Artstroller Turns 1!

 

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A little bunny told me there’s a big holiday happening, but what we’re really excited about today is the first anniversary of Artstroller.  Some people mark time in terms of gray hairs or inches grown, but for Clementine and me it’s the monthly turnover of art.  Installations, performances and preparator-built temporary walls transform the museums and galleries that make up our stomping grounds.  I’m not telling you anything revolutionary when I say how amazing it is to live in a city with such diverse and dynamic institutions, but gratitude never gets old.  So thanks Texas artists and art-places, and especially those who frequent this blog, whether for musings or just a cute baby photo or two.  I never forget how lucky I am to be doing what I love best.  Here’s to another year!

Paul Kittelson

Paul Kittelson

Patrick Doherty

Patrick Doherty

 

Menil in winter

Menil in winter

 

 

 

Menil in summer

Menil in summer

 

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with artists Alex Rubio, Juan de dios Mora, and Megan Harrison in San Antonio

Hidden Treasure

In my mind I have a grade-school image of the steps of the scientific method.  Each one follows from the next in an orderly fashion at the imperative of little black arrows.  I’ve often thought about art and science as closely-related cousins in the search for understanding.  No artist reveres this relationship more than Jo Ann Fleischhauer.  She also gleefully explodes those neat little scientific steps when need be, borrowing from history, literature and design.

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Her most elaborate installation piece to date Leonardo Diologo was conceived in conjunction with researchers that she met at UT’s cancer research facility in Houston.  Although the piece was finished in 2010, few people have had the opportunity to see it.  It’s location is necessarily secure, and an expected expansion of the research facility was postponed just as the work was completed.  But being in the company of Houston’s tiniest art world “it girl” has its perks, so we were able to get a peek.

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The installation fills a foyer, but due to the mirrored ceiling and reflective floors it appears to extend infinitely. Fleischhauer’s sense of drama is immediately evident.  Black, white and gray tiles in the shapes of buckyballs and other molecules spiral and descend in size.  The serpentine composition is viewable in its entirety through the mirrors.

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Along the walls, the artist has inscribed numbers from the Fibonacci sequence as well as text.  These lines of characters spiral upward, and in some cases are reversed, their legible reflections appearing in the gleaming ceiling.  The energy and dynamism of this place is infectious. Clementine raced around giddily. Within four walls, Fleischhauer has created a whirlwind of theory, molecular structures, and abstract concepts.  These usually ephemeral ideas have assumed glamorous physical forms.

To see a video on Fleischhauer’s recent public installation in Market Square, you can follow this rabbit hole.

 

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Worth a Thousand Words

Walking from our parking spot next to the Menil to the Houston Center for Photography should have taken just a couple of minutes.  It was less than a half a block but, when you’re not 19 months old, you forget how many interesting leaves and sticks and bugs and garbage cans and puddles are contained on one narrow street.  So this meandering journey took about ten minutes, and I was happy to oblige, because who am I to stifle curiosity?  There was also the less honorable feet-dragging I was engaging in because of my unexplained bias against photography in general.  (You mean they have a whole ‘fest just for fotos?) What did pique my interest was this year’s focus on middle eastern artists and subject matter.  It seemed timely, and in such an international city you’d expect some wide ranging points of view.  In this respect, the HCP exhibition did not disappoint.

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The front gallery features Newsroom, an exhibition of five photographers, mostly training their cameras with a documentarian eye.  There is also an interactive installation by Reporters Sans Frontieres.  The intent of this exhibition is to call attention to the “incredibly complex, opaque systems of power defining what we see.”  The map included in the installation delineates the crux of the problem,  ranking each country in the world according to freedom of press.  Images encircling the room span from Egypt to Syria to the Gaza Strip,  from refugee camp to armed conflict to placid beach.

Remi Ochlik

Remi Ochlik

 

To be sure, these photos are moving.  These are important images that humanize movements and revolutions.  Remi Ochlik’s lens captures the emotional frenzy of a massive political movement, redefining the term “Arab Spring.”  Without names and individual stories to attach to these faces, we are left with the pure inertia of radical (and often violent) change.  Austin Tice’s images of Syrian children are wrenching.  Some shoot grins and peace signs at the camera while others bare jagged scars or wield molotov cocktails.  I remember Tice’s name from the news, he has been missing since 2012.

Austin Tice

Austin Tice

 The most unexpected photos in the show come from Tanya Habjouqa, in a series entitled Occupied Pleasures.  My favorite features a conservatively head-scarfed woman splashing in the ocean.  Other bathers around her wear varying amounts of clothing.  One teeny Euro-style bikini provides the greatest contrast.  These photos, with their subtle humor and tender treatment, remind us of the essential nature of humans.  Life plods on for most of us, regardless of larger political strife.

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Tanya Habjouqa

 

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Minus Habjouqa’s series, I do feel there is something lost in translation here,  and it falls into place as I sit in the installation.  In the soft armchair provided by RSF, I can passively absorb these images and information as I do any news.  It’s something far away experienced by other people.  These pictures are much too nice, in their frames on the wall, in the HCP on a drizzly afternoon, for me to feel them with the urgency they deserve.  And that is the true divide between art and journalism.  Journalism tells us what happened, and art (if it’s successful) plants the seed of an idea that grows and blooms within each viewer to different effect.

 

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See you Saturday

She's blurry because she wouldn't stop spinning.

She’s blurry because she wouldn’t stop spinning.

 

 

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This week was spent lugging big canvases around.  Many thanks to the best art-moving team around.  I hope to see you all at Nicole Longnecker Gallery on Saturday, March 29.

 

My favorite installation team

My favorite installation team

Interview with Mat Kubo

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photo courtesy of the artist

The percussive clacking of typewriters makes for strange music in Mat Kubo’s piece No Talking, Just Typing.  Compared to the sleek and (relatively) silent smartphones and tablets of 2014, these burly word-processors feel archaic.  Kubo has miked their mechanical racket, creating a din within the small gallery space.  For his performance at the Mariago Collective, the artist will conduct typed conversations with his viewing public.  These exchanges can range from banal to humorous to personal.  The elaborate and self-conscious staging creates just enough theater for “typers” to let their guard down.  Here’s my attempt to get Kubo to do the same:

AS:  A lot of your work involves public interactions.  Since you can’t control the reactions of strangers, how do you prepare for a certain level of unpredictability in a piece?
MK:  I sit in silence and type with myself. I have some theoretical outcomes, but the unexpected is often the highlights; and though some can be uncomfortable, I appreciate being able to navigate through.

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Liza Littlefield types with Mat Kubo. Photo courtesy of the artist.

AS:  Most people’s idea of an artist is a someone toiling away alone in a studio.  How would you describe your “studio practice?”
MK: My studio is more of an office. It’s ideas in there. The best work comes from collaborating with the community.
AS:  What is the most essential tool or piece of technology that you use?
MK:  Gerber multitool. Several pocket knives. Sakura Micron 05. MacBook Pro. iPhone 5s. They all have value. I need as much analog as digital.
AS:  Do you ever get “stage” fright?  If so, how do you cope?
MK:  All the time. Stage fright is given for me, I have to accept and welcome the anxiety. If you can do that, you’re untouchable
Contracts and Action Items is on view at the Mariago Collective until April 24.  The exhibit features Mat Kubo, Justin Parr, and Mark Harold Ponder.
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A gorgeous video of No Talking, Just Typing by Brandon Ray:

http:// http://vimeo.com/m/90406239

Spilled Milk

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In the pre-Clementine era, it was about as likely that you’d see me holding a gun as holding an infant. Needless to say, I approached pregnancy and all things childbirth-related as I would any unknown territory… it became a research project. I’m sure we’ve all had similar moments, when we discover that a topic we’ve ignored our entire lives has its myriad message boards, apps, and acronyms. I explain this only to offer some context for those who are unfamiliar with such abbreviations as EBF (exclusively breast-fed) and their status in the faceless, cacophonous world of the internet. This issue, as I’ve found with many things related to mothering, is deeply fraught. It’s also largely unknown to non-mothers, which is why Sarah Sudhoff’s recent performance entitled Surrenderat Nicole Longnecker Gallery provides such a poignant point of discussion.

The artist sat nude in the rear room of the gallery, still and silent. In her arms, and against her bare breasts, Sudhoff held cream-colored frozen blocks of human breast milk. The heat from her body slowly melted them, and they began to form a languid puddle beneath her feet. Throughout the performance the artist hardly moved, a test of endurance that echoes the physical sacrifices of motherhood. These indignities are too banal to list (do you really want to read about how little sleep a new parent gets? I think not), but in Sudhoff’s piece they were neatly distilled.

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Sudhoff’s nudity can be looked at in several different lights. The most obvious is her exposure to the world, to appraisal as an object. Her body (as the body of any mother) is altered by pregnancy and childbirth. It belongs not only to her or her chosen lover, but to her baby (insert can-of-worms regarding schizophrenic American attitudes toward female body here). It cannot be overlooked that this performance was relegated to the gallery’s rearmost room. While I am sympathetic to the gallerist’s (and possibly artist’s) sensitivity to passerby, this decision brings back memories of having to breastfeed in various hidden-from-sight places (bathrooms, dressing rooms, back seats of cars) as though feeding a child were some nefarious action.

All this to say, I was hardly an unbiased viewer of Sudhoff’s Surrender. The opinions, of which there are many, on whether, or how long to breastfeed are vehement and varied. What seems to be universal is what Sarah Sudhoff presented at Longnecker Gallery- the feeling that regardless of your personal choice, your body is laid bare to the challenges and judgements of strangers.

A Wide World

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The materials’ list for Anton Ginzburg’s sculptures reads like a description of plunder from foreign coasts at the height of European imperialism.  Marble, gold, and tapestry are deftly employed as the artist spins a grand and romantic narrative, unscathed by too much specificity.  Staged by the Blaffer at the University of Houston, the show displays the breadth of the artist’s material practice in a conceptually cohesive way. Its complexity prompted two separate trips.  I’m sure it had nothing to do with the length of a certain mini Gregory’s attention span, which is optimistically estimated at ten minutes.

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Ginzburg’s installation takes into account the galleries’ soaring ceiling.  Ridged topographical marbles cast angular shadows near the top of one wall, and a massive circular canvas looms opposite like a mushy map of Pangea.  Photographs of deserted palaces and rooms filled with gently sloping snow cast the viewer in the role of explorer.  There are only the merest suggestions of a figure here or there, always just out of sight.  Behind a cloud of red vapor the magician can be glimpsed.

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Continually shifting scale adds to the feeling of vastness in the exhibition.  At one moment, we are floating above the earth, viewing it with a disconnected, almost academic eye.  A tapestry reveals aerial photos of a lake over time, as it’s azure surface is replaced by the dull brown of agricultural encroachment.  In the next instance, the artist has plunged our senses into the tactile qualities of discovery.  We hear the swishing echo of the ocean reverberating through the taut piano wire of his installation entitled Walking the Sea .   We feel the gossamer fibers of a lost scarf against skin.   

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Ginzburg’s work is serious, beautiful stuff.  We can feel the weight of history in every piece (honestly, he uses actual mammoth tusks in one.)  One of the difficulties of travel is trying to soak in all the moments we know we won’t be able to capture with photos.  Through his broad use of materials, somehow Ginzburg restores the mystery and emptiness of our overcrowded planet.  We become his sole companion.

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