Form of Flux: Perspectives on Contemporary Social and Political Landscapes, Curated by Davis and Veg

Everyone with a Spotify account claims to be curator today. I managed to pick out 15 Tom Waits songs the other day which all include the word “uhhhoooh”. I guess by the popular definition I am now a music curator. Francesca Vega and Jordann Davis do not claim to be curators, but they are on their way, learning the skills in the Texas Tech School of Art Landmark Gallery. March’s First Friday offerings included a show they put together called “Form of Flux: Perspectives on Contemporary Social and Political Landscapes”. Francesca Vega, and Jordann Davis are MA students in the School of Art with a focus in Art History. They both work in the Landmark Arts Gallery, under the guidance of Joe Arredondo and Scotty Hensler. Unlike Spotify curators, Vega and Davis did the actual curatorial work to bring the show together.

The pool of resources which the curators dredged for material was the MFA student studios at the Texas Tech School of Art. The title of the exhibtion states that the focus was each artists own investigations into the "contemporary social and political landscapes.' What are these landscapes? This rather broad, abstract notion can translate into anything from race, to religion, to environment. Each work has one or more of these investigations at its center. I'll leave it to the reader to interpret this defintion for themselves.

When I walked into the space at the Satellite Gallery at the LHUCA compound I was greeted by large crowds, always a good measure of how well a show came off, and the attraction of the First Friday in general. It was tight corners in the space, but the duo curators managed to get the space partitioned well. I was drawn first to a stack of defunct automobile tires against a wall, a video monitor above showing the work of J. Eric Simpson, a graduate of the School of Art. A work called Tire Landia (2014) was playing on the monitor this time. I’ve seen his work several times over the years and this was very much in the same vein as previous productions.

Simpson often stars in his video art, Tire Landia features the artist in the guise of a Sisyphean protagonist battling the Bonneville salt-flats and the weight of a wheel made of tires. Simpson often works in these circular patterns, one work that comes to mind, Arriving (2012), has Simpson walking while tied to a central pivot. The white of the salt plays against the action of the tire pushing, retaining the imprint of the tread like a canvas. As the artist goes around in a worn path a van can be seen far away in the distance. Eventually the balance falters, the weight shifts, the tire wheel falls and the artist walks away off screen. It’s hypnotic, and fascinating to watch. The tension builds by degrees of repetition and ritual, but ultimately collapses. Through meticulous editing, the action starts anew with Simpson coming back into the frame from the right as if he had just found the construct all over again. On a loop this effect infinitely emphasizes the labor, and the futility. More of J. Eric Simpon's videos can be seen here:

Further along the tightly spaced wall are digital photos by Yuan-Ta Hsu, a Fine Arts PhD. candidate. The two works that stand out depict the interiors of a refrigerator, and a pantry. I believe the general idea hinges on the viewer bringing their own ideas about cultural and ethnic identity to bear on the works. The inkjet print Wan-Chui Chuang, Taiwanese, Currently Lives in Lubbock, TX, USA, Container #2 (2011), unveils the contents of the fridge door, traditionally reserved for condiments and the like. I understand the expectation that racial misconceptions will play a role, but I only find it interesting that the contents are blasé items, with the occasional Taiwanese writing on some products I am not familiar with. While I am not the average viewer, I can see this approach working as a novelty. A person unfamiliar with Taiwanese people or humanity in general, may be pleasantly surprised to see Wal-Mart’s Great Value Honey Mustard dressing. I am left with a feeling of having been generalized, with the artist’s preconceptions thrust on me.

Continuing the trek across the room I encounter a whole wall dedicated to the performance videos of Nooshin Hakim, a former student of Texas Tech who has left Lubbock for Minnesota. Her two works depict ritualistic motions, and repeated action similar to J. Eric Simpson. Hakim’s Candlelight Vigil for My Haven (2013) (see below) enlists endurance more so than Simpson’s video. The artist lies under a pendulum at the end of which a wax globe of the earth menaces the artist. Hakim holds a candle as the globe swings back and forth over her outstretched body. As the candle makes contact, the waxen Earth heats, gradually melting in large chunks onto the artist’s chest and stomach. You can see in her eyes the tension changing from sleepy, meditative passivity to nervousness that the wax may fall on her face once the breakdown starts. Hakim stays under the swinging, shattered globe until it stops. There are points where the video transitions and you can tell it possibly has been cut down to save time perhaps, and to pace the action, but this editing would be unnecessary in a different gallery setting where the work would exist for eight to ten hours. If the video runs for an hour the audience will encounter the events at different times as they wander past the beautifully shot work. Some will come to it as it starts, other as the globe starts to melt, and still others when Hakim has left the ground and the video starts over. In this First Friday timeframe of a mere three hours, the effect doesn’t detract, remaining a small compensation for us to experience her work.

Brandy Gonzalez is a printmaking major in the MFA program at Texas Tech. When I see her work on the wall it is a drawing series, arranged like an edition, full of process, and endurance and ritual. It doesn’t matter right away what they are, it’s the presentation and beauty of the marks that impresses. While the works are appealing, it’s upon closer scrutiny that something I had not known, but should have suspected perhaps, is being represented here. Each drawing is a Hispanic surname, written over and over in a manic, but methodically organized manner. Next to the drawings are small, handwritten data sheets telling the viewer the name being represented, for example Garcia, number of occurrences, 779,412, and overall US rank for all names, 8th (2014). Other names represented include Rodriguez (9th overall), and Gonzalez (23rd). This data represents collected information from the US Census which is conducted every 10 years, this one being from the year 2000. You might say “so what?” but bear in mind the census determines the number of seats for congressional districts. In Gonzalez’ statement she says that 2000 was the first year Hispanic names were collected, but after some research I found that this is not accurate. The data does point to the biggest shift in most common surnames that occurred between the 1990 and 2000 census in which the number of Hispanic names in the top 30 jumped from four to seven. This in itself might not say much, but when you consider that names like Jones and Walker only shifted a couple spots up, a sudden shift of Garcia from number 18 in 1990 to number 8 in 2000 seems to be a little suspect. The fact is that something drastic changed in the way people were counted as, well, people. I won’t pretend to understand the motives of large organizations such as the US government, but it doesn’t take much logic to see some Jim Crow-like bullshit at work, somewhere in the dark depths of the bureaucracy. Before 1990, according to a report by David L . Word and Colby Perkins Jr., the method for counting Hispanics before 1990 was by last name alone, with no other means of finding origins. This means that if your name was Johnson, and you were Hispanic, you were counted as white, or other.

Other works in the “Form and Flux” included a painting by Colleen O’Brien, Pedram Baldari, Yasaman Moussavi, Charles Dreis, and Jessica Moore, the latter four of whom will have their MFA shows soon and will be covered then in more depth. See also Vincent Meyers’ article for other information.

In addition to writing an essay, building an extremely concise, compact gallery catalog, and physically hanging the work, they met with each student in “Form and Flux” to dig through their work. Vega tells me that “they are fortunate that the school of art offers such opportunities” through the Satellite Gallery space. The duo is receiving real training for curating that is used in most galleries and museums. I wonder if maybe the artists could benefit from this training too, to help them find work after the MFA. The space at the Satellite is challenging, smallish and only three walls supply sufficient mounting area, but “Form and Flux” made good use of the resources available. I wonder what our budding curators would have done with more space?

Images courtesy of Kristen Swartz

Video courtesy of Nooshin Hakim

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