by Jean-Sebastien Boncy
We are not the same I am too reckless
We just missed our exit on 610. Julie’s driving, and she says, “Fuck it, it’s a circle.” It is, and so we go. The Houston I know ends quickly, and for most of the trip the landscape seems surprised to see us, caught in its britches. It’s throwing up houses, caving into ditches, pushing up fields of green and yellow and fuchsia, all on the quick, all seemingly formed just as we are coming around the next curve, some of it as loosely delineated as a sketch, or maybe that’s just the memory warping. At some point, an endless lot of gleaming white cars stretches out under the circle. Quick growing green is eating up an entire neighborhood. Do I hallucinate? Most of this I will never see again. Some of it, I know, won’t be there long.
A city this size is not something you know definitely, it is always in the process of becoming more and other. You, the citizen, never stop learning the what and the how of the place. A city like this is generative.
I’m on a bench, with a bunch of strangers, taking off my shoes. Across from us, up some stairs, stand two elderly Asian dudes in uniform, their age and stoicism made Seijun Suzuki Strange thanks to the strong red backlight. It is a beautiful moment. With my new disposable slippers, I shuffle up the stairs, pass the guardians, and end up in a cocoon of shifting hues filled with a bunch of other tourists. I wait and observe for a long time. Not for me the delight and inspiration that hit Drake in such a room. I feel very little at first, and then gradually less.
This is bullshit. I was promised ecstasy. I have enjoyed every passage in the tunnel that connects the MFAH’s two buildings. But this is bullshit. This Turrell show is really really good at reproducing the affective reality of an airport. There is definite skill and intelligence at play here, and given how much ritual, history, and construction it takes for an airport to make you believe that your senses are shutting down one by one, it is a brilliant bit of economy on Turrell’s part to pull it off in so little space, with a relatively small staff. This ain’t the pleasure and the mystery Berger wrote about, but a holy site where we have all travelled to prove our allegiance, our belief in a certain Church of Culture. Most of the pilgrims have forgotten that only one name matters in the art game: Saint Thomas. I’m sighing through the show and dreaming of Carlos Cruz-Diez.
“What did you think of the Berni show?” It’s a year later, and I have the same question for all my art buddies. Mostly I get back, “Who dat?” I go to the show three times… four times. I start a review that I’ll never finish. The first paragraph ends with, “The 20th century was an Age of Collisions, and Antonio Berni, the Argentine artist whose Juanito and Ramona is currently on view at the MFAH, made the Collision his medium.” I am HYPED and I want everyone right there with me.
I do not see any significant reviews of the show. Some capsules here and there. Big ink seems reserved for the expected names, even when those Names have so much less to say to us. Berni is from Argentina, a big question mark for me, but he’s telling me shit that I know from Haiti. The same shit that used to elicit that grim laugh from my Nigerian homies, my Saudi homies, my Indian homies We are not the same, but we’ve all seen the Capitalist world order burn through entire cities, fuel to the lie of the Copacetic Present. Berni, the man, may belong to the past, buried under old dirt, but even here in the Age of Networks, his work is ablaze in this moment, present and powerful, brighter than a motherfucker.
Texas gave birth to its own poets of the Collision, chief among them that homie Rauschenberg. An artist rightfully celebrated for his precise formal intelligence, his ability to turn the least of things into bright promises, but the stories he told were vague. Berni has a clear view of the encroaching darkness, and the work, even as it is spit-your-sprite funny and hold-yourself beautiful, is a clear expression of that darkness.
Ima let you finish! But Berni over Rauschenberg. And if you want to fight about it, that’s a fight I want to have. That’s a fight we deserve to have. Are we still doing our very best, or are we just resting on dry crispy laurels? Or do you really think that we’re gonna have some real talk about legacies and the New Stank in an Olafur Eliasson funhouse? I ain’t mad at Eliasson, but museums really need a kids’ table.
They’ve been telling us about the monoculture for a minute. If you don’t know then you’ve not been listening. And it’s here, but it’s not, you know? And it’s as bad as promised, but it’s not the obvious poorly imagined sci-fi story used to scare us into embracing individualism (Like we need more snowflakes).
We live in a monoculture because we are all victims of the aesthetic terrorism of Miley Cyrus, because Google is part of everyone’s thinking process, because every state and corporation is heavily invested in totalitarian flavored monitoring, and tricked us into incorporating it into our daily rituals. The Monoculture lives within us, which is exactly why you can’t trust people that tell you that everything that matters is on the inside, the very locus of the Sickness.
The Monoculture, fortunately, is anaerobic. We don’t talk the same, we don’t dress the same, we don’t eat the same, we don’t swing the same, and that is salvation. Weather leads to specific behaviors and beliefs, the way specific landscapes are marked by the timeline of booms and busts (when them buildings was hot we could afford some, when those buildings was hot we couldn’t afford none), our different dialects have specific relationships with different ideas about velocity or courtesy or kinship. There is no resistance that doesn’t start with regionalism. “World Class City” is code for a city that is as easy to navigate as a Burger King menu. But truly great cities are never World Class. What they do is marry very deep resources to a peculiar brand of strange. You lose your Strange, you lose your Great.
I’m on the phone with Letitia Huckaby. She’s good people and she’s a killer artist. After every one of her shows I message her “Bang! Bang! Bang!” The same thing can be said about her husband Sedrick. I had typed something about the Houston scene being stupid for not having more Huckaby shows when they live next door in Fort Worth and are so prolific. But I think “Hey maybe they’re the one saying no to Houston.” So I call to find out. It turns out that I was right, and Houston is ignoring them.
We keep talking, we compare notes. One of the sad patterns that emerges is the shortsighted import of Black artists in art centers across the nation. They want you when you live across the country to bring some funky flavors to their stale scene, but they are blind to the fact that the scene is stale in the first place because they’ve been ignoring the people down the block. And so Black and Brown artists have to keep travelling from invite to invite to keep their careers going, to keep a name in the game. At home there is never enough time or money or space for you.
Finally she asks the self-loathing question. She asks it tentatively because she’s a polite person that’s not trying to smear an entire city. But Houston really does hate Houston; there is no denying it. Certainly not all of us, but enough of the people holding the reins tend to look down and daydream of different breeds. “Why can’t we be another?” Because we can’t: different history, different weather, different industries. You should always look at what they’re doing elsewhere, but cut and paste don’t work.
Most States have a single destination city where all the resources are available to create and connect at optimal levels. Texas spreads it out between a handful of centers. A four-hour drive is a lot if you grew up in Connecticut, but for a Texan that’s next door. We have this vast network of resource and talents. We have all these voices we could harmonize with. We could be cousins singing. But instead we fill our spaces with also-rans from the World Class Cities; we give them the grant money, and the residencies. We give immediate tenure to art professors that proceed to spend the next 5, 10, 20 years delineating the California coastline but never once consider the syrupy movements of the Bayou. People move here wanting to “bring us culture” (that’s an actual quote heard more than once) and we give them the keys to our institutions. But but but if you think I’m mad at something like Kim Davenport’s programming at Rice then you are not listening. Zero circulation leads to toxic shock. I’m saying let us not waste our opportunities for connection and let’s minimize the jetsam we accept from them over there.
Nothing I could Use
I now know why Turrell’s tunnel works: it’s the entirety of the eighties nerd television condensed in a short and exciting voyage. The voyage is key. The fact that I, as an audience member, have a very specific task. I go from opening to opening, and in so doing I am transformed into a rebel fleeing through the dark passageways of a star cruiser. When I’m standing inside a block looking at colors changing, all there is is pretty colors, but without the wit and risk of an Olitski. The sky spaces work because of the improvisatory energies of the sky: the unexpected passage of a lone bird is made electric in the slowed down keyed up contexts that Turrell builds, like Isaach de Bankolé stepping of the train in a brand new suit.
Drake sees the show in New York and we all laugh when those pictures pop up on Instagram and Tumblr with the young Canadian acting a fool inside those Turrells. But when the video for Hotline Bling drops, we’re about it. Drake fucks with Turrell, but Drake also fucks with Turrell. He feels it in a way that most of us cannot and then clarifies the mechanism for the rest of us. When Drizzy, as a huge entertainer, stands alone in the center of Turrell he’s not part of tourist pack sliding on disposable booties, he is still Drake, still performing, and that makes the space valid and useful to him. Later, he can turn around and reveal Turrell to those of us that were stuck at the airport.
There are two essential realizations here. The first is that there are not always direct lines to accessing art. Good, bad or mediocre some of it needs translating when it crosses borders. The second is that we need what we need, it is sometimes counter intuitive, but there should be no shame about it. If we need Drake more than we need Turrell then so be it (Sauce Walka might disagree but that’s another conversation)
We need art we can use: propaganda, rhetoric, power figures, balms, barriers against the chaos of the universe. We need art that serves more essential functions than resume builders for ambitious curators, positional goods for big collectors, and checklist items for the properly educated. We need art institutions that are genuinely curious about what the city (the entire fucking city) needs, and what can sharpen the steel of our local artists. We need better traffic.
…living life so trill
Life so trill
Life so trill
Life so trill
Sebastien Boncy is from Haiti lives in Texas makes photographs, eats too much, and loves most of you. Follow Sebastien at