Art capades

I was already pretty psyched for this past weekend of art-looking. I had watched some of the installation of, and attended the first opening/closing of Techjano/a: Hybrid Logic at the Alameda, gotten a JPEG glimpse of works from Jennifer Ling Datchuk’s Little Graces show, and observed the drawings now showcased at Fl!ght as Impromptu Complete while they were yet- incomplete impromptus being pored over at Hausmann Millworks by Judith Cottrell, Alex Rubio, Jayne Lawrence, and Enrique Martinez all the way back in July, during the last summer CAM.

I eschewed the Blue Star complex on Friday in favor of attending, yet again, the closing of Techjano/a at the Alameda. Call it The Closing II: For Real This Time. Glad as I was that this strong, space-tackling, time-warping, passionate show had its run extended, it was more meaningful still to take part in its ritual dismantling. Jimmy James Canales and Maria Palma reenacted their collaborative serape performance, for one thing, which I’d missed the first time, and whoo, boy howdy…

Having written recently about Jim Hodges and Félix González-Torres, I’ve been mindful of the Semi-Fictional Everyman Response to relational aesthetics; in González-Torres’s case, he was the subject of an ersatz-angry Morley Safer 60 Minutes segment about the bizarre impenetrability of contemporary art; Safer encountered a heap of individually wrapped candy which was intended by González-Torres to be eaten by gallery visitors. Safer furnished the outsized “THIS IS ART?!” indignation response with which, Hodges pointed out to me, media often meets that kind of open-ended art experience. Relational aesthetics — not to mention performance art, and not to mention performance art using gift-shop serapes — is easy to laugh at and dismiss.

But Safer-style scoffery is not what I watched happen with Palma and Canales. Palma, dressed in a mismatched outfit of skirt, dorky socks, and bulky shoes, and wearing a near-completely obscuring headdress of plastic flowers and face kerchief, presented a postcolonial/pre-Colombian apparition, no identity but all Identity, using each onlooker’s sense of ritual, costume, and history to complete the circuit as she pulled Canales’s careful, graphic installation of El Mercado serapes off the wall — pushpins flying — and wrapped Canales in them, and tied his limbs with lengths of twine, rendering his outlines more and more outlandish. Flower Lady and Serape Man were both touchingly funny and puppetlike, and mysteriously monstrous. After a clumsy embrace, Palma did a shuffling “dance” while Canales exploded, shaking and wriggling out of his stripey coccoon. Safer would’ve been agog. The gallery visitors, though, which included hipsters, family members, random folks, and even little kids, watched completely spellbound and quiet. Noise emanated from Ernest Gonzales’s DJ setup; the constant and highly skilled, hypnotic remixing and manipulation of a curandera’s chant. Like Canales’s serapes and Palma’s faceless motions, it created its own universe of tweaked and tragicomic antiquity.

Then Pedro Luera took an electric saw to the sculptural portion of his mural, Mari Hernandez served Big Red ice-cream floats, and an unnamed performer in what appeared to be a white hazmat suit painted a white X across Albert Alvarez’s Fiesta-themed mural. The party may be over, but a movement’s fomenting. Watch for these artists in the future, where we will be spending a great deal of our time.

Also, keep your eyes peeled for the work of Jennifer Ling Datchuk. Her Little Graces show (through June 5) which opened at the SMART Art Project Space at 1906 S. Flores on Saturday night, requires a suspension of skepticism much like the Canales-Palma performance. On paper, it looks like it might be self-consciously, potentially pretentious-type weird, but it feels deeply, engrossingly, tingle-inducingly weird in person. Datchuk has a deft and unusual hand with her materials, almost all of which are feminine, and much of which is fragile: Porcelain, more porcelain, delicately painted, embossed, and detailed porcelain, tiny teacups and double bowls nearly impossible not to touch, lengths of immobilized creamy fabric strung through upended, gold-tipped porcelain quadruped hooves, and astonishingly delicate wax paper suspended in varying diameters of embroidery hoop, each pinpricked with a simplified, eerie, and somehow animation-like image from a family photo. It feels like a ladylike gift shop adjoining that baroque bedroom of the inner world in Kubrick’s 2001, or the attic of the abandoned house of a family of resentful Björk-like imps. There’s an unsettling undercurrent of incipient violence in Little Graces, as though if you turn your back at the wrong moment, a ceramic teapot might come flying at you out of nowhere. Same with Björk.

I was less sold, all told, on Impromptu Complete, the show of collaborative drawings at Fl!ght (through June 5). Again, I’d seen these particular works being drawn by Cottrell, Rubio, Lawrence, and Martinez during an opening reception at Hausmann Millworks, and stood there fascinated for close to half an hour as the foursome drew, then exchanged paper (now mounted on panels) to create Exquisite Corpse statements. It was interesting to see the finished product(s), but too often the drawings appeared to have been assembled by a committee whose only point of consensus seemed to be that they depict something disturbing. A Rubio Christ sorrowing over a Martinez Abu Ghraib. Little clumps of disempowered beastie dudes on wheels being menaced by stuff. Each of these artists make good work on his or her own, and while this experimentation is admirable in motion and notion (how cool would it have been to capture the evolution with time-lapse video?) the result is often a kinda clumpy mess with awesome flourishes. The notable exceptions are two Cottrell-Lawrence team-ups in soft graphite which combine precisely drawn insect or arachnid life amid (or producing) rolling fields of stripes.

Other fave highlight: The whole scene over at Gallista, across the street. Sipping a cold beer, listening to the I Ching Gatos cover Camper Van Beethoven’s “Take the Skinheads Bowling,” perusing Jake Zollie Harper’s new workshop-cum-gallery (now showing: Clare Little, Robert Gonzales, and maybe my favorite works by Jung Hee Mun; the blue-body abstractions, I call them, this grouping is up until June 10) was a complete mood-changer.

The artists on display in Gallista proper included Debby Balmarez and Artist Mr. Tello. Proprietor-gallerist-host-community-leader Joe Lopez shows “strong Chicano painting,” he reminded the laid-back crowd, and damn, he’s right. In particular Balmarez’s large-scale, mural-like, full-of-life “Mi Mundo.” You can feel the roots and loving eye of a sister, a mom, a friend, and an artist recounting the foibles and faces of those closest to her. Artist Mr. Tello’s gorgously colored, astonishingly detailed depiction of a Mesoamerican pyramid, complete with stylized indios and gracefully drawn yet forceful nods to petroglyphs, is a thing of true beauty. The works of these San Antonians (up through June 9) is something you should go see and, at these modest prices, buy, buy, buy. •

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