Jana La Brasca is a graduate student at University of Texas at Austin in the Department of Art and Art History. The following is the full text of “Space, Place, Trace: The Structures of Feeling and Hubbard/Birchler’s Giant“, a paper she presented as part of a seminar on art historical methods. The film at the center of her thesis is part of Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler’s Sound Speed Marker exhibition, which originated at Ballroom Marfa, and is now on view at the Blaffer Art Museum, University of Houston.
The exhibition catalogue, cited throughout the following paper, is available from Ballroom Marfa, and is distributed by D.A.P.
High definition video with sound
Space, Place, Trace
Structures of Feeling and Hubbard/Birchler’s Giant
Jana La Brasca
Images fill the new catalog of Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler’s exhibition Sound Speed Marker, which opened at Ballroom Marfa in 2013 and returns to Texas this month with its installation at Houston’s Blaffer Art Museum. The pages of this sumptuous volume contain reproductions of archival materials informing the artists’ research, installation views of both the Ballroom show and Hubbard/Birchler exhibitions elsewhere, and production photographs. Several sections–comprised of back-to-back pages of full-bleed, uncaptioned stills—provide an uninterrupted visual flow that begins to approximate the powerfully sensual experience of the filmic installations that make up the Sound Speed Marker trilogy.
In Grand Paris, Texas (2009), Movie Mountain (Méliès) (2011), and Giant (2014), Hubbard and Birchler investigate cinema as a vocabulary of memory embedded in consciousness and landscape. Each work is projected on one more screen than the last using an increasingly disjunctive visual language, departing progressively from traditional documentary forms. At Ballroom Marfa, visitors entered a gallery that was more like a theater—cool darkness and ample seating fostered a transportatively cinematic experience that was much more than visual.
To give oneself over to these works was multisensory, bodily even. Carefully orchestrated sound and overwhelmingly crisp projections generated an atmosphere of intensified presence. Simultaneously, a sustained rhythm of long, slow shots across all three works dilated time in a way that attracts immersive attention as it opens space for a viewer’s own mental activity.
While a printed page could never capture the body-mind resonances of experiencing these works in person, the images in the catalog capture a good deal of what they convey visually—their clarity, their chromatic opulence, their graphic strength. Yet at the same time, the pictures show the fuzzed edges of motion blur, the momentary softening among planes within a varying depth of field. Anyone who has ever attempted to grab a still from a work of moving imagery can relate to the tension these images so subtly illustrate. Even within the apparently exact moment one wishes to pause and analyze, a continuum of motion offers a nearly infinite set of possible representations. In this way, the pages of the Sound Speed Marker catalog themselves echo the trilogy’s investigation of the instability of perception, memory, and document.
After seven years of trying, we were finally lucky enough to host the legendary Steve Earle and the Dukes in Marfa last Sunday, June 14, 2015. It was worth the wait. He played for two hours; the house was packed; it thunderstormed; and the most epic double rainbow of all time formed outside the theater, right before Steve played. Couldn’t ask for a better sign.
A huge thank you to Steve, the Dukes, Eleanor and Chris Masterson, his crew, all the wonderful people from far and wide who came to the show (we even had some folks from Japan!), and all the folks who took a risk on standing room tickets to join us (we think it worked out?). We also want to thank Matt & Mikelle Kruger, Ballroom Marfa members, and our ever-wonderful, ever-supportive friends at Big Bend Brewing Company, SAVED Wines, and the Crowley Theater.
Particular shoutout to our sound and light team — Rob Crowley, Gory Smelley, and Chris Hillen — and all the others who made it happen: Lesley Brown, Tim Crowley, JD DiFabbio, Hilary duPont, Cuca Flores, Liz Janoff, Mallory Jones, Vance Knowles, Marfa Public Radio, Alex Marks, Jose Martinez, Jeff Matheis, Tom Michael, Suzy Simon, and Jonathan Wyckoff. It’s a pleasure and gift to work with all of you.
In case you missed the show, check out the photos below, listen to the interview with Steve Earle over at Marfa Public Radio, and purchase the poster, designed by Mishka Westell, here.
In March 2012, we hosted the lovely Eleanor Friedberger for a residency and concert, and asked Thumb Projects to design her show poster. Luke Bulman, of Thumb, had the posters printed at the iconic LA print house Colby Printing, which specialized in metal and wood typefaces. The posters were beautiful (see our previous blog post from that time, “The Greatest Show Posters Ever”) (we are nothing if not exuberant/hyperbolic).
Randomly, while searching for a poster we saw on Instagram, we stumbled upon In the Good Name of the Company, an exhibition of works from Colby Printing, organized by ForYourArt, curated by Jan Tumlir, with Christopher Michlig and Brian Roettinger. We realized that Colby had closed in December 2012 (!), just nine months after printing our Eleanor posters. From ForYourArt’s press release on the show:
The Los Angeles based Colby Poster Printing Company has long been a friend to local artists. Their fluorescent posters have been disseminated on every available high-traffic-adjacent surface in the city. Their extensive collection of over 150 wood and metal typefaces, usually bold and generally san serif, are by now an integral part of the visual aesthetic of Los Angeles. Throughout the years, posters promoting everything from west coast punk and heavy metal concerts in the 1980s to swap meets, street fairs, gun and bridal shows, local political campaigns, and too many artist projects to mention have been printed on Colby’s restless Heidelberg letterset press. A family owned and operated union print shop since 1948, the Colby Poster Printing Company closed its doors forever on December 31, 2012.
We are posthumously (and deeply, and deeply belatedly) mourning the loss of Colby, by trolling the Internet for all Colby details and images (a rainbow explosion for your eyes), and happened upon this great video about the company from MOCA, and this great article. Especially liked this quote:
Part of what makes the Colby posters interesting is that the employees of the company had no formal training in graphic design—they were members of the letterpress union, the screen printers union, and the typesetters union. “They were kind of naïve, breaking what most typographers would think is every rule,” [curator Brian] Roettinger says. They mixed typefaces and consistently used all caps. But this lowbrow approach resulted in a minimal, bold, and no-nonsense aesthetic that was always eye-catching and surprising.
You can mourn with us collectively three years after the fact, and buy our remaining Eleanor Friedberger posters here. RIP Colby (and thanks to Thumb Projects for giving us the chance to be part of history).
Agnes Denes. Photo by Stefan Ruiz, courtesy of the New York Times.
In 2005, Earthwork artist Agnes Denes, known — according to Interview Magazine — for her “stunning and environmentally confrontational public works,” created her large-scale work Pyramids of Consciousness for Ballroom’s exhibition Treading Water. Three of the pyramids were filled with various substances –– clear water, oil, and polluted water from the Rio Grande. The fourth pyramid was a mirror that allowed viewers to see themselves, and consider their relationship to water and its current environmental concerns.
Last Sunday, Denes presented another large-scale pyramid project, The Living Pyramid, installed on the East River waterfront at Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, New York. The work was created using several tons of soil and planted grasses, and stands 30 feet high and 30 feet wide with the city skyline as its backdrop. Visitors at the opening were invited to participate in planting wildflowers along the outside of the structure, contributing to the pyramid’s growth as it remains on view until August 30th.
In a May interview with Maika Pollack in Interview Magazine, Denes discusses the function of pyramids in her work, as well as the process for her other iconic works such as Wheatfield–A Confrontation (1982) (where she planted and harvested a wheat field on a landfill in lower Manhattan) and Tree Mountain-–A Living Time Capsule, a manmade forest she planted in a mathematical pattern in Ylöjärvi, Finland.
Created in collaboration with a group of musicians, this limited edition, blue-marbled vinyl stems from a sound piece by Sam Falls, which plays on a loop in Ballroom Marfa’s gallery as part of his 2015 solo exhibition. The limited edition record features a woman’s voice repeating the word “now” alongside simple chords played by four musicians. The LP that plays in the exhibition contains a thin metal strip that causes the record to skip, creating an original composition with each rotation. This sound work speaks to another work in the show, Falls’ video piece Untitled (Now), where he continuously writes the word ‘now’ into sand with a stick before it gets repeatedly washed away by waves at the ocean shore. Together the works reflect the artist’s interest in capturing the passage of time and its elements, providing viewers with various mediums in which to consider the present.
“I wanted to visualize how we can see or hear time as it passes to be reminded of its unified past, present, and future; every moment is ‘now,’ or will be ‘now,’ or was ‘now.’ ‘Now’ is a temporal shifter as I see it, and so these works regenerate the word to inform the moment both as specific and as the works progress elliptically ‘now’ becomes abstracted and wholly representational.” — Excerpt from Sam Falls artist statement
Click here to read more in the Ballroom Marfa shop. See more of our limited editions here.
From the desk of the music director: Can’t get enough of Sheer Mag’s “Fan the Flames” — this video is carrying us through Friday. More info about the band here, and thanks to Dan Chamberlin (and Pitchfork) for the heads up. All hail Philly teen punks!
A protégé of legendary songwriters Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, Earle quickly became a master storyteller in his own right, with his songs being recorded by Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings, Travis Tritt, The Pretenders, Joan Baez, and many others. 1986 saw the release of his debut album, Guitar Town, which shot to number one on the country charts. What followed was a varied array of releases including the biting hard rock of Copperhead Road (1988), the minimalist beauty of Train A Comin’ (1995), the politically charged masterpiece Jerusalem (2002), and the Grammy Award-winning albums The Revolution Starts…Now (2004), Washington Square Serenade (2007), and Townes (2009).
On his 16th studio album, Terraplane, Earle pays tribute to the blues, influenced by the blues giants he saw growing up in Texas — Lightnin’ Hopkins, Freddy King, Johnny Winter, Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Canned Heat, and Billy Gibbons. Recorded in Nashville, the new collection is his homage to the music that he calls “the commonest of human experience, perhaps the only thing that we all truly share,” and a record he has wanted to make for a long time.
It has long been a dream of ours to bring Earle to Far West Texas; we hope you can join us for this special evening with a country legend. Ballroom Marfa members and tri-county residents can purchase tickets for $15 by stopping by or calling the Ballroom Marfa gallery until May 1. Tickets are available to the general public for $30 at the Ballroom Marfa website.
To celebrate the forthcoming weekend: A slice of ’80s pop love from Carly Rae Jepsen of “Call Me Maybe” fame (we are fans, of course), cowritten with Dev Hynes, who was just here a few weeks ago doing his recording residency as part of Marfa Myths.
We just want to say a huge thank you to everyone who came out to Marfa Myths last weekend, and everyone who made it possible. The festival was beyond our wildest dreams, and we can’t believe it actually happened. We’ll be doing a proper wrap-up soon, and adding all the photos, from Alex Marks and Luis Nieto Dickens (our former intern [!] who traveled down to shoot for Oak NYC), but first we want to share these amazing Polaroids, taken by Alex Marks, part of our ongoing Polaroid portrait series. They kind of capture it all.