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The Weekly Line-up: 10.14.18

Cheick Diallo, "Fauteil Sansa (Sansa Chair)," 2011Metal, nylon, and cord ©Cheick Diallo. From "Making Africa" at the Blanton Museum of Art

The list what’s good and what’s new for the week of Oct. 14, 2018.

“Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design”
An expansive show organized by the Vitra Design Museum and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao offers a sampling of the enormous creative output — fashion, furniture, publications, photography, apps, maps, digital comics — coming from young, African designers and artists.
Through Jan. 3, 2019. Blanton Museum of Art, 200 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. blantonmuseum.org

New Music Mixer: Niamh Fahy
KMFA and Sightlines present the New Music Mixer, a monthly happy hour series for classical music nerds and newbies alike. This month’s featured artist is Irish violinist and composer Niamh Fahy.
5 to 7 p.m., program starts at 6 p.m. Friends & Allies Brewing, 979 Springdale Road. $1 off pints. Event info

Reading: Michael Ondaatje, Selections from “Warlight”
Earlier this year, Ondaatje received the Golden Man Booker prize for “The English Patient,” crowned the best work of fiction of the last five decades. And his archive is her in Austin at the Ransom Center. He reads from his latest novel, “Warlight.”
7 p.m. Oct. 18, Jessen Auditorium, Rainey Hall. Free. hrc.utexas.edu

“Subwaves: An Installation by Eto Otitigbe”
The intersections of race, power, and technology are the focus of Eto Otitgbe’s polymedia installations and artwork.
Opening: 7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 18. Artist talk: 2 p.m. Oct. 20. Exhibit continues through Feb. 28, 2019. Carver Musem & Cultural Center, 1165 Angelina St. facebook.com/events

“From Ghetto Doors to Palace Gates: Jewish Music in the Italian Court”
Ensemble VIII performs vocal music by the Italian Jewish composer Salamone Rossi features the composer’s secular Italian madrigals and sacred Jewish music.
7:30 p.m. Oct. 18 at Westlake Hills Presbyterian Church; 7:30 p.m. Oct. 19 at St. Louis King of France Catholic Church www.ensembleviii.org/tickets

“Steve Parker: War Tuba Recital”
The winner of this year’s Tito’s Prize debuts a new body of sculptures inspired by acoustic locators, air raid sirens, the WWII leaflet propaganda created by Theodore Giesel aka Dr. Seuss, coded radio transmissions and other conflations of sound and conflict.
7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 19. Big Medium, 916 Springdale Road. bigmedium.org

“Chiaroscuro: Probing Mystery, Seeking Clarity”
ICOSA’s latest, curated by the inimitable eye of Annette DiMeo Carlozzi, featuring all 20 of the collective’s artists.
7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 19. ICOSA, Canopy, 916 Springdale Road. icosacollective.com

“Shawn Camp: My heaven and hell are the same”
After a residency at the creative center in Stöðvarfjörður, Iceland, Camp presents new work influenced by the rugged terrain, glacial ice, and volcanic ferocity of the sub-arctic island nation.
5 to 8 p.m. Oct. 20. Gallery Shoal Creek, Flatbed Press, 2832 E. MLK Jr. Blvd. galleryshoalcreek.com

Theorist Fest 2018
An immersive showcase of live music and dance features performers from across the U.S., Mexico and Middle East and includes Ballet Harford, Romani tabla icon Oliver Rajamani and Austin dancer Anu Naimpally.
7 p.m. Oct. 19-20, Zilker Hillside Theater, Zliker Park. Free thetheorists.org

“Salon in a Saloon”
Rude Mechs Lana Lesley and Shawn Sides are joined by women-identified artists, including choreographer/cancer Deborah Hay and flmmaker/chotographer Kayla Galang, for a frank discussion about art-making, living and working in Texas USA, and how women-identified artists navigate and create space over the course of our careers. Hosted by Fusebox’s Carra Martinez.
7 p.m. Oct. 20, Rio Rita, 1203 Chicon St. Free. Event info

War Games Reconsidered

    Robert Levers, "Tower of Babel," oil on canvas, 1991. All images courtesy Flatbed Press.

    You’re a little off-kilter when you approach the south entrance to the Flatbed Press building and step into its quasi-foyer: something about turning from the exposed exterior concrete stairs to a heavy door with an up-threshold, or maybe it’s the row of massive metal mailboxes floating behind you, beckoning exploration but you can’t, they’re private, which seems confounding and disappointing for just a second. Turn your head and in every direction ahead are doorways to multiple art paths — where to go, what to see?  It’s full immersion, no transition; you lose your body for a moment but your eyes are there, finding curious detail in the rough edges of a legitimately commercial/industrial space. It’s a wonderful way to encounter art.

    “War Games: Robert L. Levers,” through Oct. 27, Flatbed Press, 2832 E. MLK Jr. Blvd., flatbedpress.com

    I’ve been trying to get the feel in my bones of these art-spaces-we’re-about-to-lose.  They all seem to represent an era when Austin art production exploded and the scene so many of us worked to build finally took its own distinctive shape. It was at the early end of that period, in 1999, when Flatbed began operation in this 18,000-square-foot  warehouse. A year later they finished out spaces beyond their own significant printmaking enterprise, forming a compound for arts non-profits, artist studios and gallery spaces whose rental income helped support the fine art press and its related gallery project. The vision was risky and smart, and its ups-and-downs have invigorated this site and its creative community for going on 20 years.

    But back to that physically cacophonous entry space, which right now holds a modest vitrine that literally stops you in your tracks. In it sits a sketchbook, pages open, teeming with figural images. Scanning this week’s open page (they turn the pages every few days so light won’t fade any single drawing), I’m slowed down, lured into focus, engaging with the art before me while the surrounding space fades away.

    Yet within a minute or so of this satisfying, got-to-have-it, close looking at fragile pages, memory and association transport me out of Flatbed to the galleries of the Morgan Library in midtown Manhattan. At the Morgan, Old Master works on paper — some in sketchbooks like this — beg entrancement; sepia strokes seduce you to examination of well-observed detail. Human and animal figures rendered with bravura anatomical accuracy frolic and skulk in rhythmic compositions. It’s elemental — ink sinks into paper’s fibers — and the residue of hand and eye in direct communication has meaning.

    You know intuitively that these seemingly effortless marks stem from painstaking skill building. Any contemporary eye, any taste for art — whether narrative or abstract, conceptual or performative — can find fascination in image-scenarios such as these, in their fleet touch, their ephemeral—and now achingly historic — gestures.

    Same at Flatbed.

    The first work you encounter in “War Games: Robert L. Levers” is this Levers sketchbook, begun in 1980 (in New York City, as it happens), brimming with beautifully rendered ideas and narratives. Like the Baroque and Rococo masters that Levers studied early on and throughout his working life, these sketches are fulsome and satisfying, a bookful of peeks into the master’s mind. It’s a catalogue of characters: tending toward flatness in the earliest sketches, its figures become more fully realized as the sketchbook develops.

    Robert Levers. “Doin’ the Terrorist Strut,” Soft ground and aquatint etching, 1988.

    Esteemed Austin-based artist Melissa Miller—almost a generation younger than Levers but, like him, one of five Texas-based painters vaulted to international attention when featured in the 1984 Venice Biennale exhibition, “Paradise Lost/Paradise Regained”—notes that Levers’ admirably deep knowledge of the human form stemmed from traditional — can we call it classical? — art training, from methodologies that are less popular now, in this age of photo-based imagery. Robert Yarber, another of the then-Texas/Venice Five who shared Levers’ fascination with the Baroque, talked about “the drama of the body in space, almost a spasmodic or hyperkinetic kind of delirious rapture.”

    I would suggest we look for that phenomenon here, that we recognize vestiges of it in our own bodies and search for reflections in the works on the wall… or in the vitrine. Levers’ work — this compendium of alternate views of our own selves — is a lesson in empathetic viewing, created way before the term was bandied about so frequently.

    Robert Levers, “Four Terrorists Trapped in a Bullring,” Soft-ground etching, 1993 printed

    On one level, Bob Levers was a Navy vet who didn’t see action but served during the Korean War and lived, as a pacifist, through Vietnam and the beginnings of the Persian Gulf conflicts. As an artist and teacher — the defining roles of his professional life — Levers took war, chaos and apocalypse as his subject matter; he was drawn to the visceral and dark. And yet, as Peter Mears, who penned the introductory label for the show at Flatbed and curated Levers’ 1991 retrospective exhibition, said, in Bob’s work, “the sinister is always thwarted by the absurd.”

    This paradox is a signature of Robert Levers’ work, and it’s an interesting tactic, because it flirts with urgency… and agency, for that matter. How to marry humor to horror in timely critique? Where does humility fit in relation to obscene power?

    I went with my son, Dan Zigal, a principal of Party World Rasslin’, the Austin-based performance art collective whose absurdist, mock-violent narratives satirize toxic masculinity, among other contemporary issues, to see Levers’ Flatbed show a second time and try to understand how it might — or might not — resonate today. Credit to my son’s upbringing, he immediately associated Levers’ works with Goya’s “Disasters of War,” and that’s a really apt comparison, both for its graphic experimentation and for the ways Goya’s monstrous allegories personified evil.

    But monsters and fear are more subtly depicted in Levers’ work. We probed deeper, Dan noting that the trope of “terrorist” has changed immeasurably in the years since Levers elevated its rendering to an art form. Weaponized now as a ubiquitous sign of racial bigotry and xenophobia, our present-day notions stand in dark contrast to the “terrorists” performing in Levers’ works. Imaginary instruments of mayhem, Levers’ characters aren’t necessarily menacing, they’re hapless, goony, and often no more frightening than a clown.

    Robert Levers, “Terrorist Juggling Plates,” soft ground etching, 1990

    Take “Terrorist Juggling Plates,” (1990), a soft-ground etching Levers made at Flatbed Press; how can a “terrorist” be so hilarious? Was Levers looking past the assigned costume to the human frailty beneath?  Could we imagine ascribing such humanity to those who haunt our national nightmares now?  Funny how work made in such a different era can raise this important question again.

    Indeed, in more than 50 works spanning over four decades, this meandering collection — not an exhibition, strictly speaking, but selections from the artist’s estate on rare public view — presents examples of how Levers explored human consequence.

    The nascent vocabulary is all there in 1975 (backdrop: outcome of the Watergate scandal, the fall of Saigon) in the oil painting, “Previously Prepared Positions.” In it we see fragmentary body parts floating in space, marching boots and gas masks resembling elephant snouts, an abstracted ground plane patterned like a game board and, in the distance, surprisingly, a blue sky with rainbow. Surreal and contradictory elements, they’re laid out in tidy fashion, like in a supply locker.  Cartoonish and detached (pardon the pun), the strangely static work suggests the artist’s plumbing of contemporary conventions — the countercultural stylings of Gilbert Shelton, for instance, who was in Austin in the early 1960s as Levers began his teaching career in the art department at the University of Texas.

    Yet it also makes me think of video games — the most egregious current form of warfare as entertainment — and about the polarities Dan described to me between “Fortnite’s cartoon world where gun violence is colorful and playful” and “Call of Duty’s what-if scenarios of apocalyptic, endless world war.” Levers’ work can touch both territories, simultaneously. What would Bob think of video games if he’d lived to the present day?

    Throughout this run of varied sketches, drawings, prints and paintings that jump in scale and point of view, we see Levers learn to convincingly animate and contort his signature cast: in theatrical arenas, terrorists, soldiers and athletes play twisted roles, as do bystanders too, complicit in activities that seem both alarming and ridiculous.  We can smile now to know that Levers attended the dedication of the LBJ Library in 1971 and witnessed the doubling in size of UT’s football stadium, just down the hill from the art department. In Levers’ madcap farces, representations of both edifices are plumbed for scenes of hypocrisy and over-the-top drama; he relished skewering institutional grandiosity.

    Robert Levers, “Victory: The Celebration,” Soft ground etching with drypoint, 1992

    Flash forward to “Victory the Celebration” (1991) the last print Levers made at Flatbed Press before his untimely death early the next year. Three ragged soldiers with skeletal heads, one holding a trumpet, are conducted by a military figure. We puzzle at their hyperkinetic movements, then notice puppet strings being pulled from above. Levers’ work comes full circle to Goya again, to straightforward political commentary on the insanity of eternal war, to black-and-cream chiaroscuro whose timelessness echoes the theme. “Victory” is an uncommonly large and beautiful soft-ground etching; don’t miss the apt traces of its production process in an adjunct exhibition that includes the copper plates, the working states and drawings, as well as the final product. You can feel the team at work.

    Despite its sobering concerns, there are real pleasures in a show like “War Games.” To recognize its continued relevance and the questions it poses: check. To commemorate a beloved local artist whose work represented this community with distinction well beyond state borders: check.

    And there are lots of delightful, oddball moments of discovery, just simple vignettes that carry Bob’s gentle humor alongside his exquisite line. Two of my favorites are “Dehorned Old Satyr” (1990), a sympathetic portrait that resembles some UT professor I just can’t quite identify, and “Don’t Worry About Me—I’ve Got My Gas Mask Right Here,” (1991), whose subject’s disarmingly direct statement and gaze call us to attention: What is happening here?

    That’s so Bob.

    Robert Levers in his studio, 1991. Photo by Christopher Zaleski.

    “Bernstein100Austin” Event Grants Its Proceeds to Collaborators

    The Austin production in June of Leonard Bernstein’s “MASS: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers” was such a financial success, there’s more to go around for everyone involved.

    Merck Strategies — a consulting and production firm founded solely to produce events around the composer’s centenary known as “Bernstein100Austin”  — announced that “MASS” ended up with a profit of $116,000.

    And that profit is being distributed to the 31 arts organizations who collaborated to bring Bernstein’s monumental piece to the Long Center for two performances in June.

    “We didn’t intend or expect to have proceeds from Bernstein100Austin,” says Mela Sarajane Dailey, a Grammy-winning soprano and co-founder of Merick Strategies. “All the decisions made along the way were to achieve the best artistic result and to give paid work to the largest possible number of artists. We couldn’t be more thrilled that because of the tremendous response and attendance that we are able to give back to our amazing collaborators.”

    The “Bernstein100Austin” production cost more than $1 million and, according to organizers, resulted in the largest single payday for artists and staff for a production at the Long Center.

    Dailey’s husband, Austin Symphony Orchestra music director Peter Bay, conducted Austin’s “MASS” which involved a cast of nearly 300 performers. As a boy, Bay had seen the 1971 premiere of Bernstein’s musical theatre work at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

    Nonprofits receiving grants from Merick are:

     

     

     

    Looking Not Entirely Like Anything: Huma Bhabha’s “Other Forms of Life” Defies Categorization

      Huma Bhabha could be described as part visual artist, part archeologist. She sifts through sources past and present, working materials to create layers of meaning.

      On a preview tour of her current show “Huma Bhabha: Other Forms of Life” on view at The Contemporary Austin, Bhabha, who is assuredly and perhaps ironically self-composed, told me, “the work is very much about emotion. It is emotional.”

      “Huma Bhabha: Other Forms of Life,” Through Jan. 13, 2019, The Contemporary Austin, thecontemporaryaustin.org

      Bhabha’s work has addressed war, recollections of place, and displacement. Born in Karachi, Pakistan, she moved to the States in 1981 to attend Rhode Island School of Design and followed that up with an MFA at Columbia University.

      Today, Bhabha is reluctant to comment on specific political events though she has memorialized victims of war in past projects. And this year’s Met Rooftop Garden Commission titled “We Come in Peace,” which Jerry Saltz called “among the best Met roof sculpture installations since the program began in 1987,” certainly alludes to peace and conflict struggles in South Asia and the neighboring Middle East with a monumental Burka-like wearing hybrid figure prostrating before an alien-like idol.

      Installation view, “Huma Bhabha: Other Forms of Life,” The Contemporary Austin – Jones Center on Congress Avenue, Austin, Texas, 2018. Artwork © Huma Bhabha. Image courtesy The Contemporary Austin. Photograph by Colin Doyle.

      “I think the work is still very much related to conflict, although I don’t make it specific because it has been going on so long and spread,” she says. “The wars of the early 2000s are still going on and when the media shift happens, people forget, but it hasn’t ended. All you can do is create a form of expression, as long as people don’t walk away.”

      “Other Forms of Life,” organized by the Contemporary’s Julia V. Hendrickson, includes sculpture, works on paper and photo collages. Several of the sculptures implement ephemeral or found materials of Styrofoam and cork and inexpensive chicken wire and plaster. There is also a bronze sculpture, “God of Some Things” on the grounds of the Contemporary’s Laguna Gloria location.

      Bhabha notes that she did not train in sculptural practice and actually prefers to discover things while working with everyday media others might discard.  “I figure out ways to make assemblage or to make armatures without welding.”

      If she needs to have a bronze made, like the exhibition’s “Constantium,” she gets other people involved to create the rubber mold from a cork and/or Styrofoam piece — and does so with remarkably exact results. Much of her work is, as she puts it, “essentially about the way I treat material, difference in material, and the textural expressionistic raw finish. Everything has texture.”

      Take “Jhukarjodaro,” a sculpture from 2011. This powerful work depicts one of Bhabha’s recognized motifs, the foot. The seven-foot long singular foot sits atop a roughly two-and-a-half-foot-tall pedestal. Bhabha tells me she has worked with feet as artistic forms a lot and sees this particularly massive one as “almost part of a colossus or giant monument.”

      Huma Bhabha, “Jhukarjodaro,” 2011. Clay, wire, wood, Styrofoam, black and white photograph, color photograph, paper, acrylic paint, leaves, and feather. 84 1/8 x 23 1/8 x 94 1/4 inches. Artwork © Huma Bhabha. Image and artwork courtesy the artist and Salon 94, New York.

      Remnants of clumpy plaster skin both cover and expose a wire skeleton suggesting an explosion has completely detached the body leaving only this disfigured foot. Still, like in an Archaic Greek kouros, the foot is a symbol of agency and movement and seems firmly planted on its pedestal. There is a torn photograph of a brushy, yet barren landscape affixed to the base, implying a groundline and more importantly, a memory of place.

      As Bhabha says, “it is architectural and at same time visceral.”

      Installation view, “Huma Bhabha: Other Forms of Life,” The Contemporary Austin – Jones Center on Congress Avenue, Austin, Texas, 2018. Artwork © Huma Bhabha. Image courtesy The Contemporary Austin. Photograph by Colin Doyle.

      Five figures reminiscent of so-called primitive statues of Africa, Oceania and prehistory are arranged ceremoniously in a squarish formation. Simultaneously figural and abstract, they stand upright and self-contained, like totems. Bhabha acknowledges a longstanding visual and ideological conversations with modernist sculptors like Brancusi and Giacometti. Cork surfaces are pocked and creviced conveying age and the environment, deterioration and decay.

      “I look at a lot of ancient sculpture usually carving out of a block, drawing, carving, drawing, carving … the body changes,” she says of her process.

      “Sometimes I draw it out, then play with it. The more you work it, the more you see what happens. So, the works are planned out, but not entirely because so much can happen in between.”

      I point out a work called “Once,” which in addition to using things like clay, wire, Styrofoam, acrylic, paint, and wire mesh, features a decently sized marble block. The surprising appearance of this high-brow medium turns out to be of course, another found element, this time part of a lamp someone gave the artist.

      Yet it certainly doesn’t read as “lamp” and Bhabha is very clear when she says, “I’m not into appropriation.”

      Other newish works in the show are full-color ink and collage on photographs. The eighty-by-fifty-inch “Untitled,” depicts what appear to be three golden retrievers stacked on one another vertically. While two dogs at the bottom appear to be rough housing, the narrative remains a mystery, due to the positioning of the animal shapes, collaged cannabis plant detail or “orbs” from the magazine High Times, along with the layering of paint at the borders.

      Hybridization, mutation and even disfigurement, similar to Bhabha’s sculpture, come to mind. (I thought of mythological beast Cerberus.) However, combining two of the twenty-first century’s most popular subjects — cute dogs and weed —reveals Bhabha’s sense of humor. Playfully, Bhabha relates the image to a woodcut print she owns of the Laocoön where the famous Trojan priest and sons are replaced by monkeys. The exhibition’s title is after all, “Other Forms of Life,” a nudge to science fiction, one of the artists frequent influences, and just another layer in her work.

      At the end of our time together, I thank Bhabha and tell her I’ll spend some time digesting what I’ve seen and heard before I start writing.

      She says, “That is a good word to use, digesting. Influences aside, the work is digested. It comes out looking not entirely like anything.”

      Huma Bhabha, “God of Some Things,” 2011. Bronze with patina. Installation view, The Contemporary Austin
      – Laguna Gloria, Austin, Texas, 2018. Artwork © Huma Bhabha. Courtesy the artist and Salon 94,
      New York. Photograph by Brian Fitzsimmons.

       

      The Weekly Line-up: 10.7.18

      Detail of “La Familia Es Primero” by Bodega Visual, part of "Volume," a collectively built library, on exhibit at Texas State University.

      The list of what’s good and new for the week of Oct. 7, 2018.

      “Kusama — Infinity”
      Because of its popularity, the run of “Kusama-Infinity” has been extended! A thorough documentary charts Yayoi Kusama’s journey from a conservative upbringing in Japan to her brush with fame in America during the 1960s (where she rivaled Andy Warhol for press attention) and concludes with the international fame she has finally achieved within the art world.
      Through Oct. 11, Austin Film Society Cinema, 6406 N I-35, austinfilm.org/screening/kusama-infinity/

      “Volume: A Library of Texas Women Artists”
      A collaborative installation between #bossbabesATX and Chulita Vinyl Club, “Volume” is a collectively built library of zines, prints and vinyl records from the communities intersecting women artists and Texas music. Hosted by Texas State’s Center for the Study of the Southwest and the Center for Texas Music History, “Volume” will be built over the semester and is available in
      Texas State University Brazos Hall’s gallery through Dec. 7, 2018. facebook.com/events/299721274144181/

      Public art talk: Janet Echelman
      Artist Janet Echelman recently suspended a giant net sculpture 180-feet above London’s Oxford Circus, that city’s busiest intersection. Soon, Austin anticipates its own Echelman floating net, at the entrance to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport — a 300-foot long floating net sculpture inspired by Austin’s Mexican Free-tailed bat colony. Echelman discusses her project in a free public talk.
      6 p.m. Oct. 9, Texas Society of Architects, 500 Chicon St.

      “Matawan”
      In the summer of 1916, a series of fatal shark attacks terrorized the New Jersey Shore, while in nearby Philadelphia a polio epidemic raged. The regional premiere of UT playwright Dan Caffrey’s play — told from the point of view from the shark.
      Oct. 10-21, Brockett Theatre, Winship Building, UT campus, theatredance.utexas.edu/event/matawan

      “Tryouts”
      Salvage Vanguard Theatre premiere the latest from Adara Meyers, a Boston-based experimental playwright. “Tryouts” find mothers and daughters wrestling with the social confines of a prestigious high school until a tragicomic turn of events launches things into the realm of the absurd.
      Oct. 11-27, Dougherty Arts Center, 1110 Barton Springs Road. salvagevanguard.org/tickets/

      “The Films of Ed Ruscha”
      Yes, Ed Ruscha made a few short films. And in tandem with its enormous survey exhibit of Ruscha’s archive, the Ransom Center screens a trio of films. Salad meets seduction in “Premium,” starring artist Larry Bell and model Léon Bing; an auto mechanic spends a very strange day working on a Ford Mustang in “Miracle,” with artist Jim Ganzer and actress Michelle Phillips; and musician Mason Williams reads Ruscha artist’s book in the deadpan “The Books of Ed Ruscha.”
      7 p.m. Oct. 11. Doors open 30 minutes in advance. Free. Harry Ransom Center, UT campus.

      Serie Project Speaker Series: Fidencio Duran
      The late Sam Coronado founded the Serie Project as an artistic incubator to introduce artists to the art of serigraphy. The roster of artists who participate in the 20 years Coronado ran it reads like a who’s who: Vincent Valdez, Beili Liu, Margarita Cabrera, Liliana Wilson and more. Now, the studio launches a speaker series. First up is well-known muralist Fidencio Duran.
      6 p.m. Oct. 13, Coronado Studio, 901 Vargas St. coronadostudio.com

      Reading: Rachel Heng
      Rachel Heng’s debut novel “The Suicide Club,” imaginges a near future time New York where people live to 300 years old and immortality is societal obsession — except for those in secret Suicide Club who chose to live, and die, on their own terms. Heng is currently a fellow at UT’s Michener Center for Writers pursuing an MFA in fiction. Poet Carrie Fountain joins Heng in conversation.
      7 p.m. Oct. 13, Malvern Books, 613 W. 29th St. malvernbooks.com/event/

       

      After City Arts Funding is Approved, Concerns Remain

      An exhibition opening at Mexic-Arte Museum. Photo courtesy Mexic-Arte

      Although the Austin City Council approved arts funding for the upcoming fiscal year at its Oct. 4 meeting, many in the arts community expressed concern that the cultural funding process needs to be revised and improved.

      A statement issued by the Austin Arts Advocacy Coalition — a group of dozens of arts organizations — stressed the need for improved communications from city staff, more transparency about estimated hotel tax monies and the funding process as whole, and the need for revision to the peer panel and scoring process.

      In September the Cultural Arts Division announced that proceeds from the city hotel tax, which funds the arts grants, were less this year than in the past and the number of applicants grew by almost 100 this year. The Cultural Arts Division also increased its administrative expenses by $500,000.

      That meant less money to go around this year and the first set of recommendations proposed that some long-time arts group — including Austin Film Society, Austin Symphony Orchestra, Big Medium, Ballet Austin, the Contemporary Austin and Mexic-Arte Museum — take as much as a 40 percent reduction in their funding over last year.

      Yet other groups were groups were recommended for as much as an 1100 percent increase. The recommendations also called for 98.5 percent of all applicants — or 421 — to receive funding.

      Read: “Austin Arts Groups Angered As City Announces Cuts to Funding”

      After vociferous public pushback from the arts community, the Commission dipped into a contingency fund, reduced allocations for other programs, and came up a new plan.

      The new funding allocations approved by City Council on Oct. 4 limit cuts to individual groups to 11 percent over their last year’s funding, though still keep in place the increases previously recommended. And 98.5 of all applicants will still receive city cultural funding.

      “There needs to be some comprehensive reform to the funding process or an audit of the process itself,” said Big Medium director Shea Little whose organization has initially been slated for a 40 percent reduction in its funding. “And the arts community needs to be a part of strategizing that reform.”

      The Austin Arts Advocacy coalition also called in its statement for more scrutiny of the arts commission itself.

      “Our arts community wants to understand why, after Commissioners are approved and seated, they may subsequently be forced to recuse themselves, leaving the specific commission unable to establish quorum, as occurred during this year’s Cultural Contracts process.”

      At least four of the 11 arts commissioners — Brett Barnes, Bears Rebecca Fonte, Alissa McCain and Amy Mok — are ineligible to vote on some matters because they involved with arts organizations that receive city funding.

      The next Arts Commission meeting is scheduled for Oct. 15.

      Disclosure: Sightlines is a recipient of City of Austin Cultural Arts funding.

      Texas Book Festival Announces Full Schedule

      Photo courtesy Texas Book Festival

      The Texas Book Festival has solidified its 2018 schedule.

      Go to 2018 Festival Schedule to find the complete plan for all the author events, cooking demonstration, kids events and their locations.

      The 2018 Texas Book Festival takes place on October 27 and 28 and on the grounds of and in the Texas State Capitol and along Congress Avenue.

      Sightlines editor-in-chief Jeanne Claire van Ryzin will be moderating two panels:
      “Texas Made, Texas Modern,” by Helen Thompson & Casey Dunn12:30 p.m. Oct. 27 at the Contemporary Austin-Jones Center
      In Texas modernist architecture, sleek European forms meet a gritty spirit that blends the vocabulary of the state’s ranching heritage with a new idiom. Take a tour across the state with Thompson and Dunn as they share beautiful examples of Texas made modern.

      Transforming Trauma Into Art in Fiction and Nonfiction
      1 p.m. Oct. 28, Capitol Extension Room E2.026
      What do the lasting effects of trauma look like in one’s life? Lacy M. Johnson’s essays in “The Reckonings” encompass personal meditations on sexual abuse and rape culture, as well as larger societal ills. Shabho Rao’s novel, “Girls Burn Brighter,” focuses on the friendship of two girls living in poverty who must overcome the unimaginable to achieve their ambitions.

      Wittliff Acquires Tejano Music Archive

      Texas State University’s Wittliff Collections have acquired one of the largest known collections of Tejano music materials and memorabilia from renowned musicologist Ramón Hernández.

      “This archive is vast,” said Wittliff music curator Hector Saldaña. “There are thousands of items dating back to the beginnings of the Tejano art form. Hernández was one of the first to see that Tejano music was not receiving broad historical recognition, and he decided to do something about it.”

      Hernández has built his collection over 35 years while working as publicist, writer and photojournalist covering Tejano, and conjunto music. Notable items include historic photographs, vintage concert posters, rare recordings, performance clothing, artifacts and instruments from leaders of the genre including Lydia Mendoza, Isidro López, “Little Joe” Hernández, Sunny Ozuna and Selena.

      “This is a dream come true,” Hernández said. “It’s been an honor and privilage to work with the Wittliff Collections. The icing on the cake came when Bill Wittliff and David Coleman offered me a home for my collection. Now I know that my materials are in the best of hands, and they will serve as valuable research material for generations. I’m elated and thankful for this blessing.”

      “Hernández is a legendary figure,” said Wittlif direct David Coleman. “He has singlehandedly saved and preserved the legacy of so many iconic musicians. In the process, he has built one of the signature music collections in America.”

      Hernández’s archive is a major addition to the Wittliff’s newly-formed Texas Music Collection, a collection that already has materials from Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Asleep at The Wheel.

       

      What to Do with All the Matter in the World: Shanie Tomassini’s “Slippery Clump”

        We’ve had an unusual spate of rain lately in Austin. Over the last several weeks, there’s been a downpour nearly every day and things are growing like mad. Locals are concerned about the onslaught of mushrooms and overrun lawns.

        “Slippery Clump: Shanie Tomassini,” through Nov. 5, Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum. Artist’s talk: 7 p.m. Oct. 10
        umlaufsculpture.org

        For the sculptures in Shanie Tomassini’s Umlauf Prize show, “Slippery Clump,” however, these are the perfect growing conditions.

        An MFA student studying at the University of Texas at Austin, Tomassini won this year’s Umlauf Prize, an award granted to an exceptional student in sculpture. The prize includes a solo exhibition at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum.

        Tomassini’s resulting work comprises monolithic relic-like sculptures that engage with the forces of nature. They are incubators for natural growth, yet their subject matter mainly refers to mundane and forgotten facets of modern technology.

        The show is situated both indoors and out among the established sculpture garden, which features mid-century figural work by the institution’s namesake, Charles Umlauf. The indoor portion at first looks ramshackle; the sculptures all lie on top of an enormous tarp and hoses are hung from a wooden armature above them. Orange utility buckets sit nearby to store surplus water.

        Taken all together, these home improvement store materials nevertheless indicate Tomassini’s subtle mastery of engineering. Acting as a sort of experimental large-scale terrarium, the water misted down on the sculptures from the hoses and the tarp held up by wooden rails and bungee cords, maintain a humid environment, ideal for hosting new organic life.

        Installation view of “Slippery Clump: Shanie Tomassini” at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum. Courtesy the artist. Photo by Tim Graves

        The promise of new life that Tomassini hopes to fulfill will not be an easy task, especially over the short run of the show, as the sculptures are each covered in a thin layer of sprayed cement. Rootless plants like moss must cling to this inhospitable surface. When I visited the show in mid-September, some had already sprouted in between the keys of the oversized hunk of a laptop, entitled “The Internet.”

        Outside, Tomassini’s sculptures are beholden to the elements, as unpredictable as they are in Texas. A donut that looks as though it’s been repeatedly punched and an otherworldly radio device convene under a grouping of trees, at once shrouded and susceptible to precipitation from the overhanging leaves.

        An incredible piece, “Janus Genius,” installed in the middle of a small pond where Umlauf’s “The Kiss” is normally the focal point, doubles as a fountain. In the round, it offers a multitude of vantage points. The tree-lined path encircling the pond incorporates them all as the sculpture shifts from one face etched out on one side to the bulging profile of another face on the next. The constant stream of water pouring over the sculpture (another testament to Tomassini’s engineering skills and willingness to experiment) will hopefully encourage an array of colorful moss and algae to grow throughout the run of the show.

        Shanie Tomassini, “Janus Genius,” at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum. Photo by Tim Graves

        Tomassini’s process is itself a cycle of growth and decay. Beginning with a set of miniature prototypes of the sculptures that would eventually become larger-than-life, Tomassini radically expanded their size and scale by first creating digitally enlarged mockups. The basis of the final product is a foam shape whose contours were precisely cut with a CNC router and finally, sprayed with that final layer of cement.

        Theoretically, the pieces could return completely to nature, be reclaimed and eaten away by the elements and disappear forever. For Tomassini, that seems to be a conscious decision. Remarking on the various phases of human consumption that are visually compressed into a two-month frame in this exhibition, she says that, normally, “The time frame is just too great.”

        We will never truly comprehend the manipulations we’ve made upon the planet within the blip of our lives here.

        Many of Tomassini’s key insights are recorded in the essay she wrote for the brochure that accompanies this show. Surely, the well rounded and widely reaching ideas behind her work bolstered her chances for winning this year’s prize show, juried by renowned artist Sedrick Huckaby.

        Huckaby by trade isn’t a sculptor and the Umlauf Prize hasn’t always only awarded sculptors. However, Huckaby and Tomassini were perfectly paired to respectively judge and receive this year’s award. Known for his thick impasto paintings, Huckaby treads a line between the two media, with a deep appreciation for the quality of surfaces that Tomassini shares.

        Shanie Tomassini,”The Internet.” Courtesy the artist. Photography by Matthew Cronin.

        Tomassini holds the belief that sculpture can be made from anything, saying that “[the anatomy of my sculptures] carry the idea of a deeply malleable state within the constraints of a specific area. They are a series of infinite possibilities inside a given space.”

        Though the materials and process are identical among all the pieces in this show, their final forms are dependent on the kinds of objects Tomassini finds significant, as if she’s fixating on arbitrary doodles of what she daydreams about. Some of those things, the flip phone for example, have come and gone within her lifetime; some things (the plant) will always be here. Others are possible manifestations of personal anxieties — the two-faced towering man who is impossible to fully read.

        In any case, the hope is that her sculptures will all be subsumed one day and that their meaning will change from tangible recognizable things to artifacts, lost to time.

        Installation view of Slippery Clump: Shanie Tomassini.” Courtesy the artist. Photography by Matthew Cronin.

        Artists Organize “The Show Up” to Get Out the Vote, And More

        Frustrated by the current state of the nation, a group of Austin artists is taking action by launching “The Show Up,” a series of free performance-infused informational programs aimed at getting the arts community to direct its skills towards positive change.

        The first “Show Up” — 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 8 — will focus on voting and the mid-term elections. “The Show Up” is at KC Grey Homes, the furniture store that of late lets arts groups use its enormous warehouse for shows, a helpful gesture in light of Austin’s arts venue shortage.

        Complete info for “The Show Up” is at facebook.com/events/1837644272983649/ 

        Initiated by Natalie George, David Higgins and Sarah Holdgrafer, “The Show Up” is part event, part performance “that uses the skills of our community… to help arm our communities-at-large with the information they need to more fully engage in social, political, and economic life in Austin.”

        Participating artists include Sonnet Blanton, Rudy Ramirez, Katie Graham, Carra Martinez, and Andrew Matthews, all theater and performance practitioners.

        And did we mention there will be a show? There will be a short show.

        Volunteer voter registration registrars will be on hand too to accept new registrations and confirm registration.

        “We’ll give you the tools to vote in your best interest. We’ll introduce you to some candidates and causes we think you should know about,” the group’s announcement says.

        “But wait there’s more! Learn about phone banks, block walks, and mailings. Never done one? No problem! Sign up with a buddy who has. Don’t have time? No Problem just set your sites as a well-informed early voter with our handy Google doc links. Mad about arts funding? Sure, who isn’t? But you have to participate to make change. We got it all. Come listen and ask all the questions. If we don’t know the answer we will find it out for you. Consider this an information rodeo. Just SHOW UP!”

        What:  “The Show Up”
        When:   6:30 to 9:30 p.m., show at 7:30 p.m., Oct. 8
        Where:  KC Grey Home, 211 E. Alpine Road, Austin, 78704