New, large-scale outdoor installations showcase Houston artists

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New, large-scale outdoor installations showcase Houston artists
Delita Martin, The Gathering, 2021. Installation view, Rice University. Photo: Jeff Fitlow.

HOUSTON, TX.- Alison Weaver, the Suzanne Deal Booth Executive Director of the Moody Center for the Arts, announced a new season of public art interventions opening at Rice University this fall. Three newly commissioned works by Rice and Houston artists will activate the Provisional Campus Facilities (PCFs)—the tent-like structures that provide additional classroom and meeting space on campus—with site-specific installations designed to bring the community together, as we continue to navigate the global pandemic.

Starting this week, large-scale works by artists Karin Broker, Delita Martin, and Charisse Pearlina Weston will be featured on the south side of campus, across from Herring Hall on Loop Road. For the second round of commissions for the PCFs, each artist was invited to respond to the current moment and the campus environment with interventions intended to foster conversation and community in the academic year ahead.

According to Alison Weaver, “When students, faculty, staff, alumni, and public visitors return to campus this fall, they will discover new works by three extraordinary artists. Conceptually, these innovative interventions draw on the notion of coming together, sharing a platform, a table, or a conversation, while physically creating opportunities to safely interact with art and one another in an open-air setting.”

Domestic Melancholia, a vinyl installation by Karin Broker; The Gathering, a mixed media work and corresponding platform by Delita Martin; and Plunge, Cry, a video work by Charisse Pearlina Weston, will be on view throughout the academic year, from August 23, 2021 through May 3, 2022. Access to the site is free and open to the public.

The Installations

Karin Broker, Domestic Melancholia, 2021
Original drawing on Formica with Conte, 7’ x 9'
Commission, the Moody Center for the Arts, Rice University

Karin Broker, a master printmaker and sculptor who taught visual art at Rice for more than four decades, is known for her large-scale Conte Crayon drawings on Formica panels. This presentation of Domestic Melancholia is a digitally enlarged vinyl reproduction of a 1999 drawing, enhanced by an electronically rendered table and chairs. Mounted on the north face of the PCF, this layered image represents a personal conversation between the artist and Melancholia, one of the four historic temperaments, evoking themes important to Broker’s practice, including separation from family and our relationship to nature and to domestic space.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, this work marks a renewed appreciation for meaningful, intimate conversations. Reminding the viewer of the once mundane activity of pulling a chair up to a shared table, Domestic Melancholia inspires reflections on the importance of dialogue and gratitude for communal experiences, especially during uncertain times.

Broker’s composition—specifically the thin severity of the table and chairs and the lush opulence of the flower arrangement—creates a contrast that signals the power of personal connection. Speaking of this juxtaposition Broker said, “I’m interested in the honesty of the person sitting across from me, occupying an intimate space where dialogue can enrich the gray areas of our lives. If you pull up a steel-like chair, our conversation might be abundant, like the flowers. If we pause to look up, to take in the fullness of what we have, and to consider the people we love enough to share it with, we might be surprised to see the world differently.”

Delita Martin, The Gathering, 2021
Original work: mixed media on paper: acrylic, charcoal, decorative papers, hand stitching, and relief printing
Commission, the Moody Center for the Arts, Rice University

As we adjust to a world that has been permanently altered by a global pandemic, visual artist Delita Martin created her first-ever public artwork, a two-part installation addressing the timely themes of community and self-care. The first part of the installation, an image digitally reproduced from an original work on paper and applied to the surface of the tent, prominently features the coneflower, a symbol of strength and healing in Native American and African-American cultures. Two figures, a modern woman and an ancient figure wearing a traditional African mask, hold hands across space and time. They appear on a field of blue, a color Martin associates with spirituality, near multi-colored jars representing traditional medicines.

The second part of the installation, a platform adjacent to the tent, will be hand-painted by the artist, working together with Rice students, during the first weeks of the fall term. This feature extends the themes of the mural into three dimensions. The platform’s hexagonal form echoes that of a honeycomb, a shape created by bees to support the life of the hive that in turn supports the broader ecosystem. Complemented by comfortable seating, the area is designed to invite students and visitors to safely congregate outdoors and to spend time in nature.

According to Martin, “The Gathering represents the intimate exchange with one's self, spiritually and organically, serving as the nucleus of this communal space and supporting connections.”

Charisse Pearlina Weston, Plunge, Cry, 2021
Black-and-white video, with sound, 10 min., 7 sec.
On view from sunset to sunrise
Commission, the Moody Center for the Arts, Rice University

Informed by her experience growing up in Hiram Clarke, a predominantly African American, working-class neighborhood in southwest Houston, Charisse Pearlina Weston (b. 1988, Houston) produces videos, sculptures, installations, photography, and writing that explore what she describes as the “delicate intimacies and reticent poetics underlying Black life.”

Plunge, Cry includes close-up footage of the artist’s feet on a wooden floor from Weston’s 2015 video Plunging into Time. These clips are juxtaposed and blurred with abstracted imagery of recent glass installations made by the artist. Glass, often used by Weston to create layered or curvilinear sculptural compositions, conceptually demarcates the manifest or indiscernible boundaries of Black intimacies in response to —and in spite of— ongoing systemic violence. The inherent transparency of the glass is altered through an infrared filter, creating overlapping, opaque, hard-edged shapes that float in space—a metaphor for Houston’s perpetually changing skyline.

The video is accompanied by field recordings and manipulated audio from a 2016 protest in Orlando, Florida in response to the murder of Philando Castile. That track is layered with the 1960 song “Cry, Cry, Cry” by Bobby “Blue” Bland, an artist recorded by the iconic Duke-Peacock Records, formerly located in Houston’s Fifth Ward. Weston further altered Bland’s track with a nod to the “chopped and screwed” sound pioneered in the 1990s by Houston musician DJ Screw, who influences Weston’s approach to sound work. The outcome is a sequence of throbbing beats and cacophonous noises, set against a discordant tune. Borrowing improvisational elements ranging from the blues in the 1950s and ’60s to hip-hop in the 1990s and beyond, the artist celebrates Houston’s important role in the development of Black musical history. At the same time, by incorporating imagery that recalls the surrounding city’s skyline, she points to the ruthlessly rapid pace of urban development that has often displaced or otherwise adversely affected Black communities.

Projected onto the temporary structures built on campus during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Plunge, Cry serves as a “monument to Blackness and Black people that also acknowledges the risk and danger we face.”

Charisse Pearlina Weston: Plunge, Cry is curated by Ylinka Barotto, Associate Curator, Moody Center for the Arts.

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