On view until whenever: Northern-Southern’s ‘TOOO’

A series of 'socially distant wild art' exhibitions continues despite snow storms, theft, decay, and interventions from neighbors


Northern-Southern Gallery’s pandemic programming is the gift that keeps on giving. Subtle interventions and spontaneous finds have appeared all over Austin since last May, what curator Phillip Niemeyer calls “socially distant wild art.”

The most recent iteration, “TOOO,” offers 12 more site-specific installations, a continuation of “TO” (February) and “TOO” (March), with a new set of artists and a past fading fast. An online map, sent to those who sign up, shows the latest spots, while still paying digital homage to that which came before. Snow, theft, decay, and disgruntlement have had a hand in the on-going experiment.

Neighbors retaliated, installations disappeared, and a hand-painted box administering paper fortunes was purloined with a pair of pliers. The original momentum behind the show became self-repeating at some point, a real-time metaphor for the vaccine rollout and its incremental — if not anti-climatic — mission to save the world from death and boredom.

Amy Scofield, who participated in “TO,” and now “TOOO,” says her goal has been to get people out and about, enjoying all the weird spots she’s discovered for herself since lockdown began. While riding around East Austin last spring, she happened upon an antique wooden table in an abandoned lot — it swiftly became a site specific installation for Northern-Southern’s first dispersed outdoor foray, “Left in Leaves.”

Scofield repurposed two of the table’s heavy base legs in “TOOO,” forming a non-functional furniture item which fits nicely on top of a storm drain hidden from the street. “Reprise: Home Away From Home” comes full circle from one year ago, when the artist was still trying to figure what to do with all her new free time.

COVID isn’t over, of course, it keeps morphing into new strains, a bit like this show, but things are different now.

Amy Scofield, “Reprise: Home Away From Home,” April 2021. Photo by Barbara Purcell

“I don’t know who I am after spending a year alone as an extrovert,” Scofield admits. “People’s lives have changed, they’ve slowed down. I hope we continue to want quieter experiences.”

“TOOO” is all about taking your time; a happy template for the slow art movement. Each installation is a meditative transaction between the art and its environs, a karmic courtesy from the artist, and a mantra for the moment.

Michael Muelhaupt’s “thick and thin air,” a mailbox made of birdseed, is a residence for residents with no known address. Its absurd curbside presence near a nature preserve says something about urban planning, rapid development, and the ‘seedy’ part of town.

Michael Muelhaupt, “thick and thin air,” April 2021. Photo by Barbara Purcell

Rachael Starbuck’s “containing vessels” are a pair of mesh squares in a pocket park, casting a net of shadows on one’s skin like mehndi designs.

“I recently saw the word porous defined as containing vessels,” she writes. “Containing space. Both holding and letting go, presence and absence, boundary and passage.”

André Fuqua’s “He (Seeking)” sits across from a soccer field, a silhouette of steel leaning against a light picket fence. The dark metal shines spectacularly in the sun, as wood and grass frame the figure in an organic embrace.

Jesse Cline “Want + Need Machine” is a Calder-esque mobile powered by pinwheels. It hangs from a tree by a creek, waiting for the wind to spin its near-invisible presence. Not far from Cline’s installation, Hannah Spector’s “grass thing,” blends a word into a baseball field in grass-clipping font: Waiting. Its oh-so-quiet presence brings to mind a line by the poet Joseph Brodsky: “The more invisible something is, the more certain it’s been around.”

Things have been around. Cheyenne Weaver’s “Confederate Pavement” calls upon a street in historic Clarksville, a former freedman’s town, which once sat adjacent to a state-run home for indigent Confederate soldiers after the Civil War. Confederate Avenue was named in 1924 to memorialize the Confederacy — and intimidate local Black residents.

Weaver’s installation is nestled in nearby woods, on the old grounds of the Texas Confederate Home for Men. Two ribbony loops made of local limestone and clay contain a pair of words Confession/Confection and Confound/Confide. Their similarity in sound, yet opposition in meaning, reveal the mistaken identities of actions and intentions.

Spaces often overlooked (or overly obvious to begin with) become portals in “TOOO”: a way to step through, reflect, and renew.

“It’s given artists in town a way to be seen,” offers Scofield. “Outside of the galleries. A new art form — spontaneous sculptures in the middle of nowhere.”

Giampero Selvaggio’s “Every Night, A Death,” sits on a hill, a veritable key to the city. When held up to the late afternoon sun, the oval frame aligns with the skyline in a Stonehenge-y manner, capturing a cosmic Kodak moment through a non-existent lens.

Hold the key up to the horizon, with the lens circumscribing the setting sun, Selvaggio instructs, and listen to the city’s secret.

“TOOO” is on view until whenever. For more information see northern-southern.com.

Barbara Purcell
Barbara Purcell
Barbara Purcell is an arts and culture writer based in Austin. She is the author of Black Ice: Poems (Fly by Night Press, 2006). In addition to Sightlines, her work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Canadian Art, Glasstire, and Tribes Magazine. She is a graduate of Skidmore College.

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