Slackers, Queers and Aliens: Four new exhibitions at the UT Visual Arts Center
There’s a lot of commotion at the University of Texas Visual Arts Center. Final preparations are in order for today’s Fall re-opening.
This summer, the VAC was dark while students and instructors vacationed. But with the opening of the gallery's new season, the center will be filled with dazzling lights and sounds and conversation once again.
Four exhibitions launch on Friday, all very unique in their focus but linked by their ties to performance. Sometimes with just a wall separating each exhibition, the shows imperceptibly inform one another while still remaining distinct in their goals.
Moving through the gallery, the first installation you encounter is the most colorful of the bunch entitled Music of the Spheres. Graduate studio art student Ezra Masch has assembled a theatrical stage set consisting of 72 colored lights connected to an assuming white organ. Each of the lights has been assigned to a particular note and octave, so the effect is a laser light show based entirely on his musical stylings.
“It’s an alternate mode of nonverbal communication,” says Masch. “With the sounds and the colors, your senses are activated in a different way, like with synesthesia. It’s a new form of theatrical transcendence I’m attempting.”
Masch credits the idea of the original “color organ” to 18th Century composer Alexander Scriabin and includes rock concerts and Steven Spielberg as further influences. “There's a lot of Close Encounters of the Third Kind in this piece,” he explains. “A new way to communicate in a language we don’t understand yet.”
Masch’s piece was chosen by the VAC’s student organization among hundreds of applicants to appear in this season’s opening. He will be performing “as much as possible” throughout the month-long run, including a special evening performance on October 12.
Next door to Masch’s light show, a much quieter consideration of performance takes place in Jamie Isenstein’s installation, “ “. Isenstein’s work uses comical self-awareness to critique the conventions of art galleries themselves. In this exhibition, she presents an abstract sculpture, videos of sculptures and a devilish sign-in book.
“I want to infer action in all that I’m doing, so I’m actually in the patchwork sculpture on the pedestal, with a fishnet-covered leg hanging out, and an arm holding a life preserver that says ‘Wishin’ I Was Fishin’,” says Isenstien with an impish laugh. “Whenever I’m not here at the gallery, I’ll have another life preserver that says ‘Gone Fishin’.”
With its changing nature, the piece blurs the concept of sculpture with performance, hinting at its own changing nature. The sight of the one-legged, one-armed patchwork blob in tap shoes is also hysterical of its own visual accord, especially in the austerity of the gallery space.
Upstairs in the Mezzanine Gallery, curators Noah Simblist and David Willburn present Queer State(s), an exploration of Texas artists exploring their takes on gender identity performance through a variety of genres including video, painting, sculpture and live musical performance.
The Gender and Sexuality Center and the Queer Students Alliance of UT have partnered with Simblist and Willburn to capture as many perspectives and vantage points as possible in this twenty person exhibition showcasing both local and international artists.
One Queer State(s) artists will be performing for viewers after the opening of the Fall Exhibitions at the VAC. Austin-based entertainer Paul Soileau will perform as CHRISTEENE, the “drag terrorist” with a heart of gold, at Cheer Up Charlie’s at 10:00pm. Her performances are challenging and engaging and necessary, inciting dialogue long after the dance party.
Finally, in the VAC’s Vaulted Gallery, two scaffolding structures reach to the ceiling, covered in the colorful modernist designs of artist Mika Tajima. In residency at the VAC and curated byAimee Chang, Manager of Public Programs at The Blanton Museum of Art, Austin-raised Tajima built her exhibition to capture the attitude and design of a city and a university in transition.
“I’m especially interested in how environments are shaped by behavior,” explains Tajima in a press conference Thursday. “As in offices and in classrooms, spaces are shaped by our rhetoric, and I’m interested in the possibilities around those spaces, how we break out of those set pathways.” In the exhibition, Tajima requires that viewers avoid obstructions as they move around the gallery space. The effect evokes the performance of detour around architectural design.
Tajima’s exhibition is entitled The Architect’s Garden because of the rigid lines erected by architects that now influence our leisure time. She asserts that architects do this now in the same way gardeners once did with shrubbery and garden paths (when grass was not just a privilege for the wealthy).
With a decisive color palate and clean lines, Tajima initiates a deceptively straightforward conversation that quickly escalates upon learning of the many influences on the project. “I’m weirdly obsessed with Herman Miller,” admits Tajima. The furniture designer’s influence is especially evident in Tajima’s colored plexiglass frames lining one wall in the gallery that refer to the iconic functional designs (many of which you can see currently at the Austin Museum of Art).
Richard Linklater’s iconic film Slacker is also strongly represented in the exhibition, providing the heart of Tajima’s exhibition. Most explicitly, Linklater’s early movie posters appear on painted sandwich boards set up in the space. But more subtly, Linklater was a harbinger of the city’s impending changes.
Austin is the perfect example of a city constantly in transition, trying to keep up with constant growth while maintaining its local vibe. The city is familiar with seeing tarp-covered scaffolding remain for months at a time. We both eschew big box retail and chain restaurants as much as we embrace them. Our leisure time is, in fact, dictated largely by the “gardeners” who design the city.
To further explore the layers to Tajima’s work, the VAC is hosting a conversation between the artist and Richard Linklater on Sep 13 from 6:30 - 8:00pm. After meeting him at the 20th Anniversary party of Slacker, Tajima is sure it will be a lively conversation. She says about him, “He’s very articulate and has such as strong point of view. I definitely know what questions I want to ask of him, so hopefully he’s game to go that artistic direction.”
To launch their new Lunch Break series of noontime arts-related events, the VAC will also be hosting a free screening of Slacker in their Arcade space on Nov 15 from 12 – 1:30pm.
Everyone is welcome to the Public Opening Reception of Fall Exhibitions tonight at The Visual Arts Center from 6:00 - 9:00pm. Parking is available in the San Jacinto Parking Garage off 23rd Street.