Note: During the pandemic shutdown, the acclaimed artists residency and art venue, Artpace, in San Antonio, has a bit of extra room in its residency space to host an informal writing residency in collaboration with Glasstire. Colette Copeland, a North Texas-based artist, educator, and longtime Glasstire contributor is the current resident of the two-week program. This diary entry is part of a two-part installment about her days in San Antonio; Copeland will also bring us several artist profiles.
Day 1: Whenever I’m traveling, whether for business or pleasure (will that ever happen again?), I like to take the first day to walk around the city and get a feel for the culture and vibe. As a way of grounding myself, I also set up a daily exercise/mind/body practice schedule. My first full day in San Antonio was no exception. In the morning I walked to The Synergy Studio for a Nia dance class. Nia is a dance/movement-based practice with an international community. I spent the rest of the day walking along the River Walk, and setting up appointments for the rest of the week.
Day 2: I started the morning touring one of the Artpace exhibitions. This cycle is curated by Lauren Cross; the three current resident artists are Elana Mann, Alisa Yang and Letitia Huckaby. Mann’s Year of Wonders features two walls lined with ceramic shakers, and a large sculptural noisemaker/horn in the center of the gallery. The shakers were created onsite with hand-carved wooden handles and glazed ceramic tops painted with symbols and words such as help, hope, unity, equity/dignity, now, never again, etc.
The work is interactive; I took advantage of the touch opportunity, shaking all of them. It’s interesting that the sounds of people power, free now, and heal you me are very loud, while lies and love are very soft. The large horn in the center makes a booming sound — my voice reverberates throughout the space. The sculptures need people to activate them. They serve as catalysts for protest and celebration. The absence of sound and human presence evoked a sense of loss, but also hope for the future.
“My survival is dependent on your survival; your liberation is my liberation.” Thus ends artist Alisa Yang’s letter to friends (a collective “us”), with an invitation for self-care and rest. Wish You Were Here is an installation of 300 care boxes, each containing calm and cozy tea, essential oil mist, a sleep mask and a guided yoga nidra practice. A 4-channel video installation shows the artist in a fancy dress and sparkling mask assembling the care packages. A lot has been written and said about the importance of self-care, yet our culture doesn’t value what’s perceived as “doing nothing.” In her letter, Yang shares that she is a chronically ill person with CPTSD who spends a lot of time in bed. Her gift to the community shows a spirit of generosity — one that touched me deeply.
Letitia Huckaby’s work on view, And Thy Neighb(our), addresses our global community. For this body of work, Huckaby has photographed subjects against vintage patterned bedsheets and printed their silhouetted figures, life-sized, onto cotton fabric framed with large wooden embroidery hoops. The choice of cotton as a material references the history of slavery, indentured labor, and colonialism. Embroidered at the bottom of each work is the country or nationality of the subjects’ origins, such as Rwandan American, Afro-Colombian, Cameroonian American. The works are stunning, and remind us of our shared humanity and the beauty of cultural diversity.
Next, I visited with artist Meg Langhorne, where we spoke about her former gallery Epitome Institute (epitomeinstitute.com) and recent painting series After Caravaggio. As someone who regularly creates alter egos, I enjoyed the fact that all of the founders and curators of Epitome donned alter egos; Langhorne’s alter ego was Margaret L. Honeytruffle. In her recent paintings, she has re-imagined some of Caravaggio’s classics with a twist. The work explores man’s relationship with nature, and the victims of his desires.
Day 3: A visit with artist Mark Menjivar, who is the current artist-in-residence with the Texas After Violence Project. For Glasstire, there’s an upcoming article in the hopper by another contributor about Menjivar’s current work on view at Sala Diaz and Blue Star, so I don’t want to write too much here, except that Menjivar’s work is extremely powerful, and salient for our time.
Day 4: I spent the day at Blue Star Contemporary, first meeting with Director Mary Heathcott for a gallery tour, and then artist Theresa Newsome. My interview with Theresa (forthcoming) is about her photographic series Objects of Aggression. She’s an emerging artist with a strong voice, creating potent and evocative images exploring police violence.
There are three additional exhibitions up at Blue Star: Ryan Takaba’s A Relationship With Flight; Sanctuary City; and Please Form A Straight Line, a group exhibition featuring eight artists whose work explores architecture, power, and control (over our actions, bodies and minds). All good shows, and I was particularly struck by Jingjing Lin’s video A New Dawn for America that features an A.I. presidential candidate giving a campaign speech. The video hits close to home, as the candidate’s “promises” mimic so many we’ve heard before from real candidates. I had the feeling that I was undergoing a brain washing as the visuals flashed before me.
Ryan Takaba’s A Relationship With Flight addresses mourning rituals and the history of flight. The impetus for the exhibition originated from his artist residency in Berlin, where he researched early aviation methods. The resulting work sources his research, but is also a personal response to his deceased grandmother’s altar. At Blue Star, the austere room has a minimalist vibe. A large balloon covered with ash floats through the space. Suspended from the ceiling is a kite made from wood and ivory roses, and a sculpture made from parachute sails cast in wax and burned. Time is the predominant element, as the organic materials shift and decompose, altering not only the sculptural forms, but the viewers’ engagement with the space.
The Sanctuary City Project is the brainchild of Sergio De La Torre and Chris Treggiari, who for the past ten years have worked with communities and nonprofits to educate and raise awareness around issues of immigration, especially as it relates to sanctuary cities. Covid has impacted the nature of the project for Blue Star. Originally conceived as a community print-making project, the group “making” aspect had to be postponed. It’s often difficult for artists working in social practice to produce compelling visual documentation. The floor-to-ceiling installation of the wheat-pasted posters — with phrases like immigration, a humanitarian crisis, a sanctuary is a quiet place, children die at the border, and hotels turned prisons — combined with video documentation of protests and data points, effectively communicates the complexity of the issues.
For next week: Ruby City, Presa House, the McNay, SAMA, grad studio visits at UTSA, and artist visits.