Folk saints, scarecrows and sea monsters (And other reasons to visit Artpace this winter)

click to enlarge From left: Artpace’s current exhibitions showcase works by resident artists Dan Herschlein, Shana Hoehn and Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa. - BRYAN RINDFUSS
Bryan Rindfuss
From left: Artpace’s current exhibitions showcase works by resident artists Dan Herschlein, Shana Hoehn and Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa.
Famously likened by late founder Linda Pace to a “laboratory of dreams,” the Artpace International Artist-in-Residence program encourages participants to take creative risks.

Although a guest curator assembles each trio of artists who participate in the program purposefully — one from Texas, one from elsewhere in the U.S. and one from abroad — common ground is never a given. That unpredictability only adds to the suspense that builds before a trio of openings, and it makes the conversations between creators and creations even more compelling.

Organized by guest curator Natalie Bell of MIT’s List Visual Arts Center, the fall 2021 edition unites Dan Herschlein (Brooklyn), Shana Hoehn (Texarkana) and Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa (Guatemala City). During a recent media preview, Artpace Director Riley Robinson applauded Bell for her strong support of makers. While it’s true that the three artists Bell invited are deft fabricators, their methods and intentions are wildly different.

“All three artists impressed me with the ways they interpret and transform what is often commonplace imagery in the cultures around them,” Bell told the Current via email. “For Dan, it’s a look at the eerie paradoxes of the home as a physical and psychic space; for Shana, it’s looking at gendered bodily contortions like the arched back and the sexualization of women in hood ornaments, shipheads, and other decals; and for Naufus, it’s looking at where indigenous and colonial history collide and thinking about how icons (like Roman Catholic saints) can come to embody anti-colonial histories.” 

click to enlarge Shana Hoehn's "Folding, Floating, Falling" - BRYAN RINDFUSS
Bryan Rindfuss
Shana Hoehn's "Folding, Floating, Falling"
Folding, Floating, Falling’

A multimedia artist who works between sculpture, video and “photo-adjacent processes,” Hoehn collaborates with curator Ruslana Lichtzier on an archive compiling images of women throughout the ages with a particular emphasis on one gesture: the arched back. For her 2019 solo exhibition “Hauntings,” Hoehn brought aspects of that archive to life in sculptures reinterpreting the aerodynamic female figures that adorn the hoods of Cadillacs and Rolls-Royces. While Hoen’s reimagined chrome goddesses make an appearance at Artpace, they play a supporting role to “body-sized” sculptures that humanize everyday objects — a banister, a table and a school desk — with large wooden braids resembling ponytails.

During the walkthrough of her “Folding, Floating, Falling,” Hoehn likened the braids to appendages or armor that might protect her hybrid, furniture-like forms.

“A lot of the work that I’ve done almost unconsciously ends up feeling a little bit like a sea creature … or a sea monster,” she said, addressing a nautilus-shaped object enhanced with two long braids.

‘Plane and Sane’
click to enlarge Dan Herschlein's The Rough Patch, part of "Plane and Sane." - BRYAN RINDFUSS
Bryan Rindfuss
Dan Herschlein's The Rough Patch, part of "Plane and Sane."

While Hoehn conjures haunted furniture and humanoids from the deep, Herschlein  takes things into darker territory in the adjoining gallery. An avid horror fan whose artistic practice includes sculpture, drawing and carpentry, Herschlein has developed a visual vocabulary populated by headless figures, dismembered body parts and other oddities befitting the set of a David Cronenberg film.

An exploration of the tension between light and dark, his exhibition “Plane and Sane” is anchored by The Rough Patch — a foreshortened, house-like structure that gallery-goers can pass through. From the front, the facade is intensely dark with swarms of creepy “finger flies” buzzing in the illuminated windows.

From the back, a strategic paint job gives the illusion of headlights approaching from behind. Even with daylight streaming in through the gallery windows, there’s an unsettling vibe that intensifies once you realize somebody is “home” — a headless, scarecrow extracting little sacks from his body and arranging them on shelves with assistance from disembodied hands. During the preview, Herschlein explained that the piece explores the “idea of accumulation and scarcity,” but that it’s intended to offer “an ambiguous experience.”

‘Cecília Rebelde’

A widely exhibited artist whose work involves performance, painting, sculpture, and sound, Ramírez-Figueroa investigates varied themes tied to historical narratives, cultural resistance and the Guatemalan Civil War. Exemplifying his curious sense of humor, his 2010 piece A Brief History of Architecture in Guatemala entailed performers dressed as a Mayan pyramid, a colonial church and the National Bank of Guatemala dancing until their crafty costumes fell apart.

click to enlarge Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa's "Cecília Rebelde" - BRYAN RINDFUSS
Bryan Rindfuss
Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa's "Cecília Rebelde"
For his Artpace residency, Ramírez-Figueroa investigated the Totonicapán Uprising of 1820, during which the indigenous K’iche’ mobilized against the Spanish Empire. The popular legend that K’iche’ leader Atanasio Tzul “borrowed” the crowns of St. Joseph and St. Cecilia from a church — declaring himself king and his wife queen — forms the thematic backbone of his exhibition “Cecília Rebelde.” Referencing geometric patterns used by tailors and dressmakers, the artist suggests saintly attire in five masterful paintings on carved wooden panels.

“I was interested in how clothing patterns in themselves are very interesting, abstract things to look at,” Ramírez-Figueroa said during the preview. Accompanied by three small sculptures and a sound piece, the paintings are suspended from the ceiling in an arced configuration that quietly evokes stained glass windows in an implied chapel.

Fall 2021 International Artist-in-Residence Exhibitions, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, noon-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Artpace, 445 N. Main Ave., (210) 212-4900, artpace.org.

Get our top picks for the best events in San Antonio every Thursday morning. Sign up for our Events Newsletter.
Scroll to read more Arts Stories & Interviews articles
Join the San Antonio Current Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.

Newsletters

Join SA Current Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.