Dystopian Spaces and Societal Woes Inform HCP's Juried Membership Exhibit

Liz Hickok plays with her food, but nothing as pedestrian as creating lava-flowing mountains out of mashed potatoes and gravy. In the past, the San Francisco-based multimedia artist would construct entire cityscapes out of Jell-O, illuminate them from below, and then document the candy-colored fantasy worlds through photography and video.

It's tedious and tenuous work; and also good training ground for her latest installations where she constructs miniature environments and grows crystals, capturing the transformation over days and weeks through time-lapse photography. Two breathtakingly gorgeous photographs and one amazing video from her “Ground Waters” series are on display in Houston Center for Photography's "34th Annual Juried Membership Exhibition." The video there is shown on high def, but you can get an idea of her work through YouTube.

Yasufumi Nakamori – we know him from his stint at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston organizing photography and videography exhibitions from 2008 to 2015 and bringing more than 700 photographs to MFAH – juried this exhibition, which was limited to local and international photographers who are members of Houston Center for Photography. He's now department head and curator of photography and new media at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

While reviewing the almost 200 submissions, Nakamori looked for more than just beautiful images: He sought out those that documented societal problems, experimented with new techniques or constructed utopian and dystopian spaces. He also commended three artists, netting each a $1,000 Beth Block Honoraria: Stacy Platt for her water-damaged journals of a romantic love affair, Eli Durst for his haunting black-and-white imagery of a community center, and Petra Barth for her trio of world-weary migrant workers.

Sandy Carson's Katmandog was witty, with the pet owner's obliviousness that turning the corner puts his leashed dog up against a human in a cat suit, but Nobody Sells for Less was rampant with irony, as the homeless set up camp outside yet another mattress store. Pictured along with it is an ethereal piece by Dr. Joshua Sariñana, a writer and photographer with a background in neuroscience and the computational processing of spatial navigation. The images in his “Prosopagnosia” series, all using a circular frame to telescope back in time, explore how memories evolve over time.

The destruction wrought by hurricanes is familiar territory for those of us on the Gulf Coast, and John Ganis (who hails from Michigan) documented desolate scenes of a post-Hurricane Sandy amusement park in New Jersey and a post-Hurricane Ike oil well and metal building on Bolivar Peninsula.

Molly Block, one of three artists from the Houston area, shows two inkjet prints from her “Roadside Relics: Vintage Neon Signs” series, harkening back to a kinder, gentler time when the race for space influenced design.

Shelby Orr also travels back, this time to childhood, with her colorful box full of toys in All I Need no. 1 from her “Small Matters” series.

Rebecca Clark, in her “Secret Art Histories” series, begins by photographing old master portraits in museums, then superimposes elements from other paintings and sometimes finishing the works with encaustic to create a new take on historic images.

Other bright spots in the exhibit include Meg Birnbaum's Orange Shirt, with the farmer clutching his rooster tight, from the “Losing the Farm” series; Nancy Scheri's Follicular Embryonic Landscape, an artificial, anatomic creation; and the crowded city of Seoul with its endless sea of rooftops by Eunjong Lee. Pushing photography out of the frame and into the three-dimensional realm, Kelly Webeck's I Will Hold Them yields an accordion-fold book of images.

“34th Annual Juried Membership Exhibition continues through September 4, at Houston Center for Photography, 1441 West Alabama, open Wednesdays and Thursdays 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Fridays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., 713-529-4755, Free.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney