Tag Archives: FotoFest

Art & Memory

Lorena Guillén Vaschetti, Untitled VI from the series Historia, memoria y silencios (History, Memory and Silences), 2009, giclée print

Reprinted from Culturemap.

I found the Lincoln Logs yesterday. What’s curious about such a find is that I bought them for my boys when they were little because it reminded me of my own childhood.

I exist in a cloud of memory these days, having recently dismantled my childhood home. A year ago, I called my two sons into a family meeting and told them, “We’re ditching the burbs boys, go upstairs and put your childhood in a box.” And so they did, while I walk around as some kind of zombie curator of family nostalgia.

Now, with the family photos packed up in storage and the house transformed into a neutral zone, I call “chez creamy and dreamy,” the house has lost its soul.

Artists have better things to do than cling to a set of dusty Lincoln Logs. Examples of artists sourcing memory abound in Houston right now starting with the FotoFest International Discoveries III exhibit, through Dec. 22,  followed by Becky Beaullieu Valls and visual artist Babette Beaullieu’sMemoirs of a Sistahood- Chapter Three: Ava Maria at DiverseWorks, tonight through Saturday and finally, Brandy Holmes’ KriegieWartime Log, based on the POW Journal of Warren E. Arieux, at Divergence Music & Arts,  Saturday through Monday.

Left in the exact tight rubberbanded bundles, one of Vashetti’s photos lets us experience the treasure of memory, revealing its hidden quality instead of the image itself.

Photographer Kyu-Ho Kim knows about losing his home. The body of work now showing as part of International Discoveries III includes striking photos of his demolished residence.

Kim is from the Bukgajwa-dong section of South Korea, which recently embarked on an aggressive redevelopment plan called, “New Town.” Barbed wire and sharply angled concrete formations take on an eerie, bittersweet tone in Kim’s lens. These otherworldly landscapes suggest an inbetween space, between decay and rebuilding. There exists a whiff of sadness, tinged with an emotional distance. From rubble, an unseen beauty emerges. “Your work makes something beautiful out of destruction,” I told the artist. He nodded yes, smiling.

Hidden and invented

Lorena Guillen Vaschetti rescued what was left of her family photos from the trash. With her mother and herself being the only living members of a large Italian family living in Argentina, the discarded photos took on an added meaning.

Yet, it’s what she did with them that’s so stunning. Left in the exact tight rubberbanded bundles, one of Vashetti’s photos lets us experience the treasure of memory, revealing its hidden quality instead of the image itself. In another photo, she manipulates a family photo by bringing out more detail in the part that coincides with her own memory and blurs what is less clear. Memory is a murky thing, Vaschetti leaves the mystery intact. “Memory is not necessarily the truth, it’s our version,” says Babette Beaullieu.”Remembering the past changes you in the present.”

British photographer Marcia Michael was faced with a different problem when she considered her family history.

When she looked for historical representations of black people in the U.K. she found few, so she did what any resourceful artist would do, she created her own archive, appropriating the style of historical anthropometric photography.

Michael’s powerful portraits have created a second history that dwells in loss and reinvention of personal legacy. Chatting with Micheal proved illuminating. “Photography often speaks to how a culture values people,” the artist told me. How true, the lens can indeed judge us.

Our version of the truth

I ran into Valls walking in a dream state among the artifacts of her life and work on the DiverseWorks stage earlier this week. Tattered lace dresses hang from narrow white totems, while delicate wood canoes dangle from the ceiling.

“What’s that?” I ask Valls, looking at a macabre wire and wood sculpture of a woman, that is created during the course of the evening by her sister.

“It’s female,” she replies. “That’s all I know.”

The Beaullieu sisters revel in twisting family tales into compelling interdisciplinary dance/theater. Now on their third chapter, they hone in on their Catholic upbringing, specifically the Virgin Mary, a key denizen of their hometown Lafayette, La. “It’s so satisfying to create art around memories,” says Valls. “I find truth and honesty in my work.”

Yet the team doesn’t always remember everything the same way, which, in this case, makes the process all the richer.

“Memory is not necessarily the truth, it’s our version,” says Beaullieu.”Remembering the past changes you in the present.”

I’ll never forget their very first sistahood piece, which used family films, sculpture and dance to spin a tale of growing up in the 1950s. By the end, I felt like a sista. According to Valls, that’s the point.

“I find personal meaning in my own narrow stories,” she says. “I’m a daughter, sister, mother and wife, and use my place in the nuclear family to connect to a universal sisterhood.”

Holmes found something considerably more potent than an old toy in her grandfather’s POW journal. “My jaw dropped as I turned the pages,” she recalls.

The treasure trove revealed entries from numerous soldiers, and included poems, drawings, jokes and even recipes. Out of the these pages, Holmes has fashioned a devised theater piece with the assistance of aHouston Arts Alliance grant.

Although all the activities of the play come from the journal and her research about the Stalag Luft 1 camp, Holmes has created fictional characters,who each deal with the stress of confinement in their own ways. She even brought in actors Philip Hayes, John Dunn, Alex Randall and Chris Viles into the research process.

“Hopefully, the play does justice to my grandfather’s journey,” she adds.

Memories transformed, invented and transcended, leave it to artists to make more of a memento.

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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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