Art critique

Californian artists, a scathing critique of Texas’ relationship with its land – Texas Monthly


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Anyone who’s ever taken a long drive in West Texas knows it’s a beautifully landscaped area with very few places to get out and stretch your legs. Unlike other states in the western United States which entered the Union under different circumstances and with a larger role in federal land management, the vast majority of land in Texas, about 95 percent , is privately owned. Property fences run along most rural roads in Texas, and often to the edges of waterways, making most of the state inaccessible to its citizens.

These endless fences and this feeling of estrangement from the local environment were the first inspirations for The blessings of the mystery, the dizzyingly ambitious West Texas road trip became an art project by Los Angeles artists Carolina Caycedo and David de Rozas, which opened in September at the University of Texas Center for the Visual Arts. in Austin and will soon be visiting locations in Marfa and El Paso. The show includes, for example, 44 intricately crafted patent diagrams for different types of fencing popular in Texas dating back to the 19th century, as well as a diagram of the “contiguous and impassive” wall along the Rio Grande authorized by the Executive Order. of Donald Trump in January. 25, 2017.

The blessings of the mystery However, this is more than just barriers or recent politics. It’s a sweeping critique of Texan civilization itself – at least as far as land use is concerned – beginning with the conquest of Indigenous peoples and extending through a history of surveying, parceling out and construction of dams, until our present era of fracking and hydraulic fracturing. real estate speculation. People who dislike a few Californians (to be fair, Caycedo and de Rozas are international artists born in Europe who settled in Los Angeles) are advised to tell them what’s wrong with Texas, it is. advised to avoid this spectacle, which can border on the didactic and the sentimental. For more receptive visitors, Blessings of the mysteryHis occasional flaws will be more than redeemed by his deep appreciation for the scenic beauty of West Texas, his moral clarity, and his sense of cosmic possibilities.

The Blessings of the Mystery exhibition by artists Carolina Caycedo and David de Rozas includes a video installation titled The Teaching of the Hands (2020).
The blessings of the mystery exhibition by artists Carolina Caycedo and David de Rozas includes a video installation titled Teaching hands (2020).Sandy Carson

The exhibit includes several large-scale installation artwork, such as an eye-catching assemblage of vintage surveying tools suspended from a gallery ceiling and a giant 19th-century wall map of Austin traced with survey flags. (At future stops in the exhibition, the artists plan to remake the wall map to represent the early Marfa and El Paso.) The exhibition also features a beautifully photographed 47 minute film, shot with actors in and around de Marfa, with a narration by Juan Mancias, president of the Carrizo / Comecrudo tribe of Texas. The film addresses an alleged massacre of hundreds of Indigenous people near Del Rio in the early 1800s and includes staging of surveyors in the early decades of the state of Texas and discussions of the significance of rock art of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands. Archaeological claims in the film should be taken with a grain of salt, however, such as the part where Mancias confidently says about the White Shaman mural, possibly four thousand years old and of disputed significance: ” It’s just a matter of knowing the language to understand it.

The best elements of The blessings of the mystery, on the other hand, is when Caycedo and de Rozas take a step back from simple explanations and simply present the fascinating objects and materials they discovered during their research process, facilitated by curators Laura Copelin and Daisy Nam by Ballroom Marfa. The showcases contain, for example, earth cores collected by Shell Oil in 1950 when excavating small-circumference holes up to 20,000 feet deep for oil; vintage postcards celebrating biodiversity, the spiritual world, and oil and space exploration in Texas; and a pair of preserved fish specimens, one of which went extinct after the construction of the Amistad Dam near Del Rio, and the other recently crossed transboundary underground aquifers from Mexico to new habitat below the United States. .

The showpiece of the exhibit’s found art exhibits is a series of 1930s watercolors by Forrest and Lula Kirkland of the UT Archaeological Research Lab depicting ancient Native American rock art from the Lower Pecos Canyons and of Rio Grande around what would become Lake Amistad. This rock art, including the famous White Shaman mural, is arguably Texas’ greatest archaeological heritage, but much of it has been threatened and even erased in recent decades by flooding and unnatural moisture from the man-made lake. neighbor. Kirkland’s watercolors, which have hardly ever been seen by the artistic public, capture all the original color and depth of this ancient Indigenous rock art. These pieces alone are worth the price of admission – or would be, if it cost nothing more than time to visit the show.

The blessings of the mystery can sometimes feel overloaded; brimming with great ideas, some more elaborate than others. The notion of a relationship between the Permian frackfield flares and the need for a dark sky around the McDonald Observatory is particularly timely but seems to be drifting in the background. The film, meanwhile, devotes much of its running time to sharing the peaceful, anti-accumulative wisdom of native Texas voiced by Mancias, but it could be more enlightening if it also engaged with warrior values. more territorial areas of the Comanche and Lipan Apache. , who are more prominent in the written stories of West Texas than the Carrizo / Comecrudo.

We don’t need to sentimentalize the pre-colonial past to come to the conclusion that today’s Texas was built on the violence and exclusion of settler-colonialists and remains a deeply screwed culture when it comes to our lands. and our natural resources. But how to change? Are we forever doomed to see our environment only as land ripe for extraction? Is there another better earth connection logic that we could still tap into that is compatible with what we have become? These are the mysteries we must grapple with as we leave the exhibit, chastened and in need of a blessing.

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