Christopher Breakell, The Paisano
Communication can come easily and naturally, joking with a friend over text and sitting around a table with close friends. Other times, trying to voice your thoughts on a debated subject or personal issue becomes stressful or uncomfortable. The transition from free-flowing speech to contemplative stutter can come abruptly due to the setting or context of the exchange.
“Conversations,” a two-week pop-up art exhibition at French and Michigan gallery, focuses on how communication is experienced, thought about and altered due to gender.
Scott A. Sherer, curator of the exhibition and an Associate Professor of Art History at UTSA, explains in a curatorial statement, “This exhibition, Conversations, presents the underlying character of the exercise of women’s unvoiced private thoughts, intimate discussion, routine presentation and dramatic declaration.”
The exhibition was organized in a partnership with Planned Parenthood South Texas, and a portion of the sales from the exhibition will be donated to the organization.
Six San Antonio artists have work featured in the show, each approaching the experience and effects of conversation through a different media and perspective.
Sherer explains that built into the show is the “paradox that words convey information and argument imprecisely with multiple ways we can interpret them and with multiple affects.” Janelle Esparza highlights this paradox, creating 10 small wood plaques that display mirrors etched with oddly paired words, like “Normal risk,” “Competent fear” and “Needy protest.” These phrases reflect back on the viewer as they try to determine their meaning, and they display how the value of a word can be dramatically altered depending on the context in which it is given.
This idea is continued in the works of Julia Barbosa Landois. In her print titled “She’s a mom,” the word mom is prominently placed in front of an assortment of nouns, dramatically affecting their connotation. The list begins with the commonly used phrase “mom jeans” and progresses into the less common “mom sex,” “mom boobs” and “mom surgery.” “Sex and boobs,” words that often turn a head in conversation, are softened by the simple three-letter word, and even the objective word ‘surgery’ almost becomes less frightening.
Landois’ work captures one of the main themes of the exhibition. Curator Scott Sherer was interested in “how our bodies are the vehicles for representing information and meaning.” Once people are thought about as mothers, the way our society interprets their life is greatly influenced by their new role.
Not only can language be altered by words we choose, but also the medium in which it is presented. In “Steep,” artist Libby Rowe prints out text message conversations and hangs them in long, vertical strips from the ceiling attached to a bag of tea. Some of the messages are purely functional, such as trying to finalize plans or picking out new furniture; however, some of the conversations are filled with hefty paragraphs discussing intimate and important events of people’s lives. Unlike the personal experience of sharing tea with a friend, filled with emotive expressions and body language, text messages innately prescribe a rigid structure that contrasts the intimacy and fluidly of thoughts and feelings.
Artist Anabel Toribio-Martinez has several oil paintings and works on paper displayed in the exhibition. The couple that appears in her painting “Interference,” shown sunken into a couch and completely invested in their phones, presents an often familiar situation: people choosing to engage with the interface of their phone instead of their significant other. Phrased in this way, “Interference” displays an unfortunate new phenomenon of our society, but this couple may not be purposely avoiding each other, just looking for another outlet to make a connection.
“Rumination,” one of Toribio-Martinez’ watercolor pieces in the show, reverses this situation. The cellphones have been put away, and the woman stares at her absent-minded partner. A bright red string flows over the achromatic figures, coming to a chaotic tangle between their heads. Toribio-Martinez’s domestic scenes reflect on the constructs and barriers to communication in a gendered relationship, and how even in the comfort of a person’s home, communication is still influenced by gender.
“Conversations” is free and open to the public at the French & Michigan art gallery (115 Michigan Ave.) until Nov. 21.