Tag Archives: Hillerbrand + Magsamen

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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Trading spaces: Lawndale’s Artist Studio Program provides temporary digs & inspiration

Daniel McFarlane, “Aqua Quartz II,” 2011

I’m still fixated on spaces artists work in. I call it the “Center for Dance” phenom: A new building in your art form pops up and then you wonder where everyone else is cranking it out. I’ve always been a space nut; the “where” effects the “what” big time in my book.

Last weekend, I gawked at the snazzy new Spring Street Studios, an anchor of the new Lower Washington Cultural Arts District. They are pretty, but fairly pricey for an artist who might also have a residential rent to deal with, which is why so many artists “studio” at home, where you get convenience and economy at the expense of isolation and occasionally tripping over your work.

Putting a roof over your art practice doesn’t come cheap, but it can deeply influence one’s work life.

Houston has its share of residency programs, but since I accidently leftLawndale Art Center out of my story on underground art (a Lone Star-size omission), I thought I would pay a social call to hear about their outstanding Artist Studio Program.

Listen up, three lucky artists per year get nine months of free studio space, a stipend, a materials allowance, and a show at the end of it.

Wow. Nice.

And it’s a chic space on the third floor of Lawndale’s sleek art deco building, with wood floors, plenty of natural light, a healthy AC unit, sparkling white walls hungry for a new batch of your work, artists as neighbors to bounce ideas off of, free parking and a separate entrance so you can come and go through anytime of the day and night.

Wait, it gets better: Lawndale arranges meetings with visiting artists, curators and writers, which is certainly an easier way to show off your work than having them traipse over your pets, kids, and messy living rooms.

Attention Gulf Coast artists from any stage in your career, all this can be yours; the application deadline for Round 6 is May 16 at 5 p.m.

I popped in to visit  the current crop, Hillerbrand +MagsamenAnthony Thompson Shumate and Daniel McFarlane, who make up the Measured exhibit, running through June 4.

I met Stephan Hillerbrand and Mary Magsamen while their two children (who often appear in their work) milled about their spacious studio. The husband and wife team look at their Lawndale time as a chance to branch out, which is how the photo series House/Hold took hold.

“We got here, looked at these empty walls and thought we had better put something up on them,” says Hillderband.

Mythic ideas embedded in everyday heroes began to develop as a theme, inspired by G.K. Chesterton’s famous quote, “The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children.”  Most poignant is the portrait with their couch and the family human pyramid. It’s domestic and epic. Both enjoyed the camaraderie of their fellow studio dwellers.

“Feedback from artists is always helpful,” says Magasmen. “We haven’t had that since grad school.”

The studio gave the couple a chance to make and live with the work outside of  their home.

“As video artists, we literally could work with our laptop on the kitchen table, and when we would shoot our videos, they were always set up in our living room, backyard, in the car or the garage,” says Hillderbrand. “So this idea of having a physical space where we could go and work and think and put something on the wall and then at the end of the day lock the door, and know that when we came back the next day, it would still be exactly there, was wonderful. The dog didn’t eat it, the kids didn’t spill cereal all over our print or the clean laundry didn’t get mixed into our installation.”

Shumate used his time to start from scratch.

“I wanted to build a whole new vocabulary, challenge myself and pare it down,” says Shumate, talking a mile a minute. A quick glance at the body of his work lets me know that he’s one versatile guy.  Shumate projects a mad scientist’s vibe, as he tries to show me as much work as possible during my brief visit. All the while, a modified CAD machine re-traces his drawing of a fish. Like the others, Shumate thrived on the right dose of companionship.

“It’s great to have another set of brains around who know the jargon,” he says. “We’ve had some great conversations.”

He describes his work for the show as neither “analog nor digital,” but some kind of middle ground. Yet, there’s nothing unconsidered in his detailed to scale drawings of such objects as a gun and a car, now occupying a clinical pale green wall in the main gallery. I like the way he includes the unit of measurements within the piece itself, lending a completeness to his investigation. There’s a pristine exactitude to his work.

“It was a nine-month blur of exploration and experimentation in a quiet environment,” sums up Shumate. “I am sad to see it go; I’ve been so spoiled.”

I felt a sense of elation just walking in McFarlane’s studio, and it’s not just because he never stops smiling. Paint takes on an object quality on his glistening canvases. It’s hard not to touch them (I may have). His paintings juxtapose his signature amorphous paint forms with architectural elements. Sculptural and witty, this body of work projects a celebratory edge, within a disciplined structure.

“I feel as if I should be dressed up and drinking champagne,” I tell the artist.  “I know,” agrees McFarlane, the youngest of the pack. “They are so positive.”

The Studio Program brought McFarlane back to his hometown after finishing his MFA at University of Florida, where he accumulated numerous honors. He left Florida with a career on a roll, able to roll right into Lawndale to keep it going.

“It’s been fantastic; I get to reclaim my birthright as a Texas artist,” McFarlane says, with his characteristic optimism. “The residency was an encouraging environment that created a sense of community with access to the resources of the Houston art scene. It provided a great space and time to make work. I wish it was longer. As far as residencies go, this is a good one.”

Reprinted from Culturemap.

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Greek drama gone wild: Houston arts groups get ancient, reimagine classical themes

“Diana,” archival inkjet print, 2010, from the photographic series, “House/Hold, Hillerbrand + Magsamen”

The House of Atreus gets a make-over as Houston hands the keys to the city over to Dionysus this spring, with some delicious reimagining of classical themes.

The mythmastering begins tonight at 6:45 pm, when University of Houston students re-enact an ancient Greek ritual, as the Honors College Center for Creative Work puts on their own Dionysia. The festivities begin with an Agora (food and drink) and an Ekphrastic Art Exhibit at the Honors College, which culminates in a procession to the theater for a performance of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, with a new translation by Center for Creative Work director John Harvey. Performances continue on April Saturday and Sunday at UH’s Wortham Theater and Monday at Khons.

The students are joined by professional actors, Brandy Holmes as Cassandra, and Divergence Vocal Theater founder Misha Penton as Klydemnestra. Holmes took Cassandra’s central dilemma into her own solo show.

“If you knew exactly when you would die, would you want to?” asks Holmes, in her piece Yes, Cassandra, recently performed at the Houston and New Orleans Fringe Festivals. “Cassandra wrestles with this knowledge, which eventually drives her mad.”

Can’t a girl get a break now and then for killing her husband? Penton has her own views on the other great Greek icon, and the following weekend, the Dionysia continues with Klytemnestra: The Original Subversive Female, at her new Spring Street StudioDivergence Music & Arts, on April 15 and 16.

“She is vulnerable, brilliant and cunning, yet there is something ‘other’ about her, perhaps supremely female, that stands in absolute rejection of male domination,” says Penton. “She’s the embodiment of chaos.”

Music is by Dominick DiOrio, who also composed the incidental music forAgamemnon. Dancer/choreographer Meg Booker and actor Miranda Herbert complete the Divergence team. Both are well studied in the classics, and used to artists having their way with Greek literature. “In grad school, we called it Greek schmearing,” jokes Herbert.

If Booker looks like she just stepped off an ancient Grecian urn, as well she should, she’s a fourth generation Isadora Duncan dancer.

“Duncan studied how the Greeks depicted the body in ancient art, for the line and shape in her dances. She envisioned beauty as harmony in form, not just the human body, but also the relationship between the body and both natural and architectural forms,” says Booker, Texas’ leading Duncan scholar. “Duncan wanted to recreate theater in the tradition of the ancient Greeks—to create performance that integrated text, music and dance.”

Don’t expect Booker to be all airy, either. “Duncan’s technique allows for a wide range of expression, and Klytemnestra is no light maiden,” adds Booker.

As for Penton’s classical penchant, the soprano can’t help herself.

“I’m interested in the reinvention of classic women. These characters were originally created by men, but they have immense influence to disrupt the status quo,” says Penton. “How can they be re-imagined to reveal their innate, powerful, female qualities, lifting them out of just being stories old dead guys wrote about women.”

Being abandoned on the island of Naxos by Theseus is no picnic for Ariadne. Enter Zerbinetta in Strauss’ beloved opera within an opera, Ariadne auf Naxos, and the plot thickens. With Christine Goerke (Ariadne/ Prima Donna), Laura Claycomb (Zerbinetta), Susan Graham (Composer) and Alexey Dolgov as Bacchus and the Tenor, expect a powerhouse performance by Houston Grand Opera on April 29-May 10.

Ixion got in a tiff with Zeus, and let’s just say things didn’t turn out well. Earlier this Spring Bootown, hilariously folded the myth of Ixion into a story about the unknown fate of Amazonian explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett in Cut Down. Bootown’s co-founder and Cut Down’s devised theater scribe, Philip Hays, describes the process.

“It’s not that glamorous. I was clicking around Wikipedia, and ended up in the pages on Greek Mythology. I clicked on the first name I didn’t know (Ixion),” admits Hays. “The story heightens the ‘whoopses’ of everyday and turns them into ‘oh shits’ of monstrous proportions.”

No discussion of Greek drama gone wild  in Houston would be complete without a big shout out to the brave but nutty folk of the now-defunct Nova Arts Project, who produced the most absurd version of  Sophocles’ Oedipus Trilogy ever with Oedipus 3 in 2006. Who could resist a play titled The Gods are Just Big Poop Heads, which made sweet fun of Greek freak Martha Graham?  Even the Graham company made fun of themselves with The Clytemnestra Remash Challenge.

My only regret is that no one chose the crumbling ruins tucked into thegraceful gardens of Rienzi,  known as a “folly,” as their stage. While you are at Rienzi, snoop around the collection to count the number of  Bacchus images.

Visual art goes classical bonkers every other century or so and the evidence is everywhere in Houston right now. The painters in Antiquity Revived: Neoclassical Art in the Eighteenth Century at the MFAH, running through May 30, were drawn to classical themes for obvious reasons; these are killer stories wrought with visual tension.

The thread provided by Ariadne, which helped Theseus find his way out of the Minotaur’s labyrinth, inspired Tamalyn Miller’s curious doilies, crafted from clothesline, string and electrical wire in her Spirit House installation at Project Row Houses. “Its intricate pattern and traditional material-thread-suggest the Minotaur’s labyrinth of Greek mythology,” writes Miller, in her artist statement.

Anyone can get mythic. Lawndale studio artists Stephan Hillerbrand and Mary Magasmen, of Hillerbrand + Magsamen, honor the heroic in the ordinary in their witty and poignant series, House/Hold, opening on April 22. A bold portrait of Magsamen cradling her dog is appropriately namedDiana, after the goddess of hunting. The 12 tasks of Hercules depicts Hillerbrand posing as a superhero holding a ton of toys, of all things.

The 16th Century Italian master Titian couldn’t resist Diana and her gang either. Titian and the Golden Age Venetian Painting: Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Scotland, opens at the MFAH on May 22.

To bone up on your mythology and classical lit, keep a copy Edith Hamilton’s Mythology or Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces handy at all times. According to Campbell, myths remain active in our psyche because they are still relevant to our paths on this earth. That, and they are just damn good soul-crushing tales.

See you at the other end of the Labyrinth.

Reprinted from Culturemap.

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