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Jamie Rene Wentz and Kurt Mueller: Round Up at Lawndale Art Center

Round Up was one of those disappointing shows that feel like the aftermath of a party. The gallery lights were dimmed; the floppy green tent that filled most of the space was empty but for a couple unplugged photographic lights.

A large video projected onto a dim corner pastes various artworld stand-ins against a still backdrop of Monument Valley. Text interspersed with the images tells a story of a generic menace threatening a small town. The grim, fear-mongering tone of the texts seem vaguely familiar- I suspect they're adapted from the utterances of President Bush. A posse is being formed, and each character expresses support or hesitation about the proposed necktie party.

Titling the tent "The Green Zone" explicitly links the hawkish posturing of the Wild West with the current war in Iraq, but doesn't go any further. The association of the Wild West with unthinking violence is hardly a revelation; "Cowboy" has become a synonym for someone who goes off half-cocked. Round Up's knee-jerk critique Iraq war policy is depressing; it appeals to the same uncritical prejudices (i.e. Iraq war= lynch mob) as the rhetoric that got us into this mess in the first place (i.e. Saddam=Al Quaeda).

As a dress-up party it might have been fun, but as political discourse, it's moronic. The people in the video clown it up in their cowboy suits, expressing extreme, stylized viewpoints in campy character-actor voices. Acting stupid for the camera is great fun, or even a welcome relief for pent up frustrations, but it's dull to watch the morning after.

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3 Responses

  1. wells

    Yes, you’re right, Austin has a reputation. You can’t hardly go anywhere else in the country without people saying good things about Austin (even people who’ve never been to Austin). And deservedly so, since Austin is chock-full of good vibes. But the question of how Austin’s artists and designers will factor into a changing Austin is less important, I think, than the question of the impact that Austin’s artists and designers will have on a regional, national, and international level.

    Home-grown art and design is woven into the very fabric of Austin. You see it everywhere. Boutique stores and artist-run galleries and upscale restaurants and casual coffeeshops. It’s pervasive. It’s proud. And, much of the time, it’s good. But, from your article, it seems like you’re looking in the wrong places. The Creative Research Lab is all heart. It’s student-centric, and somewhat sterile, because it’s rare that a student’s experimental ideas about design will survive and prosper outside the petri dish of academia (too many worldly realities come into play).

    On the other hand, there’s a great deal of experimentation happening in Austin’s mature, professional art and design community. Curiouser and curiouser, it gets. Did you happen to see the Floating Chair Exhibit sponsored by Design Within Reach in downtown Austin last year? What about Sally Jacques’ Dancing With Buildings performance? Or the intrepid projects of Austin Green Art? And then there’s the Architectural Artisans Collaborative – a group of artisans in the Austin area who are committed to introducing art and design into buildings throughout Austin. What’s interesting about these examples is that each one is uniquely Austin – but relevant far beyond Austin’s borders. That’s the thing to watch coming out of Austin – not how Austin nourishes and protects it’s local talent (they do it already), but how it’s local talent will impact the world.

    If you’d like to get involved in this further, I’d suggest you contact Janet Siebert at Austin’s Cultural Planning Office. Until Jun 15, they’re accepting proposals and input from anybody who wants to suggest ways to reshape and redirect Austin’s art and design future. Your ideas, I think, would be welcomed. It’s called CreateAustin. It’s happening now.

    Thanks for your words.

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