Saturday, March 26, 2011

Empty Box 2011 - Box13 exchanges white space for gr$$n.

On Saturday, 3/12/2011, Box13 had its annual fundraiser, Empty Box.

As in past years, the event centered around the raffling off of art work donated by local artists. For $50 a ticket, participants were able to enter mini-raffles for the individual art work of their choice. For $5, they could enter the poor man's raffle, which was a standard raffle.
Upstairs, the resident artists of Box13 conducted a silent auction. Houston film maker and media maven, Stephanie Saint Sanchez DJ'd the event.

Here are some of the works that caught my eye with my camera in focus. However, I did not capture the artist or title...but will gladly add them if someone provides them.

Parent issues? What parent issues?
Both the model and his medallion were unable to attend.
David Lynch fantasizes of Betty Boop?
Stealth cone
Tessellations done oh so right

Myth mashup

Participants gnoshed on guacamole, mingled, and cast their lots. Eugenious(sp?) of Gorealah Soul crashed the party with his bear-costumed cohort and serenaded us.

Fuck greeting cards. Say it with a bullhorn.

With a bear as your wing man, you will never lack a cuddle.
 Volunteers kept the crowd nourished.

At 9 they raffled.

By 10, Elaine Bradford and her fellow boxers: Emily Link, Dennis Nance, Michael Henderson, Emily Sloan, Dennis Harper, Maria Smits, Heather Bause, Kathy Kelley, and Mark Ponder had
divvied up the spoils and celebrated the space's birthday with a cake made by Heather B.

Whatever their cultural or personal criteria for "fullness", no one should have left the event empty of anything other than a little cash.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"Regarding Line" at HCC Southwest campus

Plenty of lines populate "Regarding Line" a show curated by Kirsty Peet at HCC Southwest campus art gallery. Straight, crooked, wavy, angular, curved, swirled, spiraled, faded, emergent, reflexive, intersected, overlapped, parallel, askew, thin, thick, black, grey, blue, white. Regarded individually, you'll find the building blocks of all art. Virtually, every thickness, shape, and solidity.

The lines compose drawings by John Adelman, Brent Fogt, and Kia Neill.

John Adelman's lines trace nails where they fall on a canvas not unlike chalk outlines of body at a crime scene. He traces them singularly but not simply a single nail. He traces thousands upon thousands of nails. And he keeps track of them as evident in the titles: "20,200 nails" and "8665 nails".

8665 nails by John Adelman

Adelman's process, as he recounted to me, is to drop the nails on a canvas, trace each nail where it falls, and then remove it. He drops them with intention. Sometimes single-ly, usually in bunches of tens or hundreds. Nonetheless, he drops them and then he faithfully records where they fall. While I was interviewing him, an HCC student asked him, "what does it mean?" He told her that he'd done enough work deconstructing and documenting the nails. She had to do the work of finding meaning in it.

Metaphysical ramifications be damned. It's a formalist rendition of chance.

A similar obsessive repetition inhabits the drawings of Brent Fogt. Through the repetition and proximity of circles: imperfect, ovoid, oblong, his works coalesce into biomorphic abstractions. Each one conjures up an organic whole, which could be a snapshot of a galaxy or a microscopic colony of cells, a land mass viewed from the orbiting moon or a honeycombed slice of a beehive.

Tympanic Myst by Brent Fogt

Don't get me wrong. At it's base, Fogt's work is doodling. Nevertheless, it's doodling that appears to be done with some great design in mind. Adelman joked that the formalist in him totally got Fogt's work. He gets the beauty of Fogt. However, I don't think you have to be a card-carrying formalist to appreciate these works. Divining why the line veers, curves, turns back on itself, or diverges toward the background, will busy or frustrate or craze you. The line does as it does. The middle school daydreamer in me is awed by the desultory maps that it creates.

Kia Neill's work in the show is just as labor intensive and just as subject to chance. Her drawings are acrylic, gouche, and ink mixtures that she manipulates on polypropylene paper. The resulting images are amorphous, translucent, and delicate.

Residual Form No. 27 by Kia Neill

She explained to me that these drawings are an extension of an aesthetic project that she began in 2008 and which grew into room-size installations of psychedelic cave-caverns. I can only describe these installations as phantasmagoric pastoral (minus the sheep and the shepherds or fuck them a la William Burroughs). Typical of Neill's works during this period, Grotto resembled what I imagine would be Ken Kesey's Terrarium, Jerry Garcia's walk-in closet, or your new-age aunt Julie's family room decor.

In this show, Neill continues her psychedelic pastoral progression. Abstract and atmospheric, these series of drawing could represent the spirits of (or the remains of) mythical creatures that inhabit her crystal caves.

Residual Form No.25 by Kia Neill

Beginning all titles with "Residual Form No. ...," she applies a pseudo-scientific taxonomy that aligns the drawings with her most recent oeuvre. They form both a continuation of and provide a pseudo-scientific/archaeological reflection on her fantasy installations such as "Cave," "Grotto," and "Terrain."

Cave by Kia Neill

As the title hints, "Regarding Line" doesn't have a grand narrative scheme. No heros, no villians, no cause celebres. Rather, it's about a concept, an abstraction, a platonic ideal. The show has a meditative quality to it that persists even among the greetings and giggles and gossip that go with art openings. A certain Zen pervades the space that Ms. Peet meticulously arranged. Despite the garrulousness, one can momentarily experience the raw curve and slant of the line.

* All pictures from HCC Southwest's gallery website, except for "Cave," which is from Kia Niell's website.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Bridge Club's "Natural Resources" at Lawndale

Natural Resources by the Bridge Club accomplished the groups mission as stated on their website, "... the presence of the four costumed member artists lends an unsettling normative air to odd or uncomfortable situations, while costuming and object choices create a historical ambiguity of era that addresses change and continuity of gender and interpersonal histories, roles, expectations and behaviors," but perhaps not much more.

At Lawndale's Mezzanine gallery site, the four artists, clad in wigs, white lab coats, and high heels with protective coverings,

I'll bet June Cleaver would have pimped the Beaver out for these...

dipped a set of apparently random objects (hats, shoes, string...mainly objects that would absorb liquid) in vats of either milk or oil and then stored them in large glass jars. The four members' manor was methodical and deliberate. The audience's demeanor was silent, almost reverential. When they finished baptizing and storing the objects, the jars were to be sealed and the contents allowed to pursue their natural course, namely deteriorating and\or decaying.  It had a normative, unsettling aire, but that was all.

Given Houston's energy and agricultural heritage, it seemed appropriate enough, but no more appropriate than in any other city. In Milwaukee or Los Angeles, this piece would have been as contextually relevant. In Houston, it seems to miss an opportunity. A more site-specific performance might have highlighted the process of extracting these natural resources and their toll on the environment. Think milk squirting hot from a cow's udder or oil erupting from a well. Both of which distinguish Houston from the rest of the oil-burning, milk-drinking contential U.S.

Instead, the performance focused on our consumer relationship to these resources. The Bridge Club utilized these iconic resources in their refined, one might say commoditized state, which in a site-specific context seems to pasteurize and reduce the piece's symbolism. But maybe that's their point. Despite the complex realities of acquiring these resources (extracting and refining oil from under the sea or raising, feeding, milking, and breeding thousands of cattle), we are dispassionately consuming them without taking into account their finite nature (in the case of oil) or their effects on our environment or our health. So the Bridge Club gives us an object lesson.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Josephine Durkin's "When I last saw you..." at Lawndale

Josephine Durkin's "When I last saw you..." attempts to "suggest, mimic, invite or isolate human gestures, activities and relationships." She does this by using objects--fans, pillows, desks--to function as human surrogates. 

Then she manipulates them into ambiguous positions of opposition in which their relationships are unclear. Are the two fans holding up the pillows? Are they each trying to force the pillow into the blades of the other? Are they balancing against one another for support? Are they being separated by the pillow for their own good? Are they being kept apart at another fan's insistence?

Each artwork articulates an abstract dialectic. However, they're not completely abstract. The object distinguish themselves. Fans, pillows, desks, tall, short, pink, blue, green, wall-mounted, floor-mounted--these are subtle differences but distinct enough to enable the audience to hang their interpretations on.
"The utility green fan must represent someone from the working class."
"The beige pillow must be an Asian sex-slave."
"The short fan has got to be someone with a napoleonic complex."
"The tall blue is a sexually frustrated male."
"The brown one must be African-American...or Latin-American...or south-Asian...or a tanning accident victim from Memorial."

Of course, these reactions are the real subject of these works. Durkin's denied us our default designations. The narrative isn't ready made. We have to build them. Had she used people or gender or culturally-specific objects such as a gun or a vaccum or a wok, we would reflexively reference our connotations informed by our culture and experience. These pieces with their very stylized differences enable us to habitually, automatically form a narrative and then deconstruct it to examine the connotations of associated with our visual literacy. (Why don't I free-associate the color brown with my hair/eyes/nipples instead of a Latina's skin?)

That may not be pretty, but it is beautiful.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Emily Sloan's "Funeral Party for the Living" on New Year's Day 2011

Americans don't deal well with death or for that matter loss. We deal with it expediently or at least hire someone else too. Our cash or the capitalistic incentive that it spawns results in an almost perfect preservation of the dearly departed. However, this is not so that we can revisit or be reunited with the dead, which is the purpose of some cultures' preservation practices, but rather for one last memory of the dead as "not dead" or "undead" or at least "life-like." Scrapbooking. Glamorshots. Americans are all about the constructing of positive memories. We perfected the spin. (Remember Christopher Columbus "discovered" America.) Loss, we discount choosing instead to look for lessons learned or takeaways and minimizing the importance of the loss. By the third telling, we sound as if the loss was just practice, the missing item, counterfeit, or person, not really that close or important, even expendable.

Emily Sloan's performance-participatory art piece, "Funeral Party for the Living," on New Year's Day 2011 at 14 Pews gave a few Houstonians an opportunity to redeux their grief, whatever the cause. This event followed the basic funeral archetype. It consisted of a funeral ceremony followed by a brass band procession to a funeral pyre/internment of sorts. And then food and remembrance. The funeral began with Emily dressed in a black preacher's robe addressing the congregation as to why we were gathered there and what we could avail ourselves of. She then called out names and readers rose to the rostrum.

A few readers read poems. One reader eulogized the death of art.

One addressed his parents, to whom his life choices have rendered him dead, and then symbolically castrated himself by cutting his tie.

Employment was ceremoniously laid to rest. Two women presented the congregation with their melon of misdeeds (a melon on which they documented their sins and other mistakes and then dropped off a balcony at the stroke of midnight on Halloween). They described how they intended to burn the remains of the melon on the funeral pyre as a final purge.

Another woman (a local filmmaker) partook of her last meal complete with musical accompany, smoked a cigarette, and then cut off a lock of her hair.

A eulogist led the congregation in an instructional a capella hymn about what to do with his remains, which involved dismemberment and donations...that is if the recipients weren't too discriminating. Mean Gene Kelton, the singer of "Texas City Dyke" and "My Baby Don't Wear No Panties," was eulogized by a relative. Two assistant eulogists read obituaries for those who wished to mourn but either couldn't make it or couldn't face the bereaved. Some were satirical. Some were serious. Such is the role of death in the states. In the shadow of death, we don't seem to know whether to celebrate, lament, or self-flagellate. So we do it all, simultaneously.

After the eulogists were done, Emily concluded the funeral and invited the congregation to follow Nick Cooper and some of the members of the Free Radicals as they led a musical procession to the backyard.
There a small funeral pyre was burning.

Emily and an assistant brought up the rear with the coffin, shaking and shimming as best they could with a sheet metal casket seven feet long. She invited the crowd to play casket-limbo. No one obliged. The band ceased. The burning commenced.

The sinners burned the vestiges of their sin. Several people burned pieces of paper that represented ex-lovers or ex-identities. A woman burned letters from a mentor. A man from Chile cut off his pony/rat tail and burned it. Another man burned a naked picture of an ex-girlfriend, modestly laying it face down. One woman burned her bra, because she hadn't ever and she could. In a poignant presentation, a man burned his addiction. Others quietly and unceremoniously burned pieces of paper and handwritten notes representing their losses. We collectively agreed to burn "war."

The dead buried, Emily invited the congregation back inside to enjoy the potluck which included "Severed Arm" Red Velvet Cake log and "coin" carrots to pay the ferry man.

Everyone was encouraged to continue to eulogize and\or purge by pyre. In the back of the "church", another artist, Herb Melichar, was collecting people's thoughts on the afterlife and photographing them.

Performance art is all about process, the means more than the end. What made Sloan's performance beautiful was, to paraphrase a sentiment expressed by David Lake, Emily's ability to make high concept art accessible to everyone. She achieved this result by constructing a performance that was more an invitation for audience members to participate and explore a process than a demonstration of how that process should be performed or interpreted. In Sloan's "Funeral", the audience members made it theirs. As Sophie Simons commented, part of the performance's power was that Emily didn't orchestrate or conduct the performance. Instead, she let it happen. She facilitated it in such a way that "Funeral" wasn't the audience experiencing the process vicariously or simply bearing witness or observing how Sloan interpreted the theme. "Funeral" was the collaboration of artist and audience. The artist became facilitator and death coach.

In some ways, Sloan's approach disarms critics of performance art who insist "That's not art! My snotty-nose little brat can do that." At this and other performances such as "Napping Affects Performance (NAP)" and "Wash", she co-opted both the critic and the brat and demonstrated that yes the snotty-nose little brat can do it and it can be art.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Emily Sloan's "Wash"

"Yesterday (Saturday, 9/11/10), I washed my hair, twice."

That's the kind of fact that I dread reading on a blog. However, the second washing was significant for me because it was part of Emily Sloan's "Wash" at Gallery 1724. I entered the space as a voyeur and exited it as a participant.

The gallery is still exhibiting Matthew Glover's, The Knitted Nudes, which was a delicious surprise to someone who spent way too many Sunday afternoons in the company of grand aunts knitting asexual flora and fauna. My partners in art smiled appreciatively as we meandering among the nudes.  We didn't see Emily and so I called out. She was at the back of the gallery, installed in her installation, a simple hair washing chair and sink, shampoo's, conditioners, towels. The setting was pretty typical except for a single flourish, thousands of 3" square aluminum foil sheets covering the floor.

Emily stood alone with wet hair having just washed her own. I pouted, "You're not washing anyone's hair." She smiled mischievously, not because she's particularly mischievous, that's just how she smiles. "I could wash your hair." I did what I usually do when confronted. I offered up the youngest member of my party. She gave me a go-to-hell look and politely demurred. I got in the chair.

Emily covered me from the neck down with a sheet and placed a towel around my neck. As the warm water poured over my head and she lathered my locks, I peppered her with questions. Only her answers were worth reproducing.

- 12.
- 1 brought shampoo.
- No charge and no one has paid.
- Mostly friends, student, or fellow artist/art admirers although I posted advertisements in non-art spaces.
- It's both ritualistic and intimate.
- More intimate than feet (and without the connotations of religion or power)
- It references the relationships established in beauty shops.
- You can get up now.

A. reconsidered and I took pictures and reflected on the experience.

The beauty and the power of this piece lies in its simple focus.

"Wash" distills what society in general would label a menial act. It dislocates the act from a context of the quotidian, of power, of the financial inequality in which we usually encounter it. "Wash" rarefies the  subject of shampooing into a ritual. With each performance, Emily restores the intimacy and poignancy of the basic act of grooming, cleaning, caring for one another.  In today's financial-political context (which appears to be the only one worth reporting), that may be the most radical performance art I'll experience all year. (Yes, I'm given over to hyperbole.)

Regardless, I enjoyed the intimacy and the cleanse.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Nathaniel Donnett on Rauschenberg at the Menil

Sunday, June 6th, Nathaniel Donnett contributed to the Menil's "Artist Eye" lecture series, with a discussion of Robert Rauschenberg's work "Third Time Painting." 

Donnett began with a few details from Rauschenberg's life that were similar to his own. Rauschenberg grew up poor in Texas. His mother was a seamstress. Donnett pointed out that he is also from Texas and didn't start out with a silver spoon in his mouth. Rauschenberg liked music and mixed it up with musicians and performers such as John Cage. Earlier in Nathaniel's career, he rapped and participated in the Hip Hop movement. Rauschenberg sought the masters of his time both artistically and physically--he travelled to Paris--only to realize that their aesthetic medium wasn't his own. Donnett embarked on a similar journey, more artistic than touristic, but just as influential to his own development as an artist.

Rauschenberg turned to Africa for inspiration. Donnett has too.   

Donnett's discussion then attempted to open the "Third Time Painting." Explaining how he experienced it, he sought to help the audience both articulate and reaffirm their experience of Rauschenberg. Nathaniel demonstrated how the positioning of the clock causes him to reposition his head. How the shirt splayed out and slathered in paint alludes to itself and so much more...a shirt with paint on it? a cross? wash drying on a river rock? a Byzantine fresco? He explained how Rauschenberg's combines lured him into the works with everyday material that was both recognizable but also repurposed.

Donnett, then turned the topic of conversation from Rauschenberg's work to friendship and collaboration with John Cage (experimental composer) and Merce Cunningham (the dancer and choreographer). Donnett noted the parallel between Rauschenberg's interest in music, performance, and interaction with the audience to his own interest in these same types of artistic interactions and their roots in Hip-Hop culture.

Then Donnett began to play. To introduce the idea of audience participation, he discussed the African-American tradition of call and response and it's long history from sermons and gospels to hip-hop performances. He even got the audience to rap a little with him. He followed the rap with some art history regarding Rauschenberg and De Koonig's rivalry, which was largely manufactured by the art world. Rauschenberg, with De Koonig's "help", exploited the competitive sentiment in the art world by taking it to it's logical or at least emotional conclusion: one artist "destroying" another artist's work with his piece "Erasing De Koonig." This art work consisted of an original De Koonig sketch, erased by Rauschenberg. (In De Koonig's attempt to "help," he provided a sketch so 'perfect' that he thought Rauschenberg would be unable to erase it. -- CAUTION: Artist Ego at Large)

 At this point in the lecture, Nathaniel uncovered an easel in the corner to reveal an original Donnett sketch that included sketches of Rauschenberg's work. He then armed the audience with erasers and invited them to revenge De Koonig and erase an original Donnett that included copies of Rauschenberg's work.

Here's Nate riffing on Rauschenberg's "Erasing De Koonig" with "Cohen Erasing Donnett." Nate invited the entire audience to participate in the deconstructing of a Donnett.