Lost Art

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Anyone who has ever found themselves scrolling through Instagram while at dinner with friends knows that, in the wake of modern technology, in-person interaction seems to have gone the way of the carrier pigeon—it’s just not how we communicate anymore. And our interaction with the arts? Largely reduced to Google image searches executed at warp speed.

But this fall, UT’s Visual Arts Center is encouraging visitors to go offline with Strange Pilgrims, a new exhibition designed to be equal parts thought-provoking and physically engaging. Organized by The Contemporary Austin, Strange Pilgrims is a collaborative, city-wide group show that spans The Contemporary’s two Austin venues—the Jones Center and Laguna Gloria—in addition to the VAC. Drawing its title from a collection of short stories by author Gabriel García Márquez, whose archive was acquired by the Harry Ransom Center last year, the exhibition employs the works of 14 leading artists to transport viewers on a metaphorical journey, or pilgrimage, through space, time, and imagination.

Installed at Bilbao - 2000-2001

Installed at Bilbao – 2000-2001

A non-collecting exhibition space on campus, the VAC focuses on looking beyond the final product and exploring the process of making art, often bringing up-and-coming artists in residence to create alongside students in the Department of Art & Art History. Shows housed within the VAC’s unique two-floor gallery space are often experiential in nature, highlighting works that can be interacted with and walked in, around, and through. One recent exhibit featured a clubhouse, a skate ramp, and a campfire.

With Strange Pilgrims, the Visual Arts Center zeroes in on the exhibition’s overarching themes of technology and information plus performance and process with an array of immersive, dynamic pieces. Take Charles Atlas’ Tornado Warning: It’s a chilling combination of light, sound, and imagery that simulates the artist’s anxiety caused by severe weather during Missouri tornadoes. In Atlas’ Institute for Turbulence Research, viewers will be enveloped from floor to ceiling by an angry black-and-white spiral and spinning household objects, composed in a way meant to disturb and disorient.

“You expect this kind of departure from your immediate state in a darkened theater, but it may not be so expected in an art gallery,” says Jade Walker, director of the Visual Arts Center. “The unexpected nature of being disoriented by artwork forces new experiences and ideas to surface.”

Where the Visual Arts Center generally spotlights emerging artists, Strange Pilgrims brings established creators to the space. Look up upon entering the gallery, and you’ll be greeted by Ayşe Erkmen’s site-specific fabric installation, 3DN, its bat-like pattern referencing the colonies that live under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge. A performative work by multimedia artist Yoko Ono, called Cut Piece, revisits video footage of a 1964 performance where audience members were asked one-by-one to cut away articles of her clothing.

Also on display is a new installation by New York artist Trisha Baga, created while she was an artist-in-residence at the VAC earlier this year, that combines video projection, sound, and ceramics to be interacted with on the center’s second floor.

“These kinds of artworks allow for a viewer to be taken out of the current moment and transported in many ways,” Walker says.

It’s no secret that the University of Texas is home to a campus art collection that rivals that of most prominent museums. From the Blanton Museum of Art—which still reigns as one of the largest museums on a U.S. college campus—to the Harry Ransom Center and the Landmarks public-art program, creative expression is valued widely across the Forty Acres. Thanks to exhibitions like Strange Pilgrims at the Visual Arts Center, visitors can go beyond simply observing the art; they become part of the experience—no Google necessary.

Strange Pilgrims will be on display at the Visual Arts Center, the Jones Center, and Laguna Gloria through Jan. 24, 2016. The Visual Arts Center will host a symposium timed with the exhibition on Nov. 14, 2015.

Top: Roger Horns’ A retrospective view of the pathway is made of foam and compressor tanks. Image courtesy Atelier Calder; photo by Guillaume Blanc.

Left: Green Light Corridor by Bruce Nauman. Courtesy Guggenheim Museum.

 

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