Sunday, May 17, 2015

You, Trespasser

Betsy Huete

The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts and the University of Houston’s School of Art, Creative Writing Program, and the School of Music all come together every year to develop a curriculum called IART. With IART (the “I” standing for “interdisciplinary”), professors from each of these schools teach courses in conjunction with other writers, artists, and musicians from around the city, with the intent of focusing on and promoting collaboration and interdisciplinary production. Every spring, UH professor and poet Nick Flynn, poet Ronnie Yates, and musician David Dove teach a course called Collaboration Among the Arts, held Tuesday nights at Gabriel Martinez’s art space Alabama Song.

I took this course while in grad school in the spring of 2013 and boy, was it a clusterfuck. Part of the problem was the students: not only was I the only graduate student in the class, I was the only art major. Therefore, for the teachers it was probably like herding cats with people who mostly, at best, took the class semi-seriously. We were broken up into five or six groups of four people and told to visit, and revisit, and examine a particular place. I remember our group, The Fluorescent Dérives, picked a place that became familiar very quickly: the Dan Flavin installation at the Menil. Our project was to develop an art project around our selected place as well as a piece of writing. Our group’s book turned out ok, but we ended up doing a performance piece, running around Alabama Song yelling in animal masks. It was stupid, and weird, and really the other projects in the end of year exhibition went downhill from there.

From YOU, TRESPASSER, 2015, Set of three hand-stamped offset posters, envelope 

Upon revisiting the class’ most recent end-of-semester exhibition, You, Trespasser, it was obvious that Flynn, Yates, Dove, and Martinez had seriously refined and organized the curriculum into something more generative and streamlined. They first of all incorporated prerequisites, and it was clear immediately that these students took this class, and their work, much more seriously than mine did. Secondly, instead of having each group pick their own location, the teachers selected it for them, which was Martinez’s art project Angela Davis Park. A contentious in-between space to begin with, Angela Davis Park is this small patch of land off 59 that Martinez, with a sign, simply declared as a park. Additionally, Angela Davis is not a widely heralded, uncontroversial figure; she is mostly known through intellectual circles as a deeply radical thinker and prison abolitionist. So for Martinez to claim a small, previously disregarded space and name it after someone as polarizing as Davis loads an already uncertain patch of land, charging it and territorializing it with subversion and confrontation. It not only gives the students a chance to think about meandering around a place such as that in the city in general, but also time to think about what Martinez has done with it.

Tele Dérive, Synchronized Map, 2015, Inkjet prints, colored string, Dimensions variable 

Naturally, some groups thought more about the park and their place in it than others. One group, perhaps in an attempt to be silly, decided to try to start a used car lot on the site, or staging something feigning a used car lot. The group was probably trying to transform and activate the space, maybe revivifying it with the restorative breath of transactional sales, but even for student work it feels dismissive and thoughtless. The class provides a lot for these groups to chew on, having them explore and think through a contentious space named after a contentious person, and this group seems to have evaded the point entirely in an unproductive way.

From YOU, TRESPASSER, 2015, Set of three hand-stamped offset posters, envelope

On the other hand, another group comprised of Vi Dieu, Aaron Golke, Angel Lartigue, Victoria Gonzalez, Jasmine Crutch, and Lena Melinger, built an installation in the park, called a “Shaltar,” which were smallish tents made out of translucent plastic. The installation was supposedly inspired by the group watching a homeless man be arrested in Angela Davis Park for loitering, as the group—who did not get arrested—watched on as bystanders, bystanders who were also loitering in the same area. The group populated the park with these devotional, frail living spaces—a soft-spoken protest that may or may not have been used, that could have been considered, that questionably combated something in some way. The accompanying video piece in the exhibition focused on the billowing tent material, making everything look like a plastic sky.

From YOU, TRESPASSER, 2015, Set of three hand-stamped offset posters, envelope

Somebody in the exhibition portfolio wrote this: “After my diagonal traversing of the terrain, I walked in a zig-zag pattern, like somebody was shooting at me with the laziest bullets in the world, having in mind the shattered glass that was most likely the result of some act of violence.” This sentence is the best part of the show, and capitulates the point of the class, which is to undulate between meandering and criticality, flânerie and confrontation.

You, Trespasser was on view at Alabama Song on April 24, 2015.


  1. Hey I enjoyed the article. I would like to point out that Adora Ramos was a major collaborator in the Sheltar project, if you could edit this to include her name it would be appreciated.

    1. Also Gohlke is the correct spelling.

  2. Hi Anonymous, thanks for heads up and I apologize for the errors. I'll get with Robert on it.