We categorize art by medium: painting, sculpture, film, dance. You get it. But to what extent is art meant to be defined by medium? Is it paint on a canvas, a series of movements, a marble carving? Or does the intangible idea transcend the brushstrokes? Much like a person's humanity is constrained to the physical body, so it is with art. But that won't stop artists across this city from taking art out of the museums and music out of the concert halls. It's as simple as transferring the idea of one art form into another to create a new experience. It's as complicated as that too.
Last week, I'm walking through the Kathy Lovas show at the Liliana Bloch Gallery in Deep Ellum. Her Octave Studies explore very specific memories from the artist's childhood: chairs she sat in, her father's hat, an image of a young girl. But she represents these images as archives, rendering them in primary colors and imprinting them to artifacts closely related to her youth: legal pads, manilla folders, sheet music. The memory remains the same, but the backdrop emphasizes different aspects of it. Certainly that's part of the way we use media: to emphasize the idea or message.
Can small alterations to presentation really change the meaning of a work of art?
This weekend, a cast of high-school students performed Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things at Fun House Theatre and Film. It's a play about an MFA student who (spoiler!) uses a new boyfriend as her thesis project. By convincing him that they are falling in love, she persuades him to wear contacts, update his wardrobe, ditch his friends and become more skillful sexually. It's a story of brutal manipulation that most students don't study or perform until college. But when 15-year-old actors perform the role, it reveals an entirely unexpected pathos. It cracks open LaBute's story. As performed by adults, it's a play about selfishness and dishonesty; performed by highschoolers, it's just a bunch of kids learning what it means to be a grownup in a harsh world. The message is different.
What happens to art if you amend its environment?
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Twice this weekend, I found myself at venues that fall under Mixmaster's purview at shows that belong on DC9 at Night, the Observer's music blog. Texas Theatre hosted one of its Behind the Screen concerts, and the Trinity Groves art gallery Ware:Wolf:Haus launched its newest venture: a musician-in-residence program starting with George Quartz. In some ways both experiences unite two art forms: film/live music, art/live music. But films don't play at Texas Theatre and there was no art on the walls at Ware:Wolf:Haus. Instead, it just brought concert goers into a more intimate experience of the music behind the canvas of a film and in the hallowed halls of an art gallery. For decades in modern art, there's been a discussion about legitimizing a work by displaying it in a museum. But more often, we see museums and galleries becoming spaces for performance. So much so that there was a panel on the topic at South by Southwest this year.
What we're seeing in Dallas is not necessarily a blend of the art forms, but a new approach to our interaction with them. The musicians are directly in front of you. At Texas Theatre, the lead singer in Def Rain took selfies with and came close to kissing audience members. It was still the same music, but it felt different to be in the audience at those shows. The proximity was paramount; we were there for the music, yes, but more urgently for the experience.
Art in Dallas may not transcend categorization, but the artists here are breaking down a few ivory towers, inviting music into art galleries, theaters and reshaping works of art.
Kathy Lovas remains on display at Liliana Bloch Gallery through April 12.