy lounge singer—creates a larger subtext, that of the fishing history and landscape of the south. Understanding a site both through its industry and its culinary delights (unlike other recent food documentaries, The Shrimp made me hungry for its subject), allows for a slower, more complex rendering of a place. And the film is slow. There is no narration; rather, Wilson allows the camera work and natural sounds of the sites to tell his story. Finally, the shrimp make their way through the sewage system, seen as a pan of the streets of this pretty town. And just when you thought the film would end at human waste, the cycle starts anew. The smart, slyly funny camera focuses once again on the southern land, where the film began. Instead of critically examining the fishing industry, The Shrimp celebrates the life-cycle of these tasty sea creatures by situating them within a cultural heritage, the appetites of the people of Savannah, Georgia.

Keith Wilson is a filmmaker, photographer and performance artist based in Austin, Texas and San Francisco. His films have aired on public and cable television and have been exhibited in galleries, community spaces and film festivals including the Berlinale, the London Film Festival, South by Southwest and the National Gallery of Art. He is currently working on a film about sea cucumbers, a self-eviscerating marine animal prized in Japan for their viagra-like properties. In April 2009, he will remount his performance-based Cave & Mountain Tours in Austin and the Bay Area. He has an MFA in film production from the Radio-TV-Film Department at UT-Austin. For more on his work visit wall-eye.com and caveandmountaintour.com.

Katie Geha is pursuing her Ph.D. in art history at The University of Texas at Austin.

Announcements: exhibitions

Austin Openings

Alison Kuo
SOFA Gallery
Opening reception: Sunday, March 28, 2010, 4-6pm

Interweaving sculpture, drawing, and video, Alison Kuo creates a narrative about the anxiety of home making. Nesting, the title of this exhibition can refer to any number of instances related to the domestic. Kuo’s anthropomorphic fuzzy stuffed sculptures might recall the nesting instinct of rodents in which the animal seeks the lowest shelter possible to give birth. Her fragile cage-like wooden constructions are reminiscent of intricate nests made of twigs, grass, and leaves created to keep an animal’s offspring safe and warm. The animation in the exhibition plays with the relationship between objects, creating a nested arrangement of things hard and soft.

Austin on View

Temple of Booom
Okay Mountain Gallery
Through April 17

Okay Mountain proudly presents Temple of Booom, a collaborative installation by the artist-run alternative space, Cinders Gallery from Brooklyn, NY. Artists Kelie Bowman, Kyle Ranson and STO will create a site-specific installation that combines paintings, prints, drawings, murals and sculpture. Exploring places of worship, rituals, shrines, music, and congregation, Cinders will build their own place of spiritual assembly based not on any one religious faith but on the faith of a loose-knit community of artists, performers, experimenters, and musicians.

Roy McMakin
Lora Reynolds Gallery
Through May 15

Lora Reynolds Gallery is pleased to announce their second solo exhibition of new sculptures and photography by Seattle-based artist, Roy McMakin.For this exhibition, In and On, Roy McMakin conceived four pieces that meticulously intermingle elements of sculpture and furniture. Each work imbues the artists distinctly minimalist tradition. Two pieces espouse found furniture with McMakin's own sculptures, a more prevalent practice by the artist in recent years. His photographic series, Net Making, also included in the exhibition, skillfully illustrates McMakins relentless attention to detail.

Katy Horan
Domy Books
Through April 22

Lady Monsters is the title of Katy Horan's opening at Domy Books. Her work gives birth to fantastical creatures made of pattern and lace. Referring to ideas of femininity, Horan derives much of her inspiration from archetypes of folklore and history.

Kathryn Kelley
Women and their Work
Through April 15

Houston based artist Kathryn Kelley up-cycles and reanimates objects of urban refuse into large fleshy sculptures that often stand in the place of the self. The impressive scale of these pieces creates a theatrical position for viewers who are confronted with gregarious forms, or intimations of the shadowed self. Remnant inner tubes, doors, frames & windows morph & mingle in these ambitious works. Click here for more information about the show.

Blanton Museum of Art
Through April 25

See Claire Ruud's review in Issue #141.

Luke Savisky
Austin Museum of Art
Through May 9

AMOA's New Works exhibition series introduces fresh contemporary art by innovative Austin artists. The upcoming show will feature installation artist, Luke Savisky, who uses light and projection to explores ideas of perception, exposure, surveillance, and perspective. Click here for a video of a previous installation in downtown Austin.

Austin Closings

Elizabeth Chiles
Closing March 28

Taking compositions found within the landscape as a starting place, Elizabeth Chiles builds syntax out of the formal and affective relationships between darkness and natural light. Her photographs endow light with temporal and spatial presence—a visible presence that nonetheless gestures toward the imperceptible and ineffable. This handling of light transforms the everyday into something to be revered. In this way, the works in Book of Praise become an ode to a presence akin to that of an altar or inspired text, or what may be the aura of the sacred.

Dallas Openings

Lisa Grossman
Opening Reception: Saturday, March 27, 6-8pm

Lisa Grossman’s oil paintings of wide open rural eastern Kansas, painted en plein air (or on location) and from aerial photography, are a meditation on open spaces, exploring the emotional responses to atmospheric shifts in light, color, and the vast distance of land and sky. from the press release

Dallas on View

Jeff Elrod and Richard Tuttle
Dunn and Brown Contemporary
Through May 1

Dunn and Brown Contemporary is pleased to announce the opening of Jeff Elrod: Flower Thief and Richard Tuttle: Metal Shoes. Jeff Elrod will be present for the opening.

Houston Openings

Andrea Dezsö
Rice University Art Gallery
Opening reception: Thursday, April 8, 5-7pm

For her installation Sometimes in My Dreams I Fly, Andrea Dezsö will expand upon a technique she uses to make her distinctive “tunnel books.” Small, handmade books that reveal three-dimensional scenes, tunnel books are created from layers of paper that are individually drawn, cut out, and painted. Each layer is then stacked one in front of another in a collapsible case to create a miniature world with depth and detail that draw in the viewer. At Rice Gallery, Dezsö’s tunnel books will become life-size, with tunnels as wide as six feet. The individual “tunnels” will be placed just behind Rice Gallery’s large front glass wall, creating portals a viewer can peer into but enter only with their imagination. The human scale will be a departure point to another reality. Explains Dezsö, “I want to transport the viewer, as when you pass by a house and look into a window and see a different world from your own.”

An Exhibition of Proposals for a Socialist Colony
Opening Reception: Saturday, March 27, 6-9pm

In the mid 1800’s a box of national archives went missing during the Archive War causing Skydive’s land to revert to its original deed. It stipulates that the land be granted to any group starting a socialist colony on the property. The works in this exhibition are proposals for this new colony. They contribute a variety of perspectives on the fruitful paradoxes that reside in the quest for individual freedom and the necessity for social contracts, collective processes and their sometimes authoritarian implementation. from the press release. They also have a blog.

Houston on View

Demetrius Oliver
Inman Gallery
Through May 1

In a series of photographs, an installation, and a sculpture, Demetrius Oliver explores the effects and potential meanings of reflected light. "Albedo", the title of both the exhibition and the sculpture, refers to the measure of how strongly an object reflects electromagnetic rays. Oliver transforms common objects (light bulbs, coal, a suitcase, and photographs) to evoke phenomena and metaphors of illumination. Both introspective and expansive, Oliver's practice investigates the cosmos, and our knowledge of the universal, from the vantage points of the artist's studio and the gallery space.

Barkley L. Hendricks
Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
Through April 18

Best known for his life-sized portraits of ordinary people living in his urban northeast community of Connecticut, Barkley L. Hendricks’s bold portrayal of his subject’s attitude and style elevates the common man and woman to celebrity status. Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool is the first painting retrospective of the American artist, and includes over 50 works from 1964 to the present

2010 Core Exhibition and Yearbook
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Through April 16

The 2010 Core Exhibition features the work of current artists-in-residence Nick Barbee, Natasha Bowdoin, Jillian Conrad, Lily Cox-Richard, Steffani Jemison, Julie Ann Nagle, Kelly Sears, and James Sham II. Published in conjunction with the exhibition, the 2010 Core Yearbook includes essays by this year´s critical studies residents Regan Golden-McNerney, Kurt Mueller, and Wendy Vogel.

Allison Hunter and Kelly Richardson
DiverseWorks Art Space
Through April 17

Hunter's Zoosphere is a transcendent installation of image and sound investigating humankind's relationship to the natural world. In her first ever immersive video installation, Hunter upends the power dynamic between the human and non-human animal within a dark, mazelike environment in which the man and beast co-mingle. Richardson's flickerlounge: Twilight Avenger is equal parts sci-fi myth and forest fable, dreamy nocturne and dazzling special effect, Twilight Avenger begins with a fairytale-worthy image of a misty, moonlit forest clearing, inhabited by a majestic stag who emanates a luminous green vapor.

Panta Rei
Box 13
Through April 13

In conjunction with FotoFest, Panta Reiis an exhibition featuring eleven photographers from Austin, TX. Panta rei, translated from the Greek, means "everything flows." Thought to be first uttered by Heraclitus, Panta Rei describes a worldview of things in constant flux, famously positing that one can never step in the same river twice. Artists in the exhibition include: Ben Ruggiero, Susan Scafati Shahan, Leigh Brodie, Jason Reed, Mike Osborne, Barry Stone, Adam Schreiber, Jessica Mallios, Sarah Murphy, Anna Krachey, and Elizabeth Chiles.

Moody Gallery
Through April 17

Moody Gallery is pleased to announce an exhibition of new work by MANUAL (Ed Hill and Suzanne Bloom), their first major collaborative exhibition since their retrospective was shown at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in 2004. MANUAL on books is a large selection of photographs from MANUAL's extended Book Project, a celebration, paean or praise of the "book." The exhibition is in conjunction with the FotoFest 2010 Biennial.

San Antonio Openings

Joey Fauerso and Michael Velliquette
David Shelton Gallery
Opening reception: Friday, March 26, 6-9pm

Exotic Matter introduces new works by San Antonio-based painter Joey Fauerso and Madison-based paper artist Michael Velliquette. Fauerso's intimate and large-scale paintings on paper continue her investigations in the depiction of the human body as an intersection between nature and culture. Velliquette's recent series of cut paper works push the physical properties of his chosen medium further by experimenting more dramatically in high relief.

Angela Fox
cactus bra SPACE
Opening Reception: Friday, April 2, 6-9pm

Opening in the Blue Star contemporary arts space in San Antonio is Angela Fox's new mixed-media collages. Named after a life stage in the development of butterflies, Chrysalis explores ideas pertaining to transformation, beauty, and emergence. Figures surface from their protective shell of layered garments—textures and patterns collaged from high fashion magazines juxtaposed with the artist’s own meticulously rendered furs and designs. The patchwork-like casings connect haute couture to nature in terms of its organic and otherworldly qualities, while referencing a place where one parts with an old state of being and emerges changed.

Okay Mountain and Circulatory System
Unit B
Opening Reception: Friday, March 26, 6:30-10pm

For Unit B's Contemporary Art Month contribution, we welcome Okay Mountain and Circulatory System to San Antonio. Guest curators, Okay Mountain will exhibit Make-Up featuring recent works by Ben Aqua (Austin, TX), Brian Bress (Los Angeles, CA), Faith Gay (Austin, TX) on view in the gallery through May 2, 2010. For one night only, Circulatory System brings their converted school bus to the yard for a second time to exhibit The Album is Dead which features new video works by 12 artists from Austin and New York. See below for more info on both endeavors. from the press release

San Antonio on View

IAIR New Works: 10.1
Through May 16

Artpace's International Artists-in-Residence program 10.1 presents new work by Buster Graybill (Huntsville, TX), Klara Liden (Berlin, Germany), and Ulrike Müller (New York, NY).

Texas Exhibitions

Felix-Gonzales Torres
Through December 31

In celebration of its 15th anniversary, Artpace presents the first-ever U.S. survey of 95.1 Artpace alum Felix Gonzalez-Torres' billboards in a yearlong, state-wide exhibition of 13 seminal works sited in Dallas, El Paso, Houston, and San Antonio. Major underwriting for this special exhibition is provided by the Linda Pace Foundation, with generous in-kind support from Clear Channel Outdoor.

Announcements: events

Austin Events

Arthouse Visiting Lecturer Series: Gary Carrion-Murayari
George Washington Carver Museum & Cultural Center
Thursday, April 8, 7pm

Recently named one of The New York Times Style Magazine’s “Nifty 50,” Gary Carrion-Murayari has experienced a meteoric rise to prominence in the international contemporary art world. Having worked in the curatorial department at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York since 2003, specializing in contemporary art, film, and video, Carrion-Murayari was tapped to team up with guest curator Francesco Bonami to serve as Associate Curator of the 2010 Whitney Biennial. from the press release

Pretend You Are Rich Art Auction
Pump Project
Saturday, March 27, 7-10pm

We don't generally announce fundraisers, but we're making an exception because pretending you are rich is just so much fun! Saturday marks Pump Project's 7th ever Pretend You Are Rich Art Auction.The minimum bid is $3000, and every winner gets an instant $3000 rebate. The events founder, J. Haley, will be co-emceeing with Richard Anthony Guerra to announce work from over 20 local artists to bid on. Entry is free and there will be drinks and snacks provided by Whole Foods and Tito's Vodka.

Avant Cinema: Film-Makers' Cooperative
Austin Film Society Screening Room at Austin Studios
Wednesday, March 31, 2010, 7-9pm
Admission: $6 / $4 for AFS Members

Filmmaker Caroline Koebel and Scott Stark are taking on the task of exposing Austin to more alternative cinema. The collaborative duo are working with Chale Nafus and Bryan Poyser on the Avant Cinema Series which features screenings of experimental film and video art every month. Their next screening will be a crash course in American avant-garde film history-- all presented in 16mm glory. Please contact carolinekoebel@gmail.com with any questions.

Houston Events

Artist Talk: Julie Mehretu
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Sunday, April 11, 2010, at 2:00 p.m.

Julie Mehretu is internationally celebrated for her large, accumulative paintings that powerfully join figuration and abstraction. In this special presentation, Mehretu will discuss her work, including her new suite of paintings in the exhibition Julie Mehretu: Grey Area, now traveling from Berlin to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, where it will open in May. A reception to meet the speaker follows the program.

Fort Worth Events

Artist Talk: Kenneth Goldsmith
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
Tuesday, March 30, 7pm

Kenneth Goldsmith, a New York-based poet whose writing has been described as, "some of the most exhaustive and beautiful collage work yet produced in poetry" by Publishers Weekly, is founding editor of the online archive UbuWeb (ubu.com), and among other endeavors, is also the editor of I'll Be Your Mirror: The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews, which was the basis for the opera, Trans-Warhol, that premiered in Geneva in 2007. This lecture fleshes out the full spectrum of what it meant to be Andy Warhol at the end of his life. What emerges is a portrait of the artist as media visionary, one who, nearly three decades ago, accurately predicted our current infatuation with technology, celebrity, and social networking.

San Antonio Events

On IAIR microCinema
Special location: Bijou @ Crossroads, 4522 Fredericksburg Rd, San Antonio, TX 78201
March 31, 7pm

View contemporary film and video shorts inspired by New Works: 10.1. Shorts will focus on themes of gender identity. Films by Vito Acconci, Paul McCarthy, and Bruce Nauman-- just to name a few. Click here for more info and a list of all the films to be screened.

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