Inspired by the themes presented in Houston Center for Photography’s current exhibition, Tools of Revolution: Fashion Photography and Activism, the Spring 2020 issue of spot presents a series of interviews and essays from artists and curators across the globe on issues of artistic social practice. This particular issue of spot comes at a unique moment in contemporary history, where the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic can be seen across the globe, happening en masse and all at once. As many institutions—schools, museums, parks, etc—temporarily close their doors, we, as a collective society, are looking to technology as a tool to stay connected with not only each other, but with the things that we have lost personal contact with—education, art, resources, and so on.
Amongst the haze of global uncertainty, it has been inspiring to see the ways in which artists and arts organizations have responded to such a crisis. Specifically, how artists are adapting to remote studio practices and uniquely positioning themselves as facilitators of conversation with a balance of urgency and positivity. In some ways, I have seen more art in the past week than I normally would have outside of self-quarantine. Various instagram accounts have been created to host virtual exhibitions and the hashtag #thesisthursday has become widely circulated, propelling recently-cancelled MFA and BFA thesis exhibitions into the blue-screen-ether.
While there is comfort in solidarity—literally millions of humans are experiencing the same things at once—it is also important to realize that there are many other social issues and crises that we should work harder to come together on: global warming, racism and injustice, LGBTQIA+ rights, representation, sanctions, healthcare…the list is too long. Featured in this issue and touching on these topics are artists Adrian Walker, Sheida Soleimani, Wendy Red Star, Antonio Pulgarin, Mathieu Asselin, and the late Patrick Nagatani.
Intensified by social-distancing, it feels that there is a greater desire for connection. Artist Adrian Walker remarks on the importance of “breaking bread” with community, specifically with the subjects of his photographs, first establishing a connection based on shared human experience. Through portraiture and performance, Walker is inspired by the Black body, dynamics of the Black family, and archival work related to the untold stories of the Black experience. Artist Wendy Red Star is a Native American artist and researcher engaging with identity and representation in the United States through archival research and multidisciplinary practice, inspired by her own cultural heritage. Similarly intersted in representation is artist Antonio Pulgarin, whose photographs explore the aritst’s relationship to his queer and Colombian/Latinx identities through found objects and family photographs. Also featured is the late Patrick Nagatani, whose work emphasizes storytelling in order to raise awareness about the threat of nuclear weapons, and Sheida Soleimani, whose constructed images combine both humor and the grotesque to highlight her own perspective on historical and contemporary socio-political happenings in Iran. Lastly, is artist Matthieu Asselin, whose Monsanto project serves as a continued investigation into the Monsanto corporation and the consequences of corporate impunity on people and the environment.
As Houston Center for Photography temporarily closes our physical space, our programs will be transitioning online, offering new ways to experience our exhibitions, lectures, and educational offerings. As always, more features will be released beyond this core issue throughout the season. It is my hope that these stories and images will offer unique insights into the mindsets of artists who are also social practitioners, reinforcing our roles as a collective society, and revealing that there is, in fact, power in the personal.
—Erin Miller, Exhibitions and Programs Coordinator