The Billboard Campaign

The Billboard Campaign

In Partnership with HCP for FotoFest Houston 2018

Viewing Period
March 10 - April 22, 2018

Opening + Conversation
March 10, 11-1pm

For Freedoms is an artist-run initiative, founded in 2015 by artists Eric Gottesman and Hank Willis Thomas to mobilize the arts infrastructure of the United States toward broader civic participation using the tools of political campaigns, activism, and advertising. The Billboard Campaign(2016– ) is an ongoing series of artist-produced billboard installations in public spaces and in art spaces. Co-opting the billboard format—a tool of political advertising—these works invite the viewer to engage critically both with the messages they present and with the medium of political advertising itself.

This billboard was produced in conjunction with the For Freedoms-organized town hall discussion The Artifice of Drawn Borders. It includes an image from a series of photographs by Eric Gottesman. This series, Jordan Is Not A Country, explores the manufactured phenomenon of nationalism in the Middle East. In a desert landscape stands a porous fence with holes, bent supports, and gaps, symbolic of the fragile veneer of nationalistic structures anywhere, and recalling concerns about immigration and citizenship here in the United States.

The words at the top of the image—“Where do we go from here?”—might evoke multiple associations: the words of the migrant confronting such divisive structures; the thoughts of many people today, who wonder about the current status of where we are as a nation; and Paul Gauguin’s inscription on his painting Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897–98), in the MFA’s collection.

Neighborhood Fantasies

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Neighborhood Fantasies: Evan Coleman + Jesse Lott

Curated by Kathleen Coleman in conjunction with Fotofest 2018

PRH Community Gallery
2521 Holman Street

Viewing Period
March 10 - April 22, 2018

Opening
March 10, 4-6pm

Neighborhood Fantasies integrates the spirit of an emerging art photographer Evan Coleman with the work of PRH founding artist Jesse Lott. Join us March 10 from 4-6pm as we open this exhibition, presented in conjunction with Fotofest 2018.

The Houston urban landscape is an eclectic image of symbolic eras in time. The photographer Evan Coleman has captured the images of homes, office buildings, flora, fauna, roads, and houses; front yards where a person rides in a car or walks down a major street and a back road, familiar depictions portrayed in photo montages such as: a trailer, hamburger joints, resale businesses or party events are included. There are familiar images in the collages--a water hose, a variety of mangos, giant watermelons floating across the sky to create everyday dreams as we ride along. Let us not forget the porcelain cats resting in the window of a house, in a day dream; a central, focal image throughout the exhibition. The fantasy photo of a windowsill of cats is inviting Jesse Lott, who inserted a dog to peer at them through the window.

Jesse Lott has made blind cuts, and separated them by color, thus creating the opportunity to assemble a puzzle which has never been solved. This concept in brief can be thought of as documentation of the reality reconstructed as a fantasy supplemented with the original subject matter. Recontextualization places the images into a new perspective, meaning changes within the point of view of the artist applied, which inspires the public to visualize and imagine the symbols or the object commonly viewed in our daily lives. In the collages, a bounce house is cut up and fruit from a stand is placed to add color with common objects to form depth and structure such as concrete.

The countless forms of architecture from one neighborhood to another incorporate Houston’s diversity at its finest, in addition to revealing gentrification from one street to another. Repetitive objects are common features in the artwork in Neighborhood Fantasies therefore a perception is a sense of belonging in the heart of the city through art and collective experiences. The concept is evolving to produce involvement within the community to enlighten themselves within their own area. The artist team will continue to conceive fantasy from random reality.

Neighborhood Fantasies is curated by Kathleen Coleman. Thank you to our sponsors Melanie Lawson, John Guess, A Rocket Moving and Storage, Womack Development, and Mayberry Homes. 

News as Political Performance

**This post was initially published on the blog of Experimental Action and has been republished with their permission. 

by Michael McFadden

A man decked out in suit, hat, and scarf stands on a median at the intersection of Southmore and Almeda in Houston, Texas. Under his arm, he carries a copy of a small newspaper. He gestures towards cars as they drive by or stop at the light, offering them a copy. They zip by or keep their windows rolled up. Later in the day he crafts a sign that reads "FREE! NEWSPAPER" and has a bit more luck, with many drivers still ignoring him.

Nathaniel Donnett, a native Houstonian, is a practitioner of "Dark Imaginerance," a term he coined to define his approach to art and art-making. On his website, he describes it in the following way: "It conceptually and aesthetically ties together the sociopolitical conditions, multiple experiences, creative practices, and imaginations of black people in America and throughout the diaspora historically, presently, and futuristically."

A recent project guided by this thought process is What's The New News (WTNN), the publication he was carrying while cajoling drivers, commissioned by Project Row Houses as a part of their Project/Site. Unlike most newspapers, Donnett's is organized with a purpose beyond education or sway.  He asks his readers to reconsider the object itself, how the content reflects the life of its community, and the process of media consumption. The publication contains reflections, poems, raps, and articles written by residents of the Third Ward and artists with practices that similarly engage communities.

Donnett's newspaper draws inspiration from performances by artists who interrogate representation and social hierarchies. In 2000, artist William Pope.L performed Eating the Wall Street Journal at SculptureCenter. The artist sat on a toilet raised 10 feet in the air adorned only in a silk tie, gold watch, a jockstrap, and a light dusting of flour as he consumed an issue of the Wall Street Journal along with milk and ketchup. Through this act, he hoped to draw in the power that the publication – through its advertisements and uplifting of consumer culture - promises to its readers.

The Yes Men similarly drew on the power of the press when they printed their own version of the New York Times, freeing their imaginations to show how the world could be. Their articles made claims of free public universities and the nationalization of oil & gas companies, ones that choose to support climate change efforts. Where they focus on an ideal world, though, the writers of WTNN focus on the reality of their community.

Houston-based writer and photographer Jean Sebastien's "Accepting the Evidence" recalls a conversation with a neighbor and flows into a battle cry of sorts that calls out the invasion taking place in the area, the barracks being built in the shape of townhouses. "What is the battle? Who is the enemy? Don't tell me what it is, I can see."

Reevaluate Everything: Heather Wright

Reevaluate Everything

Interview by McKenzie Watson
Photos by Alex Barber

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Heather Wright is scheduled to graduate from Rice University with a double major in Studio Arts and Environmental Engineering. This tendency to combine otherwise disparate topics, ideas, or objects runs through not only Wright’s education but her artistic work.

“Sometimes I’ll put two very common things together,” Wright pointed out, “and when they come together, they become more significant to me in a personal way.”  

Wright’s installation, titled Jungle/Gym, is based on the idea of a playground. “I’m playing around with board games and treasure hunts, playful ideas of searching and finding,” she said.  “I feel like as a kid you’re basically trying to find yourself, but you’re not really aware that that’s what you’re doing; you’re just living life.  So I want to capture that innocence and naivety, and also that journey aspect of it.”

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“The playground is like the essence of learning to socialize,” Wright described. “The beginning of relationships that you build with other kids, whether they’re significant or not. It’s that place of interaction… The playground can be a representation of relationship or your social life or a community where you’re interacting with others. It’s a dynamic environment.”  

Wright’s process of art-making is both a social exploration and a personal one. The work is deeply informed by her own experiences, and the incorporation of themes of childhood provides a means of return. “My childhood was a really influential part of who I am today,” she acknowledged, “something I always think about. I always want to go back to it, but I can’t go back in the same way.”

Her tactile ‘playground’ tends toward the abstract, yet is grounded in the very tangible objects she creates. “I guess I’m trying to connect myself through objects,” Wright acknowledged. The pieces exist somewhere between the practical and the absurd, evocative entities that gesture towards universal concepts of childhood, nostalgia, and self-discovery. “I think my art’s more suggestion,” Wright stated, adding, “If I’m explaining it, I’ll make it more open-ended. Sometimes I don’t want to talk about the personal connection I have to it.”  

The objects chosen by Wright for contemplation and artistic manipulation have all emerged organically from her observations in the neighborhood. “Sometimes I make things from a feeling and people ask, ‘why are you doing this?’” Wright explained. “And I’m like, ‘I don’t know, I can’t explain it yet.’ Sometimes the image precedes the conceptual idea.”  

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The day of the interview, Wright had been working with plaster and wax. The plaster serves as material for half-domes and awning-like structures. Wright recounted, “I saw this building and it had these blue and pink awnings. It just inspired me somehow, and I started thinking about superficiality with regards to the face of the building, how that can be kind of reflective of the image a person wants to give off.”   

With wax, Wright is casting milk cartons. “Some of them have facial features in them,” she noted. “The wax is kind of opaque, so I’ve been melting it, and it kind of looks corroded. Some of them have noses, I’m working on ears, and I might do mouths. It’s like an excavation of facial features within milk cartons.” Providing facial features to otherwise inanimate, domestic objects continues the theme of superficiality and presentation in her work.  

Another facet of Wright’s exploration of social settings is a personal and public consideration of internalization. “That’s why I’m playing with loneliness in such a public place,” she said, “and these objects having such significant meanings internalized in them is reflective of how I tended to internalize how I was feeling in social settings as a kid.”  

“I feel like overcoming insecurities is kind of a lonely journey,” Wright asserted.  “So I want to capture cheerfulness and joy, but there’s something underneath you can’t put your finger on.”  Her installation promised to be an emotionally rich landscape, and a visit to the space evokes a sense of self-reflection, urging viewers to dig deeper. “I want it all to have an underlying feeling of uncanny-ness,” she stated.  

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When asked what her hopes are for visitors to her installation, Wright responded, “I want people to be forced to decode my work, or recode, and then eventually reevaluate the significance of things in their lives. Come open-minded.  Either see things for what they are or see them for what you want them to be - mainly physical objects, but eventually the intangible, because you attach intangible feelings to objects, so I guess everything. Reevaluate everything.”

Born in California and raised in Austin, TX, Heather Wright is a senior at Rice University double majoring in studio art and environmental engineering. Her work focuses on taking everyday objects and resituating them into new contexts and combinations in order to reconsider their significance and place in everyday life. Interested in the tension between moods created by various images and representations, she internalizes various layers of meaning within her pieces in order to reflect her own current and past uncertainties as a minority in changing environments. She often draws from her childhood as a source of aesthetic inspiration as well as a point of reference and grounding with respect to values in her work. 

Golden Era: LeAirre Morris

Golden Era

Interview by McKenzie Watson
Photos by Alex Barber

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LeAirre Morris’s installation Golden Era consists of several large-scale sculptural paintings made of joint compound – a construction material similar to wet cement -- and gold spray paint. Each of these grand images are individually striking, and viewed collectively, they tell an evocative narrative about history, power, and justice.  

“What made me come up with the process was trying to see how I could do something different, to not be stuck in the same category as everybody else,” he stated. “Something was in my mind about how to do a sculpture on a canvas.”  

His quest for individuality in both medium and content led Morris to create the installation visitors will find at Project Row Houses. Joint compound mixed with spray paint has been Morris’s most recent preferred media. His familiarity with the substance came from his experience with construction.

“I’d been using joint compound for other stuff-- fixing holes, putting up drywall – and something told me to use it on the canvas,” he recounted. For a while, he played with joint compound as an additive for abstract paintings, until a pivotal trip to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.  

That trip to the Museum was Morris’s first exposure to the work of Kara Walker, who remains his most significant inspiration. It was after seeing Walker’s famous silhouettes that Morris first considered using them in his own work. The inspiration is prevalent in his installation, with Morris putting his own stylistic twist into the silhouettes that fill the walls of the row house. 

Prior to the Summer Studios residency, Morris practiced silhouettes in joint compound by rendering faces of celebrities and crafting portraits of friends and family, all on small canvases. The work he produced during his this residency marks a radical expansion on his previous work both in scale and gravity.

Morris recounted that Carrie Schneider and Carol Zou, the Summer Studios mentor artists – as well as PRH-CotA inaugural Fellows – challenged him to experiment with content beyond these portraits. Rather than singular portraits whose only context comes from their iconic familiarity, Morris used his time at PRH to move towards a chronologically-oriented succession of imagery.

“I’ve been working on the narrative side of my artistry,” Morris stated.  

Driven by the story of slavery into the present day, Morris created a timeline of sculptural canvases that begin just left of the door and wrap clockwise around the inside of the row house. His narrative starts in Africa, depicted in his installation by an image of an elephant.

“I tried to capture the moment when the slaves were captured and put on the ship,” Morris said, identifying where his narrative begins. The next piece in the chronology is a direct tribute to Kara Walker, Morris’ own rendering of one of her more famous silhouettes.

“That was the first piece that I went to when she had an exhibition at the MFAH,” Morris recalled. “I was like, ‘Whoa, she’s kind of out there.’…When I got over to PRH, I wanted to pay homage to her and to pick the image that was most ‘mine’ in a way.  If you were to actually get her silhouette of that piece and put them side-by-side, you can see how my style and her style are totally different.”

Among other stylistic material differences, Morris’s innovative use of joint compound allows Morris’ pieces a texture and depth not present in Walker’s two-dimensional inked silhouettes.

“You can see the markings,” Morris pointed out, regarding his own pieces. “You can even tell if I was frustrated or happy when I started putting in the joint compound.  You can tell when I’m at peace with one. When I’m really happy, it’s very smooth.”  

After his homage to Kara Walker, the following three pieces, existing in chorus, adorn the eastern wall of the row house. The far left and far right silhouettes are a separated diptych, titled Praying Together: Police Officer and Victim.  

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In between those haunting silhouettes is a piece titled Dove and Gun, an inversion of the universal symbol of peace: a dove with an olive branch. The dove hovers, suspended in this space, its body partially composed of a silhouetted handgun. Morris shared that during his research for the piece, every image he found of a handgun online showed the gun pointing to the left.

“If you point it the other way,” Morris explained – having painted the handgun pointing to the right – “you don’t see the magazine or the safety.”

While the pieces on the eastern wall serve as archetypes of police violence, the southern wall grounds Morris’ message in the story of Trayvon Martin. “Since I first walked in, I wanted to have a portrait of Trayvon in the house,” Morris stated. “Once I was more focused in the narrative and the storyline of each piece… I asked, how can I do a story, how can I be more symbolic, how can I get the viewer’s attention?”

Humbling the usually-unassailable Lady Justice, Morris depicts her distraught and regretful. “I wanted to make it look like she’s trying to apologize…but he’s not accepting it,” Morris said. This piece, Lady Justice Apology, stands out as one of Morris’ most direct. While Morris is clearly using archetypal representations of abstract systems, his intended message is easily readable in the piece. Morris stated, “Everybody who walked in the house, once they saw the image, they already knew what I was talking about.”

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Lady Justice appears again in the final image in the house. Accordingly titled F*cked Over By the System, the image depicts the judge, the police officer, and Lady Justice having sexual intercourse.

“I was trying to make a message about how the justice system is corrupted,” Morris explained. “No matter how much power is in the system, and no matter how much truth is right there in its face, you’re still going to get [screwed] over.”  

“I wanted to symbolize how the police overall, they’re not focusing enough on the right part of justice,” Morris stated. “Every morning, waking up and seeing a new kind of video, hearing different stories [of police brutality], I couldn’t help myself… And I actually got lots of different groups discussing and talking about it.”

That kind of audience response has been hugely gratifying to Morris since the exhibition’s opening. “I like seeing people talking about it, whether it’s negative or positive,” Morris reflected. “This is one of the best things I’ve ever done. It actually makes me want to keep pushing.”  

His installation will be on view in 2505 Holman until September 17th.  

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Le Airre Morris was born and raised in a small town called LaMarque, TX. As a child, he didn’t focus on art, attempting to fit in and follow in others’ footsteps. During his second semester at College of the Mainland, he enrolled in his first art class, led by Mark Greenwalt, after which he changed his major to Art. He attained his Associates Degree in 2015 and was accepted into Texas Southern University, where he is pursuing a Bachelors Degree in Fine Art. He is also pursuing a teaching license as he works to discover what sets him apart from other artists.