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Transmissions in Austin, Texas: ecoartspace eclipse pop-up event

Wednesday, May 01, 2024 8:38 AM | Anonymous

Transmissions in Austin, Texas:  ecoartspace eclipse pop-up event

Report by Patricia Watts

For our ecoartspace 2024 annual show, I worked with over twenty-five artists from across the State of Texas to create a pop-up exhibition on the weekend of the solar eclipse in early April, in the path of totality in Austin.

We’ve only had a handful of members in Texas since 2020, and since this unique celestial event was to happen there, it was an excellent opportunity to explore the work of artists making ecological work in the number one state for energy production (primarily oil) in the US. I wondered: could there be progressive Texas artists who want to make a difference? Well, the answer is definitely yes.

Jamal Hussain, a new media artist from near Austin, was in Santa Fe for the CURRENTS Festival in June 2023 and reached out for a meeting. He mentioned that he would like to gather an eco focused show. At that moment, the seed was sewn. By August, I started rounding up our then-current Texas members via Zoom. Hussain located the perfect venue for us, Canopy Austin. By the end of last year there were several new Texas members ready to contribute to the Transmissions event.

By mid-February this year, we had multiple submissions of works by 27 artists, all from Texas, except two who would travel from New York and Boston for the eclipse. Long established artists/members and Houston photographers Krista Leigh Steinke and Erika Blumenfeld were invited to select the show. At least half of the works were lens-based, along with some sculpture, painting, illustration, drawing, sound, installation and video works. With an exciting selection of moving image works, Steinke, Blumenfeld and Hussain proposed to turn the back room into the Cosmos Cinema, a darkened space with seating where visitors could watch a loop of six works under 45 minutes in length.   

The Cinema featured video works by Steinke, Blumenfeld and Hussain, also included Alyce Santoro, Virginia Lee Montgomery, and Abinati Meza. Houston photographer Jake Eshelman, who contributed two incredible “Luciforms” pigment prints of bioluminescent glow worms for the show, was invited to moderate a panel with the video artists (all except Santoro, former Texas artist now living in New Mexico), where they discussed their featured works. Eshelman stated after the show:

It was a pleasure to moderate the Cosmos Cinema panel discussion. I thoroughly enjoyed the diversity of the works at the center of our conversation, especially how the featured artists bring such different and complementary perspectives to create fascinating dialogues around our relationships to, with, and within our cosmos. In addition, I was particularly inspired by the generosity of the conversation, as panelists specifically welcomed members of the audience to weigh in with their own ideas and experiences. The atmosphere we collectively created in the room felt very in-step with the spirit during the eclipse, as millions of people in (and beyond) the path of totality took a moment to be together and consider the awe, wonder, and beauty of our world.

Margaux Crump, Houston artist who contributed two small ethereal pigment prints, also did eclipse tarot readings in the afternoon for a couple hours. When I asked if there was a reoccurring theme in her readings, Crump stated:

Unfortunately I can't speak to a theme from the readings because my readings are confidential. I can say that eclipses offer opportunities to expand our perspectives and become more conscious of our possible paths forward. Tarot is reflective: as we engage the deck, it mirrors back into us. Like the cards, we are living ecosystems whose inner worlds can be explored through image, symbol, and story. During the eclipse readings, hope spoke louder than grief.

Outdoors were hanging textile solar works by Samantha Melvin, a sound piece by Andrew Weathers, and an interactive performative solar printmaking activity led by Lubbock artist Carol Flueckiger.

The pop-up took place during Canopy’s First Saturday monthly event, which meant the place was filled with visitors. Flueckiger took advantage of the attendance and created a collaborative cyanotype in celebration of the upcoming solar eclipse. When I asked her about her expectations and the general interest of participants, Flueckiger stated:

Expectations for this interactive cyanotype demonstration were to have a shared group celebration of the eclipse by staging a mock sun/moon dynamic. The sunlight created a blue “sunburn” on a large light sensitive fabric (96 x 102 inches). Local collected rocks operated as moons, which blocked the sun from reaching the light sensitive fabric. The effect created a cosmic pattern. Toy bicycles were also added to block the sunlight. The effect was an imaginary bicycle ride through the cosmos. This narrative is a cosmic version of my mixed media bicycle prints about local daily weather forecasts. The results were as surprising and perfectly imperfect as a devised theatre production. The rocks did not disappoint in created a cosmic print. The sun, was shy in its appearance causing us to overexpose the print and lose some of the toy bicycle details. Note for future: sunlight is incredibly powerful on cloudy days. We also learned that the janitor sink at Canopy is a great place to rinse the print to fix the image. And the windy warm day dried the print as it hung on the breezeway railing.

About a dozen Participants joined in assembling or watching the rocks and bicycles. Together we watched the magical process of cyanotype chemical changing color from yellow to grey during sun exposure. We had fun celebrating the sun and moon dynamic. Our motto during the workshop was: Add Sun, Rocks, water, cyanotype and bicycles to get a cosmic bicycle path of totality. We felt connected to the sun, the moon, the sky and each other as we planned and assembled and exposed this extra-large cyanotype print. It was a great vibe.

Indoors for four thirty-minute sessions throughout the day, led by Boston artist Faith Johnson, was a somatic meditation work, Arc of Infinity: a meditation on darkness and light. Recalling the event after returning to the east coast, Johnson stated:

The first meditation and interactive installation was focused on sitting with darkness as mystery and infinite possibilities - a sort of cosmic widening of the lens of consciousness. The second floor installation and meditation was focused on light and calling in what we desire for the future - visioning with hope - from this place of possibility. This is a sort of re-focusing of the lens - the way light brings form into being from the darkness.

Both Darkness and Light meditations were beautifully attended. Each participant explored personal and collective connection and meaning to the guided meditations. During the darkness meditation one participant saw herself covered with stars, another connected with long gone relatives, and others felt contained as if in amniotic fluid. All seem to feel a gentleness to the guided visualizations. During the light meditation one participant was surprised that she felt more at peace and expansive during the darkness meditation and more anxiety around calling in the future for humanity and the earth, while another participant felt a strong, creative, and hopeful feminine energy. Each individual journey added to the richness of the group and perhaps sparked a new connection to the mystery of change as it arcs through deep time.

In the early afternoon, we welcomed Cymene Howe, Professor of Anthropology at Rice University in Houston, who is co-editor of the recent publication Solarities. Howe generously gave a passionate reading and following a book signing. You can download a copy of her book, which holds a compilation of intriguing essays about the sun, for free here.

My own contribution for the event was moon spell cookies and moon milk (made with oat or almond milk with lavender simple syrup) and sun tea (made with the sun and elderberry syrup with spices). Both drinks were garnished with culinary lavender and Santa Fe bee pollen. The cookies, which were handmade (spelt and almond flour) by myself and photo-based artist DM Witman and "revealing the invisible" artist Heather L Johnson, had crushed purple basil on them, a spell for protection.

It was a full day of inspiration and conversations among eco artists who arrived from areas around Dallas, Houston, Lubbock, McAllen and Austin to participate. I kept hearing members say they felt like it was a conference of sorts. And, of course, this was Saturday, so we took down the show that night and the next morning, then everyone situated themselves around the "hill country" west of Austin to view the total solar eclipse through the cloudy skies on Monday, April 8. It is always spectacular to lose full sunlight in the middle of the day. And I know many of our members in the Midwest and Northeast were able to connect with the light and dark of the cosmos that day.

I would like to acknowledge and thank Austin photographer Elizabeth Chiles, who opened her home to everyone the night before for pizza. And to say that, I hope all of our members, in areas far and wide, feel encouraged and connected to each other for support in developing their practices to address the ecological issues at hand. I think our Texas cohort is already off and running. 

To view the entire Transmissions exhibition online, including 88 of our members, go here

Transmissions from Lisa B. Woods on Vimeo.

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