Pushing the Artistic Borders

Mexico, America and La Frontera find expression in "Poison Amor"

JD: To me, you just make what you are basically. I don't know anything else to do. But I was raised in Lubbock and then we took off to Guatemala when I was four years old. My mother went to Mexico when she was 18. For a woman in West Texas to do something like that was totally unheard of. Later on, we moved to El Paso. So I have both influences Ñ Mexico and then a real conservative flat place like Lubbock. You put those together and see what happens.

SK: So what is it about Lubbock that nurtures so many artists and musicians? Where do the impulses come from?

TA: I think it's kind of what we're talking about. We just did this piece called Chippy and it's about a hooker who roamed the Panhandle during the 1930s oil boom. It's all taken from her actual diaries and there's a spirit of survival in her that's so strong and tough and totally unselfconscious. I think people who settle in that part of the country -- it's so ugly and the weather is so horrible -- have a hard bark just to survive and sustain themselves.

SK: Your works seem to have taken on the task of helping us reorient ourselves. The delicate tools of discrimination have been replaced by the ax and an AK-47. Is this the fallout of an imperial worldview in the 20th century?

JD: Basically, I did a lot of those AK-47s because I was in the Army and shot a lot of them. I know that sounds simplistic, but I was fascinated by what they did, the way they looked. Again, a lot of this has to do with growing up in West Texas and then living on the border where there are shocking realities. I never really thought about it in terms of illusion or power. It was just the way it was. This was the way people lived here as opposed to there.

SK: Are the works, then, really about basic life instruction? Do we live in a world of illusions where we tend to see things a little differently than they really are?

TA: But there's also that element of surprise. A hallmark piece of the show is called "Conversation" and addresses a lot of the things you're talking about. An electric saw hangs in a box balanced between two chairs. The saw comes on every 15 minutes or so for 30 seconds. Well, that's like West Texas in a funny sort of way. It's that endless flat line that your eye and your need are always trying to get beyond. You're living in the center of this circle. Part of that can make you feel like you're the only person in the world, like an egomaniac. And the other part makes you feel like everybody in the world is aiming at you. You're dead center of the target.

SK: In "Poison Amor" you employ steel encasements, platforms, rooms and cages. These seemingly serve as meeting places between the body and the world, between power and control.

JD: I remember as a kid once when I was lost in my room. I would sleepwalk a lot and one night I woke up in my bedroom in Lubbock -- and I was lost. It must have been an hour and I could never find the light, although I could feel the curtains and things in my bedroom. Finally, my dad heard me crying and carrying on and he turned the light on. Then it was all visible. I guess we're all still dealing with those enclosed spaces and trying to get out of those enclosed spaces somehow.

TA: I grew up around the wrestling ring, which is like a big cage where people fight. When they'd move the ring, it would become a dance hall, a stage. But it was always a defined perimeter. When you're outside, there's one kind of behavior and when you're inside there's another. And that's kind of the way we live.

"Poison Amor, " a collaborative installation by Terry Allen and James Drake, will show through October 9 at Blaffer Gallery, University of Houston, entrance No. 16 off Cullen Boulevard, 743-9530.

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