MBG Issue #148: Something Sexy about Manifest Destiny

Issue # 148

Something Sexy about Manifest Destiny

May 21, 2010

share with a friend:

Emilie Halpern, June 29, 1955, 2010, C-print, 18 x 24 inches. Courtesy the artist and Art Palace Gallery.

from the editor

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has reached the Loop Current, a powerful and horrifyingly concrete metaphor for the manner in which this oil is swirling around in all kinds of thoughts and conversations in our day-to-day lives right now. Only one writer, Lee Webster on Marina Zurkow’s Slurb, mentioned the Gulf oil spill by name in this issue, but the crisis seems to lurk below the surface in many other features as well: Kate Watson’s discussion of Cloud Eye Control’s Under Polaris and Wendy Vogel’s review of Cosmos, to name two. When Webster wonders whether imagery that “traffics in the apocalypse” merely increases the emotional distance between viewers and a very real future, when Watson asks Under Polaris to make her “feel more,” when Vogel concludes her thoughts with John Lennon’s entreating lyrics, “wherever you are, you are here; wherever you are, you are here,” these writers are tapping into a desire for sincerity and a longing to feel urgency, and grasping at the relationship between the individual and the cosmos: the infinitesimal and the leviathan.

Exploration, discovery, the noble quest: these ideas weave throughout the artists’ work discussed in this issue. Hand in hand with these comes an inquiry into the performance of western bravado and scientific objectivity on one hand and bohemian earthiness and earnest emotion on the other. One might boil this down to the performance of certain types of masculinity—think Clint Eastwood, John Wayne and Carl Sagan, to name a few who appear in this issue—and femininity—think Yoko Ono and Joni Mitchell. However, under the artists’ hands, the Clints and Carls begin to look just as sentimental , just as caught up in the romantic and the mysterious, as the Yokos and Jonis. And the Yokos and Jonis become just as sagacious, just as shrewd and rational, ask the Clints and Carls.

We know it already: impulses to dominate and understand objectively are inseparable from fantasy and emotion. What I see in the work and writing in this issue, though, is more trust in that fantasy and emotion than I’ve heard before. Is it simply the same old romantic impulses that Nikki Moore warns against in "Fencing the Back Forty," or could it be a constructive reclamation of hope, possibility and a future?

More thoughts on the themes of this issue from myself and the other writers appear in the form of images in a small online exhibition in this week's Artist's Space.

In other, relatively inconsequential news, but news that will have significant impact on the Austin art world nonetheless, the Blanton announced its exhibition schedule for 2010-2011, and WorkSpace projects—the projects through which the Blanton have traditionally supported emerging artists, and for which Austin-based artists are most likely to visit the museum—are conspicuously absent. In response to my inquiry on this subject, Deputy Director of Art & Programs Annette Carlozzi explained, "we've just completed a new 5-year strategic plan and contemporary art remains a key part of our commitment, as you might imagine from all the talent we have on staff. Thoughtful consideration and program planning must now follow ... As far as the pacing of the WorkSpace projects goes, we need time to examine how we can create other, additional opportunities for artists to be involved in our galleries and exhibitions. And, we want to look at which other spaces in the museum might be suited to projects we invite artists to propose." So I guess we'll just have to wait and see what the Blanton's commitment to contemporary art does, and does not, entail.

Claire Ruud is Associate Director of Fluent~Collaborative.


Marina Zurkow
Women and Their Work, Austin
Through May 27, 2010

By Lee Webster

Marina Zurkow, Video still from Slurb, 2009, Single channel video. Courtesy of the artist and Women and Their Work.

Artist Marina Zurkow spent three years addressing issues of climate change in her work. Now she is finished with this topic, she told the audience at a recent panel discussion held in conjunction with the exhibition of her piece Slurb (2009) at Women and Their Work. After three years of wrestling with these issues, Zurkow explained, she looked at the parade of dismal ideas and images and felt they weren’t moving her towards any greater understanding or action. She had the nagging feeling she was only “trafficking in the apocalypse,” adding to a glut of imagery in the media that capitalizes on our fascination with the End Time. However, with crude oil currently gushing into the Gulf of Mexico at the rate of thousands of barrels a day, Slurb feels far from exploitative. It heralds a frightening future in which humans live on obliviously, for better or worse, in the face of drastic and irreversible climate change.

Zurkow’s 18-minute video loop is a meditation on life, post cataclysmic environmental change. A flooded city drifts by, populated by a cast of animals, humans, hybrids and fantastical characters, each in its own eternal loop, some deftly rowing boats and others precariously balancing atop submerged trailers. The edges of the candy-colored animated figures squiggle and vibrate in the manner of hand-drawn animation, and yet their repeated motions are uncannily life-like. Zurkow has pulled each of these figures from YouTube videos and stock-footage websites, using search criteria like “societies that live on water” or “sad.” Slurb’s endless loop is reminiscent of the repeated imagery of this past decade’s 24-hour news feed. The action gently rises and falls, sometimes lulling you into a bewildered immobility and other times churning your stomach with the uncomfortable realization that this is all actually happening while you’re just sitting there.

The City of Tampa, Florida commissioned Slurb for a public art biennial in 2009, and the drowned city floating by in the piece is made up of Tampa’s sky scrapers, bridges, and pristine suburbs. When asked how the piece was received by Tampans, Zurkow observed that it had little resonance with the people of the city, with one viewer casually remarking, “Hey, that’s my office building!”

This kind of response gets at the crux of the issue for Zurkow: is it possible that trafficking in the apocalypse only increases the distance of an inevitable but far-off future? If people don’t see themselves when they see their office buildings flooded and floating along in the polluted stew that was their city, what will drive home the fact that climate change will affect each and every American? Slurb walks the fine line of all political art, successfully staying away from the didactic and preachy. Though it won’t spur every viewer to action, it gives us all a meditative space to imagine a world we’ve begun to glimpse through the natural disasters of recent years, and 18 minutes to consider whether we could cut it in that not-so-distant future.

Slurb may be viewed online here.

Lee Webster is an artist living and working in Austin.

Roy McMakin
Lora Reynolds Gallery, Austin
Closed May 15, 2010

By Bridget Evarts

Roy McMakin, My Slatback Chair with a Pair of Attached Chairs, 2010, Found chair and enamel paint on maple, 47 x 38 x 36 inches. Courtesy the artist and Lora Reynolds Gallery.

When is a chair not a chair? When said chair is in a gallery and you aren’t allowed to sit on it. Roy McMakin’s sculptural furniture often tweaks the distinction between design and art, using and looking, sitting and standing. In and On, McMakin's latest show at the Lora Reynolds Gallery, continues the conversation about where we sit, where we stand, and what our eyes take for granted in viewing everyday objects.

In My Slatback Chair with a Pair of Attached Chairs (2010), McMakin flips the convention of modern functionality by presenting a pair of gray and chartreuse Herman Miller seats, anchored together in black and silver. A simple white enameled chair lurks behind, slyly intersecting with the modernist seats, and the effect is almost naughty, like a schoolchild making bunny ears in a photograph. McMakin's clean white lines only highlights the grubby hand of the last half-century.

Roy McMakin, Untitled (detail), 2010.

Ghosts of the last half-century flit throughout the show as well. The front view of white panels mounted midway on the gallery’s north wall at first seem homage to Rauschenberg’s White Painting (Three Panel) (1951). However, these three panels are subtly shaded in white, ecru and cream, and a stroll to the side reveals a different origin of A Wall Sculpture of a Drop Leaf Table (2010). The table's raw underbelly is a reminder of the mass-produced, unpainted quality of most commercial furniture, held by black screws with no conceit of dowels or décor.

McMakin's sentiment is often overshadowed by his cleverness, but that sentiment is most apparent in the last two sculptures in the show, both named Untitled (2010). A found dresser stands with two drawers agape, a stripe of white enamel obscuring two-thirds of the original yellowed paint and green vinyl runner (which, as an interior designer might offer, “ties together”the dresser and My Slatback Chair, with its chartreuse seat cover). Again, the white serves to highlight the nicks and chips under the enamel, bearing evidence of wear. It reminded me of a slumlord’s trick, power-spraying new paint over grime in a rental.

The final sculpture is perhaps the most playful and inviting piece: two low, meandering platforms bookend the piece, their sharp corners softened by a pile of white pillows. The cushions appear to be randomly scattered, but the plinths' precise corners indicate an implied order to this pillow fight. Interestingly, these are described as “found pillows” — the cases were so clean, I had to peek underneath to verify the claim. While the dresser provokes a feeling of absence or lost bearings, in the pillows there is something hopeful: an elevation of past comforts, with promises of more to come.

Also included in the show are six chromogenic prints offering different photographic angles of the outside of an instructional tome. The two-dimensional 6 Photographs of the Book “Net Making” (2007) may at first seem out of step with the rest of the show. However, McMakin manages to create a sculpture out of photographs without resorting to tricks or craft; the artist trusts the viewer's eye to give dimension to the object. McMakin has been exploring this medium for several years and this show's interpretation does not disappoint in its skill and sly humor. 6 Photographs of the Book “Net Making” is priced at $12,000. For those who believe a book must be a book, it’s also available from Amazon, 16 used from $21.49.

Bridget Evarts is a writer based in Austin and member of the band Over the Hill.

Cloud Eye Control
Presented by Women & Their Work at the Fusebox Festival, 2010, Austin
April 29-May 1, 2010

By Kate Watson

Cloud Eye Control, Performance still of Under Polaris presented by Women & Their Work at the Fusebox Festival, 2010, 2009, Courtesy of the artist.

There’s something undeniably sexy about Manifest Destiny. Possession, consumption and the wild promise of the unknown are desires that, like it or not, are deeply engrained in the American spirit. Thomas Paine argued in 1776 that the American Revolution would give our infant nation “the power to begin the world over again…the birthday of a new world is at hand…” This statement resonates deeply with the traumatic experience of today’s ecocrisis. Wouldn’t it be divine if we could just escape and start over in a new world?

The narrative of L.A.-based collective Cloud Eye Control’s Under Polaris, which follows a scientist named Anna Oxygen on a perilous voyage, is a cross-media romp that gives its audience a full-on “get out of jail free” card to explore our deeply rooted American hunger for exploration, danger and conquest. The production indulges in the fantasy and horror of that final earthly frontier: the North Pole. And despite the familiarity of this premise (let’s save the future of humanity by embarking on a wild quest!), this stunning visual collaboration is a deeply pleasurable way to experience theater’s unique capability to help us escape our overwhelming times.

The real glory of this hour-long performance is its ability to wow the audience visually through wonderfully simple means. Who knew that projecting layers of snow images on a set of curtains could so deftly produce the effect of being trapped in a blizzard? How does a piece of a cardboard instantly become a canoe traveling the chopping north seas? Because of the piece’s powerful fusion of cinema, song and movement, we deeply want to believe. The simple illusions immerse us completely in the fantasy of exploration.

Yet it is impossible to walk away from Under Polaris without feeling a bit let down. The show has received a fair amount of critical flack for being over-experiential and under-intellectual. I would argue, however, that the real problem with the work is that Under Polaris makes light of a journey that should challenge the audience in a deeply emotional way. In the most disturbingly misguided moment of the show, performer/composer Anna Oxygen does a cutesy dance with a polar bear before stripping the beast of his claws and taking them for herself. This kind of directional choice, rampant throughout the piece, constantly undermines the gravity of the journey and the emotional life of the female scientist. Too often we feel like this is playtime. Too often the production reminds us that it’s all just make believe. I want the journey to move me, to scare and delight me. It’s all fun, all the time, when it could be deeply profound. Even the dark moments feel grey.

The potent imagery of Under Polaris, combined with the gorgeously chaotic rock opera soundtrack, takes us deep into suspended reality. But why not challenge us to feel more, once you’ve already got us there?

Kate Watson is an Austin-based writer, curator and artist. She is the cofounder of Circulatory System and a founding member of Austin Video Bee.

This feature was republished in the Texas Observer's Arts & Minds section on Wednesday, May 26, 2010.

John Kelly
Fusebox Festval 2010, Austin
April 30-May 2, 2010

By Chelsea Weathers

John Kelly, Performance still from Paved Paradise Redux, Fusebox Festval 2010, 2010. Courtesy of the artist.

John Kelly’s Paved Paradise Redux answered an important question for me: How does one do a camp performance of Joni Mitchell? The blonde folk-singer’s understated demeanor doesn’t immediately seem conducive to camp whose subjects have historically been culled from musical theater or opera. As Susan Sontag said in her foundational “Notes on ‘Camp’” in 1964, “Camp sees everything in quotation marks. It’s not a lamp, but a ‘lamp’; not a woman, but a ‘woman.’” Kelly’s performance, though not flamboyant or overly theatrical as many female impersonators tend to be, presented us with a “Joni Mitchell” that theatricalized and revitalized the sincere sentimentality of the soft-spoken folk singer.

During Kelly’s first set, he presented Mitchell in an ankle-legnth, diaphanous ivory dress. She seated herself delicately and picked up a small wooden stringed instrument. “This is a dulcimer,” she explained gently, and proceeded to give a brief and humorous monologue of the dubious history of the dulcimer in American music before pursing her lips coquettishly (apparently this mannerism is a Mitchell trademark, distilled and caricatured at regular intervals by Kelly for maximum comic effect) and launching into a skilled rendition of “A Case of You,” complete with the high trills for which Mitchell is so well known. In addition to conveying emotional intensity through her music, Kelly’s version of Mitchell also engaged the audience on a personal level with her meandering stories. We began to know Mitchell as Kelly must feel he knows her––as an iconic folk singer but also as a woman who is slightly awkward, highly sensitive, funny and intelligent. Other between-song musings included jokes about Hitler, after which she blushingly admonished herself for being so crass, which only served to make her more endearing (only Mitchell’s sweet demeanor could pull off Hitler jokes); comments about how some types of love are so obviously wrong, yet when we are caught up in it we are desperate to make it work (Mitchell is constantly “strung out on another man”); and a reference to gender and John Kelly, which was an interesting way for Kelly to acknowledge himself and his role as Joni Mitchell, while simultaneously denying his own identity as John Kelly.

In fact, Kelly’s performance as Mitchell served to reinforce what I see as a fundamental characteristic of camp––at no time is the audience meant to believe that they are witnessing anything but an imitation of the performer’s subject. For Kelly-as-Joni to work, the audience must be in on the joke, and the joke, in the end, is actually quite serious. When the performance does what it is supposed to do, we accept that we are watching both Kelly and Mitchell––and the performance takes on a poignancy that is not simply an ironic, detached form of impersonation. Kelly inhabits Mitchell in a way that elicits emotion from the audience. This became very clear at the end of the performance when, during “Down to You,” Kelly walked to the back of the stage, and in the glow of a red spotlight, stripped off his wig and dress, put on a pair of pants and a vintage Joni Mitchell concert tee, and finished the song not as Joni, but as a devoted fan. As he sang to the audience, “You’re a brute, you’re an angel / You can crawl, you can fly too / It’s down to you / It all comes down to you,” this transition from camp to fandom made it obvious that Kelly, as himself and as “Joni Mitchell,” believed in those words, and that we should believe in them too.

Chelsea Weathers is a Ph.D. Candidate in Art History at The University of Texas at Austin. Her dissertation is a history of the exhibition and distribution of Andy Warhol's films in the 1960s.

Emilie Halpern and Eric Zimmerman
Art Palace, Houston
Through June 19, 2010

By Wendy Vogel

Eric Zimmerman, There I Was (Nothing Is The Rule, Something The Exception) Production Still of Clint Eastwood as The Outlaw Josey Wales, |There I Was | Pieter Brueghel, Tower Of Babel, 1593, Albert Bierstadt, Yosemite, 1868| Starscape (Dispersion), 2010, Graphite on Paper, 50 x 65 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Art Palace.

Cosmos, the documentary series from 1980 narrated and produced by Carl Sagan, described the origins of the universe using state-of-the-art special effects and trippy electronic music. Departing from the straightforward filmic conventions of PBS documentaries, it remained the network’s most-watched program throughout the 1980s, igniting the intellectual curiosity and burgeoning aesthetic sense of Generation Y. This shared generational and interpersonal sensibility unites Emilie Halpern and Eric Zimmerman, who appropriate Sagan’s title for their two-person exhibition at Art Palace. In what can be most aptly dubbed an artistic duet, Halpern’s dreamy photographs and subdued installation work play whimsically against Zimmerman’s “collages” of images of muscle cars, bomb sites and scientific phenomena obsessively rendered in graphite. Together, they touch upon the conflicting desires for utopia and domination embodied in the quest for scientific knowledge.

Harmony resonates in the exhibition’s centerpiece, a collaborative piece entitled You Are Here (Endlessly) (2010). Two tape players set atop a gold space blanket play recorded tracks on TDK “endless” looping cassettes of Halpern and Zimmerman reciting a passage from Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot, written in 1994. The selected excerpt describes the formal difficulty of capturing an image of Earth from the edge of the solar system, the subject matter of the “Pale Blue Dot” image captured by the satellite Voyager 1 in 1990. The sculpture’s formal qualities recall The Golden Record sent into space on the Voyager in 1977, a compendium of greetings in dozens of languages, everyday sounds and music that, according to NASA’s website, “suggest that the message is as much for Earthlings as for aliens […] A diversity of tongues aboard a craft leaving the solar system emphasizes the shared global significance of the endeavor.”

Excerpts from The Golden Record form the basis of an audio collage by Zimmerman situated in an installation modeled after functionalist furniture design, After Rodchenko (Points in a Constellation) (2010). A deeply moving assortment of greetings and instrumental music from Ennico Morricone to Brian Eno, the broadcast lends a universal human element to the cold-seeming utopian design. In this installation, visitors may also browse Zimmerman’s two artist books and audio programs. The books contain reproductions of artworks, letters, photographs and more, collected through the Internet, research libraries, NPR programs or personal mementos. Spirit Over Matter (2010) charts instances of supernatural occurrences disrupting human reason in both the arts and the sciences. The Historian & the Astronomer (2010) also brings together snippets of interdisciplinary research material. As Zimmerman stated in his guest-edited issue of this journal, both occupations “search for points of connection—bonds between seemingly disparate elements—that congeal to establish a new framework.”

These books, a partial index and visual inventory of research material, become the testing grounds for Zimmerman’s compositions. Surrounding the installation are small etchings and drawn copies of documents from our shared database of cosmic knowledge. Most notably, in The First Words Spoken From The Moon (Apollo II Onboard Voice Transcription) (2010), a straightforward, drawn replica of a typed transcript, a warning label of “CONFIDENTIAL” is scribbled out. The interference of the individual’s hand mobilizes the ideas of interpretive fiction, erasure and subjectivity in history — the place where the historian, astronomer and artist occupy the same position. Equivalences between the intellectual curiosity of the arts and scientists are brought to bear in Zimmerman’s large drawings as well.

Larger compositions in the main gallery juxtapose historical references with pop-cultural ones, lightly burlesquing machismo in the process. The titles are descriptive and evocative at once, such as in the exceptional There I Was (Nothing Is the Rule, Something The Exception): Production Still of Clint Eastwood as the Outlaw Josey Wales | There I Was | Pieter Brueghel, Tower of Babel, 1593. Albert Bierstadt, Yosemite, 1868 | Starscape (Dispersion) (2010). There, the images shrink in inverse proportion to their actual grandeur: Clint Eastwood is writ large, while the replicas of paintings shrink in relationship to the landscape depicted. These compositional choices may also serve as a key to the shrinking influence of certain historical figures.

Halpern’s works ride the line between staged scenario and straightforward encounter more openly. In Campo Del Cielo (2010), a meteor of dubious authenticity purchased on Ebay is affixed precariously to a leaning mirror via a magnet. The artist creates a fictitious constellation from paper and light titled with the artist’s projected death date in June 29, 2055, which is installed next to a re-photographed image of the Rover landing in Martian Sunset (both 2010). In addition to the works referencing Carl Sagan, a figure admired by both artists, Halpern juxtaposes imagery another pop-cultural icon and political activist: Yoko Ono. In Yoko (2010), the artist re-photographs a black-and-white portrait of the artist with brightly colored lovebirds perched on her hand. Next to Zimmerman’s graphite drawings of craters, explosions and intrepid journeyman, Yoko signifies hipness, a respect for nature and fruitful collaboration. This photograph also links the symbolism of Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot, (a text that suggests the relative scale and unimportance of earthly life in the greater sense of the cosmos,) to ideas put forth by hippies, feminists and conceptual artists alike in the 1970s.

Emilie HalpernCampo del Cielo.

Perhaps nowhere is this more poignant than in Halpern’s sculpture, Cosmos (2010). The words “you are here” are printed faintly atop 703 stacked pieces of paper (the number of days between Zimmerman and Halpern’s first meeting and the opening of the exhibition.) A simple Kawara-esque gesture, the title also refers to one of John Lennon’s last songs. His lyrics below, in homage to love and idealism, resonate with gravity and brevity in simple form. I can think of no better coda to this exhibition.

From Liverpool to Tokyo
What a way to go
From distant lands one woman one man
Let the four winds blow

Three thousand miles over the ocean
Three thousand light years from the land of the rising sun

Love has opened up my eyes
Love has blown right through
Wherever you are, you are here
Wherever you are, you are here.

Wendy Vogel is a Critical Fellow in the Core Program at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Mary Ann Strandell
JRB Art Gallery at the Elms, Oklahoma City
Through May 31, 2010

By Sarah Jesse

Mary Ann Strandell, Monkey Light, 2008-2010, Diptych, oil on canvas, 70 x 96 inches. Courtesy the artist.

Mary Ann Strandell's Indexes of Mediated Space, a diverse collection of paintings, prints, animation and three-dimensional lenticular prints, is united in its lush palette, recurring subject matter and keen sense of movement. The show is part Jean-Antoine Watteau in its decadent subject matter, Bridget Riley in its illusionistic effects and Gerhard Richter in its blurred aesthetic. Immediately striking is Strandell’s palette of pastel colors that serve to soften the dark conceptual underpinnings. Citing a range of topics from natural disasters to the exoticization of foreign cultures, Strandell saturates her work with meanings that contradict its pretty surfaces.

The diptych Monkey Light (2008-2010) exemplifies Strandell’s particular style of open-ended storytelling. The painting features a monkey using snuff, a section of the Three Gorges Dam and a chandelier. Without a shared horizon line or consistent proportions between the three subjects, each exists in its own space. The controversial dam, which has wreaked ecological havoc and displaced thousands, contrasts with the opulent chandelier and monkey’s folly. Yet through juxtaposition, as well as implied diagonal lines and intermittent accents of color that unify the painting, Strandell creates a connection between these disparate images. Do they signify a possible cause and effect relationship or are they related in another way? Strandell rejects an overt narrative in favor of enigma.

Mary Ann Strandell, Palette (Estherhazy), 2004-2010.

While the strength of the show lies in its stunning visual appeal—the three-dimensional lenticular prints actually shift with the viewer’s motion, and the paintings of chandeliers seem to be depicted from the perspective of someone twirling across the dance floor—the rich layers of allegory beg for a deeper interpretive analysis. However, Strandell’s reverence for ambiguity sabotages the establishment of any fixed reading. After learning that the abstract dam depicted in Monkey Light represented the Three Gorges Dam, the meanings of the piece may change and multiply. The danger is this: without more clues to the references embedded in Strandell’s work, it may quickly be judged simply as pretty pictures.

Sarah Jesse is a writer and educator based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She is the Bernsen Director of Education and Public Programs at Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa. Prior to her current appointment, she was Assistant Director of Public Programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.

David Lukowski and Scott Penkava
Sala Diaz, San Antonio
Closed May 10, 2010

By Allison Myers

David Lukowski and Scott Penkava, Installation view of Git a Rope, 2010. Courtesy of the artists.

We’ve all seen them – those plastic testicles that dangle from the rear ends of F-150s across America. Thoughtfully referred to as Truck Nuts, these “vehicle ornaments” have become icons of down home virility and rural machismo. They’re also the centerpiece of Sala Diaz’s gregarious exhibition John Wayne and Paul Rubens. Guest curated by Katy Siegel, New York-based artists David Lukowski and Scott Penkava transformed the San Antonio artist-run space into a Texas-style party house, with John Wayne and Paul Rubens, aka Pee Wee Herman, as the guests of honor.

Since the gallery is itself a house on a quiet residential street, the transformation comes off especially well. The installation is a meticulously planned haphazard array that seems born out of the minds of punk rock frat boys. 70's used furniture, blow up cacti, lone star and long horns fill the house along with a spray painted green cardboard jukebox and two rocking horses (one a rhino, the other a tractor) done up tug-of-war style. The walls are painted in a Rauschenberg-esque style of messy abstraction and the space is literally covered in hand-cast Truck Nuts. Some are neon-colored, some are actually soap on a rope, while still others have the drippy appearance of melting under the Texas sun. Their number and quality are supposed to hit you in the face. The first thing you see in the yard, for instance, is a large pink pair positioned just under a rubber chicken that can only be read as (ahem) cock and balls. The soul of the installation lies in the opening night party where Lukowski and Penkava grilled sausages on home-made keg grills while dressed in Texas-themed costumes. Tug of war and cactus blowing contests were the featured events and added a healthy dose of manly competition.

David Lukowski and Scott Penkava, Installation view of Git a Rope.

The obvious schtick of the show is a packaged, cowboy-up style of Texas dudeliness. Or more accurately, the “Texas myth,” as gallery director Hills Snyder put it. This character-type is carried through by the presence of John Wayne, who appears as a wall-size photo mural in a scene from McLintock!, a comedy-western that plays off Wayne’s misogynist brand of masculinity. In the scene, The Duke, shovel in hand, spanks a scowling Maureen O’Hara over his knee in front of a laughing, jeering crowd of onlookers - a mildly disturbing scene to juxtapose against so many ball sacks.

It’s not the spanking itself that’s bothersome – that sentiment is as old as sexism itself. It’s the laughable spectacle of the scene that turns a degrading and demoralizing act into the stuff of jokes. This is exactly the kind of effect that makes me a little nervous about Lukowski and Pankova’s exhibition. At base, it’s a good-natured, fun-loving show that turns the Texas cowboy mythology into a spectacle. But that jovial self-consciousness often loses its critical edge in the aftermath, leaving the door open for a simple fond remembrance of all those crazy Truck Nuts.

The only place of mediation comes with the addition of Pee Wee Herman, an archetype of the non-masculine who affects dainty, child-like mannerisms. He is pictured wall size, dancing on a bar, in a scene from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (the one where he goes to the Alamo, get it?). More significantly, he also appears in doll form, smiling and spanking a Barbie doll bent over his knee. A pile of toothpicks, one of the few cowboy approved accessories, right beside him. Pee Wee’s pose, unlike the Duke’s, comes off as completely disturbed, a strange anomaly in an otherwise casually male environment. Though the show is in some ways just a fun-time, this clash between the casual mythology and the overblown spectacle makes the installation interesting.

Discussing the totemic symbolism of the phallus, or the post-feminist appropriation of blah blah, however, would miss the point. Lukowski and Penkava deal with some deep issues here. Contemporary masculinity and performing gender, to name two. But they do this in such an off-hand, in your face way that you can’t help but laughingly call them pigs. And I think that’s the point. Though I would have liked to see something more than just another riff on the Texas cowboy image, these darker undertones and complications make the installation worthwhile.

The show is over, unfortunately. But for those of you who’ve missed out, the artists set up an extensive Facebook page documenting the space, the opening, and their trip from Brooklyn to San Antonio. Check it out here.

Allison Myers is a freelance writer based in Austin. She received her M.A. in art history from The University of Texas at Austin.

Fencing the Back Forty
A Response to Chris Sauter in ArtLies
May 20, 2010

By Nikki Moore

Photography: Sacha Federowsky. Courtesy W5RAn.

Call it "the rural," (as artist Chris Sauter did in his curatorial essay for the latest ArtLies,) or call it pastoral, we are fascinated with all things farm, ranch and fishing pole. As Sauter describes it, our bucolic fascinations are sparked by a re-evaluation of society in the wake of external tremors such as 9/11, climate change and the economic meltdown. He situates this response globally, citing projects from Kansas to London, with artists embracing a return to their roots.


While we are clearly trembling before climate change and all the stuttering we’ve heard from the Chicago School of Economics, to say we’re returning to roots, to
"a true front line grounded by the past" forgets the past that was worked through in, among others, the art and writings of German Romanticism. In an effort to escape industrialism, urbanism and the cold cool light of reason run amok, 18th century so-called realism and romanticism found truth and roots in the so-called peasant classes, in the everyday bucolic, in nature, in the sublime. At the pinnacle of romanticism, Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote treatises on the value of small-scaled, local politics and Goethe, with one ragingly popular novel, transformed the hitherto "impoverished, undereducated and backward" countryside into the only stage for the ripening of authenticity. In politics, literature and art, the mythical force of nature was revived and made into a power to supercede man, industry and enterprise. The value and force of a burgeoning sense of place, both local and—albeit fatally—national, cannot be overestimated. And of course we wouldn’t call it romanticism if, well, it wasn’t just a bit romanticized. From Rousseau to Immanuel Kant, it took the irony of post-modernism for us to shake the hubris of thinking we might really get close and paint true portraits of those everyday roots, people, experiences.

Which is not to say that planting organic tomatoes isn’t almost infinitely appealing, or that shopping locally and supporting local agriculture doesn’t have decided merit. As an aesthetic culture, we are now quite obviously drawn to taxidermy and cowboy boots, and there may, indeed, be part of each of us that would like to think that, in works and lifestyles increasingly revolving around planting, soil and botanical roots, we are returning to purer, more authentic historical times and more organic modes of living. But what percent of the artists photographing corn fields are actually from the mid-west? How many artists turned taxidermists have ever been hunting? Isn’t it precisely in the city, in dense places like Manhattan where "the rural" first took hold? Isn’t the appeal of these pastoral, rural scenes the lure of "this too could be your childhood?" even though, and especially because, it wasn’t? It is possible to imagine artists’ turn toward "the rural" comes from roots, but it is more likely that it comes from a desire for and questioning of a rootedness, stability and constancy that is so foreign to the current political and to the literal climate.

With this in mind, before we embrace a direct upcycling of the German Romantic period in the local, the sublime, the pastoral or ‘the rural’ it seems crucial to remember that it never was what we now paint it to be. We’re fastidiously building nostalgia around an empty space that is more vacuous than substantitve, more ephemeral than taxidermic. It’s easy to forget that when you live in Texas, in the ever present mythology of the Urban Cowboy. And yet precisely in places like Texas, and Arizona, and elsewhere it is these very potent recreations of rural pasts that never actually existed that problematize Sauter’s poignant—albeit all too metaphysically confident—analysis of what’s going on in The Back Forty.

Nikki Moore is a Ph.D. student in philosophy and media theory at the European Graduate School as well as the words and life sciences editor for W5RAn. Her writing and theory work has been published by Xavier Barral, MIT Press, ArtLies, ...might be good and others.

project space

Loop Current

Try this at home: put water in a tub or a pot; pour in vegetable oil; now, using tools like an eye-dropper, cotton balls and pieces of string, try to contain and extract the oil from the water.

This collection of images, selected by the writers of this issue, reflects upon the themes running through this issue, particularly as they relate to the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.

Claire Ruud is Associate Director of Fluent~Collaborative.

Announcements: exhibitions

Austin Openings

Leah DeVun
Women and their Work
Opening Reception: Thursday, June 3, 6-8pm

Leah DeVun's photographic series draws its title from a quotation from Lesbian Land, a published collection of writings by lesbians who founded or lived in women's intentional communities, sometimes called "womyn's lands," in the 1970s-80s. With this show DeVun takes the history of Women & their Work as a jumping off point to ask viewers to consider the nature of queer and feminist space in the past and present.

Warren Aldrich
Opening Reception: Saturday, May 29, 7-11PM

"The experience of shopping is (for many) just as important as the acquiring of possessions. The thrill of the hunt reinforces our sense of ownership by associating the experiences that come along with the obtaining of objects. The majority of our interactions with strangers occur during the act of shopping, making it a vital means for human contact. The variety of senses evoked during the act of shopping makes the process of acquiring tantamount to its aftermath." From the artist on his show, Gypsy.

Francesca Gabbiani
Lora Reynolds Gallery
Opening Reception: Saturday, May 22, 6 - 8pm

Viewed from a distance Francesca Gabbiani’s intricate assemblages are easily mistaken for paintings. Their flattened realism is upon closer inspection composed of thousands of densely layered abstract shapes of cut paper. The often decadent imagery present in Gabbiani’s work complements and echoes her craft. Influenced by cinema, the interior space - both physical and metaphysical - as well as melancholia, Francesca Gabbiani illustrates surreal fleeting moments.

In Science, The Lion Sleeps with the Lamb
Big Medium
Opening Reception: Saturday, June 5, 8-11 PM

In the years 2009-2015, the Totally Wreck Production Institute conducted a series of experiments investigating the qualities and curiosities of technological foreplay. Visions of progress and product were set aside, and instead, the identity of failure was sought out as a milestone containing shrouded and inherent success. Inconclusive dilemmas became holy events with hidden meaning and techno-spiritual meditations. The romance of technology within the members of the institution shed the layers of traditional clinical procedure, and instead, anarchic and unorthodox practices became felicitous excursions. Investors quickly ceased their funding of these experiments, based on an overwhelming fear that the institute's pursuit of scientific conquest appeared to be slipping deeply into the palms of the psychotic/avant-garde.

Austin on View

Marina Zurkow
Women and their Work
Through May 27

Using vivid animation, Marina Zurkow creates a colorful cast of characters who inhabit a drowned world. In the carnivalesque Slurb ( a word that collapses "slum" and "suburb") Zurkow designs a haunting ode to the rise of slime, a watery future in which jellyfish have dominion. Conflating time, this work refers not only to a future apocalypse but to the present world where extreme weather events occur regularly, ocean temperatures are rising, and the seas are increasingly acidic and hostile to most sea life. Few but the indomitable jellyfish are currently flourishing. And as New Orleans reminds us, the deluge is already upon us.

One Swallow Doesn't Make a Summer
2nd Street District
Through May 28

Using vacant storefronts within Austin’s 2nd Street District as a platform, One Swallow Doesn’t Make a Summer brings together new and site-specific artworks to offer a variety of perspectives on the shifting cultural and economic landscape of this neighborhood and its relationship to a larger nation-wide experience. (From the press release.) Artists include Justin Boyd, Paul Druecke, Mads Lynnerup, Leslie Mutchler, Carlos Rosales-Silva, Barry Stone, and Jeff Williams, as well as the collaboratives Circulatory System, Nancy Douthey & Jacinda Russell, Michelle Marchesseault & Virginia Yount, and Skote. Tours available throughout the end of the exhibition. For more information and the full press release, please contact: cookandruud@gmail.com.

Ballads For Approaching Vultures
Okay Mountain
Through May 29

Okay Mountain presents, Ballads For Approaching Vultures, a two person show featuring the work of Scott Eastwood and Skinner. Each artist draws on popular and underground culture, at times employing the aesthetic language of genre horror and fantasy, with emphasis on exploring the exchange of effluence these references have with music. Skinner currently lives and works in Sacramento, California and Eastwood is based in Austin where he is currently enrolled in the MFA Painting program at the University of Texas.

Dallas Openings

The Non-Profit Margin
Opening Reception: Saturday, May 22, 6-10pm

In an effort to challenge the traditional avenues of the exhibition and consumption of art and the art experience, The Non-Profit Margin presents work that confronts the current global economic crisis. Drawing from current residents at CentralTrak and the local community of artists, The Non-Profit Margin includes Richie Budd, Shelby Cunningham, Gary Farrelly, give up, Professor Riccio and Doctor Dufour, Marjorie Schwarz, and Ludwig Schwarz.

Houston on View

Emilie Halpern & Eric Zimmerman
Art Palace
Through June 19

Art Palace is pleased to present new work by Los Angeles based artist Emilie Halpern and Austin artist Eric Zimmerman in their first two-person exhibition of their work. Entitled Cosmos, the exhibition pairs Halpern's striking photographs and sculpture with Zimmerman's painstakingly rendered graphite drawings, etchings, and sculpture. A collaborative work utilizes each of the artist's voices as they read from Carl Sagan's text Pale Blue Dot. The alternating sentences loop endlessly through a pair of Califone tape recorders placed side by side on a circular gold foil blanket. (From the press release)

Dan Sutherland
Moody Gallery
Through May 29

Moody Gallery is pleased to present Headlands, an exhibition of recent paintings and drawings by Dan Sutherland. In this work Sutherland builds and dismantles imaginary structures that evoke architecture, landscape, and still life, creating complex (and often impossible) spaces replete with allusions to painting's history. Headlands marks Sutherland's second one-person exhibition at Moody Gallery. He has exhibited in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and extensively in Texas since 1991. Sutherland lives and works in Austin and is an Associate Professor in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Texas at Austin. From the press release.

Maurizio Cattelan
The Menil Collection
Through August 15

Contemporary Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan is known for his witty embrace of semantic shifts that result from imaginative plays with materials, objects, and actions. In his work, contradictions in the space between what the artist describes as softness and perversity wage a sarcastic critique on political power structures, from notions of nationalism or the authorities of organized religion to the conceit of the museum and art history. (From the press release)

Cruz Ortiz
Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
Through: July 11

San Antonio artist Cruz Ortiz takes over the CAMH for his first museum exhibition with his alien alter ego- the Spaztek, a post-Chicano, post-punk antihero that is part Aztek, part spazz, and part spaceman. With prints, paintings, sculptures, video, installation, and performance, Ortiz's work is speaks about life, love, and the struggle for equality. A colorful two-story siege tower constructed from salvaged bike parts will be installed out on the front lawn of the CAMH too! Perspectives 170: Cruz Ortiz is organized by Toby Kamps, senior curator and will be accompanied by an exhibition catalogue.

Jay Lizo, Kimberly Aubuchon, and Mark Aguhar
Box 13
Through June 17

In the Downstairs BOX, Jay Lizo's insulation And the Choir Sung On… includes the artists “heroes” and “antiheroes” in portraits and video work. Kimberly Aubuchon's exhibition, The Gathering explores the artist's fascination with the grackle in the Window BOX. In the Upstairs BOX, Mark Aguhar's exhibition Boiz Club includes drawings and sculpture that come from the artist's experience of growing up queer. Also on view in the Installation BOX is the long term installation Boulder by member artist Kia Neill.

Marfa on View

Jarrod Beck
Second Floor Marfa
Through May 31

New York-based artist Jarrod Beck is known for a practice that exists somewhere on the edge between art and architecture. In March 2010, Beck began this two-part installation that is now on view at Second Floor Marfa. 2-D works on paper and mixed media works are showcased in the upstairs gallery space with an exterior component that complements these works, extending from the interior space to the "outside world". Do not miss the opportunity to see this show while it lasts and be sure to check out the video too.

San Antonio Openings

This is All Real
Unit B Gallery
Opening Reception: Friday, May 21, 6:30-10pm

Joey Fauerso, Leslee Fraser and Gyan Shrosbree, inspired by the subjectivities and proclivities of the others, bring together their work in a maximalist installation that obfuscates authorship, and decentralizes the art object. This construction is a collection of collections! Art objects are interspersed with other items that any of the artists may covet, collect, or consume. Art is artifice, but this is all real.

Robert Moskowitz
Lawrence Markey
Opening Reception: Tuesday, May 25, 5:30-7:30pm

Robert Moskowitz opens his fifth solo show at Lawrence Markey, presenting Works on Paper. Moskowitz’s work explores his signature reductive style; high contrast silhouettes, repeated in differently scaled versions, linking the past and present. Moskowitz maintains his position at the juncture of representation and abstraction, infusing his chosen imagery with perhaps ambiguous, but decidedly emotive content.

Announcements: events

Houston Events

Sedition Books Collective
Saturday, May 22, 2pm

A presentation and discussion by the Sedition Books Collective on contemporary anarchist responses to current political discussions. Sedition Books is an all-volunteer anarchist infoshop, bookstore, library and community space for events in Houston, Texas. Presented by Project Row Houses' Saturday Free School for the Arts.

Austin Events

A Night To Remember: A Prom!
Creative Research Lab
Friday, May 28, 2010, 8-11pm

For the past nine years, the Creative Research Laboratory has been a site for contemporary art and design, providing year-round scheduling of exhibitions and community programming by students and faculty in the Department of Art and Art History at The University of Texas at Austin. The CRL has been a venue that has provided emerging artists a first exhibition and seasoned artists a home base, while creating dialogues across communities, disciplines and foci. Come celebrate all the CRL's achievements and closing of the space with a CRL prom! Participate in our "Create Your Own Attire" competition (attire will be judged and awarded) by coming in your dress or tux made out of anything you can think of (or just wear your best prom gear), pose for photos in our photo booth and experience DJ 2gayfe 000 and DJ REALNESS, who will be ushering out the CRL with electro beatz in a symphony of candles and Rainbow Flame quartz. The evening promises to be unforgettable! (From the press release)

Announcements: opportunities

Call for Proposals

Über Lebenskunst: the Call For Future
Über Lebenskuns
Deadline: May 24, 2010

The two-year program Über Lebenskunst is underway with the Call For Future which marks the start of the joint project of the German Federal Cultural Foundation and the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin. This project aims to find groundbreaking initiatives for new models of ecologically sustainable living both in and for Berlin with partners from around the world. Up to 20,000 euros will be awarded to projects that convincingly bring together culture and sustainability and defy odds to put new ecological models for thought and action to the test for the 21st century. Email presse@ueber-lebenskunst.org with any inquiries.

Call for Entries

Frieze Writer's Prize 2010
Frieze Magazine
Deadline: June 25, 2010

Frieze Writer's Prize was established in 2006 by frieze magazine to promote and encourage new critics from across the world.This year, the prize will be judged by philosopher and critic Boris Groys; writer and novelist A.M. Homes and co-editor of frieze magazine Jörg Heiser.
• Entrants must submit one previously unpublished review of a recent contemporary art exhibition, approximately 700 words in length.
• Entries must be submitted in English, but may be a translation (this must be acknowledged).
• Entrants must be over 18 years old.
• To qualify, entrants may only previously have had a maximum of three pieces of writing on art published in any national or regional newspaper or magazine. Previous online publication is permitted.
• The winning entrant will be commissioned to write a review for the October issue of frieze and be awarded 2,000 GBP.
• Closing date is 25 June 2010.
• Entries should be emailed as a word attachment to writersprize@frieze.com. Please do not send images. For more info click here.

New Art in Austin
Austin Museum of Art
Deadline: July 29, 2010

The Austin Museum of Art (AMOA) is accepting artists’ submissions for the exhibition "New Art in Austin," which will be on view at AMOA-Downtown from February 26 -May 22, 2011. The fourth in a triennial showcase, "New Art in Austin" introduces emerging and lesser-known artists from Central Texas whose work stretches the boundaries of contemporary art. A statewide curatorial review team will evaluate the work of local artists made over the past three years. Through this exhibition of cutting-edge work in a variety of media, and its accompanying catalogue, the museum seeks to create a dialogue about contemporary art in Austin and attract attention to artists within our community. Click here for Call Details and Application.

Employment Opportunities

The Power Plant seeks Senior Curator
The Power Plant
Application Deadline: May 25, 2010

An employment opportunity exists at The Power Plant for a Senior Curator Programmes. Reporting to the Director, this position is responsible for implementing art and audience development programmes for gallery, including exhibitions, publications, public projects and audience engagement and education programmes. The ideal candidate will hold a post graduate qualification in Art History, Fine Arts, Art Education or a related discipline and have a minimum of 5 years programming and management experience in a contemporary art organization. Please send your resume and letter of interest quoting Job Reference #10F12-EF to:

Human Resources, 235 Queens Quay West
Toronto, ON M5J 2G8 CANADA
Fax (416) 973-1003
E-mail: jobs@harbourfrontcentre.com

Grant Opportunity

The Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program
Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program
Deadline: Monday, June 7, 2010

The Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program supports individual writers whose work addresses contemporary visual art through grants ranging from 3,000 to 50,000 USD. Writers who meet the program’s eligibility requirements are invited to apply in the following categories:
* Articles
* Blogs
* Books
* New and Alternative Media
* Short-Form Writing
For guidelines and additional eligibility requirements, please visit http://www.artswriters.org.

Call for Artists

Museum of Natural and Artificial Ephemerata: Call for Loans
Museum of Natural and Artificial Ephemerata
Deadline: June 1, 2010

MNAE's next thematic show Underground will open early this
summer - they are currently seeking loaned objects (and their stories) that
fit the theme... Archaeological and fossil relics, crystals and guano,
political, mental, and aesthetic undergrounds of all kinds... To loan a
display, drop by with it during open hours or get in touch by June 1. For more information, click here.

Call for Entries

2011 Texas Biennial: Call for Entries
Texas Biennial
Deadline: July 15, 2010

Big Medium is happy to announce the 2011 Texas Biennial open Call for Art. As an independent survey of contemporary art in Texas, the 2011 Biennial is an opportunity to investigate current art-making in Texas and promote the incredible innovation happening within our great state. We are also please to announce New York based art historian Virginia Rutledge as this year's curator. In the same independent spirit as years past, the 2011 Biennial will encourage a dialogue amongst artists, curators, writers and art lovers alike that will echo throughout the run of the 4th Biennial exhibition and beyond. Starting May 15th, 2010 and running until July 15th, 2010, the Texas Biennial will be accepting submissions from artists living and working in Texas via www.texasbiennial.com. All entries will be digitally submitted online and artists of all medias are encouraged to apply. (From the press release)

More from the Archive