By Chris Lane
By Olivia Flores Alvarez
By Angelica Leicht
By Jef Rouner
By Jef With One F
By Jef With One F
By Marco Torres
In 1980 Hurricane Allen hit Brownsville, traveled west and spawned tornadoes in San Antonio. If you search YouTube, you can find a clip of a period San Antonio newscast about the storm from KENS TV Eyewitness News. The 30-year-old video includes a report of a Bexar County trailer home being destroyed by a tornado. It has the requisite natural-disaster interview with a guy in a gimme cap. Artist Seth Mittag built a narrative around this clip, sculpting characters, and creating stop-motion animation and sets. Mittag's work is on view at Lawndale Art Center in "Prospectors," an exhibition showcasing the work of Mittag and fellow Lawndale Artist Studio Program residents David Politzer and Anne J. Regan.
Mittag got his MFA at the University of Houston in 2003, and a few years later he got a gig in New York doing stop-motion animation for the likes of Michael Eisner, Moveon.org and Nickelodeon. In the Lawndale show, he turns his talents to animating the circa-1980 KENS clip. (Seeing the original makes Mittag's swooping newscaster's hair and porn-star mustache even funnier.) The KENS backdrop Mittag used for the video, Hurricane Allen Newscast, is on display, with a big hurricane over Texas on the weather map, apparently crafted from cotton balls. Mittag's animated newscast is shown on a tiny screen he embedded in a miniature version of an old box TV. The piece rests on a big pedestal, and the screen is dusty and distorted, just like in the good old days. Mittag crafted a tiny beer bottle that rests on top of the set, along with the foil-wrapped TV rabbit-ear antennas. The artist even added a tiny cord plugged into a little fake electrical outlet on the wall behind.
That sense of detail continues through the rest of Mittag's work. We're Still Here... (2011) is a large model of a twisted mobile home lodged in a tree, its pink insulation spewing out of the walls. The trailer is broken open to reveal a tipped refrigerator and a slice of pizza adhering to the wall. A pair of little kids' jockey shorts are stuck in one of the branches. A painted landscape backdrop hangs behind the scene, and Mittag has covered the windows of Lawndale with tinfoil, a Southern go-to move to keep the light and the heat out.
4912 Main St.
Houston, TX 77002
Category: Art Galleries
Region: Downtown/ Midtown
"Prospectors: Seth Mittag, David Politzer & Anne J. Regan"
Through June 16. Lawndale Art Center, 4912 Main, 713-528-5858.
The follow-up to We're Still Here... is Not too bad for now, hell it even has a satellite! (2012), a yellow school bus with a mattress inside and a barbecue smoker outside. A page with a kid's addition problem is on the ground. It appears to be the temporary home of the tornado victims. On the walls of the gallery hang photographs staged using Mittag's characters, creating other snippets of narrative. The mortgage huckster who appeared in a chicken suit in a commercial in the newscast is shown hustling the trailer owner in a series of images. I found myself wishing they were little dioramas rather than photos.
Mittag has a great sense of narrative, mining the trials and tribulations of South Texas working poor. If there is a flaw in the work, it's that it's too good. The pieces are incredibly well-crafted, which means they occasionally get a little too slick and commercial. I just keep thinking about Lauren Kelley's early video Big Gurl and the wonderfully homemade feeling of the props. I don't think that Mittag should make anything less well-crafted, but maybe they need to be a little grubbier — the abandoned bus is too clean! — or be more packed with wonky detail. Presenting the sculptural work more theatrically, as he did in an installation at Rice University's Emergency Room gallery, seems to work better as well. Of course, that's tough in a main-gallery group show. I'm nitpicking, but I think just a little bit of this could go a long way and make the material even stronger.
David Politzer's work is also on view in the show. His photographs capture views of "nature" that are decidedly unnatural. The image Comforter, Alpine (2012) looks like it was taken in a motel room. Politzer fills his lens with a rumpled and obnoxiously floral bedspread, decorated with the kind of blooms one might find in an English garden. I'm taking the Alpine of the title to mean Alpine, Texas. Its location in the arid western part of the state makes the lush florals not just incongruous but kind of sad.
Other Politzer works are more obviously surreal. A laughably fake, tan-plastic boulder rests against a wooden fence, covering the gas meter or some other eyesore in Artificial Rock, Russellville (2012). Skunk Fur, Lake Dardanelle (2012) looks like it was shot in a dated visitor center for the Arkansas state park. There's an awkwardly rendered mural of the lake in the background, with a carpet-covered platform in the foreground. On it rests a piece of wood cut out in the shape of a skunk and painted black, with a piece of actual skunk fur glued to it. The mural illustrates what's out in the park, while the skunk silhouette gives the kids a wildlife facsimile to pet. Politzer really hones in on the weirdness in contemporary society relating to the natural world.