Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Note on Open Space at the Joanna

by Robert Boyd

Feeble Protest Sign
Brendan Sullivan, Feeble Protest Sign, wood, paint, nail, 2009

The artist-run space Open Space from Baltimore had a one-night-only show at the Joanna, preceded the night before by a panel discussion at Rice. The exhibit wasn't particularly memorable--I thought the art reflected a callow approach. And that is to be expected--these artists were all very recent graduates from art school. But it was interesting to hear how they put their space together versus the usual Houston story. For one thing, their space seems enormous--a large live-work space. It is a little like Fort Thunder, but based on the photos, a lot less grungy. The artists live upstairs, and the gallery space and library is downstairs. The gallery itself looks quite professional. Even though it's an industrial space they rent (they share the building with an auto-body shop), it doesn't look raw or messy. (Of course, I'm basing this on the photos they showed. The reality might be different.) And it's not a place to show their own work--their rule is that exhibits have to be by other people.

My Cousin
Margo Benson Malter, My Cousin, wood, digital print on lycra, hardware, 2011

But one thing they do that I don't see any Houston artists' spaces doing was that they have a library. I'm not sure how the library works (can you actually check out books?), but in the mini-library they set up in the Joanna, they also were selling zines and music. So it was in effect a bookstore. Some of you may remember that Diverseworks used to have a bookstore. I've heard it was a money-loser which is why after a long time trying to make it work, they finally shut it down. I miss it. Not just for the publications I could buy (and did buy, when I had the dough), but also because it showed me what people were thinking around the country. I guess that function has been replaced by the internet.

the library
Open Space library at The Joanna

Another thing that Open Space did for this show is to produce a zine which they sold at the show. It was a transcribed conversation about how they would survive collectively in the event of some apocalyptic episode, where perhaps one third of the population of the earth just died.

Seduce & Stab

The title of the zine, Seduce & Stab, comes from the suggestion by the designer, who suggests using seduction (followed by stabbing) against perceived human threats. This conversation was pretty silly, and I get the feeling that these guys wouldn't last too long. (For example, no one suggested that following the collapse of civilization, step one would be securing water, then food.)

But what impressed me was the quality of the zine--nicely designed, well-printed (with silk-screened covers)--and while the subject matter was goofy, it was something that they had thought a lot about. Eric Bos wrote a pretty well-researched essay about a case of starvation-induced cannibalism in an arctic expedition, asking whether in similarly straitened conditions, would he and his friends do the same?

I don't know if Seduce & Stab was a one-off thing, or if the space regularly publishes pamphlets/zines. It's something I never see in Houston, and wish I did. Aside from catalogs, the Houston art scene is not about publications and not about writing. (I'm sure there are some exceptions--please educate me about them in the comments!) But the thing about pamphlets, chapbooks, and zines is that they are permanent. Buying a piece of original art might be out of the question for most people. But a $3 zine like Seduce & Stab is within most people's means. When you go to an artists' space, it's nice to be able to take something home.


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