by Caitlin Haskell
In a residential neighborhood, just blocks west of the University of Texas campus, a two-bedroom home shimmers from foundation to roofline in sheets of bubble wrap. When a neighbor stops to ask Hunter Cross why in the world he allowed artists to envelope his home in thousands of translucent air pockets, Cross has a clear answer: protection. Though the answer seems outlandish, isn't that what bubble wrap is for-- to protect valuables that might be jarred in bumpy transit? Cross's home isn't bound for a destination; it's just bound. And yet, his home is undergoing such a profound transformation that Cross and the eight artists whose works comprise Open Doors have become quite serious about protecting not just the clapboards and porch rails, but the interior spaces and the contents held within.
Utilitarian and transparent - though these are properties of bubble wrap, they are also words that come to mind when one thinks of conventional installation art spaces. Today, two types of installation art spaces prevail: the first, utilitarian - an aestheticized industrial space, the second, seemingly transparent - a minimalist white-cube gallery, which, like a laboratory, insinuates clean, cold, scientific purity. What is one to make of installation pieces in a domestic context? This is just one of many conceptual juxtapositions Open Doors invites viewers to toy with. While a domestic setting blunts some of installation art's edgy cache, the reduced scale requires a more intimate, and potentially more challenging, interaction with the works. One loses the conventional clues of how to approach unwieldy art, and gallery decorum must be rethought entirely.
Stepping into the Cross homestead, I encounter Terra Goolsby's Sophistical Protection from new vantages. It's Goolsby who has bound the home in bubble wrap, and I suppose I have her to blame for the slightly startling experience I encounter walking to the door. What was first a decorative membrane now pops beneath my feet, becoming tactile, then aural. Her work announces my arrival with a flurry of cap fire, each pop declaring the medium's presence as a barrier between me and the home. Like a seasoned night club bouncer, Sophistical Protection has a physicality that cautions you to fix-up and behave before it allows you to pass. One wonders whether Sophistical Protection might not be more effective than your standard fist-ical protection.
Inside Open Doors, one confronts a collection of works that resist a unifying theme but that might be experienced as an investigation of paired opposites. Chief among these opposite pairs is the conflict of sensory perception and imagination. Time and again, the viewer is asked to place an artistic experience on the continuum of pure sensation and cerebral play.
Kate Scherer's Grand Hall, an installation that displays equal parts gratuitous wealth and gratuitous violence, for example, lands on the sensational side of that spectrum. It's a trophy room cast in a red hue so sinfully luxurious it recalls the OutKast hook, “Them dirty boys turn your pound cake to red velvet.” Vermilion walls provide an opulent context for Scherer's configurations of gruesome - or maybe just icky - synthetic turkey feet and bacon strips. Scherer's three trophy mount displays stamp themselves onto the room's interior surfaces. Their patterned simplicity satisfies. There's something oddly comforting about the space, until rationality reminds you that you're looking at the crowned jewels of an animal killing spree.
Another guilty pleasure in the form of color perception lies just across the hallway in Sandra Marinez's Untitled #2. The jovial yellow room, which is split in thirds by suspended formations of striped concrete cylinders, takes shape as a linear expression of happiness, optimism, and vibrancy. Its easy perceptual sensation and home-spun aesthetic provide a stark contrast to Scherer's grisly sensationalism.
The darker sides of fun resurface in Hunter Cross's Life Preserver. This pullover, constructed out of the lustrous red vinyl and padding used to upholster amusement park rides, is a carnival for one. There's a freak show in its distended arms, which drag along the ground, and its distorted dimensions give the illusionist effects as a fun house mirror. Life Preserver is heavy and burdensome to wear. It traps one's body heat inside and creates the claustrophobic sensation of moving through a carnival crowd. But despite all this, the Life Preserver looks like fun!
Performance, video, and interactive projections by Juan Carlos Gonzalez, Abraham Freeman, and Jacob Villanueva offer a high-tech take on the domestic installation space. And Cole Thompson and Cesar Alexander Villareal's dramatic Hora Vital captivated viewers, drawing them close to the circular arena where a soft, white, over-sized sac descended imperceptibly toward its glorious demise atop a curvilinear plexi-glass spike.
When asked if there were any thematic similarities that bound the works in Open Doors, Cross shared his belief that, “themes are overrated.” That is to say, they limit works and provide too pat explanations. Some have suggested that the unifying trait among the works might be their “variable dimensions,” a phrase that appears on most all of the title plates. But, it's difficult to take a formalist reading of any of these works too seriously. Open Doors would seem to be a body of work better understood within its domestic framework than under a leitmotif. Who needs a theme anyway, when you're bound by Sophistical Protection?
by Rachel Koper
Why doesn't someone wrap the Intel building in bubble wrap? With a little plaque that says "Do not open until 2020." Little kids can pop the little bubbles for an hour at a time. Bubble wrap makes even ordinary houses look great. Hunter Cross gave his house the full treatment for this short exhibit called "Open Doors." Artist Terra Goolsby has "protected" the house. As you walk up the street, you see a well-lighted white house with every step and wall bulging and shiny completely bubble-wrapped. Oh sure, it's been done before, but when's the last time you've done it?
A group of nine artists has been concentrating on this exhibit for the last two months. In each room, they've set one piece of art, none of them particularly related to one another in theme but all of them having "various dimensions." That's the operative phrase for installation art and the long list of the materials. My favorite piece was Grand Hall, by Kate Scherer. Bacon, silicone, chicken feet, wire, and wood are part of the work, which consists of groups of wall trophies hanging close together. Each trophy has routed edges and a blank plaque underneath a purple pillow with a chicken or turkey foot sticking out of it. One set has coarse black plastic hairs; another has mucous-y silicone goobs projecting out. The bird feet made me laugh. Three sets hang on dark red walls, and the dark colors of the room and crowded clusters made me feel comfortable.
Distinctly uncomfortable throughout the evening was Juan Carlos Gonzalez. He was gagged and crammed into the fridge in the kitchen as a performance piece titled Vicarious.
Overall the treatment of flooring is impressive throughout the house. Sunken lights, like a shop window display, make the untitled labyrinth of Sandra Martinez a convincing experience to walk through. You can see through and move the strings , which are weighted by rainbow-striped concrete cylinders, but the night I was there most folks took the prescribed pathway through the ochre room because of the nice warm floor lighting.
Casting an impressive blue tint all the way out to the bubble-wrapped porch is Hora Vital, a collaborative piece by the talented Cole Thompson and Cesar Alexander Villareal. The floor is cushioned and rubberized and entirely robin's-egg blue in color. In the middle of the room is a pool structure with a chrome spike in its center. It has built-in lights, as do the blue walls, and a puffy cotton bag dangles over it, cloudlike. It's nifty.
The last room I saw contained a piece called "what? What? What?" utilizing mirrors, a projector, and a camera pointed on the blue entryway. Projected in a door shape to the left of the actual door are images of people as they first confront the blue room and enter the house. The use of the spy camera by Jacob Villanueva was simple, but it was extremely well-placed. This is an energetic and fun exhibit.