Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Today's Weather: 73 degrees, Sunny. Outlook: Grim.

The Yes Men aren't known for subtlety. Case in point: this past Monday's spectacle involving the release of a "special edition" of the New York Post, distributed throughout Manhattan and online, focusing on the effects of climate change. Intended as a call to action, the elaborate (and very convincing) publication was accompanied by a group action in which co-conspirators donned absurd, climate controlled, inflatable suits, aptly named SurvivaBalls, for a "product demo" in the East River. This stunt, scheduled one day before the start of a United Nations joint session expected to focus heavily on climate change, landed yes man Andy Bichlbaum in jail.

It's an interesting time to be an artist in the United States. Coincidentally, this latest bit of performance art by The Yes Men just so happened to occur when the right vs. left cultural divide seems to be growing again. Could it be that the culture wars are heating up? I thought we were past all that but if you've been trolling the newsfeeds this week you might have noticed that everyone from relatively obscure bloggers to Sean Hannity to Glenn Beck seems to be sniffing around for some evidence of a national propaganda campaign orchestrated by the NEA in support of a radical left agenda. Insert eyeroll here.

Still, it's worth noting that The Yes Men seem to be in full recruitment mode. This Saturday in Liverpool they'll be taking their progressive training, brainwashing and indoctrination program (wink wink) across the pond as part of the Abandon Normal Devices festival. The workshop, "How to be a Yes Man," promises to expose the tricks of the political artist/activist trade as practiced by some of the boldest, brashest, wittiest, funniest, and most effective hellraisers the art world has ever seen. SIGN ME UP! Let's hope Andy is out of jail by then. Let's also hope I don't end up on some crazy watch list for attending something so, well, subversive.

DiverseWorks audiences may remember The Yes Men as part of Thought Crimes: The Art of Subversion, presented in the main gallery in 2005. They'll be returning to DiverseWorks in April for the retrospective exhibition Keep It Slick: Infiltrating Capitalism With The Yes Men. That is...if they can stay out of trouble that long.

Diane Barber
Co-Executive Director/Visual Arts Curator

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Herding Cats & Giant Wedding Parties

"Now that I’m by myself," she says, "I'm not by myself, which is good" is the title to the upcoming exhibition that I curated, and it is a mouthful. Let’s start with some background. I pulled the title from an article in Fader magazine I read about Santi White or Santigold as she is known now. In the article she talks about the transition of going out on her own and performing solo instead of with her band. It jumped out at me as the perfect title to explain so many things, both personally for me, and this universal feeling of aloneness and not-aloneness that we are swinging in and out of constantly. I have always been drawn to phrases that you can pull apart the layers of meaning inside of them, and when taken out of context can become a signifier for a whole range of emotions.

In thinking about artists I wanted to include I went through a whole range of ideas and mediums. As I was filling the space in my head with potential works I realized it was becoming jumbled and was losing the sense of urgency and layers that the title had. Finally I settled on a smaller number of artists, four to be exact, and decided to have each artist show a number of works in the space. I was also struggling with the layout of the show. I wanted there to be a large sculptural element something specific and ambiguous at the same time. Then I realized maybe it could be just a platform or a stage that would serve as a viewing area and a central vantage point for the exhibit. I also realized the videos themselves would act as sculptural elements in the space. I never really thought about the show as medium specific, although it is primarily a video show with a conceptual connection between the works. I like to think of the artists in the show as placing table settings for a dinner party, and how each individual or rather each work will be talking to the work next to it or the one across the room.

Lately curating has felt a little like herding cats, or organizing a giant wedding party, but we are in the last week of installation and the most exciting part is when the space comes alive after each work has been placed and they get to talk to each other in the space. I get goose bumps on my arm thinking about it because the show itself has been inside my head for so long and finally it will all come out this Friday night, so come see for yourself!

-Rachel Cook
Curator of "Now that I’m by myself," she says, "I'm not by myself, which is good"

"Now that I’m by myself," she says, "I'm not by myself, which is good"
September 11-October 24, 2009
Gallery Hours: Wednesday-Saturday, Noon to 6pm.
Free Admission

1117 East Freeway
Houston, TX 77002

Sunday, September 13, 2009

New Season brings thoughts of last year

Was it just a year ago that Hurricane Ike made its presence felt? The floods, the devastation, the lack of electricity; the loss of homes and trees; lives forever changed...

I guess it was about two or three years ago in January when I saw a works-in-progress version of NY playwright Ain Gordon's "Storm Show" as it was called then. The changes Hurricane Katrina made on Houston's population and on the psyche of all living on the Gulf Coast were still very present for me, so of course I was interested in a work that was about the devastating hurricane that hit Galveston in 1900. I thought, that this could be a really great way to bring up so much that Katrina had stirred up - art inspired by history commenting on current issues, perfect. I didn't realize how relevant it would be.

"Storm Show" was scheduled to happen last year in partnership with Stages Repertory Theatre. Like many events last year, we had to reschedule, and so the world premiere for will happen October 1-3 at DiverseWorks. Looking back, I'm kinda glad that the show didn't happen last spring. My psychological and emotional state were still deeply affected by Ike. I don't think that I could have handled that show, or really participate in a dialogue that the show would have generated.

In a couple of weeks, Ain Gordon and the superstar actresss Veanne Cox will be coming to Houston to premiere the play, now called A Disaster Begins. I'm hoping that an entire year can help me realize how lucky I was. The devastation and havoc generated by Ike does not compare to the difficulties and devastation of the 1900 hurricane. But I believe that the play will be a springboard to talk about many other similarities of the times - an era of "change" fills the air, a lurid fascination with disaster and spectacle, a time of rebuilding.

I hope that y'all can join us October 1 - 3 at DiverseWorks to see one of the shows. I hope that we can have a talk-back or discussion after the show where we can address some of the conditions that we have faced in the past year, and some of the other ideas generated from the play.

Also, many of you attended Jonah Bokaer's Invention of Minus One, the first event of last year's performing season. He performed DW's stage and the docks across the way, and this year he's the featured choreographer in a NYTimes Magazine photo spread that starts the fall season. There's also a video.

I'll be posting more about the upcoming Performing Arts Season soon.