It's impossible to think of Houston music from the '90s without remembering DJ Screw. He produced his namesake sound, "chopped and screwed," by using two turntables to slow down and layer hip hop tempos. The hallmarks of this technique - reducing pitch, slowing tempo, distorting input and chopping lyrics to produce new meanings - have become synonymous with the city's hip hop scene, earning DJ Screw the nickname "The Originator." Despite his untimely death at age 29 in 2000, the music pioneer and leader of the Screwed Up Click continues to influence artistic genres around the world.
In a nod to DJ Screw's lasting impression, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston will present Slowed and Throwed: Records of the City Through Mutated Lenses. The exhibition explores visual arts practices that parallel the musical methods of this innovative DJ and feature unconventional photography and new media works by artists with personal ties to Houston. It opens Friday and continues through Sunday, June 7 at 5216 Montrose.
"Slowed and Throwed is a curatorial homage to DJ Screw. He’s a brilliant avant garde creator and music composer who I truly believe is deserving of this scholarly consideration of his work. Placing him in the museum context feels urgent. I think all listeners can agree, he continues to destabilize the world that feels very routine," said Patricia Restrepo, exhibitions manager and assistant curator at the museum.
The exhibit provides visual artists' representation of the magic that went into DJ Screw's famed mix tapes. In the exhibit, artists appropriate, mash-up, collage, mutate photographic inputs and slow time. Through reconfigurations of sourced and original materials, they draw attention to inequities stemming from race, gender and sexual orientation, suggesting new possibilities and alternative realities.
Restrepo gave a detailed account of how the tenets of DJ Screw's art form can be translated into a visual media.
"I broke down how I interpret chopped and screwed into component parts. It includes sampling. It’s paramount to DJ culture and widely used in contemporary art. Appropriation is a theme or tactic to reclaim the messaging. DJ Screw did that. He gave material that had been presented in one form a whole new life to new audiences. Many of the artists in the show tackle and use visual sampling," she said. "Layering, which was employed in DJ Screw's work as chopping, mixes between different sounds and forms. In art, that is echoed mostly through collage, which is putting these disparate items into a newly synthesized whole and giving them a new meaning."
Additional techniques include “doubling,” since DJ Screw used twin records in his production of mix tapes and emphasized the doubling of a lyric or melody. Several artists employ the doubling of an image and reverberation, giving new meaning through distortion and the rereading of an image's potential.
DJ Screw was also known for his slowing of time, which is heavily portrayed in some of the exhibit's components.
"Two artists heavily utilize this tactic of slowing time and order. One artist slows down 'Don’t Worry Baby' by The Beach Boys, and it's really cinematic. Her utilization of this tactic is to create a nostalgic space, and it forces the viewer to slow down. She’s embodying the song by turning the relationship on its head," Restrepo added. "Another artist also slows down time in her videos. In her bending and stretching of real time, she explores the hyperextension of identity. She creates a sense of dissociation between the real and reproduced."
Serving as the physical and conceptual core of Slowed and Throwed is a nesting exhibition of DJ Screw archival materials mostly drawn from the Special Collection at University of Houston Libraries. Placing the curated archive in dialogue with the photo-based artworks demonstrates the resonances between DJ Screw's creative process and those of the exhibiting artists. Displayed in a gallery built to mirror the edifice of the original location of Screwed Up Records & Tapes on Cullen Blvd., the archival exhibition is activated by a musical playlist compiled by E.S.G., a rapper and member of the Screwed Up Click.
Participating artists include B. Anele, Rabéa Ballin, Tay Butler, Jimmy Castillo, Jamal Cyrus, Ben DeSoto, DJ Screw, Robert Hodge, Shana Hoehn, Tomashi Jackson, Ann Johnson, Devin Kenny, Liss LaFleur, El Franco Lee II, Karen Navarro, Kristin Massa, Ayanna Jolivet Mccloud, Sondra Perry and Charisse Pearlina Weston.
Slowed and Throwed: Records of the City Through Mutated Lenses takes place Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Thursday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston's Nina and Michael Zilkha Gallery, 5216 Montrose. For information, call 713-284-8250 or visit camh.org. Admission is free.