Fine Fellows

This year's Core Exhibition brings good and not-so-good work.

High school is the scene a lot of trauma and drama, both real and imagined. It's also a popular setting for horror movies. Artist Kelly Sears uses a high school as the setting for her video, Once it started it could not end otherwise (2011). Blending a foreboding soundtrack with "animated" figures, Sears tells the supposedly untold story of an ominous event that happened at a high school in 1974.

Sears's darkly humorous video is the standout in this year's 2011 Core Exhibition at the Glassell School of Art. The Museum of Fine Arts' Core fellows are drawn from a national and international pool of applicants for nine-month residencies. This annual show reveals what they have been up to in their studios.

Sears tells her story through on-screen text, brilliantly animating her video using dorky black-and-white photos cut out from some circa-1974 high school annual. She inserts the figures into tinted photos of bland high school buildings that act as sets. Boyfriend and girlfriend embrace in the halls through the minute movement of the guy's arm. Marching band members flee the building in slow motion. The misfit members of the AV club look stunned. The story builds until Sears has blood flowing from lockers as well as students' eyes and mouths. It's wonderfully campy homemade horror.

Gabriel Martinez's They who do not love you remain without a homeland has a fascinating back-story.
Gabriel Martinez's They who do not love you remain without a homeland has a fascinating back-story.

Location Info


Glassell School of Art

5101 Montrose Blvd.
Houston, TX 77006

Category: Schools

Region: Montrose


"2011 Core Exhibition"

Through April 22, 2011.

The Glassell School, 5101 Montrose Blvd., 713-639-7500.

Sears also worked with fellow Gabriel Martinez to realize the video for Martinez's work, They who do not love you remain without a homeland (2011). When you first walk into the exhibition space in the Glassell lobby, you are greeted by a black dress on a dress form. It's a short, sleeveless shift with a hem of black ostrich (?) feathers. I took a look at it, read the wall label with the title and thought, "Oh God, here we go." Core fellows have something of a reputation for throwing out oblique works with elaborate but unrevealed back-stories. But Martinez actually reveals the dress's back-story in his video.

Using text and still photos, the video tells how Martinez, while on an artist residency in Damascus, Syria, went with a friend to a souk to find a tailor. He wanted a fake Giorgio Armani suit for an exhibition in Milan. Before Martinez could pick it up, the United States carried out a raid in Abu Kamal, Syria, killing eight people. The U.S. said the victims were foreign fighters; Syria said they were civilians. Martinez was expelled from the country, along with other U.S. students. He never made it back to the tailor. His friend picked up the package and had it taken to London and then sent to Milan. Later, the show's curator e-mailed, saying she had been expecting a man's suit. Martinez said it was a man's suit. The curator sent a picture of the black feathered cocktail dress that had arrived.

Whether the dress was one of those weird "stranger in a strange land" screw-ups or subversive commentary by the tailor is unknown. It's an absurd story that artfully illustrates the difficulty of communication, on a personal as well as an international level.

Elsewhere, Clarissa Tossin's Matter of Belief (2010) amusingly offers up lucky (forged) American and Brazilian banknotes to viewers. According to the artist, it's a Brazilian superstition to keep an American dollar in your pocket to attract money. Less successful are Tossin's lackluster tracings of maps, which basically read as a bunch of crumpled paper stuck on the wall.

Fatima Haider's work is all about repetitive labor. In one piece, she's obsessively rubbed graphite into each side of a long roll of paper. Hung down both sides of a wall like a dark, burnished vertical stripe, the work is helpfully titled Studio Floor (2011), and you can see the tears and indentations that record the surface. There is something pleasing about this mindlessly meditative act of smearing graphite into the paper. The end result is a physical record of time and labor.

Haider's also got a series of small works that at first appear to be pencil drawings filled with obsessive marks. But they're actually collages of tiny squares of paper painstakingly cut from a phone book. Once ubiquitous, phone books are disappearing — when was the last time you used one? — but with their cheap acidic paper, they were never designed to be around for long. Haider makes something permanent out of them, selectively cutting little bits — lines of dots between names, phone numbers and the names themselves are each incorporated into their own collages. Also on view are the boards she taped them to while working, forever preserved in resin like an insect in amber. I don't know that this last step was necessary, but maybe it's something she felt she had to do after all that effort.

In Steffani Jemison's video, The Escaped Lunatic (2011), what appears to be four athletic young men run through Houston, along overpasses and through neighborhoods. Dressed identically in white T-shirts and jeans, they are of various ethnicities, although you can't see anyone up close. They vault over fences, leap off porches and seem to run in one direction through a vacant lot, and then the other.

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