Creative Research Laboratory
"What are your prospects?"
Seen in a Dickens novel, that question might be understood as referring to a character's opportunities for advancement in the world. Heard in a Mamet play, however, it would more likely be taken as an allusion to a salesman's customers, as: What marks have you pinpointed to pay for whatever it is that you're peddling? And spoken on a tract of land, the same question could be an inquiry after either the view of the landscape or the yield of its mineral deposits. "Prospect" is a word with many facets, open to multiple interpretations, which is one reason that it appealed to curator Jade Walker as the title for a new group show that opens this week at Creative Research Laboratory.
"The concept for 'Prospect' came from an interest I had in understanding how perspective and the notion of 'space' might be interpreted utilizing a wide range of media," says Walker, who is CRL's director. "The term 'prospect' offered various meanings, as well. Most importantly, it was the idea of an outlook or view starting from one particular spot ... which was the University of Texas and, more specifically, the Department of Art and Art History."
CRL is an off-campus venue through which faculty, students, and alumni of the department may exhibit their work. Walker's open call for "Prospect" received more than 80 responses, from which she selected works by 17 individuals, two collaborative pairs, and one collective group to exhibit. The majority came from "young, ambitious artists," says Walker, which meant "the hopeful anticipation and expectations that come with the term 'prospect' also fit beautifully with the concept." Her "prospectors" – "the term seemed to have a nostalgic connotation that made me think of gold miners acting as frontiersmen, and I liked that for this exhibition," she adds – are mining ideas around "what we perceive as the home, the city as an object, landscape as man-made, and virtual spaces as interactive."
The collective Crafthole, she says, submitted stills for a video that imagines the futures of each of its four members: "They are working in video to frame the given images and control the moments in time we may see each character. Besides the obvious use of one set perspective conceptually, they are taking the single view from the camera each time and employing feminist film theory as they recontextualize themselves as objects in many shots."
In some instances, artists working in the same medium have taken the idea of "space" in opposite directions. Beatrice Thomas and David Waddell both created installations with recycled materials, but while Thomas uses white plastic to portray a man-made scene (a life-sized facade of a ranch house in crochet), Waddell employs plastics, colored papers, and the like to fashion a scene from nature (albeit a cartoonlike one). While photographer Wendel A. White looks to the past, removing space around nostalgic buildings to single out a shape, photographer Santiago Forero looks to the future, saturating a machinist shop with intense colors to turn it into a frightening space out of science fiction.
These diverse ways in which artists translated that term "space" was the thing that most surprised Walker in curating the show. "Although the call was ambitious, the word is heavy with angles," she says. "Some very simple works showed landscape, such as a beautiful photograph by Erik Culver, while others really investigated the way time and space connect to reference the future or the here and now, such as a collaborative team of undergraduate designers that are using wireless live feed to set images from outside the gallery back inside."
Walker couldn't allow such inventive explorations to be shown in the same old CRL, so she got creative with "space" herself: All of the 90-degree angled corners in the gallery are being removed to change visitors' immediate perception of where they are. Sounds like the prospects for "Prospect" are good.
"Prospect" runs Nov. 22-Dec. 13 at Creative Research Laboratory, 2832 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. For more information, call 322-2099 or visit uts.cc.utexas.edu/~crlab.