I live in Los Angeles, but with various new friends and co-conspirators, I have been enjoying a long distance love affair with Houston, Texas.
It started last year, 2009, my friend, Joey Morris was preparing an exhibition of photographs, Landlot, curated by Andres Janacua and Julie Spielman as part of their roving gallery project, Galeria Perdida, which landed last year at Project Row Houses, in Houston’s Third Ward. I had made some extra cash bartending a few Fox Television gigs on the Santa Monica Peer, so I decided to fly from LA to support Joey in Houston. I slept on heaps of cushions on the floor in one of Project Row Houses’ renovated houses, Andres made endless amounts of coffee, took Joey and I out for Vietnamese food and BBQ, and sent out e-mail blasts. Joey worked on lighting for the exhibit, and Joey and I discussed titles for Joey’s three new photographs, Joey deciding on these three titles:
[van] O Tenderfoot;
[plane] One if by land, two if by wind: salutations and fair skies ahead;
[boat] A buoyant farewell.
The exhibit included photographs of a caged van, a plane in disrepair, a cement-beached boat, and also the shipping crate that held these photographs. The row house itself was a character in the exhibition. Project Row Houses is a social sculpture, a vibrant community arts organization and an inspired, affective, grassroots community development program full of serious, buoyant, optimistic people. At the opening for Joey’s exhibit, while Andres and a collaborator played electronic music and Joey manipulated a projection of an antique educational film, I read from my short story, Landscape:
... Sam opens the duffel bag, what contents deemed worth risk of journey:
The 40 Martyrs of Sebaste, Calendar Icon, fragment, wood, gold, probably tempera, probably Russian, probably 16th century. You can see their ribs. They wear sandals and white wraps. Surrounded by green grass, they lean on each other, grab each other by the waist...
... and seem to wail. Sam adds: In Sebaste, year 320, the Roman Emperor, Licinius, tortured 40 Christians by refusing them water. The Christians were saved from dying of thirst by a miracle. When the Emperor found that the Christians had not died from lack of water, the Emperor burned them alive.
“Where did you get this?” mumbles Mac, handing gold coins to Sam.
“Digging,” Sam responds.
Sam’s skin would moisten here, in this compound, with Mac. Sam would wake up, dirt under fingernails. Sam would be a spirit jaguar, biting. Sam would bite Mac. Mac would wail...
One afternoon, while we were sitting on a row house porch, chatting with a group of artists from all over the South who were also exhibiting at Project Row Houses, Keijiro Suzuki showed up on his bicycle, talking about an earlier performance at the Row Houses where he washed visitors feet for them. Keijiro and I instantly liked each other and kept in touch by e-mail when I got back to LA. During the year, Keijiro opened a project space, The Temporary Space, on Nance Street in downtown Houston. Keijiro invited me to return to Houston to perform at The Temporary Space, and also laid the groundwork for University of Houston, Fine Arts, Sculpture Department, to invite me to give a talk about my work.
>>Mon, Jan 18, 2010 at 12:12 PM
How's everything? So, we just had the very first exhibition at The Temporary Space and the reception was successful, though I didn't really expect many people to come by. I would like you to consider showing your work or hopefully hosting a performance at the temporary space with a few other video/performance based artists. Possible schedule will be late April. I will be making floor plan and equipment available to you for April, if you agree. Let me know how you think. I constantly update the website, http://www.thetemporaryspace.com/. So, please keep your eyes on! Thank you, Marcus, and hope to see you soon!
I spent this last week in Houston, preparing for my performance and getting to know more of the city. Keijiro took me to the Station Museum of Contemporary Art, Houston, to see Martin Zet’s performance photographs and books. Zet, a prolific and under-recognized Czech artist, explores with zeal and humor the concept of freedom post-communism. In one photograph from the series, Saluto Romano, 2005-2006, Zet is stuck in a ladder in the corner, but seems to be practicing to take flight with the ladder. The book, Free Martin Zet!, by Martin Zet, 2001, describes Martin Zet in the third person as a shape shifter, various different characters and personalities depending on the day.
In Houston, Keijiro also showed me some of his own recent work. I especially like his American flag piece, titled Authenticity of the Author. He discovered that many American flags—a frequent sight in Houston—are made in China. To make known this curious process of reproduction and to enter into it, he bought an American flag made in China, photographed it in black and white, and sent the photograph to China to be made into two more flags. He exhibited all the related documents, and the reproduced flag.
Keijiro, like Andres, is a kind host. We went out for Bento Box lunch with a group Keijiro’s friends. While we ate salmon, the group asked me what I still needed for my performance. Over the next two days, someone would show up with a can of paint, someone would knock on the door with chairs and a white jacket, a microphone, a speaker in the back of a truck.
For my performance, American Rifle 3, I enlisted the help of two artists I met the day of my lecture at University of Houston, Francis Giampietro and Jack Eriksson. In preparation for the performance, I painted a target on a sign post and leaned the sign against a wall in the cavernous Temporary Space. At intervals during the performance, Francis on my right and Jack on my left, both considerably larger than me... they interrupted my suitcase-bomb-making and threw me against the painted target... The writer Saehee Cho, interrupted her busy schedule and flew from LA to meet me for the performance. Saehee performed as a haunting and dignified narrator to my mad clown (balloon nose inspired by Siberian artists, The Blue Noses, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYvgQf2txXs).
Narration from American Rifle 3:
“Come forward. Go back. Here it comes. Here it comes. Here it comes. Listen, here it comes: whistle and shriek. Arm tefl! Hestic, medi mahbot, this box, this shaky platform, this table, this box. Here it comes. Here it comes, dinner jacket required, on-sale dinner jacket, here it comes. Here it comes, suitcase. Here it comes, dress nice. Listen, here it comes. Whistle, whistle, shriek, here comes a red rage, fix your hair, I am so excited, I attack. Punch Onses in the head, Onses on the ground, kick Onses in the face, get into the vehicle, drive over Onses’ wounded body. Now here it comes, here it comes. Oh, I am so excited, I attack.”
Houston, hope to see you again soon.
~Marcus Civin, an artist and writer living in Los Angeles.
(Images: Marcus Civin; Courtesy Marcus Civin; Joey Morris, Project Row Houses, 2009; [van] 2009; Courtesy Joey Morris; Keijiro Suzuki, Authenticity of the Author (details); Authenticity of the Author installation, 2010; Courtesy Keijiro Suzuki; Marcus Civin, American Rifle 3, 2010, Photograph by Keijiro Suzuki)