The Staying Power Of Contemporary Art Month

Miss CAM Antonio 2013 Miranda Joon Fermin celebrating her win with crown designer Mat Kubo. - Courtesy
Miss CAM Antonio 2013 Miranda Joon Fermin celebrating her win with crown designer Mat Kubo.

Hard to believe something that's been around for 30 years is still called "contemporary." But Contemporary Art Month endures, turning March into an event-filled celebration of art being made in San Antonio with an emphasis on the innovative, experimental and edgy.

"Not only is it amazing CAM is still around, it's surprising it's still so needed," Chris Sauter, co-chairman, told the Current. "It provides a great platform for new, young artists to show their work. That's why it's still happening."

For 11 months of the year, San Antonio's contemporary art scene is fragmented into different camps and neighborhoods. But come March, this diverse, eclectic, anti-establishment community comes together for CAM.

"The truth is CAM is mainly a marketing tool, but it encourages artists to get out of their comfort zones and try to engage a larger audience," Sauter said.

Miss CAM Antonio, open to all genders, is a virtual pageant that asks: "How would you promote contemporary art in San Antonio?" Contestants post their answers on a Facebook page. Four finalists will be picked based on the number of "likes" they get, and the winner will be selected by CAM. The winner will be crowned during the CAM kick-off party Thursday night at Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum.

"One of the most important things CAM does is bring in outside curators and artists in a cultural exchange," Sauter said. "This year, we're working with New Orleans."

Amy Mackie, co-director of the PARSE artist residency program in New Orleans, curated the CAM Perennial exhibit, "Move Me," opening March 13 at the Museo Guadalupe. A former director of visual arts at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans, Mackie said she knew nothing about the San Antonio art scene before being asked to take charge.

"I was given a list of 200 artists, which I whittled down to about 20," Mackie said in a phone interview. "I made 20 studio visits last December and then selected eight artists for the show. I happened to pick work that communicated various approaches to physical movement ... but I was really looking for art that moved me."

Justin Boyd created a new work for "Move Me" using layered recordings of birds, trains and ambient noise. Walks through Berlin during a residency inspired Karen Mahaffy. Anne Wallace made videos of couples dancing on forgotten pieces of flooring she's found around the city. Jennifer Ling Datchuck, who has a Russian/Irish father and a Chinese mother, made a cringe-inducing video of her carefully plucking her eyebrow hairs one by one, which she replaced with wearable eyebrows made of blue-and-white Chinese porcelain.

Mackie said several of the artists associated with the University of Texas at San Antonio combine sculpture with performance art. Roberto Celis turns his body into a human musical instrument, complete with taut strings that can be played like a cello. Raul Gonzalez uses dancing as a central element in his videos, while Kristin Gamez plans to fight the ties that bind her while being dragged across the floor in a performance piece. Known for blurring the line between reality and performance, Jimmy James Canales will be showing his video Karate Zarape and an installation of photographs taken during his two-year-long series SATX Treks.

New Orleans artists will be featured in "CAMx 2015," opening March 19 at the Fl!ght Gallery. Organized by the Good Children Gallery, a pioneer artist-run space in New Orleans' St. Claude Arts District, the artists include Jessica Bizer and Srdjan Loncar, among others.

"I don't know too much about these artists so we're operating on blind faith that it will be a good show," Justin Parr, Fl!ght co-director, said in a phone interview. "But I think it's a good idea to build bridges with other cities ... Our biggest problem is that a lot of artists want to show during CAM, but we just don't have room for everyone."

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