MBG Issue #188: The Return Of The Really Really Realest Real

Issue # 188

The Return Of The Really Really Realest Real

April 20, 2012

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Original postcard image by Mike Monteiro.

from the editor

After attending a 35mm screening of Canadian-filmmaker David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983) last weekend, my relationship to the screens in my life has become a little more uneasy. Cronenberg’s hallucinatory look into the pervadingsome might say dehumanizinginfluence of technology and its eventual symbiosis with our bodies managed to retain its theoretical poignancy in spite of its inescapable eighties aesthetic. Discovering the videodrome signal in a pirate television broadcast of plotless torture and murder, the films protagonist Max Renn (played to perfection by James Woods) begins having violent psychosexual hallucinations that mark his slide into a complete mental and physical breakdown. Reality becomes nothing more than a television induced mirage.Throbbing VHS cassettes are inserted directly into abdominal orifices, flesh merges with the metal of a pistol and television sets pulsate and respond to Renn’s loving caress. Amongst the Sci-Fi horror genre’s many staplesmelting bodies, misogyny, hyperrealitythat populate the film, Videodrome is saturated with familiar Postmodern ideas. Questions of what constitutes the ‘real.' Media overstimulation, simulacra, technological determinism and media as the core of our very being, are just a few of the now infamous theories promoted by Jean Baudrillard, Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan present in the film.

A caricature of our theorists, Brian O’Blivion is one of the films most compelling characters. With a name like that and choice lines such as, ‘the television screen is the retina of the mind's eye,’ how could he not? The metaphysical media-guru appears only on video screens. Like Renn, we eventually discover that O’Blivion was killed by the videodrome signal, but lives on in technological immortality through tapes he recorded while alive and that are played back by his daughter Bianca; who herself is out to prevent the tumor-inducing evils that videodrome inflicts. Sitting in the darkened theater I couldn’t help but to think of all of those people I know only through my computer screenthough their Facebook profiles and social media output; over Skype video calls and e-mail threads. It seems that there’s a little bit of O’Blivion in all of us these days.

It’s not difficult to find contemporary evidence and parallels for any number of Videodrome’s many prophecies. Endlessly proliferating news media, rampant political demagoguery, social media, violent video-games, internet porntake your pick. While our experience of reality, defining the ‘real’ and by extension truth, via television, photographs and the internet, may be an overworked issue it is no less relevant now. At a time when everyone has their own set of ‘facts’ and a virtual-community in which to perpetuate them, notions of how we identify what’s ‘real’ and what’s propaganda take on new importance. How do we freely form educated opinion, address our history and imagine new futures in this landscape? Media and technologies role in helping to mold the current state of affairs is clear enough and Videodrome follows this logic (that of technological determinism) to its unflinching end. At that endas Renn submits to the seductions of his hallucination, killing himself and embracing the ‘new flesh’we’re not shown a favorable alternative. However bleak this reality seems its still one in which we ultimately get to choose how we give our lives value. Whatever technologies influence on our bodies and progress as a culture might be, we are still responsible for imbuing our lives with meaning, and no insidious technological bogey-man can change that. How we choose to do so is the real question.

Our issue this week gives you a number of meaningful avenues to pursue. With an exhibition currently on view at DiverseWorks in Houston, New York-based artist Marina Zurkow engages in conversation with writer and Rice PhD candidate Rachel Hooper on topics ranging from digital animation to West Texas oil fields. The Austin Cinematheque recently screened James Benning’s 16mm film El Valley Centro (2000) in its native format. Its poignant observations regarding landscape and finding our place in the world are one of the many topics covered in Austin-based filmmaker and writer Caroline Koebel’s insightful review. From Dallas, artist, writer and teacher Andy Amato spends time standing (physically and theoretically) with Nick Barbee’s exhibition at Plush Gallery. A New York City staple, Exit Art, will be closing its doors May 19 and its final exhibition, Every Exit Is an Entrance: 30 Years of Exit Art, receives writer Marie-Adele Moniot’s thoughtful attention. Albany, Texas-based artist and curator Patrick Kelly contributes a video to our Project Space that humorously addresses coming to grips with changing notions of reality and time through the ex-planet Pluto. As always we have recommendations for you, this time a pair from Houston: Brad Tucker’s Pressing News at Inman Gallery, and SnackProjects.

Let us know how you’re doing deciphering reality from hallucination by emailing us at: askus@fluentcollab.org.

Eric Zimmerman is an artist and Editor of ...might be good.


Marina Zurkow

By Rachel Hooper

Marina Zurkow, Mesocosm (Wink, Texas), 2012. Software-driven animation. Courtesy of the artist.

Marina Zurkow came to Texas in January 2011 for a research trip to the Permian Basin, an endeavor that culminated in her solo exhibition at DiverseWorks, Necrocracy. Part of the FotoFest Biennial, the exhibition considers the effects of petroleum production on the ecology and geology of West Texas with a refreshingly open mind. Rachel Hooper set down with Zurkow just after the installation of Necrocracy to discuss the artist's research and the animations and drawings that debuted in the exhibition, which closes this Saturday.

Rachel Hooper [RH]: I’m interested in your animations and how you set up what you call “dynamic choreographies.” Can you tell us more about them?

Marina Zurkow [MZ]: There are four different animation strategies in this show. There are four different sets of work: NeoGeo, Mesocosm (Wink, Texas), The Thirsty Bird and Hydrocarbons. Mesocosm is the heart of the show and my starting point for the exhibition. It is based on a sinkhole in Wink, Texas that I first discovered on Google satellite view. The piece has a dynamic choreography in that it’s not canned video. There’s literally an animated stage and a file folder with events or actors. Actors might be weather, snakes, bees, people in hazmat suits, prairie dogs, monarch butterflies in October, cranes in the winter, more monarch butterflies in March, etc. There is action script coding that I developed with a software designer that manages both time and the actors. They’re not 3D objects, they’re 2D drawings, so the actors’ movements are tightly controlled. Finally, I have an xml data file that is thousands of lines of code organized by month and then by time of day: dawn, day, dusk and night. A day takes 24 minutes to elapse. Each “bucket” of time has a specified bunch of characters that might come out.

[RH]: And the video also cycles through an entire year?

[MZ]: The video cycles through twelve months and then continues. Each of these animals or weather has a percentage assigned to it so in, let’s say, July when it’s really hot, there is a 12% chance that a snake will come out at night and no snakes during the day. As it gets cooler, the percentage that the snake will come out during the day increases. It’s an elegant, simple system.

[RH]: Is it based on studies of habitats and animal patterns?

[MZ]: The animations are a negotiation between the reality of an ecosystem and a mythological or surreal offset of that place. In the case of West Texas, the hazmat people play the strange role in this world. They’re like choreographed dancers. They’re not doing anything practical, they’re performing the gestures that hazmat guys learn in training. They crawl, they drag, they walk, then occasionally they joke around. There’re all these YouTube videos of kibitzing guys in hazmat suits, doing these weird dances. The suits turn you into a Teletubby, so instead of giving them disastrous, practical concerns, I gave them their own bird dances.

[RH]: A lot of research has gone into the people in the hazmat suits, the animals. Can you talk about your research trip to the Permian Basin, how you got inspired to go there, and what sort of discoveries you made?

[MZ]: A mesocosm is a term used in environmental science that describes a mid-sized, artificial ecosystem used for study. So, say behind an agricultural extension college they build a pond and populate it with a certain kind of bug and certain kinds of weeds, and they recombine elements of an ecosystem to see what happens. I wanted to go to West Texas because I wanted to make a piece for Texas, for DiverseWorks, that spoke to some of the issues around landscape and nature that would be less romantic. The first Mesocosm piece was for Northumberland, England, and that is a landscape that looks totally natural and “unspoiled” but actually has been managed, mined and deforested since the Bronze Age. It’s been a long-term manipulated ecosystem that included the presence and interventions of humans in the landscapeas well as populating it with stories about fairies. Both of these works are part of a larger planned series of mediated landscapes, or mesocosms.

[RH]: It’s not just science that you’re talking about. Are you talking about a system that would incorporate mythology, that would incorporate assumptions, as well as verified scientific discoveries?

[MZ]: Exactly. It’s a dynamic, constantly renegotiated space that includes airplanes, petrochemicals and hydrocarbons. I am influenced by Bruno Latour, especially by the idea of non-human agency and the sort of negotiations that are constantly being made in the world between all these players.

It’s very typical to come to Texas and do a piece about oil, but it’s also important to think outside the pejorative box, or the championing boxdepending on which side of the line you’re on. I wanted to break through the binaries around that.

From 2006-2009 my work was based in what I called the “ecology of the internet.” Everything was taken from YouTube; every bit of research, every inquiry, lived within that world. When I went to Northeast England in 2009, I had a research residency at ISIS Arts in Newcastle, Northumberland. My inquiry started with two squirrel species, the invasive American Gray squirrel and Great Britain’s precious, disintegrating native Red squirrel population. There were many ironies and high stakes, and a high degree of xenophobia expressed in this idea of invasive species and that was my lead into this place.

I wanted to go to Texas, to Midland, because I wanted to complicate my relationship to this material. My first drawing (which I absolutely wouldn’t put in the show) was vilifying. It was an Armageddon-view of the oil business and the ugliness of that landscape. It was aestheticized and definitely not what somebody from Texas would think. To my surprise the landscape around Midland wasn't littered with pump jacks, there’s actually space between them, which is disappointing if you’re expecting to see a certain kind of thing. So I had to confront a lot of my own prejudices, and that was great. I also had to confront a lot of local people’s prejudices and their suspicion that I must be there to vilify them, which I wasn’t.

[RH]: I was thinking about what you were saying earlier about how you’re interested in a sort of dialectic between humans and nature or relationships between humans and nature where the natural world or animals are given agency. I’m curious of how that played out of the oil industry because I think most people when they think of the petroleum industry, they think of a completely manmade system that’s used to sustain our human society and that is so harmful to the natural world that surrounds it. How did you allow nature agency in that sort of context?

[MZ]: When I was doing my research before I went to Midland, I got in touch with a place called the Sibley Nature Center, which is the work of one man, Burr Williams, a naturalist, who started this education center training an army of amateur naturalists to document the Llano Estacadothe southern high planes which stretch from Lubbock to the Edwards Plateau south of Midland. It’s coincident with the Permian Basin. Absolutely coincident with it, although neither necessarily talks about the other.

[RH]: So you’re talking about a binary between what’s above the ground and what’s beneath the ground, at work there coincidentally?

[MZ]: Yes. Mesocosm (Wink, Texas) is a piece that’s more or less about what’s above the ground although there is the sinkhole, and that sinkhole functions as a sort of Pandora’s box over the course of the piece, but the piece doesn’t explicitly talk about oil. There are suggestions of that in the landscape, but if you go into the Flicker Lounge and see NeoGeo, that piece is completely about what’s underground. That piece process-wise is constructed very differently from Wink.

I worked with Daniel Shiffman, a mathematician and code artist on NeoGeo and that series of works consists of video recordings of rocks assembling themselves into strata, punctuated by a drill bit boring through the endless layers. Occasionally, given the right accumulation of hydrocarbons, there will be an oil gush. I thought this was a pretty neutral thing for that environment, but oil gushes are blowouts. I had a student who used to be a mudlogger and he said you’re just going to be vilified, you’re depicting the oil industry in a negative light. As outsiders we look to the cinematic history, movies like Giant and There Will be Blood, where the blowout is equivalent to striking gold. Without the gush you’ve got nothing.

Also that piece is about time in a really different way than the other pieces. Wink is a 146 hour real-time cycle and NeoGeo is a set of four 12 minute recordings of endlessly recombinant strata. The density of the rock affects the speed of the drill and the way the hydrocarbon particles accumulate; they only accumulate under certain kinds of rock. But that piece is also about the liquidity of rock; because that rock is moving around in ways that rock moves over millions of years. We think that the earth is this inert, stable, inanimate material but it folds, subsides and rises up over long time periodsor sometimes, as in the case of the sinkhole, you’ll have an event that’s caused by pumping large volumes of water (as in fracking) or by an earthquake, that suddenly causes these kinds of shifts and collapses. So time is not stable in the geological context and we don’t or can’t imagine that, so I try to deal with that a little bit in NeoGeo. You can see the plasticity of what we consider hard matter.

[RH]: Thinking about material makes me want to go back to what we were talking about earlier with how you are grappling with the materiality of what you’re doing as an animator who works mostly with digital images and thinking about what kind of machines that involves. Were you aware as you did this research that you were working on computers made mostly from components that are derivative from petroleum?

[MZ]: Everything in the show is made out of petrochemicals. Everything. The paper that the Petroleum Manga are printed on is Tyvek; the inks are solvent inks, the little hazmat suits, made from Tychem® TK from DuPont™the fabric was donated under the condition that I wouldn’t actually let any children get in them. (laughs)

[RH]: Do they actually make child-size suits?

[MZ]: No, absolutely not. I had the suits fabricated.

[RH]: But also the material the suits are made of is fabricated from petroleum products. Isn’t it also the idea that it would protect you from a petroleum spill as well?

[MZ]: Yes, exactly. It’s ironic that so many of the things we have to protect ourselves from petrochemicals are made from petrochemicals.

[RH]: Your title for the exhibition, Necrocracy, pertains to what we were just talking about because petroleum itself, the actual material, is made from dead things, but then there’s this idea that the oil industry itself may someday be dead. At least that’s been bandied about for the last 30 or 40 years—that we’ve hit peak oil and that we’re going to have to phase out petroleum. After all your research and working on this project, have you thought about that, what might come after the Necrocracy?

[MZ]: The title comes from a book by the classicist Robert Pogue Harrison, titled The Dominion of the Dead; he looks at Greek and Roman cultures’ ancestor worship and concludes that Western civilization as we know it has been based on the worship of our dead. I thought, wow, what a great way to think about hydrocarbons. We obviously have a very deep connection to oil. I’d say an interdependence. We can’t survive without it. When I started working on this, I realized: I lack the imagination to think of an oil-free world. I think many people lack that imagination, short of knocking off 90% of the human population on this planet. I think with about 10% of the population we could live without oil, but there is no way to clothe, feed and shelter this many people without it. Yet it is a finite resource and I think we understand that on some psychological level.

When I constructed the survey that’s in the lab and online, I asked big questions. What could you not live without? What’s your opinion about plastics? Have you ever considered that plastics assume a kind of immortality for dead marine animals (hydrocarbons)? There’s a sense that these little dead things figured out a way to solicit us to make them into things that would outlive us. On a side note, it’s especially interesting talking to invasion biologists because I know they feel like they’re fighting a losing battle, because as long as you have a globalized culture, you’re going to drive the world towards monocultures. There is too much movement of goods and hitchhikers. There’s no room for niche developments. Niches require some privacy in order to diversify, otherwise you end up with fields of knotweed and mesquite. I asked a biologist where he thought we’d be in a hundred thousand years, and he replied that we’re going to be in more or less of a monoculture. We had way more diversity. But even in a hundred thousand years the realities of our globalization will still be manifesting.

[RH]: And then we get into the apocalyptic scenarios.

[MZ]: I’m very happy that this show doesn’t feel so apocalyptic. Because my work has been called apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic, and I think that’s a comforting space to work in. I try not to promulgate that anymore. I want to figure out a way to postulate these relationships that isn’t so negative.

[RH]: In a way it’s apocalyptic, but in another way I think your work is about how life goes on. Even in an apocalyptic scenario, even in a sinkhole in Wink, Texas which I would assume is a pretty toxic environment, still things are moving, life is there, and it may be invasive species, it may be humans in hazmat suits crawling around, but still, something persevering.

[MZ]: It’s a really amazing ecosystem. This is the thing about Burr Williams. He has scores of essays on the Sibley website about the delicate, subtle ecosystems of the Llano Estacado and what a rich, migratory space it is for birds—it’s an incredible bird space and even an oil pad will be colonized by birds, insects, reptiles and rabbits and these’re actually quite wild spaces. There’s not a lot of population density out there so there’s room for animals to thrive. When I was in Midland he took me all around. We looked at everything from old tiny pocket forests to the largest shin oak forest in the world: the oaks don’t go past your knee, but they yield normal-sized acorns. No one ever lived there because the only water, the Ogallala Aquifer, is fossil water which is not potable. The Llano is actually an ecotone, not so much an ecosystem itself. It is the overlap between more sustainable ecosystems around it. Nature abhors a vacuum and makes no moral judgments about where it might spring from.

[RH]: In a way what that’s about is nature having an imagination where we cannot. We look at an oil field that could potentially dry up, and we think this is the end of the world. We can’t live without this oil. But nature doesn’t even question it and just jumps right in and adapts.

[MZ]: There is resilience and flexibility and abhorring the vacuum. That’s the best way to put it.

Rachel Hooper is a PhD student in art history at Rice University in Houston, Texas.


El Valley Centro
James Benning
Released 2000

By Caroline Koebel

16mm Frame Enlargement from El Valley Centro.

The 16mm film was presented by the Austin Cinematheque in its native format on April 6, 2012.

Comprised of 35 two and a half minute shots, James Benning’s 16mm experimental documentary El Valley Centro (2000) presents a curious taxonomy of California’s Great Central Valley. In the process it frames a tug-of-war between the land and the uses humans find for it: natural wonders—and their demise into wasteland, agribusiness and corporate cattle ranching, tract housing and anti-drug billboards (“where meth goes violence follows”), water, nuke and wind energy. This is a place where some people are and others are not, but the geography imaged here is the singular vision of one visitor to the region.

Benning takes from his travels what nobody has to give...only what he in turn can share as his reflection on the land. In his quest—equipped with Bolex camera and Nagra recorder—to order the world he comes upon (such as “an oil well fire with flames high into the sky”1), Benning argues that sheer contemplation of place (or more specifically, understanding of self in relation to non-self, in terms of how we perceive ourselves within and apart from our surroundings) is a spiritual, political and also ethical act. The knowledge gained from such observation must either be willfully denied or acted upon. The film, in its 35 scenes, conveys not so much how a given geographic (and sociopolitical) zone can be dissected for evaluative purposes but rather how the land buckles against imposed standards and rebukes monotony with a wilderness of difference. Benning’s remark about El Valley Centro, “landscape is a function of time,”2 underscores that place is relative and that meaning is not static.

Patience (and/or incredible good fortune) is key to the filmmaker’s presence in the environs. A landscape of wetlands, featuring competing asymmetry and balance as curves contrast with the horizon line, is an alluring composition—the sense of being able to step into the frame and keep moving into the distance dramatic. The scene appears to be the way it is and seems like it will remain the same—the viewer sensing nothing lacking—when waterfowl rise from the water’s surface en masse. The snow geese fly toward the camera, leave the frame and eventually re-enter and return to the same spot on screen they were before.

The camera’s perfect stillness here and everywhere allows for the deliverance of such magic. The proximity of Benning’s oeuvre to still photography and early cinema and the wonders of an inventor such as Méliès is manifest here in his radical departure from such convention. Likewise, he is worlds apart (and millions of dollars away) from entertainment cinema: no explosives, i.e., ignite the flight of the snow geese nor are they the effect of CGI.

The rare shot is more theatrical, introducing the possibility of being staged for the camera. The film’s 14th scene features cowgirls practicing for a rodeo: one pins, and on cue releases a goat so that the other approaching on horseback can rope and subdue it. The action repeats, and an intricate rhythm is established. It is here that I’m cognizant of the mutual admiration between Benning and Sharon Lockhart, i.e., in Goshogaoka (1998) her stationery camera on the mesmerizing movement of the girls basketball team choreographed based on their training drills.

In a few scenes Spanish figures prominently on the soundtrack, and there is no mistaking that the field workers and grape pickers of American agribusiness are migrant laborers from Mexico. Perhaps if more followed Benning’s lead and observed where food comes from in the first place, then a decade after El Valley Centro the scapegoating of “illegals”—in the face of the “Great Recession”—for the country’s economic woes would be seen more widely for the ruse it is.

The feeling of existing smack-dab in the center of the landscape itself is most provocative in the dust storm of the 19th shot. How Benning is able to keep still with tumbleweed endlessly whirling by diagonally across the screen from bottom left to top right is the question. The haptic thrill here is testament to the powers of experimental/personal film to convey intense states of being on virtually no budget (the one funding source credited, interestingly and coincidentally, is the Austin Film Society). I want Benning’s tumbleweed to be a shared cultural referent.

If what defines being human is the struggle to make sense of the world, then the possibility of calm reflection and firsthand experience proffered by El Valley Centro is all the more beckoning in our post pre-social media consciousness. If in the connected universe we’re all everywhere together all the time at once, what’s the point of solitude—a state that arguably can subsequently but not simultaneously be shared with others?

Caroline Koebel is a filmmaker and writer in Austin.


1. Benning is quoted in the Austin Cinematheque event publicity: http://www.utexas.edu/know/events/20120406/e20390
2. Also from the Austin Cinematheque event publicity: http://www.utexas.edu/know/events/20120406/e20390

Nick Barbee
Plush Gallery, Dallas
Through May 5

By Andy Amato

Nick Barbee, Foot (installation view). 2012, Plaster and dyed cotton. Courtesy of the artist and Plush Gallery, Dallas.

Nick Barbee might be a geometer at heart. Possibly a pre-Socratic philosopher. His show at Plush Gallery, Proclamation, plays upon geometry and questions the notion of foundation. The work—mainly minimal cement and plaster sculptures—smartly signals the connection between this science of measurement and the notion of ground (“ground” here meant in both a material and conceptual sense). It does so in a deceptively direct way.

While this show offers up some handsome two-dimensional renderings of geometric shapes, they seem to serve mainly an auxiliary function. It is the sculptural works that leave the biggest impression. They come largely in two varieties: polyhedrons and feet. And Barbee succeeds with both forms. Still, you find yourself asking, to what end? What do geometric shapes and amputated, freestanding feet have in common?

The answer is standing.

We do not often think about how things stand or what is means to stand. A phenomenology of “standing” would be helpful here, but out of place. If we consider geometry, however, most basically as the measurement of space, of surfaces and bodies, and we think of standing as erect positioning or even as abiding, we might begin to question the elemental link Barbee seems to be intuiting. That is, what is geometry grounded on? Concurrently, what do humans need to stand? These are as much practical questions as theoretical ones.

Many people do not realize that the word existence literally means, “to stand forth.” The ancients were fascinated with how things came into appearance, how they came to stand out. And geometry is a way of measuring those things that come to stand, be they naturally appearing or manufactured. By this art humans can comprehend the shape of the world, the various dimensions of being. And what is it based on? Mathematical logic.

Barbee’s polyhedra and severed feet socked in assorted colors connect and contrast these two senses of ground and standing. His Enneadecahedron and Chevron distills these senses. The first of this two-part work, Enneadecahedron, is a diminutive and delicate basswood structure that reminds you of a thoughtful model or a careful experiment. In fact, at some point a science or art teacher probably required that you make a simpler and cruder cousin to it. The other, Chevron, made of waxed cement, is a small, smooth and ashen-surfaced polyhedron with ten sides. Again, nostalgically, you will think you have handled an object like this before. In fact, save the complexities of their respective geometry, both pieces appear somewhat modest, like everyday artifacts made of wood or stone that once lived on this or that shelf. Yet, side-by-side they say much more.

The ten-sided Chevron (a pentagonal trapezohedron) has corresponding faces and edges so that it can rest on any face. An enneadecahedron, however, is a nineteen-faced polyhedron that can only stand on one face (thus it is “monostatic,” or single-standing). This means that for all its dimension and surfaces it can only stand one way. Feet bespeak the same. For all the ways in which humans experience the world and manifest their own being, it takes feet to stand, as well as some foundation or ground upon which to stand. But in this case the bodies are gone, so what exactly is standing?

For the geometric work we have mathematical logic for ground: initial notions, proofs, axioms. For the feet we have materiality: dirt, carpet, a gallery floor or shelf. Both sets of shapes signal standing and foundation, yet they play against and upon one another in both a smart and amusing way. And so Barbee’s proclamation seems twofold.

If you do not smile at this work you are probably taking it too seriously, and if you are not thinking about it after you leave you are probably not taking it seriously enough.

Andy Amato is a Dallas-based artist, writer and teacher.

Every Exit is an Entrance: 30 Years of Exit Art
Exit Art, New York
Through May 19

By Marie-Adele Moniot

Guerra de la Paz, The Kiss (from the GI Joe Series), 2006, Digital Print, AP-2, 40 x 30 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

The first exhibition by Exit Art, the nonprofit art space founded by Jeanette Ingberman and Papo Colo in 1982, was an ode to illegal acts. Illegal America featured the work of a dozen artists, including Vito Acconci, Charlotte Morman and Chris Burden, who engaged in acts of art making that were against or in marked conflict with U.S. law. What was displayed at Franklin Furnace in New York City (in its early years, Exit Art was a nomadic gallery with no fixed home) was evidence of the artists' transgressions: photos, posters, police reports and other ephemera. Even the catalogue was a collection of typed pages sealed in a box with a dollar bill. To read it, the viewer had to rip the bill, another federal crime. From Exit Art’s very beginnings, we were all participants and accomplices. Illegal America set the tone, both in style and substance, of Exit Art that would last for 30 years.

One of New York’s original alternative art spaces, Exit Art is ending its storied run next month. Its final, exuberant show, Every Exit Is An Entrance: 30 Years of Exit Art, is organized by decade (1982, 1992 and 2003) in three distinct sections of its gallery in Hell’s Kitchen. The show includes a truckload of papers, photos, notes, press releases, catalogues and ephemera that fill a waist-high shelf that snakes along the gallery’s walls. The shelf creates a physical timeline and is accompanied by drawing, painting, sculpture and video from Exit Art's vast exhibition history. That history includes gut-punchers like Adrian Piper's Free #2 (1989), two stark photographs of police brutality, and artist-activist David Wojnarowicz's Something from Sleep (1987-1988), a mixed-media reverie about the American dream in all its fractured optimism and rootlessness.

It's difficult not to feel intense pangs of nostalgia and sadness about Exit Art's finale. After all, Colo has described the history of the gallery as a love story between himself and Ingberman, his companion of 30 years who died in 2011. But that heartbreaking story doesn't even begin to acknowledge the rigorous history of this bold, plucky space. Especially in its first decade (admittedly, it's not a competition, but the 1980s come out way, way on top here), Exit Art was having a blast, giving a forum to all sorts of impish ideas. It told the stories of local and international artists who were working with media like performance and video that didn't fit neatly in a gallery setting. In 1981-82, performance artist Tehching Hsieh spent a year living on the streets of NYC for One Year Performance, the third in a series. Exit Art displayed the photo records, Hsieh’s clothing—the stuff of the work—which became not only a record of the artist's performance and experience, but also a map or topographical history of the city. This is typical of much of the work in Every Exit Is An Entrance, too, where snippets and snapshots of past shows become a history within a history of both the city and Exit Art itself.

By the 1990s, the experimental, free-wheeling nature of Exit Art shifted to larger, political gestures. The art, too, became physically bigger, and in 1992, the gallery moved to a cavernous space in SoHo. A standout work from this era is Shirin Neshat's Allegiance with Wakefulness (1994), part of the artist’s well-known series of images about Muslim women. In this disorienting photograph, two delicate, female feet are captured in extreme close-up, inscribed with inked poetry and balancing the barrel of a gun. This image serves as a sort of axis of the show, and much of the work that follows seems to be influenced by or commentaries on violence (against man or nature). In its last decade, especially, Exit Art became dominated by painting, photos and sculpture about environmental crisis or terrorism. This period is profoundly despairing. Gone are the humor and mischievousness (the play) embedded in Exit Art's early days, and its curatorial philosophy seems unmoored. That's fine, and likely purposeful, because where else would Exit Art tread during a decade marked by endless wars and economic division?

Hardest of all to swallow, though, about Exit Art's impending exit (okay, nostalgia, you win) is that New York still needs it. Or it needs a version of its 80s self, one that moved well beyond the art object, the news or the market, and just let it all hang out with oddball shows about the engagement of the Statue of Liberty (yes, that happened). Revisionist? Absolutely, but with any vibrant, messy love story, the stars (and their fans) should be free to rewrite the ending as often as they please.

Marie-Adele Moniot is a writer and editor living in Brooklyn, New York.

project space

Patrick Kelly: Journal

There was a time when I thought I knew how time passed, felt, was passed, was calculated, told all, was valued, [We departed twenty-three years ago…] warped, healed, changed, lapsed, was outed, was zoned, […we eventually dump the projects into space—time capsules of futility.] shifted, was valued, stood still, was converted, was clocked, […no sense of anticipation…] was killed, was wasted, traveled, was gained, was measured, […our instruments indicated arrival…] was reversed, was used, was respected, was conserved, stopped, […reached the location, but it no longer existed.] was zoned, was made up, was kept, was capsuled, was bombed, […arriving image of Pluto, prior to our departure, was merely that…] was framed, elapsed, was exposed, slowed, was machined, was lost, […its demise.].

Patrick Kelly was born in Houston and raised in Lubbock, Texas. He received a BFA from the University of North Texas and an MFA from Texas Christian University. He currently maintains a studio and serves as the Curator of Exhibitions at the Old Jail Art Center in Albany, Texas. His digital drawings can be seen at Hiram Butler Gallery in Houston. At this point he has no plans to visit Pluto.

...mbg Recommends

Brad Tucker: Pressing News
Inman Gallery, Houston
April 13 - May 19, 2012

Brad Tucker: Pressing News, April 13 - May 19, 2012. Courtesy of the Inman Gallery, Houston.

Austin-based artist Brad Tucker’s playful sculpture, installation, sound, video and flat works have been a welcomed addition to exhibitions in Texas and elsewhere for years. In this, his fifth solo exhibition at Inman Gallery in Houston, Tucker continues his idiosyncratic examination of the themes recognizable to those familiar with his work. Bagdad Bass Club features record players, a TV, painted abstract forms, looped bands and speakers spread out in the gallery space. The lo-fi sound, VHS videos and recordings of friends and children plunking notes on a piano or strumming a guitar, create an ambient soundscape that respond aurally to the visual objects around them. A series of abstract paintings made with hand-cut rubber stamps and ink pressed into stretched canvas make their debut in Pressing News. They extend the themes of approximation, call and response and copying that are established within the sculptural objects and their installation. Unpredictable, layered and irregular, the improvisational rectangular shapes within the paintings create patterns that are delightful formal investigations and a relatively serious collision between the mechanical and handmade. It would be tempting to approach Tucker’s casual approach to materials, ideas and methods with a suitcase full of deployable media-theory and art historical references. As appropriate as that would be, it's best to let yourself wander in Tucker’s work—moving from object to object, sound to video, installation to painting—letting connections (theoretical or otherwise) form and dissolve on their own terms. This has always been the crucial and rewarding part of seeing Tucker’s work for me, and one I wouldn’t pass up participating in again.

Eric Zimmerman is an artist and Editor of ...might be good.


SnackProjects, the art morsel brought to you by Michael Guidry and Robert Ruello, is the amuse-bouche of the exhibition world that you can have any time you want. Originally conceived in New Orleans, Guidry and Ruello sought to enhance their local art scene by taking a more participatory and curatorial approach. While a formal exhibition space was out of reach for the two artists, a miniature space was not only manageable, but also offered a unique flexibility that the life-size versions did not—thus SnackProjects was born. After relocation to Houston post Hurricane Katrina, SnackProjects finds itself in its third season of serving up delicious arty nibblets. The 11 x 22 x 13 inch space travels to different host sites, currently at The Menil Collection Bookstore and previously, the Lawndale Art Center. Invited artists get free creative range and because the space itself can be manipulated, each artists’ installation turns into its own art object, making de-install a snap and creating a physical archive of each exhibition. The malleable nature of the portable space tears down the traditional approach to exhibiting and the results are refreshing, exciting and downright amusing. In the inaugural season, Rachel Hecker created a literal peanut gallery, using the space as a stage and animating a handful of peanuts with the use of magnets. Bill Davenport utilized the space to activate viewer participation with his exhibition, Take what you like - Leave something better, in which the audience was prompted to take whatever object was present in the gallery space and replace it with another. In SnackProjects' second season, Cody VanderKaay turned the space into a “drawing machine” in which he packaged sharpened pencils pointed at a blank sheet of paper inside the gallery and put the whole thing in the mail, the paper documenting the in-transit process. Currently exhibiting is Eric Schnell, who takes a diaristic and process-driven approach to architectural installations. Surprising and ever changing, keep an eye out for what (and where) SnackProjects may come up with next.

Emily Ng is an artist and Production Associate at Fluent~Collaborative.

announcements: exhibitions

Austin Openings

Max Warsh & Vanesa Zendejas
SOFA Gallery
Opening Reception: Friday, April 27, 7-10pm

This exhibition pairs the photographs and collages of New York artist Max Warsh with the sculptures of LA artist Vanesa Zendejas to investigate abstraction and built spaces. Creating compositions from pictures of bricks, tiles or cast ornamentation found on building facades, Warsh’s works utilize the repetitive visual language of mechanized processes to create optically charged images.

The 2012 Drawing Annual
Tiny Park
Opening May 4, 7 - 11pm

The 2012 Tiny Park Drawing Annual is a group exhibition focused on drawings and the concept of drawing, in the widest terms. The show includes 3-D work that incorporates drawing; drawings made by drilling holes in paper and drywall; and photographs of line drawings made with string.

Ana Fernandez
Women and Their Work
Opening May 10, 6 - 10pm

Ana Fernandez re-contextualizes her San Antonio neighborhood, weaving elements of romanticism and the paranormal into large scale paintings. Each mysterious home portrait is strewn with clues that decorate each home’s exterior. These works combine familiar domestic elements with subtle, sometimes eerie, hints of the unknown, the fantastic and the supernatural.

Austin on View

Medium Small at Big Medium
Big Medium
Through May 4

A group show including work in all media. Also check out Tim Harding in the Project Space.

1100 E 5th Street (former TOPS warehouse)
Through May 12

FILES, DESKS, CHAIRS takes TOPS, a former office supply warehouse, as its organizing principle. WORK RELATED is an evolving series that promotes experimental sound and language. In an intimate and open environment, we suggest possibilities of correspondence through the grouping of disparate approaches to performance. A music demonstration takes place Saturday, April 21, 8-11pm. Brought to you by SOFA Gallery in conjunction with the Fusebox Festival and the Austin Art Alliance.

Leah Haney
Through April 22

Leah Haney will debut fresh, new paintings that toy with our perceptions of spatial relationships and depth.

Lee Lozano
Visual Arts Center
Through April 22

Curated by Katie Geha and presented in partnership with The Blanton Museum of Art, Pun Value: 4 Works by Lee Lozano is a case study of works by Lee Lozano from The Blanton collection, which will examine the artist’s process and influence on the art world of the 1960s.

Nina Fischer & Maroan el Sani
Through April 22

In Toute la mémoire du monde – The world’s knowledge, Nina Fischer and Maroan el Sani reinterpret French director Alain Resnais’ similarly titled 1956 film. Resnais’ twenty three-minute documentary sweeps through the historic French Bibliothèque Nationale on Rue de Richelieu in Paris, exposing how the library functions as a storehouse of all the world’s knowledge.

Christie Blizard
Women and Their Work
Through April 28

In When I was 16 I saw the White Buffalo, Blizard uses collage, sculpture, video animations and installation. Half of the exhibit represents her studio as a metaphor for: the daytime, the physical, the present tense, the here and now, but also the space where artists can go away and create.

Conrad Bakker
Lora Reynolds Gallery
Through May 5

Lora Reynolds Gallery is pleased to present Untitled Project: RECORD SHOP [45s], Conrad Bakker’s newest body of work. Bakker will turn our project room into an ersatz record store by displaying more than 30 LP covers—all shaped from wood and painted with oils.

Art on the Green
Through May 20

Art on the Green encourages visitors to explore the unique setting of Laguna Gloria with its 12 acres of grounds on Lake Austin, and outdoor sculptures which are part of AMOA-Arthouse’s permanent collection. For the exhibition, nine Texas artists and designers will create minature golf holes that respond to the site and encourage a diverse audience to go outside and play. A bonus tenth hole will be located on the rooftop of the Jones Center, linking this exhibition to both museum locations.

San Antonio on View

Megan Harrison
cactus bra SPACE
Through April 22

From the artist: "I imagine myself as an explorer entering into strange and unforgiving surroundings. In my drawings I reference images of arctic exploration where the horizon line lays open and there is little to obstruct the view over large expanses of space."

James Smolleck
Sala Diaz
Through April 22

"In the bag were many knives and hoods, diverse rites and images, ointments and herbs."

Tony Feher
Through April 26

Tony Feher’s installations take inspiration from existing architectural elements, revealing the environment anew for viewers. His artworks’ relationship to the space in which they are presented is inseparably fundamental, and in effect, the architecture becomes a part of the exhibition. In this way, the Hudson (Show)Room and the Artpace facility play leading roles in Thomas Hoving.

12.1 International Artists-in-Residence Exhibition
Through May 20

New works by residents Adam Pendleton (Germantown, New York), James Sham (Houston, Texas), and Florian Slotawa (Berlin, Germany). The 12.1 residents were selected by guest curator Jeffrey Grove, the Hoffman Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Issac Julien
Linda Pace Foundation
Through June 30

TEN THOUSAND WAVES was filmed on location in China and poetically weaves together stories linking China’s ancient past and present. The work explores the movement of people across countries and continents and meditates on unfinished journeys. Conceived and created over four years, Julien collaborated with some of China’s leading artistic voices.

Adam Schreiber
Linda Pace Foundation
Through December 15

The Linda Pace Foundation presents an exhibition of new photographs, Flanagan – Tiravanija, by Chicago-based artist Adam Schreiber. Using collections, warehouses, and archives as his subject matter, Schreiber’s work examines the effects of time, history, and physical context on our civilization’s evolving understanding of particular objects.

Houston Openings

Lawndale Art Center
Opening Reception May 11, 6:30 - 8:30pm

The Lawndale Artist Studio Program Exhibition featuring Seth Mittag, David Politzer & Anne J. Regan

Jack Ericksson
Lawndale Art Center
Opening Reception May 11, 6:30 - 8:30pm

Isometric Solutions to Contemporary Economic Dilemmas will be a full scale installation populated with 2D and 3D representations of economic data. It will show how vulnerable graphics are to unwelcome interpretation based on misguided geometry, Masonic lore and common sense.

Travis McCarra & Michael Gonzales
Lawndale Art Center
Opening Reception May 11, 6:30 - 8:30pm

#everyoneisanartist uses Twitter to create an installation allowing the audience to simultaneously act as generator and spectator to this constantly changing piece. Online and physical visitors will be encouraged to "tweet" works in various media formats via hyperlink containing the Twitter hash-tag #everyoneisanartist within Twitter's 140 character limit. The received message will be processed, stored, and linked via a custom coded application.

Leslie Mutchler
Lawndale Art Center
Opening Reception May 11, 6:30 - 8:30pm

TrendFACTORY is a community-driven, multi-participatory installation. Artist, Leslie Mutchler, will be exploring issues related to hand(craft), the physicality of labor, and the repetition of memes in the virtual world through hand-manufactured objects.

Houston on View

Marina Zurkow
Diverseworks Art Space
Through April 21

Commissioned by DiverseWorks to be part of Fotofest 2012 Necrocracy is an immersive art exhibition exploring nature and petrochemical production that combines video animation, drawings and sculpture by Brooklyn-based artist Marina Zurkow. In the space, the public is invited to explore a labyrinth-like landscape, populated with an array of petroleum-based artworks and a series of new animated video works.

Brad Tucker
Inman Gallery
Through May 19

Pressing News, a solo exhibition of recent work by Austin-based artist Brad Tucker, consists of three major elements: a floor-bound multimedia installation entitled Bagdad Bass Club; a selection of the artist's rarely exhibited paintings; and an adaptive sculpture uniquely configured, like a 3-D drawing, in response to the interior architecture of Inman Gallery. Each element is executed in Tucker's characteristically playful, casual, and idiosyncratically charming style.

Table Top
David Borden Gallery
Through May 31

Devin Borden Gallery presents Table Top a selection of intimately scaled sculpture by Sharon Engelstein, Nicholas Kersulis, Darryl Lauster, Matt Messinger and Kaneem Smtih.

Dallas/Ft. Worth on View

Elliott Hundley
Nasher Sculpture Center
Through April 22

Elliott Hundley's The Bacchae featuring 11 recent medium- to large-scale wall-mounted and free-standing constructions highlights his investigations of the ancient Greek tragedy "The Bacchae" (ca. 406 BC) by Euripides. Encompassing a variety of media including assemblage, theatrical staging, and photography, this exhibition continues the Nasher’s exploration of sculpture’s rich and myriad possibilities.

Kerry Pacillio
Cohn Drennan Contemporary
Through April 28

Kerry Pacillio presents MOTHER, a new series exploring women’s roles in human development, as well as the expectations and limitations of motherhood.

Wayne White
Marty Walker Gallery
Through May 5

Marty Walker Gallery presents a site specific gallery installation of murals and paintings by award-winning artist Wayne White, known for his signature punchy word combos injected into the “sofa-art” scenery of found thrift store lithographs.

Shifting Perceptions: Anti-Prejudice Cartoons and Air Age Cartography
Free Museum of Dallas
Through May 18

Shifting Perceptions: Anti-Prejudice Cartoons and Air Age Cartography explores the
contributions of artists in remapping American racial attitudes during the Second World War and the postwar period. This exhibition features cartoons, comic books, and animated films that engaged what Gunnar Myrdal famously called the American Dilemma, the failure of America to recognize the contradiction between its ideals of democracy and its practices of racial and religious discrimination.

Adam McEwen
The Goss-Michael Foundation
Through July 28

Adam McEwen’s show consists of different media including sculpture, painting, and installation. His work resides somewhere between the celebratory and the funereal. It identifies strands of European melancholy in the Pop object, and the scuffs of history and consumerism on the sheened surfaces of minimalism represented through his sculptures, made of machined graphite.

Marfa on View

Data Deluge
Ballroom Marfa
Through July 8

The ongoing dialogue between the digital and physical worlds provides the backdrop for Data Deluge, an exhibition that presents a selection of sculpture, furniture, painting, photography, video, sound and works on paper by artists who shape Web-based and software-generated data into art.

announcements: events

Austin Events

Alyssa Taylor Wendt
Co-Lab Space
April 19, 3 - 6 pm

In her new installation and participatory performance, Alyssa Taylor Wendt revisits tropes of urban decay, monument and mourning with a multimedia installation in the main space, using a variety of materials, including horsehair. Building large forms that need to be negotiated with, she asks us to consider the materials at hand and question their place as signifiers of both ruin and rebirth. LIVE hair performance and open hours for installation: Thursday, Friday and Saturday, April 19th-21st, 2012, 3-6PM, Closing Reception with the artist and viewing of both the installation and the finished piece: Saturday, April 21st, 2012, 7-11PM.

2012 Fusebox: Emily Lacy's 99 Times
Women and Their Work
April 25 - 26

Blending folk and electronic influences, sound artist and musician Emily Lacy will host a performance drawing on the energies of global protest movements occurring within the last year. Mixing the aesthetics of prepared song with improvised vocal works, she produces an unexpected set of effects and feelings in the viewer.

2012 Fusebox Festival
April 25- May 6

"Fusebox champions adventurous works of art across a variety of different mediums.  We think there's something inherently exciting and powerful about this collision of different ideas and perspectives.  This notion of hybridity is central to our understanding of creativity.  The festival is also a great opportunity to engage with new, emerging artists as well as renowned masters. We hope you can join us."

2012 Fusebox: World Premier of "An Evening With William Shatner Asterisk"
April 25- May 6

A new work by theater director Phil Soltanoff, writer Joe Diebes and systems designer Rob Ramirez. William Shatner’s image from the original Star Trek series speaks on the subject of art in the 21st Century. The team of artists have created a dynamic video Shatner puppet by meticulously cataloguing everything William Shatner ever said on Star Trek. Together, they attempt to bravely make Captain James T. Kirk expand our universe.

Pastelegram Issue No. 2 Launch Party
Domy Books-Austin
May 10

Pastelegram’s biannual print issue is an artwork-as-magazine, and offers original work by an artist, art historian or art critic. Included in each issue is a collection of the work’s source material, which may include images by other artists or writings about other artists (some original, some reproduced), poetry or literature, theoretical texts, timelines or diagrams, advertisements or business letters, and so forth.

ChingoZine Launch Party
April 20, 7-10pm

ChingoZine will have a launch party highlighting the release of its inaugural issue. ChingoZine is a new zine featuring the original drawings, design, and print work of emerging Latino artists. In Spanish “Chingo” is a slang term for “lots of” or a “plethora of”. Zine is an abbreviated form of “magazine” and are typically low-cost publications distributed to members of alternative, counter, and (sub) cultures.

Houston Events

2012 Insight|Out Festival
Insight|Out Festival
May 19 - 20

A weekend of music, film and original choreography, Insight|Out Festival delivers site-specific performances by visionary guest artists in unique locations around the city. Insight|Out is a collaboration of three Houston arts groups: the University of Houston's Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the arts, Aurora Picture Show and DiverseWorks.

Marfa Events

2012 Marfa Community Day
April 29
Admission: FREE

This year's annual event celebrating our West Texas friends and neighbors will take place Sunday, April 29. Open viewing of the collection, dinner and music in the Arena, lectures, art activities, and more. All events are free and open to the public.

Dion Cook
Crowley Theater
April 12 2 and 8 pm

Dion Cook's Cutter was then singled out by Ballroom Marfa's distinguished Filmmakers' Selection Committee, comprised of Director and Academy Award-winning screenwriter Robert Towne, Emmy-nominated actress Jeanne Tripplehorn, and veteran producer Robert Shapiro, who also serves on the Nicholl Fellow Selection Committee and will again be conducting this year's panel discussions following The Reading performances.

announcements: opportunities

Call for Entries

Austinart Billboards
Deadline: June 29

Once again, a juried arts competition will select 10 Central TX artists' work to be displayed on billboards in the greater Austin area. Entry deadline is June 29, 2012.  Open to all who work or reside in Travis, Williamson or Hayes county, TX. For application, click here. NO FEE TO ENTER.

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