With its soaring expressways and seemingly endless geography, little defines Houston in the public consciousness more than urban sprawl. This fall, Houston Center for Contemporary Craft (HCCC) takes on the implications of this development pattern in the national exhibition, SPRAWL. Co-curated by former HCCC Curatorial Fellow, Susie J. Silbert and former HCCC Curator, Anna Walker, SPRAWL features 16 emerging and mid-career artists whose works deal with the urban landscape.
Arranged in three sections, “Infrastructure of Expansion,” “Survey, Plan, Build,” and “Aftereffects,” which loosely define the phases of urban growth, the exhibition is intended to present a non-polemical view. As Silbert and Walker commented, “The topic of sprawl can be a lightening rod—depending on who you talk to, it can evoke visions of cookie-cutter houses and inefficient city planning or it can inspire discussions on freedom of choice and affordable housing. We wanted to harness that complexity to create an exhibition that looks at the totality of sprawl—the good, bad, and the ugly.”
An example of this ambivalence can be seen in Yesterday’s Tomorrow, an expansive piece by ceramic artist, Dylan Beck, comprised of wood shims, plastic, and clay. In it, a shimmering column of silvery plastic gridding and brilliant blue—a simulacrum of a glass and steel skyscraper—juts up next to an ornate ogee of grouted terracotta cornices. Read from one angle, it can be seen as a symbol of upheaval, of old making way for new. From another, it represents the aesthetic dynamism of a postmodern city, incorporating diverse styles and historical periods into a cohesive whole.
Norwood Viviano takes a more analytical approach to the topic of expansion in his installation, Cities: Departure and Deviation. Borrowing a page from architects and urban planners, the artist analyzed statistical data from 24 urban centers in the United States to create digital renderings charting their population growth and/or decline. Viviano used these renderings to create precise three-dimensional models in pristine shades of black, white and transparent grey glass that hang like plumb bobs—a further reference to processes of construction and growth. The overall effect is clinical, though the precarious nature of the material hints at an underlying fragility.
Kathryn Clark’s Foreclosure Quilts are also grounded in data, though their presentation is anything but clinical. With their minimal geometric patterns, subdued tones and scrappy appearance, Clark’s pieces incorporate the human touch of textile to make the pain of the housing crisis palpable. Using a specificity forged in years spent as an architect and urban planner, Clark translates data from the hardest hit sections of each city into layers of color, even cutting out sections to represent foreclosed properties, to create pieces such as Detroit, Chicago, and Cape Coral.
In addition to the works on site, SPRAWL will incorporate two additional types of programming. The first is a series of walking tours, featuring craft in the suburbs of Houston, by artist Carrie Schneider as part of her project, Hear Our Houston. The second is HCCC’s inaugural speaker series, designed to provide a forum for Houston’s rich dialogue on urban development.