Tag Archives: Culturemap

Adventures through art: Land, sea and far-off places are all part of the creative canvas

Joey Lehman Morris, “Black Mountain Detachment:Two Nights, From Waxing to Fully Stated,” 2008

I heard the ice crack today, a shrill wind too, possibly people trudging through the Arctic in snow shoes.

No, I didn’t go anywhere. I hate to travel. I do all my adventuring through art. I was at Upside Down: Arctic Realities at The Menil Collection, where precious objects from Ekven in Russia, Ipiutak in Alaska, and Old Bering Sea cultures float in a sea of white, while eerie sounds intermittently penetrate the icescape.

The Yup’ik Dance Mask from 1880 caught my attention, mostly because I’m on my way to see Emily Johnson this weekend, who is of Yup’ik descent, perform in her piece, The Thank-You Bar, at Diverseworks as part of This is Displacement: Native Artists Consider the Relationship between Land and Identity, which Johnson curated with Carolyn Lee Anderson.

I wonder, will she bring Alaska to me or her displacement from Alaska?

Artists, like everyone else, become attached to land and sea, a sense of home, place and belonging, all enchanted by our history, a longing for the past and an imagined future. “Where?” often comes before “What?” in our human inquiry.

So it makes perfect sense that the surf and turf thread surfaced in my hometown land/lake of Buffalo, N.Y.,while traipsing through the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s exhibit Surveyor. Zhan Wang’s Urban Landscape Buffalo 2005-2010, crafted from stainless steel pots, pans and kitchen utensils, re-framed my treasured birthplace, while Matthew Ritchie’s On Morning War spills a map of the universe on the walls and floor.

Place gets even more abstract with David Fulton’s painting, the surface from the shore ( across and into), as he traces the outline of lakes to achieve his delicious canvases, which conjure all manner of biological processes, from bone to waterways. “The title suggests the shifting of visual positions one experiences when standing on the constantly reforming edge of a large body of water,” Fulton explains.

Fulton’s work has always had a particular resonance for me as someone who grew up on the shores of Lake Erie. But I’ve lived in Houston longer than lived in western New York, so Texas is part of my ground story now, too. So it’s no surprise that I felt a sense of nostalgia looking at Leigh Merrill’s  photos of Texas as part of Into the Sunset at Lawndale Art Center.

Merrill’s images are constructed from hundreds of different photographs. “I wanted to create an image that showed an expansive characterization of the west, where the fiction and the ‘real’ place blended into one another,” she says. “I knew that the typical parking lot that we see with a storefront needed to be altered so that the image further disrupted our understanding of place.”

For more wild west mythology, you had better run to Romancing the West: Alfred Jacob Miller in the Bank of America Collection, because it closes on May 8 at the MFAH. There’s nothing remotely romantic aboutPLAND‘s (Practice Liberating Art Through Necessary Dislocation) approach to the West. Independent pioneer artists and curators Nancy ZastudilErin and Nina Elder make a patch of Taos, N.M., land their canvas. The team’s off-the-grid residency program welcomes Suzanne Husky and collaborative duo Joshua Hoeks and Ryan Rasmussen, who will be building necessary structures to survive on a piece of land.

Then there are those who dwell in the intersection of land and sea, likeZach Moser and Eric Leshinsky of The Shrimp Boat Projects, at The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts at UH. These two actually took to the sea.

“We identified shrimping as one of the few remaining ways in our region that people were working in a direct connection to the landscape, and that, by participating in this way of working, we would have access to insights into the foundations of our regional identity,” Moser says from his shrimp boat (I imagine). “It’s our hope to come to a deeper understanding of our place that we will be able to synthesize the often competing interest of economy, culture, and ecology.”

The land/sea tangle sometimes ends up tragically, as in Jiri Kylian’sForgotten Land, which launched Houston Ballet’s season this year. Kylian’s classic ballet draws its power from the idea of the sea overtaking the land. How strange that Hurricane Rita caused the cancelation of this ballet’s premiere in 2005.

Equally poignant is HGO’s new chamber opera, Your Name Means the Sea, an HGOco Song of Houston: East  +West project, by Azerbaijan composer and librettist Franghiz Alizadeh, linking the Azerbaijani community in Houston with our sister city, Baku on May 21, 24 and 26. Song and dance carry place, which I imagine we will see when the Azerbaijan State Dance Ensemble performs at Ifest on May 7 and 8.

Earth and water doesn’t always have to be so serious. There’s a poetic wit to Joey Lehman Morris’ mountain landscapes, last seen at FotoFest in Assembly: Eight Emerging Photographers From Southern California. I like the way Morris props up Black Mountain Detachment: Two Nights, From Waxing to Fully Stated against the wall.

We do tend to prop up our mythic landscapes, don’t we? Morris took his conversation between photography, geology, time and place a step further in But First, Define the Mountainat the California Museum of Photography, UC Riverside.

I wasn’t the only one cracking a smile watching Hillerbrand + Magsamen’s Elevated Landscape video as part of Measured at Lawndale, which runs through June 4. Stephan Hillerband places a sprinkler on his raised piece of real estate, while Mary Magsmen takes an ax to the platform. Lawns manufacture fake land as silly, water gobbling inventions, never mind the chemicals it takes to keep them green.

The toxic details will be revealed in a screening of Brett Plymale’s documentary  A Chemical Reaction: The Story of a True Green Revolution on May 6.

Lawns are unreal all right, but so are invented places, like Mary Temple’s dreamy tree faux shadow installation, Northwest Corner, Southeast Lightat Rice University Art Gallery. You will recognize the place even though it doesn’t exist. It felt like home. That’s how potent place is to us.

Reprinted from Culturemap

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Dancehunter interviews herself, again

Dancehunter: Again, why do you interview yourself once a year?

Dancehunter: Because someone has to, it might as well be me. It keeps me from talking about myself during interviews.

DH: What is Dancehunter?

DH: An imaginary feature movie where I, along with a motley crew, hunt for dance. Like a bounty hunter, except no one goes to jail. It’s my twitter handle and also a largely abandoned blog, which is used as a storage facility for stories I publish elsewhere.

DH: How do you describe yourself?

DH:  A dance writer with a weakness for theater, music,  film and football.  I should add that I was recently called a “fame whore.”

DH: You do endlessly hawk your stuff.

DH: And why shouldn’t I? I write so someone besides my mother will read it.

DH: Blogging?

DH: Having a blog is not a life sentence.  Sometimes, we finish out our urge to share, or get busy with paying deadlines.  Project blogs work well.  Set a realistic goal and stick to it.

DH: Artists blogging?

It’s not mandatory, or even advised if you don’t much like writing.  If it feels like a chore, don’t do it.  For long term projects, tours and such, a blog can be useful to document your travels or process. Wendy Perron addressed the subject of over-sharing artists, touching a nerve or two.

DH: The state of dance writing?

DH: We are like Conan O’Brien. You can’t kill us. We just keep coming back. There will always be people who choose to write about dance. Whether we will ever have a critical mass of people making a living writing about dance is doubtful. I am not sure we ever did.

DH: Why did you stop writing reviews?

DH: For a variety of reasons: There are other people to write them; I find the form a tad lifeless; I am not very good at it. All that said, read the New York Times piece on why we still need literary criticism. It feels relevant.

DH: Where can we find your writing?

DH: Culturemap, Dance Magazine, Pointe Magazine, Dance Spirit, Dance Teacher, mostly. Here and there in other publications.

DH: Where can we find your most unfiltered voice?

DH: Culturemap, but more and more in other places. I am starting to sound like myself everywhere. It’s a function of age.

DH: Aging?

DH: I don’t recommend it.

DH: What blogs do you read?

DH: Wendy Perron’s Dance Magazine blog, Arts Journal Blogs, Debra Jo Levine’s Arts Meme, Nichelle Strzepek’s  Dance Advantage, Andrew Sprung explains politics to me on xpostfactoid , to see all that I am missing in New York, Susan Yung’s Sunday Arts Blog on Thirteen New York Public Media,  my son’s blog, The Shape of Junk to Come for amusement and to see the gaps in my parenting. I skip about without much consistency. Mostly, I wait until someone sends me a link telling me to read something. I am of the obedient persuasion.

DH: So we are all front page editors now?

DH: It’s a “my body, my newspaper” world out there as so many people now have a service that aggregates pieces from their twitter lists.  I don’t miss the real front page that much. I’m not remotely nostalgic for print. Read Interviews with Notable Aggregaters in the Future for what happens when we take that too far.

DH: How can we get more arts writing?

DH: Hellishly simple, read more arts writing. Your eyeballs are being counted now, and so far, they don’t hold a candle to stories about Kim what’s her name.  Share arts stories you like. These days, numbers generate stories. Put your eyes where your desires are.

DH: Facebook?

DH:  The fact that we know more about one another is generally a good thing. I have a Facebook page, which will one day have every story I have ever written and will free up a lot of space in my house.  Please “like it.” I appreciate that Facebook is always working on its face.

DH: Most people don’t like that. Twitter?

DH: I like that Twitter makes us work on our sentences.  I have a Dance Magazine story coming out about how dancers and choreographers use Twitter. I started following every dancer I could find and still do.  It’s a marvelous way to get the pulse of a field. Twitter reminds me of dinner time when I was growing up, where everyone fought to be heard. It’s also a great way to keep up with life outside of Houston.

DH: What of Houston?

DH: It’s a love the city you are with situation. It’s impossible to keep up with my field here, not enough dance comes through here, or really ever did.  So I go see opera, classical music, theater, film and visual art.  Dance is always my home art form, though.  I look at all other art forms from a motion detector lens.

DH: You fussed like a maniac over Black Swan before you saw it, then fussed like a maniac afterward about how much you hated it. What gives?

DH:  All true. (I imagine I will be soon fussing over Emily Blunt’s performance with Cedar Lake in The Adjustment Bureau.) I had no problem with Black Swan’s depiction of the ballet world. Heavens, we don’t need to go Hollywood movies to find that out.  I did not like the movie because it was boring and oftentimes silly. Although, the scene where Barbara Hershey was about to throw the cake in the trash was priceless camp.  Also, Natalie Portman was terrific.  She got a boyfriend, a baby on the way, and most probably an Oscar out of the deal. And, yes, she almost looked like  a dancer.

DH: Sugarplum gate?

DH: Do we have to go there?

DH: Yes, we do. All dance people are required to chime in on the “too many sugar plums” fiasco. It’s a law.

DH: I wonder if Black Swan had not been in the air if there would have been such a fuss. Here’s what’s interesting to me in all of this: regular people now know how screwy ballet can be. Jenifer Ringer is a household name. People who never go to ballet were asking me what I thought about it.  Ballet seems nuts to them.  It’s as if the bubble burst into middle America’s living rooms.  Even Katie Couric had to blab about it.  What is also curious to me is how our brains are hard wired to prefer certain bodily proportions. I found myself attending to my own attention during a recent performance, which included larger than usual bodies.  Dancing, more than the body doing it, is always more engaging to me.

DH: Do you think the ballet buzz will generate bodies in seats?

DH: I  hope so, but its hard to predict. If you read Jenifer Homans’ book, she dissects the dance boom, and it’s not so simple, as it was tied to a confluence of events, both artistic and political.

DH: What did you think of Homans’ book Apollo’s Angels?

DH: I could not put it down. Darren Aronofsky should have read it before he made Black Swan. The history of ballet is like a Matt Damon spy movie, just terrifically exciting. The last chapter declaring ballet dead hit me hard.  History tells us if you want to wake something up, call it dead.  If ballet is dead, then I love a dead thing. Besides, vampires and zombies are all the rage.  I am less enthusiastic about that last chapter, but the rest is just a thrill fest. Ballet in light of the politics of the day makes great reading. I want Ken Burns to make a 10-part PBS series based on it.  Oh, and a coloring book.

DH: What about the politics of this day?

DH:  If it weren’t really happening it would make a good book.  It’s maddening mostly, impossible, depressing as ever.

DH: Obama?

DH: He had a strong close of 2010, thank god, because it was rough going before that. His speech on the tragedy in Tuscon will go down in history. Otherwise, Wall Street likes him.  I am reminded of Jim Hightower’s book, There’s nothing in the middle  of the road except dead armadillos. It’s a difficult situation.

DH: What were the most difficult stories you worked on in 2010?

DH:  A Dance Teacher story on the top ten dance injuries. No one could agree on a top ten.  A Dance Spirit story trying to define contemporary dance. The term really sets people off, mostly due to how So You Think You Can Dance uses it.

DH:  Dance on TV?

DH:  It’s here to stay. Let’s hope it gets better. I covered my own addiction to it.

DH: Most fun story?

DH:  It’s a story about ballet dancers married to normal guys in Pointe. There was lots of laughing on the phone. Writing the piece was better than therapy, very fun and hopeful. It’s a sweet piece, much like the one I did on the Secret Lives of Dancers.

DH: Most poetic?

DH:  A Culturemap essay on what is seen and what is hidden.

DH: Bubbly?

DH: My Dance Spirit Cover story on Lauren Froderman, a  bubbly dancer.

DH: Funniest?

DH: My deep cover investigation of young professional arts groups.

DH: Most rant-ish?

DH:  It’s a tie between my Art has Value story,  which I yelled more than wrote, and my Dance Civics 101: Being a good dance citizen story in From the Green Room, Dance USA’s e-journal.

DH: Painful?

DH: The Hurt Factor, about chronic pain, in Dance Magazine.

DH: Heartfelt?

DH: A story about Houston Ballet, Society for the Performing Arts and Houston Grand Opera’s outreach programs.

DH: Silliest?

DH: My reception diet story.

DH: Most in over your head?

DH: A story on Wordcamp, which is what led me to break up with blogger, a profile on Salman Rushdie, a story on Fashion and dance and my adventures in film at the Cinema Arts Festival.  Sadly, for me readers, I like being in over my head.

DH: Clunker?

DH: My story on Justice John Paul Stevens read like a book report.

DH: Story with the strangest start?

DH: A dance studio window with a sign reading “Ballet, Tap, Jazz, Drill Team, Kathak”  led to The Global Dance Studio in Dance Teacher.

DH: Dreaded year end lists and wrap ups.

DH: My year at Culturemap, A Year in Culture (dance),  A Year in Culture, (theater).

DH: Words that need to die?

DH: “Hot” and “edgy” are zombie words. They will not go away until they have completed their mission in this world.  “Curate” is on overuse probation and “buzzy” needs to meet me behind the barn.

DH: What most infuriates your editors?

DH: Making no sense gets them. My unwillingness to ask artists about what they do besides make art. I rarely have any interest in what they do outside of making art. Often, they have no interest in what they do outside of making art, so they make things up. I am more of an art person than a people person. It’s just me, others do this really well.

DH: Best dance moment of 2010?

DH: Chatting with Marge Champion, the Hollywood legend and model for Disney’s Snow White at Jacob’s Pillow.

Watch the magic below.

DH: How best to contact you?

nmwozny2@gmail.com, @dancehunter, 832-326-5234, at Caroline Collective on some days, where I co-work and when inspired, dust.

DH: Ideal job?

DH: Clicking “like” for a living.  Being a designated art witness.

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