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Habitus--Where's the Art?

January 17, 2019

 

An artist travels to Houston for a performance art festival. The festival begins and ends. The artist arrives and then leaves. What remains behind? What is taken away? What (if anything) is changed; and where is the art? A philosopher will call this last question an error of category. She might point out the MFAH, the buildings, the Curators or the collections, but she cannot show you the art nor even tell you what it is. Artists cannot answer this question any more than a polar bear could tell you, where is the Arctic? Tourist bureaus will tell you where the city’s major, designated collections reside. These worthy objects have great value and meaning. They play a frequently unremarked but ubiquitous role in our everyday lives, like a floor that is swept daily. It is the unswept floor that draws attention; and frankly, it is the unswept floor that is sought when we ask, where is the art? The Menil is easy to find. There are street signs. But, where do we find that kind of art, art that is like the unsweeping of a floor?

 

This information is not easily found by art seekers, travelers or visitors. It is insider knowledge born of intimate relationships among particular people in specific places, under certain conditions that change over time. It is the Confusion logic; the Latin phrasing, the technical jargon of those whose trade is the scene, stories that are told but not sold. Money can’t buy it. To map a place is to impose one’s gaze upon it--to name it, claim it and tame it. That which has been mapped can never again be what it was. It will irretrievably become what it has been called, until we forget again. Until we remember that a thing is not the meaning of a thing. It is just a thing. It is meaning that is sought when we ask, where is the art? We crave authenticity. We crave what was real for a moment, a moment when we were there.

 

Douglas Gast’s “HABITUS: Houston ExA 2019” seeks to undermine the cartographer’s gaze by asking directions and then mapping what he has been told. The performance will include a panel discussion of representatives from Houston art communities who have their fingers on the pulse of *what’s happening* in the city. He will ask them, Where is the art? Their answers will become part of a map of Houston’s art scene, imposed upon a presumed tabula rasa, as the artist will hold in abeyance his own preconceptions about what best represents Houston art or where such can be found. He will then construct a website that will host digital maps with pinned locations, descriptions of the venues, video, stills and commentary on details such as lighting and accessibility to the public. Good art wants to be found, and this performance seeks it. As a map, it will look like no other. 

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